British Columbia Library Association

Meeting teens on their turf: The power of in-person promotion of young adult programs

By Meg Ross

At a recent meeting of the Young Adult and Children’s Services section (YAACS), discussion turned to the challenges of programming for teens. Teens are often an elusive and underserved group in library programming, although they can also be active and passionate library users. The North Kamloops Library in the Thompson-Nicola Regional District Library System recently started working to establish regular teen programming, following a hiatus. One of the main challenges was promoting the programs effectively to teens. At the library’s first successful program this fall—success being defined here as having more than one teen show up to a program—four teens attend. The most recent program in the same session they had 22. What was the difference between these two programs? For the latter, a more personal approach was used to reach teens.

The first program took place at the beginning of October. It was called “Escape the Library” and was modeled on the increasingly popular Exit Room establishments. Participants were presented with a scenario in which they were placed in a specific room and had to follow clues to open a series of locks within a set period of time. Their object was to discover a will which left them 10,000£, along with a treasure chest full of goodies. The program ran twice, once with tweens and once with teens. Traditional promotion methods were used, including displaying posters in the Children’s and Teens’ sections of the Kamloops and North Kamloops libraries, sharing information over Facebook, and talking up the programs at the circulation desk.

Yule BallThe second program was held at the end of December, during students’ winter break. It was a Harry Potter themed “Yule Ball” featuring trivia, challenges, pizza, and prizes. Participants were sorted into “houses” upon arrival, and then took part in five different classes during which they could earn points for their houses. Their ultimate goal was to win the House Cup. Classes were followed by a feast, games, and the awarding of the cup and other prizes. This program ran as a joint tween/teen event, open to ages 9-18, although the majority of participants were teens. While the customary promotion methods were used, the program was also promoted in person to teens at the two public secondary schools in North Kamloops.

While the idea of in-person promotion is certainly not revolutionary, it seems to be an important aspect of reaching teen patrons. Angela Hursh, with the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, wrote in a recent blog post, Top Secret Marketing to the Elusive Teen, that “the number one most important rule of marketing to teens is…don’t market to them.” She recommends instead building personal relationships with your teen patrons, speaking to them directly, and enlisting the support of people who know them and can help you reach them, such as teen librarians, or school librarians.

Between October and December, the Youth Services/Literacy Librarian made contact with the teacher librarians at the two secondary schools and began collaborating with them to hold programming in their libraries. She visited each of the school libraries once during their lunch-hour break and spent the 45-minute block talking to teens and making pin-back buttons out of comics. During these two sessions, she spoke with 39 teens at the senior secondary school and 70 at the secondary school. Individual invitations to the “Yule Ball” were brought along and left on the table for interested teens to pick up. Discussion was general: focusing on the teens, what they were interested in, what sorts of materials they could expect to find at the library, and what sorts of programs they would be like to attend in the future.

The success of this approach in North Kamloops was shown when several teens who attended the lunch-hour sessions hosted by the Youth Services/Literacy Librarian not only attended the “Yule Ball,” but brought other friends along with them. While in-person promotion is a slower and more time consuming approach than designing, printing, and displaying a poster, it is certainly more beneficial and effective for building relationships with teen patrons in the long run.


Meg Ross is the Youth Services/Literacy Librarian for the Thompson-Nicola Regional District Library System, based out of Kamloops, BC.

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