Magazine article American Libraries

Stuck in the Middle: Tween Advisory Boards Help Improve Library Engagement

Magazine article American Libraries

Stuck in the Middle: Tween Advisory Boards Help Improve Library Engagement

Article excerpt

The tweens were busy writing on colored Post-it notes and placing ideas on the mock Pinterest board at the front of the room. At a recent meeting of the Richland Library tween advisory board in Columbia, South Carolina, the children were asked to brainstorm about the new tween space being built. Even the impractical ideas, such as implementing a food court and a Ferris wheel, gave librarians insight into what the kids wanted from their space.

"Their ideas told us that they wanted this to be a fun and happy place," says Sarah Shuster, children's librarian at Richland Library. "We learned a lot about the vibe that we needed to create for the tweens."

Although the library obviously cannot create a miniature theme park inside the branch, the kids' suggestions will most likely influence the purchases the library will make for the room.

"We had originally picked out furniture that looked nice and was practical," says Shuster. "But the kids told us that they wanted furniture that was comfortable and that they could spread out on to study. They said that they didn't like tables and even wanted floor pillows. Without their input, we would most likely have bought furniture that didn't fit with how they wanted to use the room."

While many libraries may have a teen advisory board, most libraries do not have an advisory board for kids in upper elementary and lower middle school grades: tweens. The basic concept of a tween advisory group is to have kids, typically around ages 8-12, help provide input on library programming, implement programming ideas, recruit other tweens, and provide feedback on events.

"Before we started the tween advisory board, we really didn't have any tween programming," says Jodi Krahnke, head of youth services at Ypsilanti (Mich.) District Library. "But they felt the children's programming was too young for them, and it wasn't really appropriate for them to be with older teens."

At Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina, tweens actively recruit members of its advisory group with BYOF (bring your own friend). Founding members like Micah Washington (far left) introduce themselves at monthly meetings and become tween advisory group mentors when they age out of the program.

So Krahnke says the library decided it was important to look at tweens as their own population, with separate needs, and then provide programming to meet those needs.

Likewise, the Bridgewater Township branch of the Somerset County (N.J.) Library System (SCLS) came to the same conclusion. The library originally included middle school students in its teen advisory group. However, it quickly became clear that the idea wasn't working; the two age groups had differing interests.

In July 2014, Lynn Mazur, head of youth services reference at Bridgewater Library, started an advisory group for grades 4-6.

Glitter happens! Richland Library's TAG (tween advisory group) Team creates a collaborative art piece in honor of visiting author Grace Lin. Creativity and connecting with authors have been key interests for this group.

"We wanted to give the tweens a place where they can have a voice without being overruled by older kids," says Rebecca Crawford, youth services coordinator for SCLS and department head of Bridgewater Library.

As with all programming, participating librarians will say it is important to customize the tween advisory boards around your community's specific needs. For instance, because Bridgewater Township schools are structured with an intermediate school for grades 4-6 instead of a traditional middle school, the library used that grade range for its tween advisory board.

EVERYONE BENEFITS

One of the challenges with reaching tweens is that the adults who create the programming do not have the same interests as the kids. And because fads and trends change quickly with this population, it is almost impossible for even the most passionate librarian to keep up. …

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