Letting Go: Unexpected Aches and Benefits to Teen-Led Programming

by Violeta Garza, Multnomah County Library-Troutdale


Troutdale Library Teen Council.

Our Teen Council at Troutdale Library is full of the kind of teen volunteers who are so stellar, it’s like I dreamed them up. There’s the whirlwind 17-year-old young woman who is poised to be valedictorian of her class, but still finds time to volunteer for everything she hears about. There’s the goofy 14-year-old who is a genius at coming up with silly icebreaker questions for the group, but still asks those hard-hitting “big picture” questions about the group’s contributions to the community. And there’s the sweet 15-year-old who doesn’t mind washing the cups after the group is done with them. I know, I know. I sound like I’m making them up so our library can look good. If you’ve worked with teens for any period of time, you’ll know that sometimes you go through dry spells and sometimes you have sparkly magic. This is my year of sparkly magic.

There are roughly fifteen teenagers in my Teen Council, and when I saw potential in their vision, I hosted elections for four positions: President (though she prefers to be called General Manager), Secretary, Icebreaker Man (though he prefers to be called Father Time), and Tech Manager. Three months later, I noticed that even though the President was running the meetings, the group still looked to me to be the authority. I started to feel that my presence was hindering the actual leadership of the group. So I made the choice to consciously step out of the meeting last month. It was the biggest gift I could give to the group, and a difficult one for me. That hour with them is my favorite of the whole month, bar none. Yet I knew that there would be huge benefits to these teens feeling like they were actually in charge.

After about thirty minutes of this group meeting without me, the President came to my desk and said, “We’re done.”

My brain: Oh. Alright. Huh. They’re done with a really hefty agenda, just like that? Wow.

I gave her a few more topics covering events way into the future. In fifteen minutes, she came in to tell me she was done with that as well. I was intrigued. When the meeting was over, I learned that they got through the agenda so fast that there was a lot of time left over to socialize. Everyone agreed that it had been a good meeting. I was ecstatic for them. Until…

My brain: Wait a second. Am I a problem at these meetings?

So I asked our secretary if we should do a similar meeting again. He said, “Sure.”

My brain: That’s… awesome! But… what’s my role in all of this?

That evening, I went home partly thrilled for their success and partly heartbroken over my brain’s allegation that perhaps I was hampering their growth. It was embarrassing. Yet once I allowed myself to feel the “happy hurt” without judgment, I was able to truly admire their accomplishment.

 And it’s highly convenient that I did. Because while this is the year of sparkly magic in terms of teen programming at the library, it’s also the year of a monstrous flu plague that knocked me out for over two weeks—right in the middle of our much-anticipated gaming series Battle Week. I was only able to attend 2 out of the total 10 hours of this 5-day program, but because they are used to being independent, they hosted their program like pros while I was recovering– with the help of some very kind staff members.

In other words, it’s the best compliment of all that they don’t really need me, but that they appreciate me enough to make me several hilarious “get well soon” cards out of cardstock and markers. I know they will eventually age out and I’ll probably go through a dry spell again, but for now, I’m learning to let go and just enjoy the heck out of the magic.