“Meet the teens where they are.”
Sound familiar? It should, because it’s true. You must leave the library to attract new teenaged customers, to host programs, and to advertise what you and your library can do. Marketing to teens who already utilize the library’s services and programs is fine, but it’s not enough. (Anyone who’s hosted a summer’s worth of programs and only seen the same seven teens knows what I’m talking about. You’re appreciative of those seven, but you wonder where the other twelve or 25 are.)
So how do you get out of the library to get more teens into your library? You need to develop relationships by – dum dum dum – networking! (Don’t leave yet introverts! Stick with me.)
You can’t just walk into a school with a tote bag full of flyers and expect to have ten minutes in front of the entire seventh grade class. You have to work up to that.
Get to know the school librarian. Cold-call them and introduce yourself as a local public librarian who serves teenagers. Ask if you can visit their library one day to meet them and drop by some free bookmarks and ARCs. Make this first call about them. Once you’re in the building, ask the librarian and their staff about their favorite programs and services. Find commonalities. Ask if you can return in the future to drop off some flyers for public library programs.
Note: you may not befriend the librarian. Maybe they’re active in instruction or administration. If the library aide is the one leading the show, go after them. This isn’t a sneaky game; it’s finding your best resource.
Now you’re in. Nurture the relationship until you’re the first person the school calls when they’re planning a library event and need help or a co-host/sponsor. Or a button-making machine. Soon enough you’ll be book-talking, promoting the summer reading program in class visits, and finally, welcoming familiar faces into your branch.
Another opportunity is to attend city or county meetings that involve or are centered around young people. Is there a campaign on teen pregnancy? A commission on youth? Go to the meetings, introduce yourself to the chairs, and ask how you can help. Offer meeting room space or other resources as a way to get them into the library. Become a resource and a friend to them.
Once you’ve developed relationships with these organizations you will be closer to gaining access to the youth who are impacted by these organizations. It sounds tricky, but it’s perfectly legitimate. In fact it’s the only way you’re likely to reach teenagers and those who serve them.
They’re not going to magically waltz in one day and ask for a book recommendation.
They’re not going to see a flyer for your gaming tournament and show up on a whim. They have a game consul at home. And comfy chairs and a kitchen full of snacks.
They’re going to come only after you’ve built the relationships with those who serve youth, who will in turn advertise your library as a place to be when not at home or school.
At my first post-MLS job as a youth services librarian I attended brown bag lunches with other youth-serving community leaders such as Girl and Boy Scouts and Parks & Recreation. We found our similarities and worked hard to cross-promote programs and services, and support one another’s work with the teens. Those bi-monthly meetings were a highlight of the years I was in that position. Meeting others who were in my similar position, discussing best practices and failures, bouncing ideas off of them…that is what helped form me into a more well-rounded librarian.
Networking doesn’t have to be formal or stuffy. It’s putting your hand out there and saying, “Hi, I’m _____,”. You’re not selling yourself. You’re not selling anything. Go into the meeting knowing that you and your library have so much to offer the area schools and its library staff, local organizations and clubs, and the youth. Talk about what you do and what you hope todo. Your true passion for your work will come through and people will want to be around that.
People who serve youth are a rarity. There are numerous organizations for children and seniors, but teenagers and missing from so many equations. Find the ones that are serving them and befriend them. You are serving the same demographic and should pull resources to do it as best as you can.
Homework: leave a comment on what youth-serving organization you currently partner with, or one you want to partner with.