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Low-Cost Library Programming for Teens

As a solo librarian running a rural community library, you learn to make programs on a shoestring budget, sometimes out of literal shoestrings.

But I find some of these programs are the biggest hits, especially with teens.

Budget Teen Summer Reading Mega Hits have been:

Frisbee Golf:
     Supplies: Frisbees/flying disks, check the summer party section or hit up local businesses, printed numbers, paper & pens to keep score with, outdoor space.
     I have the teens place the numbers that dictate the “holes”. They can change them every round if they like. Look, we aren’t sticklers for Frisbee golf rules, but if your teens are so inclined, you could be. 

Salvaged Book Art:

The sky is the limit here. I am positive every library has old musty books to retire, either from donations or discards. 

Discarded books & magazines in an assortment of sizes, bindings & styles
Paint & brushes
Tape, washi tape & Duct tape
Glitter. Be brave. Get out the glitter. Teens can run a vacuum, you know.
Colored paper
Dollar store frames
Findings: Brads, adhesive Velcro, snaps, broach-style pins

I didn’t plan one specific craft for this program, but we’ve made journals, wallets & ornaments in the past. This time, I opened up Google images & showed the teens what other people have made. Then I cut them loose.

I heard a lot of “I dunnooooo, I’m not creative. I’m not an artist.” And then “My room’s going to look SO COOL!”



Library Game Days:
Supplies: Whatever games you have at home, whatever you can get your Friends group or district to stock the library with.
I do a retro video game station with the projector & either my personal NES, Sega & district’s Wii from 2008.

Most popular table-top games at my library are:

I was wedged into the corner to take this photo. Every available space in my little library was full for International Game Day, 2016. This is a really great program to get involved with, organized by ALA . You can receive free games & promotional materials. Every year, it brings new people into my library.

Actually, there’s a story about how successful that IGD was. My clerk started asking me if I wanted her to vacuum, and if I wanted us to leave together. I thought she was just being thorough. No. It was an hour past closing & I hadn’t made one motion to close up. Everyone was having such a joyous time that we all lost track of the clock. I suddenly blurted out, “We’re closed! An hour ago!” All hands were instantly on deck, cleaning & putting things away. Nobody had noticed or at least nobody wanted to alert the spacey librarian that it was time to go home. 😉 (Please ignore the prominent garbage can. Sometimes we need all the visual clues they can get.)

There are three of my most popular teen library program ideas for any budget. These got a LOT of bang for our buck.

Family Camping

If we don’t go camping at least once in the summer, I feel like it’s a wasted year. This year, Girl Child is home from college & starts work in a week. She works harvest, which has taught her so much about our area & the agriculture we depend on, but it is a fast & furious season where people work from sun up til sun down in 100+ temps, so to go camping, we have to make hay while the sun shines, before they start making hay. 😉 

Oregon fishing

Camping resets my heart. It resets my motherhood & my sense of self & my stress level & my marriage. It reminds me that I have in me all the skills of my foremothers. I can make fire & cook on fire (with blessed modern amenities that make those things faster & easier!) & reminds me to be grateful for my excess. We can fish & provide our bodies with protein that never saw a grocery store. We can pick berries & mushrooms & stretch our brains’ legs by identifying plants & insects & trees that have important jobs to do. We are reminded that we should leave small foot prints.

It’s also just too dang hot to stay home. And I really like s’mores.

This trip, we traveled to a lake my husband’s grandfather helped create. It’s a man-made lake in northeastern Oregon & my husband’s grandfather helped log it to make way for the dam that created it.

We took Girl Child’s best friend. She’s newly vegetarian & that threw a wrench in my normal camping menu. But we are happy to eat vegetarian meals, or add our protein after dishing up hers, & it’s important to me that everyone has food that makes them feel welcome & nourished.

I cooked a couple meals that will become permanent parts of our camping routine now, because they’re shelf-stable & traveled well.


It was also my niece’s very first camping trip & wow was she adorable. She’s nearly 4 & was such a trooper. Hiked, fished, played in the water, ate s’mores, ate camp stew, got some one on one time with my husband, whose beard & hat used to freak her right out!

We always took our kids camping when they were little. It’s not really as much of a hassle as people think. They ARE indeed old enough to camp, even as tiny babies. We packed our son’s toddler potty all over Oregon with us because dangling a 2-year-old over a portapotty or pit toilet is not fun for anyone involved. As a young family, camping was our main source of vacation. You eat as cheaply as you do at home, you buy the gear once & not too much is actually required. Then the fun is all free & the memories are priceless.

#ErynReadin2016 January

Here’s what I read in January, 2016. A good start to the year. Total page count:1713.

