Compelling Competitions for Teens in Your Library

16 Aug

Competitions encourage young people’s creativity and boost library publicity. They also encourage creative output and support your local area’s cultural growth.

Although competitions require advanced planning, they can be run on a very small budget with only one or two members of staff, and create a high volume of unique publicity for your library service. Contests may also be affiliated with teen events, workshops, or clubs already meeting in the library.

Types of Competitions

Writing competitions link well with library aims of increasing literacy. Flash fiction may be an especially appealing option, as it is quick yet challenging to write and read.

Art competitions generally limit themselves to a specific type or purpose of art. For example, many libraries and run contests for young people to create new images or designs for the fronts of their library cards (the resultant cards are often quite popular with young people!). The winning design is printed on all new library cards for young people! (Many services have multiple winning designs and therefore multiple choices of spiffy library cards!) A similar contest could be run for designing library publicity and branding (posters, logos, et cetera).

Book trailer contests tie in with media workshops in which you teach teens basic video editing skills, and introduce video as yet another tool your library uses to promote its service.

Publicity and Garnering Submissions

Once you’ve decided on a type of contest to run, you’re going to need to promote the competition in order to garner a high volume of submissions. Publicize the contest within the library and send media releases to all of the usual outlets. Direct press releases to all local news sources, including newspapers, magazines, and blogs. Local secondary schools and colleges may make excellent allies: if you contact teachers well in advance, they may be willing not only to promote your competition but also to incorporate a relevant lesson into their curriculum. School and college librarians may also help advocate for your project. Working with Connexions, youth clubs, and other organisations for young people will also allow you to reach a large number of young people. (See Where To? Venues for Teen Outreach for more ideas.)


The two questions of judging are (1) who will judge? and (2) what sort of criteria will you use? The second question is partly dependent on the medium, the parameters set out in the initial call for submissions (i.e. genre or style suggested or required by contest guidelines), and the judges’ personal criteria (taste and preference).

Library staff may act as judges, but recruiting a known author or artist (especially someone who lives locally) to assist in the judging widens the scope of the contest and may expand publicity opportunities for all involved.

Awards and Prizes

The greatest prize for these contests is actually publicity of the work, be this in the form of publication, a film showing, a gallery show, et cetera. It’s also advisable to award a tangible prize that your library services provides or solicits from elsewhere. Local businesses are often willing to donate cash, gift tokens, or actual merchandise from their stores. If the contest is writing or art-based, why not see whether you can fund or get a donation of a place to an art or writing event or workshop for young people?

Publicity for Winners

As mentioned before, publicity is perhaps the greatest prize for many participants. It makes the winners of the contest feel valued and brings their creative work to a larger audience. The promise of widely publicizing winners is a strong incentive to submit work in the first place.

Work with local and/or national publications well ahead of time to create an opportunity for publication of winning works. You may want to organise a reading of written work and/or collaborate with nearby galleries to display the winning art of show winning videos. Again, this takes some preparation but can be accomplished by a single staff member and can garner the attention the competition (and your library!) deserve.


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