When you have to put together a program that will attract tweens to your library, keep this principle in mind: their primary interest is themselves. This is not to say anything pejorative about tween patrons. I simply mean that they are at the time of life when they are sorting out personal identity. Their concerns are about differentiating themselves from their parents and about associating themselves with whatever they identify as “cool.” They are deciding what characteristics will eventually be integrated or rejected for their new personalities. Therefore, their focus is mostly self-centered. Understanding this fact about their development gives you, as the librarian, important clues for programs that will interest tween patrons.
Tweens are often very interested in expressing their opinions. They want to be surveyed about their likes and dislikes, or about what they consider to be the best or the worst. At the beginning of the summer, I distributed a brief paper survey to the students at the local middle school and to all the sixth graders. (I live and work in a small town where this is possible, though I understand it might be a gargantuan task in a big city.) The survey asked potential patrons explicitly what kind of activities they would like to try during the summer. It also served the dual purpose of marketing the tween program here at our public library. I received many completed surveys and read them all, taking notes about the results and I used the results to direct tween programming. Then, during the summer, before each program began, I mentioned that our Tween patrons had suggested the idea for the program. This reinforced the idea that library patrons are empowered to get the programming they actually want.
The programs themselves should focus on tween interests, especially about the self. Tween patrons often enjoy taking quizzes or creating self portraits. Take advantage of this tendency by creating programs on topics like introspection and extroversion. Gather some books on this topic, come up with a shortened version of the Myers-Briggs personality test, and have the tweens take the test. They will really engage in this because it centers on self discovery and self definition. Tweens can really focus because definition of the self is the primary psychological task of their age group.
At my library, at the end of a summer reading program, we launched “the best of the summer” program with a tween group. We made a huge poster for the program room and listed the best program, the best book, the best movie, the best song, best video game, and the best vacation of the summer, all chosen by the tween group. At the bottom of the poster I listed every tween patron who had contributed an opinion, as well as my name. I do enter into the discussion during these kinds of programs, but I mostly listen. In order to contribute opinions about pop culture, I consistently try to read, listen, and talk about the things they are interested in.
Don’t struggle to get them to focus on things that don’t interest them, rather, play up to their obsessions. That, in a nutshell, is my zen philosophy of tween programming—never try to swim upriver; go with the flow.