Started Finished Title Author Genre Recommend? Page Length Page Total:
1/1/2016 1/10/2016 Dune Frank Herbert Sci Fi More, please. Yes. 800 1707
1/13/2016 1/17/2016 The Natural World of Winnie the Pooh Kathryn Aalgo NonFic: Biographical Lovely! YES. 308  
1/17/2016 1/17/2016 Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe Yumi Sajugawa Graphic Novel? Illustrated New Age. Is that your thing? Then yes. 20(rounded down for illustrations)  
1/18/2016 1/21/2016 The Light Between Oceans ML Stedman Novel Well-written but gut-clenching. No? 345  
1/26/2016   Bazaar of Bad Dreams Stephen King Short Stories Yes (Not finished yet.) 234  

I read Dune because it was one of my brother’s top 5 favorite books. I always meant to read it, but the length was daunting. My husband enjoyed it & many of the sequels, but said that I “wouldn’t enjoy it” but can’t recall why he said that. It may be because of the later sequels.

I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed the message of self-control & I enjoyed the SCOPE of the universe that Frank Herbert created.

I was floored when I learned that Frank Herbert was inspired to write Dune by my very area. People think of the Pacific Northwest & they think of rain, but we have should more accurately be known for our dryland agriculture. We make the land do what we want. To an amazing extent. The Grand Coulee Dam filled HUGE dry fissures (coulees) that cut northeastern Washington’s desert with water. We then irrigated an entire half of our state with that water we were slowing down as it traveled from Canada to the Pacific Ocean. You can’t really imagine the scope of this unless you’ve seen the dam or lived through a summer in the inland Pacific Northwest.

Not 10 minutes from my house, you can be in sand dunes. A patron told me that when she was a kid, her uncle would pick her & her siblings up in his tender truck, drive out to the dunes & they’d make pools in the dunes. They’d spend the day making sand castles. Sleepless in Seattle is not THE Washington Experience.

I wish I’d read Dune as a teen. I’d recommend it to anyone, but I wish I could get everyone from Eastern Washington & Oregon to read it. If I had someone visiting me from out of the area, I’d ask them if they’d read Dune! Then we could go for a drive to the sand dunes. 🙂

The book I read this month that I REALLY recommend is Kathryn Aalgo’s The Natural World of Winnie the Pooh. It’s the loveliest book I’ve read in a long time. It’s about Milne’s inspiration for Winnie the Pooh & Shepard’s inspiration for the artwork.

I’m finishing up Stephen King’s The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. I should have had it finished by now, but my brains a little scattered currently.

Lying, for Safety.

A friend shared a link to Gretchen Kelly’s blog post, The Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About, about the constant & everyday sexism women are exposed to. It’s a good read. (I did NOT read the comments & since it has now been picked up by HuffPo, I would suggest not even looking at them, unless it’s to give Gretchen kudos.)

I won’t catalog all of the everyday bullshit I’ve put up with over the years, there’s no time. But I guess it can all be summed up by this one experience I had while working in a toy store. Someone complained about a male employee’s behavior against me. I had complained on multiple occasions, but it all fell on deaf ears. I was 17 & I soldiered on. I freaking loved that job.

When our district manager finally got involved, I was asked to document the behavior. I made a list of the things that came most immediately to mind. It wasn’t anywhere near exhaustive. Copies were giving to everyone on the disciplinary panel. 

Every single woman cried while reading it. “I didn’t know how bad it was.” “I didn’t know you were dealing with this.”

Yes, they did know. I had told them. But everyone shrugged it off. In spite of the fact that I was a minor, everyone, me, my female coworkers & bosses, everyone shrugged it off. Because it’s so common that it’s NORMAL behavior.

Until my daughter became a teen, I never realized how much I LIE to men. Lies to de-escalate. Lies to make distance. Often lies about my husband being nearby or on the way & definitely lies about having a husband or boyfriend in times when I didn’t. And lies that are an opportunity to work my husband into a conversation (My husband LOVES that movie! etc).

It’s the sick, fucked up fact that some men will respect the idea of a husband more than they respect my comfort or wellbeing.

I recently lied to a creepy patron, because I went to the library after hours & he was lurking in the bushes (innocently using the wifi, but he hid from me & then scared me. He was recently out of prison & had been asking overly personal questions about me earlier than afternoon). In a fraction of a second, I lied & said the silent alarm had gone off. That if I didn’t call in, they’d send a cop out.

The speed which that lie rolled off my tongue was unnerving. My teen daughter saw the whole exchange. Earlier that day, I had lied & told him that I don’t USUALLY work alone, usually I have a partner, she was just out that day.

We teach kids not to lie. To always be honest. But screw that. Lie all you want, sweetie, if it gets you out of a scary situation. Hell, lie to the possibly nice guy, because you can. not. tell. which ones are going to freak out at you for giving them an honest “no, thank you”.

I know how screwed up that is, but it wasn’t born in a vacuum. Sadly, all men get to lie in the bed that their crappy brethren made, because my safety & my daughter’s safety is more important. Many, many women know how quickly things can get violent.