Published on August 14th, 2015 | by Marissa Lieberman
Library Cons: Unique Opportunities for Tweens and Teens
One of my favorite aspects of Tosho-con, an annual all day anime and comic convention at my library, is getting the tweens and teens involved in making it happen. With successful library conventions popping up around the country, libraries have proven themselves as viable venues for conventions. Larger conventions can be very costly, may not always be accessible for tweens and teens to attend, and are filled with crowds of people and long lines. Library conventions can offer attendees a wide variety of panels, programs and a chance to interact with artists and industry professionals in a way that mimics larger conventions while at the same time caters to the local community. Most importantly, library conventions differentiate themselves in their ability to involve patrons in the planning and running of the event.
On June 20th, 2015, over 400 people of diverse ages and backgrounds from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania gathered at the East Orange Public Library in New Jersey, united by their love of comics and anime. Members of my tween anime club worked diligently in the months leading up the event. Giving them a chance to hone their leadership skills, I chose two dedicated tweens to inspire the others and appointed them as my “co-chairs.” They were tasked to come up with engaging, passive programs for a table that they would run. Ideas included trivia (with candy as a prize), origami, and showing off their artwork. Other interested tweens were given their own projects to work on, such as making a poster with nearby places to eat and decorating tablecloths with comic stencils. They were appointed “co-co chairs” of their given project.
Something as simple as giving eleven and twelve-year-olds responsibility, a title, and a chance to showcase their knowledge and passion became a rewarding experience for everyone involved. On the day of the event, they were proud to show off their library, which for many of them is like a second home. After our wrap-up meeting, which consisted of discussing what they liked about the event, if they noticed anything that we could make better for next year, and their thoughts about helping out, I “promoted” all involved and asked them to recruit their friends to help for next year’s Tosho-con. One of the “co-chairs,” now leader of the volunteer group, showed up on June 20th as soon as the library opened ready to work. His mother told me how impressed she was with his dedication, and that he even insisted on wearing his best clothes so he would look professional.
Another great way to involve your community is by having an original mascot contest. The contest is a great way to get some early publicity in about your convention and give a talented young artist an opportunity to have his/her work represented at your event. Last year, the Tosho-con committee spent about an hour pouring over the submissions we received. Our winner was an eleventh grader from one of the performing arts schools. Since her involvement with Tosho-con, she has become a regular face around the library. We gave her $100 gift card, and she was inducted as the first teen member of our city’s Arts Council. We featured her character on our flyers, Facebook page, badges, and submitted her design with all of our written press releases. We are planning to ask her to help judge our 2016 mascot contest.
When I first started Tosho-con at the Rockville Centre Public Library, New York, which ran from 2010-2012, I was not yet a librarian and planned the event with the incredible teens from my anime club, along with guidance from the young adult librarians. The teens and I spent time before, during and after our anime club meetings brainstorming ideas for programs. With a limited budget, the majority of the programs were run by them. The teens used their knowledge of anime to create engaging programs, such as a “What Grinds My Gears?” panel. Their programs were well received and attended during those three years.
Getting the teens involved allowed them to explore their interests in a unique way. One teen created a playlist for our dance party and really enjoyed the experience. I found out later that he pursued performing as a DJ on the side throughout college. This same teen was instrumental in helping me start my anime club and was able to put his library leadership roles on his resume, something that I encouraged all of the teens that I worked with to do. The Rockville Centre Public Library’s anime club, now run by two of my former teens, is still going strong. They even organized a trip to East Orange to support Tosho-con’s revival.
I could go on and on about the importance of creating a library convention, but allowing your tweens and teens to help plan and run the event is one of the most important and understated benefits of hosting one.