My Youth Programs & Ideas (Engaging Youth in Libraries Part 2)

One of my favourite things about working in a high school library is using my creativity to engage the students to come in and enjoy our collections and events. I want them to view the library as a safe haven, and a fun place to spend their time. I want them to know they can come to the library whenever they want to relax, read, play, or need help with school stuff. This post will discuss the programs I have run, and some ideas I have for the future to continue to engage youth in the library.

Some of the fun extra-curricular programs I have organised and run include:

  • Lunchtime cartoon/comic workshops using Photoshop and Gimp. This involved:
    • Organising the promotion of the workshops (mainly posters, but also word of mouth, website news post and post-event newsletter article)
    • Organisation of the class itself (such as a lesson plan and handout instruction sheets)
    • We only had a small space so I also made a signup sheet for the places we could offer. If there was more interest, we would simply repeat the workshop for those who missed out.
    • There was a good turnout, notably word of mouth seemed the most effective promotion strategy as a group of year 8’s (who were mostly friends) were the main group getting involved. The workshops were definitely a success. The class was lots of fun to run, and developed continued relationships between those involved. The students would come into the library to update me on their work and continue to help each other. It was good seeing the students share their knowledge with each other and take over teaching in the later stages. They were proud to share their work and we included their finished art in the school newsletter. Not only did it let the students learn new skills, it also allowed us to develop a rapport and get them into the library to use our computer programs and see what else we have to offer.
  • I created a digital display of ‘shelfies’ at our circulation desk on a screen we had set up. This idea came from the New York public library. A ‘shelfie’ is a selfie but in front of your bookcase or with your favourite books. This involved sending out a staff and student email to get the idea out, as well as a reminder email later on. All they had to do was take a shelfie and email to me. I then built a slideshow of the received shelfies and a few other interesting shelfie related memes etc interspersed throughout. We received a good amount of shelfies, from staff especially! Many people came in and stopped at the desk to watch the slideshow and have a giggle at some of the funny photos we got. The students really enjoyed the opportunity and loved being included in a library display. It’s easy to add to and simple to maintain. Definitely a successful experiment!
  • I have also expanded a study free puzzle table to become a makerspace table. We purchased adult colouring books (all the rage right now), as well as some 1000 dot-to-dots books of famous faces. We have had rotating art and craft set-up throughout the year. One such activity I created was magazine silhouettes. We had an abundance of old weeded magazines, and so I used the guillotine to cut strips of the coloured pages up. I printed out a large silhoutte of Alice in Wonderland and a few other literary characters and the students glued the strips of magazines down in different patterns. We did the paper cranes for multicultural week – initiated by students. I’m also planning to bring out some Lego soon for the students to build freely and enjoy! These activities encourage mindfulness, stress reduction and creativity. It’s a fun way to show the library is not just a silent study center and engage more students to come join in some fun activities.
  • And of course I have instigated book displays and dress ups (my favourite), especially for Book Week! I’ve done book displays for Dr Seuss’ Birthday (including trivia and games), Women’s History Month, Terry Pratchett, many different Literary Awards (Inky, Stella Prize, Miles Franklin, CBCA etc), Banned Books (really popular!), Just Returned books, Mystery Books (books wrapped up so it’s a surprise what you get!), Biographies, Cooking, Visiting Authors, Halloween and more! The students love seeing the change in the library when a new display is up, and it helps increase interest in some books that otherwise don’t get circulated very often.
Magazine Silhouettes the students made

I have many more ideas for the future, there are just so many great things you can do in the library!

Here’s just a few:

  • book face virtual display
  • A big mural made by the students with chalk pens on our large glass windows
  • Flashback vintage games for students to play on our projector over lunchtime – either an emulator or original consoles (which I have and will supply)
  • Offer a library volunteer student program so they can become more involved in the library, including applications, name badges and projects for them to complete
  • More competitions and clubs – book clubs, anime clubs, writing clubs, minecraft, games etc
  • More makerspace stuff – I especially love the makey-makey and raspberry pi’s (and of course 3D printing but that’s very expensive!)

There are however some challenges worth discussing. There are some recurring themes in the difficulties I face when trying to start a program or event. Of course, I imagine in public and other types of libraries, the challenges may differ.

  • Engaging the disengaged. It’s notoriously hard to get the disengaged students involved. The students that usually get excited about the programs and events we offer are typically already fans of the library. It is difficult to reach these students that just don’t care, don’t think it’s ‘cool’, and just aren’t interested. Word of mouth and utilising their existing networks could work well, as students are better at convincing their peers to check out what we’re doing. It’s a challenge I do not have an answer for, but its very rewarding when I manage to reach even a few new students.
  • Balancing academia and red tape (obviously less problem in public library). While I want to do lots of fun things, some parents or staff members can sometimes find it hard to understand how these are valuable. The school library is for study and homework and silence in many minds, and fun activites just does not compute. I need to justify my programs with science and achievement (i.e. colouring with mindfulness – stress reduction is important during exam time especially for student wellbeing etc). There are certain procedures that need to be followed and certain plans that just aren’t acceptable within the high school framework. It can be a constant battle to toe the line between helping the kids enjoy the library, learn through play, and working on their academics.
  • Funds. Especially at government schools, this is almost always an issue. This simply means I need to be more clever about how I approach my programs. Using weeded magazines for art supplies is a good example. Weeded books pages are also beautiful art supplies. Second hand shops are also great to find display items. I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to achieve something new with the bits and pieces we already have, and the skills staff can offer for free. Again, lack of funds means things we do need to be justified as to their ‘worth’ if we are to spend a chunk of the budget on it.

Therefore – tune in next time when I will discuss ‘Cultural Weeding’ (a School Library Association of Victoria – SLAV- Professional Development Workshop I attended this year on changing this type of old-fashioned attitude).

And of course, please feel free to comment on programs you run, challenges you face and anything you’d like to add!

Thanks for reading!

Michelle De Aizpurua


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