Helping Teens Lead and Fund Library Projects

13 Feb

Money is in short supply these days. However, teens with a great idea for improvements or events that take place in or related to the library can still apply for money. You can find a list of current sources of funding here. Starbucks Youth Action is offering funding for young people right now. Applications due by 9 AM on 5 March 2012.

If you already work with a small group of teens (a reading group, Teen Advisory Group, or just a bunch of library regulars you’ve gotten to know), you may notice that they have ideas for improving the library. This type of event would be great if it ever happened, they say. That collection of books is deficient, they claim. In many cases you may not have the time, budget, or supporting staff to execute their ideas, even if you know the ideas are strong. The good news is that in many cases, you can help young people implement these ideas themselves. By providing guidance and appropriate advice, you can assist them in creating the teen library service they want to see.

Even in the current economic climate, there is some funding is available to young people leading projects in their local area. The primary criteria of these projects is usually that they be teen-generated and teen-led. Many of them (like 02 Think Big) also expect there to be adult supporters involved. That’s your role! You can also help teens structure and articulate ideas, and assist them by helping them break intimidating aspects of projects or applications into manageable tasks. You’ll act as their supporter: librarian and cheerleader rolled into one.

Premise: The teens you work with have a great idea! They want to host a manga day, or to start a volunteer programme to help younger readers, or to improve the teen space, or something probably much clever than anything I’ve come up with. Now what?

Break the process into five steps:

Get Permission
Brainstorm
Choose Funding Source
Be Realistic and Optimistic
Fill Out the Application

Get Permission

If you need permission for some portion of the project, ensure that you have it. If teens obtain funding to revamp the teen area but your supervisors aren’t keen, that money may never go to fund a great project. “We’ll fund it ourselves!” usually makes a winning argument.

Brainstorm and Choose a Funding Source to Apply To

Take a look at the various funding pots. Is the proposed project a £300, £3000, or £30,000 project? The easiest way to establish this is to guide them through the particulars. This is an area where you’ll definitely be of help, as you most likely have more experience articulating the finer points of a project and drafting budgets. Help them turn general assertions (“we want it to be awesome”) into specifics (“we want a new set of awesome books that cost £200”) through brainstorming.

Be Realistic and Optimistic

Next, take a look at the applications. Maybe the £30,000 project is amazing, but given the needs of the application (that a certain amount of hours be dedicated, for example, or that other funding be secured), the £300 grant is the best to start with. (Again, you can help by demonstrating how the project can be broken into meaningful chunks.)

Complete that Pesky Application Form

Young people need to be able to articulate the following (not necessarily in order of importance!): 1) why the project is important to them; 2) how it will benefit them and others (in the community); 3) how they will deliver the project; 4) what they’ll deliver, when they’ll deliver it by, and how much it costs. The last issue (what/when/cost) doesn’t have to be exact, but it does need to demonstrate some concrete pre-planning. Other considerations – depending on size and scope of the project – might include how they will consult their peers/those benefiting from the project, and how they will evaluate the project.

Your role here is to guide, not to dictate. Allow them to write the proposal. You can help by offering structural hints when they get stuck, editing, and finding helpful reference materials (this last one is especially handy when compiling a rough budget or helping them locate local demographic information). You liaise with staff and supervisors; young people commit their time to the project.

Young people will benefit from the project itself, which will not only empower them but will also boost their CV. I also recommend that you offer volunteer hours (there will be a post about this soon) and recommendation letters to young people who become regularly involved in these types of projects.

The benefit to the library is tremendous: young people will know – or find out – how to reach and benefit other young people in the area. Their projects will help the library build rapport with local teens and the broader community. It also helps support projects that the library wants to develop but couldn’t otherwise fund.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “But the teens in my library aren’t proactive.” Many young people aren’t used to feeling empowered to enact change in their communities. Engage them in a dialogue about improvements they’d like to see in the community. Take their ideas and concerns with respect. Let them know that there are funds (and adults!) who can assist them in achieving these goal. (Of course, you don’t have to embrace every project idea with open arms; “swimming pool in the library” is a good part of a healthy brainstorming session but should probably never grow beyond a daydream. That said, if you do end up building a swimming pool in your library, please tell me, because I’d love to have a swim surrounded by books.)

If you’re reading this and thinking, “great, but I don’t already know the teens in my library,” start reaching out to those already using your service. Introduce yourself, host an event, or reach out to teens in the community. For those who are feelings daunted based on time constraints, look out for an upcoming post about reaching teens in just a few hours every week.

One Response to “Helping Teens Lead and Fund Library Projects”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. On a Shoestring: Reaching Teens in a Few Hours Every Week (or) How to Use Time Effectively When You Don’t Have Any « YA Library UK - April 2, 2012

    […] up and save libraries!). While you may be aware of external sources of money for libraries and teen projects, it’s difficult to use that money to positive effect without a little time to do […]

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