“Do not bong my dip-dip-dee.”
It sounds ridiculous, but to the group of young teens gathered at the library Jan. 31, the phrase quickly became a mantra.
The teens were playing an improv game that challenged them to send an imaginary ball of energy around the circle with various hand gestures, a few silly phrases and lots of laughter.
The improv group is part of the library’s new focus on teen activities. Though the library has always held activities for various age groups, including weekly storytimes for young children and book clubs for adults, the number of activities geared towards teenagers was severely lacking. Before the program started, the library only hosted one or two teen events a month.
Amanda Bosky, youth services librarian, teamed up with adult and teen services librarian Cynthia Schlegel in 2016 to help change the trend. That was around the same time the library completed renovations to the then-new teen area on the second floor.
“I started daydreaming about hiring a teen services paraprofessional,” Bosky said. “Budget wise, we knew it would be very difficult to add another position to the library’s staff, so we started looking for alternatives.”
One such alternative was crafting an internship through the UW-Madison’s School of Library and Information Science. The library adapted the position to a 15- to 18-hour per week internship for a student working on their Masters in Library and Information Science.
Funding came from an anonymous Stoughton community donor and covers two academic semesters, September 2017 through May 2018, for Hannah Klapperich-Mueller to fill the role.
Klapperich-Mueller helps plan teen programs, a task she started right away in September. She runs the activities with enthusiasm and excitement — she led the teens through the improv class with a big smile on her face, and while watching the group dance, laugh and act their way around the Carnegie room in the basement of the library. It’s difficult to say who enjoys the activities more, Klapperich-Mueller or the teens themselves.
“I’ve said this so many times before, but I’m so glad that I’m working here because I can’t imagine having a better experience and being able to work like this while still in library school,” Klapperich-Mueller said.
Recognizing the need
With weekly programs for young children and adults, Schlegel said that she recognized the need to help bring teens into the library.
A big hurdle to accomplishing that task, though, was staffing.
“We are, like everyone else, understaffed, so I’ve tried to do some different teen events, but I’m also an adult services librarian, so if I spend an hour doing teen things, who’s working the desk?” Schlegel said.
The goal the team of librarians share is to create lifelong patrons of the library. To accomplish this, they believe they have to inform the community about what teens can do at the library.
So not only is Klapperich-Mueller busy with leading improv groups, she’s actively thinking about different ways to engage the new audience while keeping them informed about what they can get out of their time at the library.
Over the last several months, she’s hosted chess clubs, writing series, technology activities and, on the sweeter side, cupcake decorating. The internship is mostly based on trial and error, to see which programs the teens enjoy and which can be set aside.
“We see that people in the community don’t know what we can offer to teens, what programs are available to them, because teens don’t really want to come in here and just read books,” Schlegel said. “But we do have a lot of other things going on, so we’re trying to tap that audience and think about what they’re interested in and engaged with to help bring them to us.”
And to get to know more about those who are new patrons, Klapperich-Mueller started a subscription box-inspired book club.
Teens with a library card can get a monthly book box filled with treats, a book and a comment card they can fill out to let the library staff know more about what they like, don’t like, and general feedback about the activity. It’s brand new, so not many are signed up yet, but they hope it picks up in popularity as more become aware of the project.
“Rather than a face-to-face program, this is tapping into the literacy element to get teens to read and figure out exactly what they want to read,” she said. “So not only will I learn more about them by making these boxes, but the library staff will be able to get to know them more through reading the comment cards.”
Klapperich-Mueller will leave the library in May, and the library staff are already looking into how to keep the momentum going after her semester ends.
That momentum began with the 2015 completion of renovations to the library’s teen activity area located on the second floor after five years of fundraising. The renovations were completed in 2016, and include booths, meeting rooms, dry-erase walls and dozens of electrical outlets to help keep teens connected. It’s now decorated with posters to help teens learn more about the new activities, which were created and displayed by Klapperich-Mueller during her internship.
Budgeting hasn’t been secured to support another internship next school year, but the librarians are looking for feedback from the community to see if this is a program that should be continued. It would take re-evaluating the library budget, or perhaps finding funding through a similar grant program, but the team of librarians is working ahead to try to get a running start into the summer and next school year.
“This is a great jump start, we can really get the ball rolling while Hannah is here,” Schlegel said. “We want to make a safe and fun place for teens to go outside of school, so many places are like, ‘We don’t want the teens here,’ but we’re like, ‘Oh send them to us!”