"Establishing a youth participation group is the best Young Adult management tool I know of. It allows the librarian to get to know the local teens and to become familiar with their needs and interests. It encourages teens to get involved with the library and to meet new people. It provides library staff with a better understanding of real young adults and allows teens to have a sense of responsibility and accomplishment" (Vaillancourt, 2002).

The Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana Teen Advisory Council
The Youth Resources of Southwestern Indiana Teen Advisory Council

What is a Teen Advisory Board?

A teen advisory board/group (often abbreviated TAB, TAG; also know as a young adult advisory council (YAAC), youth advisory council (YAC), library teen council (LTC), etc.) is a group of teens (ideally representing all grades between 6th/7th and 12th) who are interested in becoming more involved in their community or library. The group is usually led and maintained by the teen librarian. Teens work with the librarians to decide what their group would like to do. Teens can give input on library YA collections, contribute to blogs or other library publications such as bibliographies, help lead/create programming, volunteer at events, organize community service projects, and/or influence how their library serves teens (Herald, 1996).
A TAB involves your teens directly in their library, instills in them a sense of pride and responsibility for the programming and collection, and gives you, as the librarian, a direct link to your teen patrons to foster deeper relationships with them (Thinking Big, 2011).

Why have a TAB?

  • TABs give young people a voice in creating and sustaining services for them and provide a safe environment without the pressures from school, home, and community (King, 2005)
  • Teens will feel more connected to the library and become more involved lifelong library users
  • TAB members promote library services to other teens (Honnold, 2008)
  • TABs give teens more focused opportunities for volunteering, with concrete results from their work (Kendrick-Samuel, 2012)
  • TABs can increase library attendance, boost circulation, and help your library and community recognize the value of its teen citizens (Chapman, 2003)
  • TABs support Positive Youth Development through meaningful relationships with adults and peers and service-learning (Tuccillo, 2005)

Think about perks and rewards for your TAB members. Teens join TABs for a variety of reasons, including finding friends, fulfilling community service requirements, and putting the TAB on their college applications. Encourage all reasons, but also include your own perks and rewards, like t-shirts, food, influence in the library (like making a "recommended books" display), field trips, or simple thank-you notes or emails. Consider bringing back free books from your conferences to give to your TAB members. The more you reward your teens in both words and actions, the more they will feel valued and dedicated to you and the group (Tuccillo, 2005).

Ten Tips for Starting a TAB (Canadee, 1999)

  1. Know your community's teens.
  2. Recruit members or select members? Which model works for you?
  3. Be ready for surprises. Running a TAB will not be a time saver.
  4. Start small.
  5. Go with the flow. Each group will have different energy.
  6. Channel the flow. Set up fair rules, feedback, guidance, and direction.
  7. Allow for social time.
  8. Reward them. Show them how much they are appreciated.
  9. Think to the future. How can the group keep going?
  10. Have fun!

Who can start/lead a TAB?

Working with a TAB is just like working with teens in traditional library services--teaching someone to love teens is impossible. Make sure the TAB advisor is someone who has a real interest in teens, who is committed to the hard work of supporting the TAB, and who can be a mentor, leader, friend, and "adult" at the same time. If you don't have a designated young adult staff member, keep an open mind and find someone who is genuinely interested (and don't rule out possible partnerships or co-advisors!). An enthusiastic person who likes teens can easily be trained to lead a TAB (with guidebooks, Web sites, YALSA training sessions, or other young adult/youth services training options), and will be more committed to the teens than someone simply assigned to the group (Tuccillo, 2005).

Example qualities of a "teen person" (Tuccillo, 2005)
  • Easy to talk to and listens well
  • Has a sense of humor
  • Enthusiastic and supportive
  • Trusts teens
  • Genuinely enjoys teens
  • Encourages teens to work independently but with guidance
  • Knows about teens and their culture
  • Can "roll with the punches"
  • Treats teens with sincerity and respect

How do I start and maintain my TAB?

Here are some steps to getting your TAB off the ground:
  • Create an application: name, age, grade, school, email address/phone number, and interest questions, like "Why do you want to be part of a teen advisory board?" or "What would you like to see occur at your library?" (Thinking Big, 2011).
  • Check with the young people you regularly see in your library- frequent visitors may be more than willing to have their voices heard.
  • Promote your TAB to younger kids who are avid readers and library users. They will want to "be like the teens" and sign up when they are old enough for your group.
  • If you feed them, they will come! Start with snacks, drinks, and the occasional pizza or cake, and move on to TAB potlucks, rotating snack-duty schedules, etc. (Tuccillo, 2005)
  • Get the core group of TAB members to bring a friend.
  • Mention how this looks on resumes, college applications etc.
  • Contact local schools. Send a letter and flyer. Visit and do booktalks.
  • Highlight a spot in the teen section of your library/school's Web page to promote your TAB.
  • Make sure your TAB's meetings get onto the main library's events calendar.
  • Promote the TAB in your library with flyers, displays, etc.
  • Send out a brief press release to local/school newspapers or radio stations.
  • Ask for nominations from teachers, community youth directors, etc.

