Teens unleash their stories during Teen Read Week™

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by Steve Zaluksy

Teens will be telling their stories in our nation’s library for this year’s Teen Read Week.

Teen Read Week™ is an annual national adolescent literacy initiative created in 1998 by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association.  Held in October the same week as Columbus Day, it encourages teens to be regular readers and library users.

This year, it will be held Oct. 8-14 with the theme “Unleash Your Story,” with libraries encouraging teens to tell their own stories as well as find stories, biographies, autobiographies, folk tales and more in their local library.

As part of Teen Read Week, several libraries are participating in a grant program through YALSA and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation that provides awards to 10 libraries to help fund Teen Read Week activities.

Among the libraries receiving grants is the Boston Public Library. As part of Teen Read Week, the library is launching “Teen Podcast Tinker Sessions, with teens using in-studio and portable recording equipment and audio editing software in the library’s Digital Media Lab to create their own content.

The library’s youth technology coordinator, Catherine Halpin, said the aim is to encourage the teens to become “content producers and not just consumers.”  The aim, as well, is to have the kids engage with the library’s resources, interviewing different staff members and familiarizing themselves with various aspects of the library collection.

She said the grant “seemed like a great opportunity for us to celebrate Teen Read Week in a unique way.” She said it enabled the library to buy personal recorders as well as microphones.  In addition, the library has established a partnership with GrubStreet, a local non-profit creative writing center in Boston to provide mentors.

“There is a woman over at GrubStreet who actually produces podcasts. They offer youth workshops as well that help teens develop writing and storytelling skills,” she said. “Their hope is that once they really know how to use all of the hardware and the software, that then they can take this equipment and really start telling their own stories and sharing what is most important to them.”

Also receiving a grant is the Defiance (Ohio) Public Library System, where the week is used to jump start the teens’ appreciation of reading.  Teen Librarian Pamela Rellstab said the grant was used to purchase camera equipment, a video recorder and some tabletop games, as well as books for the teens.

Technology, she said, has been a very effective tool to get the teens involved.  She said, “The kids are into technology, and a lot of them want to be YouTube stars.” She added, “In the grant, I was telling them that our kids are really kind of non-readers and non-writers. They just kind of like to hang out.”

Those teens who hang out in the three libraries in the Defiance system spend their time not only interacting with their peers, but also immerse themselves in video, anime and gaming technology.

Therefore, using the carrot of technology, she will be applying the stick of reading at all three locations, with the help of a colleague who is not only a serious gamer, but also majored in stop-motion animation in college.

At the Johnson Memorial Library, teens will produce a machinima, an animated film using Minecraft. At Sherwood Branch Library, the teens will be literally getting pixilated, as they tell their stories using themselves and their peers through stop-motion animation. And at Defiance Public Library, teens will film themselves participating in role-playing games.

In addition, teens will be visited by two authors via Skype, with those in attendance receiving copies of their books.  She said, “It’s important. Whether they like reading or not, they have to see the value of it.” Even if they are watching Anime, she said, “They have to read the subtitles. You have to read it to understand what’s going on. It just shows that reading is important, whether or not you choose to do it all the time.”

To follow Teen Read Week, join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #TRW17.