dispatches from ola 2014, part 2: a year of tween programming

Tweens - older kids who are not yet teens - are among my favourite library customers. Tween books are my favourites to read, and a tween audience is my most natural writing voice.

Sadly, tweens are often underserved at libraries. Library programming often focuses on either pre-school kids or youth, usually defined as ages 12 and up. The 8-12 group is too old for baby stuff, but usually too young for the real teen scene. And libraries are often desperate for tween programming ideas.

To that end, two librarians from the Oshawa (Ontario) Public Library, Brianne Wilkins-Bester and Tiffany Balducci, ran an entertaining and enjoyable OLA session, walking us through a full year of tween programming. At this website, they detail everything needed to run each of the 12 programs. They also have a book coming out about tween library services.

All the programs they talked about were fun, creative, and new to me. The best had a library or book tie-in. May's "Greek Out" tied into the summer Olympics, the super-popular Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan, and Ancient Greece school curricula. Kids made nametags using Ancient Greek symbols, "consulted an oracle" (a spin-wheel) to be assigned a god or goddess, then did a bit of research and told the group about their deity, "forged" a cardboard shield with a duct-tape handle, and made toilet-paper togas.

For February, they showed an anti-Valentine's Day program, celebrating BFFs and anti-bullying. This is becoming increasingly popular, especially for tweens, pushing back at pressure to be looking for romance at an ever-decreasing age.

However, one component of these anti-Valentine programs has encountered some backlash: kids were encouraged to "vandalize a romance novel". Author Vicki Essex wrote an open letter to the Toronto Public Library about the sexism and classism of our culture's response to romance novels. Jezebel covered it here.
Furthermore, this is an endeavor that's doomed to lead to embarrassment. Think, for a second, about what would happen if teens were given Sharpies and romance novel covers and told to go to town in an authority-sanctioned environment. It doesn't take a Masters in Library Science to understand that this stunt can only end in Fabio face after Fabio face covered in oversized cartoon dicks.
I have to agree that trashing anyone's choice of reading material - at a library - is counter-productive at best. At worst, you're shaming young readers who might want to try these books. It's also - and obviously - sexist. You'd never see this done with science fiction or crime novels, many of which are as formulaic and improbable as any bodice-ripper.

But book-trashing aside, anti-Valentine's Day programs are a great idea. One game was a new-friends version of the old "Newlywed Game". Kids interviewed each other, then answered questions to see how well they knew their new friend. Friendship bracelets are a good craft project, and a light-hearted but Goth version of a Valentine's Day party would be a hit.

One of the presenting librarians happily admitted to being obsessed with pop culture - generally a good thing for a children's librarian - and many of the program ideas leaned heavily on TV shows and pop music. That's fun, but for my money, it can be overdone. You won't catch me doing a library version of "The Price is Right," encouraging tweens to drool over electronic gadgetry and all-inclusive vacations. I imagine someone could make an argument that this is an economics or math exercise, but do tweens really need more consumer culture in their lives? I'd like the library to be a haven from consumerism.

The best part about this program was walking away with tons of ideas. These kind of information-sharing sessions are a huge help for library programmers who need new ideas but don't have time for the proverbial wheel-reinvention.

You can see a pdf of the OLA Tween Scene presentation here, and their Tween Scene website is here. Hopefully when their book is out, they'll have a better web address!

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