Career Conversations, programming for older teens
What do older teens want out of library programing? Communities differ, but in my area, with teens in a highly demanding school loaded with AP courses and ample, high quality after school activity options, the library’s offerings have tough competition for teens’ precious after school time. The strategy here is not to attempt competing with school and other activities at all, but to compliment them.
Career Conversations attempts to bridge teens from the excellent guidance department they have access to at school to something a little looser, something a little more connected to the real world. This is not a Teen Program in a Box, because a lot of the work is going to fall on your shoulders, and those of your teen board. But for the legwork it takes, it is inexpensive (free, even), useful, and fairly simple.
Career Conversations is a series of panel discussions, each focusing on a different type of work. What’s it really like to be an engineer? What does that even mean anymore? What’s your life like as a family doctor as opposed to a surgeon? How would I know which specialization to choose? The only real way to know is to talk to people who do these jobs.
Tips for starting your own Career Conversation series
- Whenever possible, work in concert with local guidance offices. Find out what they are offering and plan your events to compliment them. Send flyers to them and ask for their help in promoting your events. If your local schools offer any clubs or activities that relate to the panel, include them in the planning and promotion.
- When choosing a theme, think about career types that teens can relate to. My panel on engineering careers was a great hit, but we canceled the one on nonprofit sector careers due to lack of interest. I don’t think this means that our teens are disinterested in nonprofit work, rather they don’t have a solid touchpoint to make sense of what that phrase means in their lives. It would have been better titled something like “Careers that save the world” or “Working for the greater good” or something like that.
- Use your Teen Board, teenaged library employees, the teen liaison to the library board, and any other “key teen informants” to spread the word. Whereas most of our younger patrons hear about programs from their parents, older teen program attendance can thrive or die on word of mouth promotion.
- Strive for diversity on your panel. If everyone you know who works in healthcare is a middle aged woman in a family practice doctor’s office, move away from who you know and find people who represent a wider diversity in both work and demographic.
- Contact your local Chamber of Commerce to find speakers from different professions. This can help to build connections in your local community as well.
- Keep any professional organizations in mind too. Folks that are active in promoting their profession through professional organizations are great resources for promoting their work to teens as well. Some organizations, such as the Society of Women Engineers, even has a high school outreach branch.
- Feed them. Offer light refreshments as a way to encourage mingling and chatting either before or after the panel conversation. Rather than the “if you feed them they will come” premise, here refreshments works as a social lubricant – giving teens something to do while networking. For my event, I had cut veggies, hummus, a platter of grapes, and lemonade. It can be simple.
- Ask for teens to contribute questions. If you have a feedback wall or comment box in your teen area, use this as a way to draw questions from teens.
- Encourage a conversation among the panelists. I found that people who do similar work in different ways enjoy discussing the commonalities, even in spite of their differences.
Have you hosted similar programs? Share tips and cautions in the comments!
About Heather Booth
Heather Booth has worked in libraries since 2001 and am the author of Serving Teens Through Reader’s Advisory (ALA Editions, 2007) and the editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Servcies along with Karen Jensen.
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