The children's library where I work services a huge age-range of young people and their caregivers, from birth up to around age 12. I enjoy the full range - helping parents understand the importance of reading to their children, helping kids find fun books to read, finding material for school projects and reports - all of it. But what I love best is connecting avid young readers - of the age group known as "tweens" - with books they enjoy.
Wikipedia defines the tween demographic as ages 10-12, but tweens may be 9-13, or may even be as young as 7 or 8, depending on the person. Tweens are definitely not little kids, but neither are they teens, not only in age, but also in sensibility.
I love being around tweens. They are often actively exploring new likes and dislikes, trying on different selves to see what might fit. They are usually independent-minded, and although they may be socially self-conscious, they are seldom jaded. Tweens are usually more open to adults - and to the world in general - than many teens. I like being around teenagers, and I don't fear them the way many adults do, but interacting with tweens can be more satisfying.
In the library, as in much of life, tweens are often lost in a gap between children's programming and teen groups. Our library and others in the Mississauga system offer Lego Club, after-school homework groups, Robotics Club (in partnership with this organization), and a smattering of other tween activities, but there is much more focus on our younger customers. I've been keeping my eyes open for ways to improve tween programming.
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Over the summer, I was trying to find books for a frequent customer - a boy, a very strong reader, probably 11 or 12 years old. Anything I suggested, he had already read. I managed to find two books that he hadn't read yet, so when he left, I emailed staff for help. The next time I saw him, I was armed with the staff's list... and it turned out he had read all those books, too!
"You know what?" I said to him. "You are done with us. You are finished with the Junior collection. You need to go upstairs and find books from the Youth section."
He said he had already read several youth books, including the entire Hunger Games series. His all-time favourite book, he said, was a youth novel: The Maze Runner. I put it on hold for myself, and the next time I saw him, told him that he had recommended a book for me.
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A few weeks after that, I had a similar experience with another boy. He had read everything that appealed to him in our entire collection. This boy, however, was physically smaller than my other friend, and looked much younger. I just couldn't see him being comfortable in the Youth area. Then it came to me: I suggested he go upstairs, find some books... then bring them back to Children's to read. Ah-ha!
In our department, these boys and girls are the top dogs, the oldest and wisest. They chat with adult staff. The little kids ask them for help. But in the youth department, they are back to being little kids again.
This made me wonder if we could create a special space for tweens within the Children's department, or at least a special display of Youth material that is suitable for more mature tweens. I brought the idea to our Senior Librarian and Manager, who were very excited.
Now to see if we can make it happen.