Teen services in the library cover a large age group from middle school to high school. But what about that group of preteens or tweens? My library gets a large crowd for storytime with toddlers and preschoolers. And we even get a good group for younger school age programs. But once our patrons start becoming tweens, we start to see a drop in attendance at our programs and this sometimes carries over into our teen programs. We want to create a bridge between children’s and teen programming so we program just for tweens.
Tweens are typically defined as age ten to twelve. Many of the programs the library offers for kids seem too childish but they are still too young for the teen events. We want to make sure this age group isn’t leaving the library and that they see it as a valuable resource. My library has a lot of tweens who utilize the library for a tutoring space and visit us when it comes to looking for homework resources, but we don’t want them to forget that the library can be much more than that.
Offering programming for tweens doesn’t have to mean extra work for staff. Since my children’s and teen departments are combined under one youth services umbrella, tween programming offers my staff a chance to collaborate. We define our tween programs for grades four through eight and the age groups overlap giving staff a chance to try something new. A lot of teen programming can be adapted into tween programs and the tweens love the chance to have something that is just for them.
So what can we provide for tweens? The following suggestions may help you figure out how to serve your tween audience.
Tween Advisory Boards
A great place to start is with feedback from tweens. Many libraries offer a teen advisory board, but what about a tween advisory board? This gives tweens a chance to get connected with the library, offer suggestions for what they would like to see happen for their age group, and assist in planning programs. If you can’t host an official tween advisory board, look for times when tweens are visiting your library and talk to them. Ask them what they are interested in and what types of programs they would want to attend. Take note of what times they seem to be using the library most—is your library overrun with tweens on Saturday afternoons? That might be a good spot to try some programming for this age group. If you don’t have a group of tweens regularly visiting your library, try visiting your area schools to gather feedback. Why don’t they visit the library and what stands in their way? What are their interests and hobbies? What type of programs would get them interested in coming to the library?
Book clubs can offer great tween programs as well as a chance to collaborate with your local school libraries. Because we noticed a big drop in attendance for tween programming,we decided to go to where the tweens were and started “Chat & Chew” book clubs at the school library. A staff member attends the book club for fourth- and fifth-graders once a month where they discuss a selected book over lunch. The books are chosen from the state award nominees. This ensures that the tweens are already reading these books and that the school libraries and classrooms have some copies available. The book clubs are usually held in the school library but are sometimes held in a classroom. The tweens get to attend something special and they love having something just for them. Our Chat & Chew book clubs visit ten different schools, so we have a lot of members. To tie everything together and bring it back to the public library, we have a party at the end of the year. Anyone who has attended at least one of the Chat & Chew book clubs is invited to the party held at the public library. Their families are also invited to attend, which helps us show students and parents that the library has things to offer this age group. At the party we serve ice cream and have activities based around the books we’ve read all year long.
One of the best ways to find out what tweens are interested in is by listening to what they are asking for. When they come into the library and ask about a book, TV series, or movie, pay attention and think about programming around what they are interested in. I recently hosted an Origami Yoda program based on the book series of the same name that was a big success with our tweens. They loved getting together and making their own origami and talking about the book series with other fans. My library has also hosted programs around cupcakes (because we noticed a lot of tweens coming in and asking for cupcake and baking-themed books), Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Minute to Win It. This winter we’re planning programs around The Chronicles of Narnia, Ninjago, and Egypt in response to tweens interests.
Tweens are very dependent on adults to drive them places, which means they may want to come to a library program but might not always be able to if the transportation isn’t available. One way we’ve worked to help with this is to offer drop-in programs that last all afternoon and offer various activities. We’ve had the most success with craft programs at my library, but we’ve also hosted drop-in game days and movie marathons for tweens.
The tweens at my library love a little competition and the chance to show off, which means trivia contests are always a popular choice. Tweens can be obsessive about their fandoms and they love to share their knowledge. The trivia can either be done as a program where you have a big competition and teams, or on a smaller scale as a passive program set up in the department. We offer small prizes for trivia and the tweens love the chance to show off their knowledge about a particular subject.
Scavenger hunts are another always popular choice for programs—either passive programs taking place in the department or as part of a larger program. I love scavenger hunts because I can sneak in learning about the library and how to find things and the tweens love them because they get to be competitive. I’ve done scavenger hunts two different ways. The first is to give the tweens clues as to where to find things and they have to answer questions, such as “Who is the author of The Wizard of Oz?” The second scavenger hunt I’ve done has been to hide a certain amount of objects (photos of hobbits for our Hobbit Day celebration, pyramids for a summer reading kickoff) and have the tweens write down the location of where they found each object in the library. This is a great way to incorporate other departments in the library as well. I’ve had several patrons tell me after they participate in these scavenger hunts they visited an area of the library they had never known about or been to before.
Tweens are members of an age group that often gets overlooked by the library. But if we work together to reach them, we can provide great programs and help build our teen audience by reinforcing to tweens that the library is a valuable resource.