Credits: Kelly Johnson, T.A.G. Staff Liaison, Ketchikan Public Library & Newspoke newsletter of the Alaska Library Association
Photo Credit: Kelly Johnson
Five years ago the Ketchikan Public Library had little to no programming for teens until we created T.A.G. The Ketchikan Public Library’s Teen Advisory Group turned five this June. It seems that it has all happened so quickly, but if it were a child I’d be sending it off to school in the fall. And I couldn’t be prouder if it were one of my kids—it’s actually dozens of “my” kids, and I am so happy they chose to be a part of this amazing, ever-changing group. I was an advocate of teen groups in the library long before I got permission to start up KPL’s T.A.G., probably since I had been a member of a library teen group when I was in high school. The Mesa Public Library’s Young Adult Advisory Council (yes, we were YAAC) was my second family for several years, and they were a bit more encouraging and empowering than my own. That is probably the reason I am so gung-ho for these groups—I know what they can offer to a teen. And I work very hard to make the Ketchikan Teen Advisory Group a very supportive environment. I tried not to have any expectations when I started the group back in 2007; I just wanted to get the teens into the library and hear what they had to say. And it took a while for us to figure each other out, even though my youngest daughter was a part of that first group.
I will say that right off they loved choosing materials for the library. Sometimes their choices didn’t quite fit, but I am always willing to ask. And no’s are an accepted part of the ritual, though they may be met with loud groaning. The best part is when the materials come in and I take them to a meeting— then stand back so I don’t get caught between a teen and his or her chosen book or movie or CD!
I freely admit it took me a while to let the teens have what they really wanted—after hours programming. The first year we had two; last year we had fifteen. We have done everything from double-feature Fridays to our annual Not-Quite-Halloween costume party to Teatime with T.A.G. when we enjoyed a semi-formal ‘tea,’ watched the Secret Garden and made edible gardens from Oreo crumbs and Fruit by the Foot.
T.A.G. members have hosted events of their own creating – like Morrisa Clark’s Style Night, Chrystina Jacobson’s Beading Extravaganza, and my own Jasmyne Johnson’s Poetry with Godzilla series. Next month Geralyn Lovell will be hosting Psychedelic 60s – where she will show folks how to tie-dye with Sharpies.
And of course we are gearing up for the fifth annual Teen Summer Program as well. T.A.G. is very much a volunteer group. Every year T.A.G. members have helped with clean up at the Friends of the Library book sale; they take tickets at library events; paint faces at the Teddy Bear Picnic; and much more. And of course they set up, host and clean up at all teen events. It may not sound like too much, but in five years they have donated over 800 hours of their time. Whoever may say teens are lazy does not know my T.A.G. teens.
Our twice-a-month meetings are where all the planning, picking and reviewing happens. One Saturday afternoon, one Monday evening—these have changed over the years but always two a month. Introductions are completed — there are often new members — the calendar is gone over, plans made, and materials chosen. Sometimes I have to wait for them to get their chatting done before we can get back to the topic at hand, but usually they police themselves pretty well. And then snacks come out and reviews start — it’s really a lovely way to spend some time, listening to teens talk about a great new book, a funny YouTube video, or a horrible, gross-out movie. I know I’ve enjoyed my time sharing theirs.
Of course five in teen years is a long time. I’ve had 18 very active T.A.G. members graduate out of the program — that was enough so that this year we had our first Alumni Meeting, inviting graduated members back for a visit to share what they have been doing. Many members have moved; this is a very mobile town and teens are a part of that. Right now there are 15 active members in T.A.G., with another five or six not quite so active, but here and there they attend.
This year I have some of the youngest T.A.G. members ever, which is interesting after having the group skewed older for so long. But change is a part of the teen years, and so it must be a part of any teen group.
What hasn’t changed is how wonderful the teens are — and how much fun it is to work with them. They are enthusiastic, funny and creative — when they aren’t being quiet and shy, which only happens for a while. They get over that whole shy thing pretty quickly when they realize there is no down side to speaking out — and speaking out can get them new library materials, cool after-hours programs, excellent prizes for the Teen Summer Program and more.
Trust me, they learn to speak up really quickly! And that is how it should be. Teens need to have a voice in their life, in their library, and in the community. After five years of working with teens and T.A.G., my only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.