Huge thanks to the wonderful Rosemary Marchant of Oak Farm Library (Hillingdon Borough Libraries), who has been a huge support to YA Shot and especially in developing our Year Long Legacy Programme and adding detail to the plan for our Arts Council Grant bid. Here is her expert advice about organising author events involving both libraries and schools.
What types of activities always seem to be popular at events?
Kids love to be creative, and teenagers are no exception. Activities that tend to work best are when they are encouraged to use their creativity and create something together or individually without being concerned about using correct grammar and writing structures, as this is covered at school. Something for inspiration is important, be it a book, an image or an object this also sparks discussion which is a great tool to get teens excited. This provides a starting point that can be built on and provides a foundation for those not yet confident enough to create ideas from scratch.
In your experience, what things are most likely to go wrong and how can they be avoided?
Keeping attention of teenagers can be tricky. I’ve seen authors and workshop facilitators use a variety of techniques to tackle short attention spans. The method that appears to work best is to avoid talking at students for a long period of time (more than 15 mins). Regularly asking questions or changing activity means that teens don’t have a chance to get bored!
What little touches or extras help to make an event a success?
Environment is very important. Some libraries are lucky enough to have a room that can be used for an event, but I have found that this does separate the event from the library. If possible an area should be reserved for a group but allowing students to ‘venture’ beyond this space and into the library, for a task or before or after the event, is an important part of opening the library up to new users. I know this is something I have struggled to incorporate into my events, as we have a separate room that we use as it seats more people, and it is something I aim to include more of in the future.
What can authors and/or schools do before, during and after an event to try to make sure it has a legacy of inspiration and aspiration?
I think it is important that the work done during a workshop is built upon afterwards both in school and the library. Where possible, the library should have copies of the author’s work available to borrow, and if they have a reading group then author events provide a perfect way to encourage new members. A workshop that is attended and then never mentioned again is less likely to provide students with a lasting message. Being able to communicate further with the author, sending in work, perhaps via a teacher or the library, could be a useful tool for this and provide teens with feedback from someone with a different perspective from their peers and teachers.
I think it’s important that teachers engage with the workshop too so that they can discuss ideas with students and the author.
It is equally important for library staff to be involved and present during a workshop. This way they can develop links with the students and teachers and automatically the library becomes a more welcoming and comfortable setting for teens, who often view libraries as somewhere stuffy and not aimed at young people.
Encouraging and recording feedback is important too as this can be used by both the author and the library to adapt workshops. Positive feedback is a huge motivator when it comes to planning future events.