When getting approval from your director to start a TAB, you may need to develop a proposal and outline your goals for the group. If your library has never considered having a TAB, you might be required to present a written proposal to your administrators (and possibly the city council), including your reasons for starting the group, your goals for establishing and running the group, specifics on recruitment and responsibilities of your teens, and your role as their advisor (Tuccillo, 2005).

At your first meeting: (Tuccillo, 2005)
  • Schedule a comfortable meeting place you can use on a regular basis, with ample room for your anticipated numbers and storage for supplies.
  • Contact members beforehand to remind them about the meeting, with phone calls, email, Facebook/Twitter updates, mailed notices, etc. Use at least two methods to make sure they get the message.
  • Set an agenda, and display it during the meeting (on a whiteboard, handout, etc.)
  • Remember the food!
  • If you want them to discuss books, ask them to come prepared (and make sure you plan on having a book club-style meeting.)
  • At the meeting, introduce and share something about yourself. Be open and friendly.
  • Make them feel welcome and important. Outline why the library needs them and how valued their impact will be.
  • Have some ground rules and explain them. Help them set their own ground rules for meetings and the group.
  • Do some icebreakers!
  • Let them help you develop a plan for the group's operation. Have them help you draft a mission statement and goals and objectives for the group. Don't rush this one; it make take several meetings to nail down.
  • Allow the group to select a name. Consider designing a group logo, group t-shirts, etc.
  • Discuss officers and possible leadership roles. Decide what officers (if any) you all want and how to elect/appoint them.
  • Decide how often the group will meet, and what time works best for everyone. Be flexible.
  • Follow up with written information they can keep, like meeting minutes, guidelines, schedule, mission statement, list (and photo) of officers, etc. Consider posting this to the library's teen Web page.
  • Post additional details and membership criteria to the school or library main page, to encourage more membership.
  • Consider setting up a group message board, Facebook group, listserv, etc. for group-wide communication between meetings.

Establish a vision or mission statement for your TAB:
  • Early on in the development and planning of your TAB, establish a set of clearly defined goals and overall mission statement or vision for the TAB and its participants. Think about what you would like your TAB to achieve.
  • Establish objectives that are realistic and easily evaluated. When setting your TAB's goals, ask yourself if they can be measured and modified when necessary. How can you tell if your TAB is making an impact? Are the teens involved and their contributions to the library making noticeable differences in the community? How can you prove the value of your TAB to people or organizations who may be interested in observing and evaluating its success? (Restuccia & Bundy, 2003).
  • Your TAB's mission statement will inform interested teens and potential collaborators what participating in your TAB would entail. Make it sound appealing and let others know exactly what they would be getting into.
  • Some questions to keep in mind when developing a mission statement:
    • What will your TAB be addressing? Collection development? Programming?
    • How much will teens be involved? Will there be multiple chances for teen leadership?
    • Are there fundamental lessons and skills you are hoping teens take away from being a part of your TAB?
    • How can you concisely and efficiently describe the purpose and qualities of your TAB to the public?
  • Some examples of clear and effective mission statements include:
    • "To insure the availability of quality resources for both leisure activities and homework assignments for junior and senior high school students. The Committee encourages teen involvement in the library through creative original programming and suggesting program to be held at the library" (Jervis Public Library, 2010). Notice how this group emphasizes both leisure and educational activities, as well as programming as a source of teen involvement.
    • "As the Winnipeg Public Library's Youth Advisory Council, our mission is to encourage youth to use the library, by giving the library new perspectives on youth, and by giving youth a new perspective" (Winnipeg Public Library). Note how this library plans to use their TAB to encourage young people to have positive experiences in the library, as well as with its staff and vice versa.

Tips for keeping things running smoothly:
  • Evolve or Die! Stay open to new ideas and opinions.
  • Remember your membership will change over time. Don't be afraid to recruit new members, and be wary of getting "too attached" to current ones.
  • Don't force your goals/desires on TAB members. Let them lead!
  • Create (with your members) guidelines for behavior to address potential future conflict, cliques, etc.
  • Be flexible. Allow for socializing, snacks, and "unproductive" fun. Schedule in a socializing period to keep teens on task during "the rest" of the meeting.
  • Respect and value your teens and their input.
  • Thank your teens. Often. Make sure they know the significance of their involvement.
  • If needed, schedule additional staff during meetings so you can give your teens your undivided attention.
  • Maintain a professional relationship with limits and boundaries. You're their cheerleader but you're still their librarian first.

