Teen Advisory Groups are no new concept. They first gained momentum in public libraries in the mid-00’s, which is when I was first volun-told to work with teenagers at the Charlotte Hall Branch of the St. Mary’s (MD) county public library. While they’ve been around for fifteen years, they have evolved in scope and practice. Below you’ll see what I wrote about my first Teen Advisory Group in 2007, followed by insight into modern groups.
My first Teen Advisory Group blog post from August 11, 2007:
There are certain demographics that have a large number of attendees at libraries. Children have numerous programs such as storytimes, puppet shows, and hired performers. Adults have book clubs, networking events, movie viewings and discussions, and even the occasional gala. Do you see what group is missing?
Young adults get a bad rap wherever they go; at malls they are followed by sales associates, at school by administrators, at home by parents, and at libraries by staff. It is no secret that when a group of teenagers enters a room, no matter where that room may be, everyone becomes aware of their presence and staff prepare to take action, certain there will be noise or a mess to clean up after.
We call it cute when a child has fun in the library and shouts out her happiness; we call it senility when an elderly person talks too loud; we call it annoying when a teen opens his or her mouth to inform their neighbor of a funny website they came across.
Our – librarian’s – opinions of young adults needs to change. Once we gain respect for this highly criticized yet invaluable age group of library customers will be be able to fully understand how special they are. This is why the Teen Advisory Groups at each of the St. Mary’s County Library branches are going to change the way librarians and library patrons see young adults.
Sherrie, the children’s librarian, and myself hosted the very first TAG meeting last week. Six young adults attended, ranging from grades seven to twelve. Each of the teens was very excited about October’s Teen Gaming Night, five took blank book review forms and promised to return them in a few weeks, and three signed up to share the responsibility of maintaining the TAG’s Myspace page.
Planning events and keeping up with a social networking webpage are not the only reasons TAG was established in SMC. We want their input. We want them to feel comfortable coming into the library. These can only be accomplished by asking them:
1) What books you want to see on the shelves?
2) What can do differently to make you feel welcome?
3) What do young adults want to do at the library and how can we realistically accommodate that?
I am looking forward to seeing where TAG takes us.
Fast-forward to 2019:
Teen Advisory Groups are useful for public and school libraries, and can be adapted for almost any youth-serving organization. Some school boards and non-profits have student or youth members as a way to ensure the demographic being served is included in establishing decisions and ideas, and voicing protests or support when appropriate.
In addition to the aforementioned tasks for Teen Advisory Group members – book reviews, maintaining social media, helping host programs – what tasks can TAG members work on to really support your library/non-profit/organization?
If you Google that question you’ll get some very outdated ideas. Like from my 2007 post on Myspace. *shiver*
But you’ll also get some great resources from libraries and organizations putting in the work.
- Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) – TAG members write for the FARE blog, serve as mentors, offer support for other teens who are seeking guidance, and help guide our youth programs. Some issues our TAG members help to address include handling social situations, dining out, facing challenges unique to teens, and educating the community about what it means to be a teen with food allergies.
- Benicia (CA) Public Library – This Teen Advisory Board is led by teen librarians and TAB coordinators who are actual teenagers. Coordinators are paid for their time, and assist the librarian in setting the agenda, organizing the other youth, and planning events and programs.
Unfortunately there’s some really outdated research out there, so be careful what you click on. It’s not that TAGs have changed drastically in the past fifteen years, but their value has long been established and you’ll want to make sure you’re considering modern uses for the teens.
An updated guide was published in 2018 and looks to be a good resource, especially for those starting out.
It is critical that you not waste their time. Teens (and you know, most warm-blooded people) want to be engaged. They don’t want the lip-service of adults who ask for their ideas and opinions but never act on them. Make sure you are prepared to go to bat for your teens. Need some help with that? Contact me and I can help you design the argument you’ll take to your director.