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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.

Librarians Managing Class Visits Alone

The question of how to manage class visits to the library when you are the sole librarian comes up in forums for new school librarians.

I’m not a school librarian, but we’re a community library directly across the street from an under-funded school with an outdated library. Part of my mission is to get those kids access to a library, so I work hard to make class visits a fun, productive reality for those kids.

Here’s my routine for a smooth library class visit, including reading a book to the students.

I work alone & do class visits of 20-32 kids in 25 minutes. Here’s my system (it’s a little wordy written out this way, but I hope it’s helpful).

  • The kids all drop their books in a box on my desk, as they file in.
  • I greet them, standing where I will read to them, book in hand.
  • I ask them about their week & introduce the book while they settle around me.
  • I read the chosen book (5-7 minutes). TIP: Read books aloud to yourself at some point, before reading them to your class. Man alive, some books are LONG once you commit to them!
  • At the end of the book I ask a couple short questions & then very purposefully say “Those of you that BROUGHT BOOKS BACK this week may go pick out new books. I just got in some exciting XYZ books, they are here.”
  • I head straight to the computer & check in the returned books.
  • I put all returned books on a table, because often the kids want books their friends just had (also saves me from having to shelve some of the books, haha).
  • As soon as the books are checked-in, I start answering their questions for special requests & have the kids line up to check their books out. They don’t bring cards, so I look each kid up by name (gets easier as you go along, promise!).

I do NOT talk to kids about late books individually in this time allotment. I pull a list of overdue books when I don’t have classes present & email it to the teacher for her to discuss with the kids.

Having a chunk of exciting, timely books spread out on a table when they get there, to direct them to when I’m busy checking in books, is a real help (& alleviates the thing where they won’t take books from a display, because they are afraid to mess it up).

I’m sure there are smoother ways to solve the problem of trying to do it all for a class visit, if you’re actually in a school library. For instance, teachers may help the librarian check in books, or representatives from the class may drop the books off earlier in the day. These aren’t options for me (non-employees can not access the database, etc.) but they may be helpful for you! Keep looking for what works for you.

And the last tip?

Embrace the barely controlled chaos! 😉

Do you have tips & tricks for a smooth class visit to the library?