3.2 Participants

“I have pretty good relationships with all of our regulars and they’ll send me an email if they see something they wanna do or I always know the next thing that they’re geeking out about and we’ll try to incorporate that into something.”

— Head of Circulation & YA Librarian at a suburban northeastern library

Think about the teens who will be attending your program. They may come with a diverse set of backgrounds, interests, and abilities. Although you cannot anticipate the background of every teen you will work with, you can try to keep your mind and your programs open to ensure that the library is working for every teen in your community.1 This is also a key area where you can think about what kind of relationships you want to form among your participants, and what activities can help them form.

Some things to think about when you’re imagining your potential participants:

  • Are the teens familiar with the library, or could this be their first visit? Teens who visit the library regular can be the easiest to get to know and to design a program for. It is easy to fall into the trap of considering the teens you know well to be your primary audience. This can prevent you from creating “programming that reflects the needs and identities of all teens in the community.” Even the teens you know well will grow and change in unanticipated ways. When teens who you know well attend, encourage them to share their ideas and get involved more in program design. For teens who have not visited the library often (or ever), you may need to build a trusting relationship with them first.

“Each program is an opportunity for a new teenager to become a regular library user.”

— Karen Jensen2

  • Will the teens come to the library, or will you bring the library to them? Today’s youth librarians must go to teens “where they are, rather than waiting for teens to to find a way to get to the physical library space.”3 There are several ways to achieve this. One way is to literally bring the library to new areas with mobile library services. This can also be done digitally by leveraging openly networked technology. A third strategy is to form partnerships with community organizations and bring your programming to their spaces and audiences.

  • What different skill and interest levels will your participants have? Some of your teens may be enthusiastic and ready to “geek out” with an activity or topic. Others might still at the “messing around” level, while others still may have no familiarity with the topic and need to explore it, or just have nothing more than a passing interest. If your program will need to engage teens in these different levels of engagement, that will affect the format and activities you choose.

  • Are your participating teens from non-dominant or vulnerable groups? Librarians often want to attract particular groups of teens to their programs, based on characteristics such as gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or socio-economic status. Ideally, the development of programs that appeal to a particular cultural group should involve members of that group, whether that means adults or the teens themselves. For instance, Naidoo and Vargas describe how libraries in Arizona involved Latino artists and local Latino teens in the development of “for teens by teens” programming.4 If the teens are considered vulnerable in any way, you may need to consider extra measures to ensure their safety and privacy. Community partnerships are often a great way to reach these teens.

“We just made connection with [a school with] the students who don’t fit in anywhere else, like they’ve gone through the whole system and they don’t fit in. And we’re having a really great time with them bringing them to the library, and bringing the programs to them.”

— Focus Group Participant

Program design activity: Participants

What participants do you want or expect to have? What considerations do you need to think about to create a great experience for them?

1: YALSA Teen Programming Guidelines. YALSA, 2015.

2: A Teen Programming Primer, by Karen Jensen, 2011.

3: The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action. Linda W. Braun, Maureen L. Hartman, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Kafi Kumasi, and Beth Yoke, 2014.

4: Libraries Bridging the Borderlands: Reaching Latino Tweens and Teens with Targeted Programming and Collections. Jamie Campbell Naidoo and Luis Francisco Vargas, Young Adult Library Services, Summer 2011, 13–20.