Examples of Possible TAB Activities:

  • Weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings to discuss possible programs and collection development
  • Have a "teen display" created for and by teens
  • Help teens to lead a Battle of the Bands
  • Teen-hosted poetry slam or poetry contest
  • Sponsoring book and activity clubs, like anime/manga, tech/gaming, or writers' groups
  • Gaming tournament with teen-made trophies
  • Teen-led summer reading program activities
  • After school homework help or computer mentors
  • Book talks and book discussions held at the library or a favorite business
  • Read-a-thon or a library overnight "lock-in"
  • Fundraising activities for the library or TAB
  • Organizing and promoting an author visit or other guest lecture/program
  • Collecting donations for a local animal shelter
  • Give "behind-the-scenes" tours to younger library users
  • Assisting in book selection and collection development
  • Decorating the library or children's room seasonally/by theme

Book Groups

Book groups for teens are an offshoot of teen advisory boards, and are important to think about. Book groups and book clubs work well when combined with teen advisory boards, because you already have a built-in group of people who are interested in libraries, books, and reading. How do you best run a book group for teens?
  • Let them pick the book
    • This is very important. There is no faster way to bleed members in both a TAB and a book group than to tell teenagers what to do. Pick the format (one book or many books at a time), but let them pick what to read. Remember, you're the moderator, not the teacher. Don't push your book, but have suggestions of types of books based on genre, format, audience, gender, or even time of year.
  • Moderate
    • Set some ground rules, but let the teens do the talking. Make sure that there are no derogatory comments being made, but let the teens have their opinions. Ask, but don't demand! Teens will appreciate the freedom and the separation from the traditional classroom model. But do have discussion questions handy in case no one feels like talking that day.
  • Pick a format
    • Many book clubs for teens are turning to an online format (Peowski, 2010). Decide--and decide early. If you are doing a blog format, remember--you're a moderator! Don't insist on the right to approve every comment. And make sure to keep your blog updated and full of interesting facts so that the teens in your group will keep coming back. Planning on doing an in-person group? Combine it with TAB? Remember the schedule! These are teenagers with their own lives as well as school. Make sure that your book group doesn't feel like school.
  • Remember the needs of your community
    • Are you creating a book group because you think your TAB or your library needs one? Have you checked in with them? Make sure that you assess the needs of your community before you create a program. Talk to the teens in your library and in your TAB and ask them what they want their next step to be. Perhaps they want a homework help program, not a book group.
  • Read the book!
    • Always read the book, even if you think you will hate it. Don't lie to your teens.
  • Have incentives
    • Food is a great incentive, but so are free books, writing components (get the teens to publish their reviews on a blog!), associate your book group with another program (such as TAB), and remember, it's about them, not you.
  • Do assessment
    • And don't be afraid to fail. If only one teen shows up, make it all about that teen, but afterwards, ask how they heard about the event. At the next TAB meeting, ask why people couldn't, or didn't want to, come. Were the teens not interested in the book? Did some scheduling glitch get in the way? Don't be afraid to ask your teens what went well and what didn't, and then write it down so that you don't make the same mistakes again.

How do I fund my TAB?

Many libraries will include funding for a TAB in the regular library budget, supplemented by the Friends of the Library. Successful TABs are often started and developed through grants from funders such as LSTA (Library Services and Technologies Act), state-oriented agencies, local organizations, YALSA (Young Adult Library Services Association), national organizations (like the Carnegie Corporation), and many other grant funders. Once your program is up and running, many communities allow library teen advisors to raise funds, and teens can raise money for their TAB through special projects like car washes, book or bake sales, read-a-thons, raffle sales at library/community events, haunted houses, community teen dances, booths at local craft/activity fairs, etc. See the wiki page on Grant Writing and the funding chapter in Library Teen Advisory Boards (Tuccillo, 2005) for more specific grant and funding details.

What other challenges might I encounter when running a TAB?

