Library Program: A Teens’ TEDx Event

One Saturday in May, a program that was almost a year in the making finally came together. Miriam, the teen librarian I work with, spearheaded this event, and I only helped in a support capacity, but the final event was so moving and inspiring and absolutely amazing I had to share.

Getting a TEDx license is kind of a pain. There’s a complicated application process, and it took us a few rounds to get it right. First we tried for a regular old Lawrence license, only to find that someone else in Lawrence had applied right before us. Then we tried for a youth event, and ultimately ended up with a library license that allowed us to do several events within a calendar year. Our main focus was on a teen organized event where we had 9 teens speak about their “ideas worth spreading.”

Organizing a teen led event is a challenge. It’s great to empower teens to make their own decisions and really be in charge of their own event, but it’s also a little scary, because it’s easy to feel that if things don’t go off, the blame will land at your feet, rather than theirs. The process of putting together this event was not without its setbacks and challenges, but in the end, everything came together beautifully.

These are my three favorite talks from the event. 

Annika has a great sort of dry sense of humor, and I loved the message of her talk.



Sarah had a great vehicle for her speech, and as a former speech and debate coach I appreciated it.



And this one is my absolute favorite, because Lauren has been in my book club for years. She came to a practice session a week before the event with a half-formed speech she wasn’t really into, but was so excited to tell me all about her recent slam poetry competition. I said, “Lauren, you should talk about this.” And so she did, and it was really amazing.



There are a couple things we’re doing differently this second time around. We’re forming partnerships with schools in the hops that one person from each middle and high school will help to identify potential speakers and keep them on schedule as far as deadlines for writing, practicing, and memorizing speeches go. This was difficult to coordinate from the library. We also had trouble identifying enough community members who could act as mentors (listen to the speeches and offer feedback during the process) whose schedules worked with the teens. Plus, all the coordination of the meetings has to go through Miriam unless we wanted to do background checks. We also had a few teens drop out before the actual event—they were covering the more “technology” topics and were also all young men. So our session ended up being almost all young women and almost all more focused on cultural issues, which was not our original intent. We’re really aiming to have a more balanced slate of speakers next time around.

TEDx programs are perfect programs for libraries and can really empower teens and give them a voice. They build project management and public speaking skills. It fit all of our strategic goals for a library, which include facilitating education, content creation, and making the library a destination for the community.

Events like this do take a lot of planning and there was a lot of staff time devoted to pulling this one off. We’ve identified additional equipment we need as well to have better video quality. But overall, I’d highly recommend looking into it.

2 thoughts on “Library Program: A Teens’ TEDx Event

  1. This blows my mind, to the point where I can’t come up with anything else to say except, “wow!”

    As an aside, you know that everyone holds LPL up as the perfect example of everything, right?

    1. I think we’re probably the smallest size of community that a program like this would work in — and why I do think the end results were pretty “wow” I tried to convey that it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

      LPL is awesome and I love working there. I think there are a few things that work in our favor: our community is awesome, we’re willing to try new things, and our administration is open to new ideas and really supportive. That being said, like any library, there’s things we can do better and lots more things we would do if we were adequately funded. We’re understaffed, and a lot of people are giving 150% to make things happen.

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