Advisory Boards

Lots of libraries have advisory boards for their teenagers. A place where teens can voice their opinions, ask for materials and programs, and meet peeps from different schools (or even homeschoolers). When I became the Teen Librarian at Westerville, I inherited two: JTAB (Junior Teen Advisory Board) for middle schoolers and TAB (Teen Advisory Board) for High Schoolers.

At my previous library, at the advice and mentoring of my director, I tried to create a Teen Advisory Group. It somehow devolved from a group that met to help brainstorm, create, and inspire programming to being just another program I had to continually create new material for. Over the course of one semester it changed from being TAG: Teen Advisory Group to TAG: Teen Arts and Games, a hangout group that focused on activities and crafts.

It could have been the intense, once a week, schedule I was asked to implement for meetings. It could have been that I was a newly minted librarian and I was still testing the waters on what my program style was. The giant learning curve figuring out my new community coming from Chicagoland to western Kentucky. Or that no one knew what was going to happen with teen programming as I was literally the first Teen Librarian for Henderson Library and County. But somewhere along the way TAG changed and it was no longer an advisory group.

Arts & crafts and gaming programs are important and needed for teens, but that was not what I had prepped for. The new direction meant that I was quickly burning through all my programming ideas, that should have been spread over many months, and quickly burning out. During the small break in programming we had over winter break I was able to regroup and plan out some fun weekly activities without losing my mind but was never able to get a true advisory group off the ground.

And then I moved to Westerville, where there was already a group in place. And after acting as a substitute Teen Librarian during a maternity leave, I became the Teen Librarian…and wasn’t sure what to do with the advisory boards I inherited. After all my last foray into this type of programming fizzled out and turned into something completely different.

It was time for my new teens to school me, yo.

I was up front and honest about my experience with advisory groups to the JTAB and TABbers and asked how the program currently ran. Then we talked about what they wanted the group to be like. And over the course of one semester it changed from what I inherited to a hybrid of what my teens and I both wanted and needed.

Things that stayed the same:

  • When we meet – once a month on the last Thursday, for about an hour. JTAB at 6pm TAB at 7pm
  • Who it’s for – JTAB is for middle schoolers, TAB is for high schoolers
  • Service hours – as long as a teen signs in on the attendance sheet and participates in the meeting they get an hour of community service
  • Snacks – are served and enjoyed at the meetings, but can’t be taken home at the end
  • What we do – share wants for programming, library materials, and random conversations/ideas
  • Marketing – All members (including me) talk to teens in the community about coming to check out the fun we have at JTAB/TAB
  • Officers – TAB members elect officers for roles and more or less run the program with librarian guidance as needed
  • ARCs – anyone that attends can snag one ARCs to take home

Things that changed:

  • How to join – Show up! No more applying and interviewing, you show up you get to participate
  • Snacks – options are now a combo of healthy and sugary, but take into account shared allergies, religious dietary restrictions, and packaging (being able to save some snacks for the next meeting is a big plus!)
  • What we do – Create and run programs independently. Teens still help create programs and activities, but the onus of an entire program is no longer on their shoulders
  • Marketing – teens create special campaigns and activities to spread the word on the fun that we have at JTAB/TAB
  • ARCs Frenzy – anyone that attends can snag one or several ARCs to take home
  • Book reviews – JTAB and TABbers can fill out bookmark book reviews stating why they loved or hated a library book that gets tucked into it’s respective title

Small changes in how things went made a big difference for how we all view the advisory boards. Teens still get agency by sharing their ideas and wants, but don’t have the same pressures of having to be present all the time for everything. I don’t have have an overloaded schedule of crazy and have help in coming up with programs. And we all get snacks and hang time with people who’s lives may not cross paths if it weren’t for the library.

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