The theme for the monthly discussion at Teen Services Underground is pop culture and teen programming. They posted a list of questions to get librarians talking about their experiences with pop culture and programming. Here are my answers!
What does pop culture in teen programming mean to you? Pop culture that captures the zeitgeist of what gets people excited. That means everything from perennial favorites like Star Wars or Harry Potter to fads that may not last forever. It can mean offering special festival-style events or just a fandom element to a regular program, like Perler beads (the teens in our library absolutely love those.)
Do you use pop culture references (however you define that) when you are planning programs for your teens? We definitely do. It can be anything that our teens specifically request (like what movie to watch at our monthly movie event) or something we observe them getting really excited about something (like Trivia Crack) and having that inspire a program for us.
Have your teens specifically asked for programs involving TV shows, games, movies, or other popular media? Teens have definitely asked. TAB offers suggestions, and we’ve had just regulars ask about programs for making YouTube or Vine videos based on some of their favorites creators. We had requests for a Doctor Who event, so we did offered a special Cafe (our regular Friday program) that was Doctor Who themed before the 50th anniversary.
What’s your experience showing films or TV shows at the library? It’s really hit or miss for us, and has to do with the time and location we are able to offer them. We have a joint programming space with children’s, but found that showing movies in it was problematic, because having the movie play loud enough to hear disturbed the children’s room. The auditorium didn’t have that issue, but is often booked and doesn’t have comfortable seating (we’re planning on some solutions to this).
What are the benefits of making your teen programming a bit more SuperWhoLockian (or insert other fandom here)? They are so much easier to market! Rather than excluding people who aren’t a part of the fandom, it seems to invite them in to explore something they might be curious about, and outside of trivia, most people can participate even if they aren’t super-familiar with the fandom can still participate.
Any drawbacks? Sometimes interest in a pop culture phenomenon waxes and wanes (or just completely falls off the radar) so it can be hard to stay on top of current trends. For example, MineCraft has at times been super-popular, and then teens will find another game they’ll get excited about, and then it’s back to MineCraft. Since we have to plan our programs a few months in advance, we don’t always time it for the peak of popularity.
Have you had concerns or complaints from staff members OR parents about the type of programs you do for teens based on content? Usually the only complaint we’ll here is “why is this teen only? I want to do it!” when we’ve had popular fandom-based programs. This is why a lot of fandom programming have been all ages. For example, when we did 8-bit cross-stitch for summer reading with Doctor Who and Star Wars patterns, it was open to both teens and adults. Our Harry Potter Night was all ages. I had guys in their 30s (with no kids) lined up with 6-year-olds to mix potions. Everyone had fun. We offer a balance of different types of programs, from what I think of as “fluffy” programs that are fun and attract a lot of people but don’t offer the same kind of skill-building opportunities as some of our more “harder-hitting” programs. If someone did complain about it, we’d explain the developmental assets that justify fandom-related activities (empowering youth through valuing their interests, developing positive self-identity by giving them a say in the types of programs offered) and point out to the full array of programs we offer.
If you have a say in teen collection development, have pop culture phenomena influenced what you buy? My duties include much more collection development than program planning, and fandom does drive a lot of my nonfiction purchases. We have a popular, rather than reference, nonfiction section in YA, so I’m looking for books that will get checked out and are more for pleasure reading and interests, in addition to test-prep and study skills type of books and ones on teenage issues, like friendship, bullying, development, etc. If something is popular, I’ll go looking for books about the topic. Manga, anime, and Japanese culture are so popular, we actually added a new “neighborhood” so it could all be shelved together (our YA nonfiction is grouped by topic into categories developed in-house, rather than Dewey).
If you do run a fandom program of any sort, what’s been the most successful thing you’ve done. Aside from all ages events like Star Wars Reads Day or Harry Potter Night, our most popular was a Doctor Who Celebration with crafts, food, trivia, and a photobooth. It was more successful because it was offered as a themed version of a popular regular program. For summer reading, we’re planning a Sherlock-themed scavenger hunt. We’ve done several literature-themed hunts (Where Things Come Back and Dystopian/Apocalyptic YA fiction), but this will be our first fandom related one (and first murder-mystery hunt). Of course, we’re still waiting until December 2015 for any new episodes, so I’m not sure if the timing is going to be right! But I think it’s a well-known and popular enough theme that it will work.
What are your thoughts on pop culture and teen programming?