When trying to actively include young people in library planning, programming, and other activities, a youth services librarian may be met with a reluctance to participate. Teens are notorious for "voting with their feet," as in making their opinions about a specific program or initiative obvious by not attending. Be prepared to address this. Do not give up on your TAB. Think of creative ways to encourage participation from the teens in your community. You must believe in the mission and power of your TAB and be willing to fully commit to its success, setting an example for teens that the library is a consistent and reliable institution. Another problem you may encounter is resistance on the behalf of library staff members and adults in the community to relinquish some control to young people and allow them to fully embrace significant leadership opportunities. Adults are sometimes scared to give teens the freedom to make important decisions and offer their full support and confidence in those decisions. As stated previously, it takes a special kind of individual and librarian to run a TAB. However, all library staff members should become comfortable and educated on how best to interact with teens in order to create a welcoming and supportive environment for teens to truly benefit from a TAB (Restuccia & Bundy, 2003).

Can school libraries have TABs?

TABs are not just for public libraries! Many middle schools, junior highs, and high schools have successful and active TABs. A school TAB can go beyond the typical teen book club, since teens can help plan and manage their school library, support peer reading, programming, and promotional activities, and demonstrate to school administration, teachers, and parents that "the library isn't the personal domain of the school librarian--it belongs to everyone in the school community" (Tuccillo, 2005). Ultimately, TABs at any library create a feeling of "ownership" in the teens toward their library, and a commitment to seeing it succeed.

Web Resources

  • "How to Organize a Teen Friends of the Library Group" (Friends of Library USA)
http://www.folusa.org/resources/html-versions/fact-sheet-5.php
  • Libraries and Teen Advisory Groups Advice (Jervis Library)
http://www.jervislibrary.org/yaweb/TAGs.html
  • Young Adult Services Blog (YALSA)
http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/
  • Successful Teen Advisory Groups (VOYA Supplement)
http://www.voya.com/2010/04/26/successful-teen-advisory-groups/

Print Resources

  • Tucillo, D. P. (2005). Library Teen Advisory Groups. Lanham, MD: VOYA Books.
  • Tucillo, D. P. (2010). Ways teens can participate: teen advisory boards, teen volunteers, and library aides in school and public libraries. Teen Centered Library Service: Putting Youth Participation Into Practice. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Ludwig, S. (2011). The Teen Advisory Board. Starting From Scratch: Building a Teen Library Program. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
  • Ott, Valerie A. (2006). Teen Programs with a Punch: A Month-by-month Guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Cited Sources:
Brehm-Heeger, P. (2008, February). Blurring the lines: Urban library problems have gone suburban. School Library Journal, 54(10), 29.

Canadee, A. A. (1999, June). Ten tips for starting a teen advisory group. Voice of Youth Advocates, 22(2), 102.

Chapman, J. (2003, February). The care and feeding of a teen advisory board. Voice of Youth Advocates, 25(6), 449-450.

Couri, S. (2008, August). Dungeons and gardens. Voice of Youth Advocates, 31(3), 226.

Fesko, S. (2012, February). A busy TAB is a happy TAB. Voice of Youth Advocates, 34(6), 580.

Herald, D. T. (1996, July). Buy more books! And other bright ideas from a teen advisory board. School Library Journal, 42, 26-27.

Honnold, Rosemary. (2008, April). Beyond book clubs. Voice of Youth Advocates, 31(1), 19-21.

Jervis Public Library. (2010). Youth Advisory Council. Retrieved from http://www.jervislibrary.org/yaweb/yacommittee.html

Kendrick-Samuel, S. (2012, Winter) Junior friends groups: Taking teen services to the next level. Young Adult Library Services, 10(2), 15-18.

King, K. R. (2005, December). All I really need to know about teen advisory boards I learned from…. Voice Of Youth Advocates, 28(5), 378-379.

Klipper, B. (2011, Summer). Funding problems? Your teens can make a difference. Young Adult Library Services, 9(4), 36-37.

Peowski, Laura. (2010) "Where are all the Teens?: Engaging and Empowering Them Online." Young Adult Library Services, 8(2), 26-28

Restuccia, D., & Bundy, A. (2003). Positive youth development: A literature review. Retrieved from http://mypasa.org/failid/Positive_Youth_Dev.pdf

Thinking Big Advocacy Contest Task Force. (2011, January 13). Thinking big about...Teen advisory boards and library programs. YALSA Blog. Retrieved October 23, 2012 from yalsa.ala.org/blog/2011/01/13/thinking-big-about-teen-advisory-boards-and-library-programs/

Tuccillo, D. P. (2005). Library teen advisory groups. Lanham, MD: VOYA Books.

Vaillancourt, R. J. (2002). Managing young adult services: A self-help manual. New York: Neal-Schuman.

Winnipeg Public Library. Youth Advisory Council. Retrieved from http://wpl-teens.winnipeg.ca/views/Youthadvisorycouncil.cfm