"Teen Read Week" Sparks Regional Cooperation in Metropolitan Richmond, VirginiaBy Pat McKay and Janet Baumgardner
READ FOR THE FUN OF IT! The theme of the first national celebration of "Teen Read Week" this past October 17 – 23 provided the catalyst for three neighboring public library systems to join forces in a cooperative promotional effort designed to motivate teens to read for pleasure. This effort included the lure of TV stardom, as well as chances to win free tickets to a "Widespread Panic" concert and the opportunity to meet that popular rock group behind the scenes after their performance. How did these non-literary incentives connect to teen literacy? As usual, librarians had the answer.
When the American Library Association, the Young Adult Library Services Association, and the National Education Association announced "Teen Read Week" last summer, Janet Baumgardner, the Program Coordinator with Chesterfield County Public Library was immediately interested. In their media releases, the sponsoring organizations had stressed cooperation among schools and public libraries. Ms. Baumgardner took this suggestion a step further by inviting representatives of neighboring Richmond and Henrico Public Library systems to a brainstorming session that included the marketing coordinator from FOX 35, a local television station. The group's charge was to develop a highly visible, community-wide collaborative project that would appeal to middle and high school students. Since Teen Read Week was scheduled for the third week in October, timing was also important. The project, as developed, included the following three components:
- The involvement of FOX TV was crucial. They agreed to co-sponsor a contest that enabled local teens to win the opportunity to appear in seven prime time TV public service announcements focusing on "Reading for the Fun of It." As part of the publicity for this contest, posters were placed in public and private schools in the three localities, and school officials were asked to assist with promotion. However, teens had to actually come to their public library to enter the contest. This age group is often seen as one in which a large number of those who can read choose not to and one in which television, not reading, is the entertainment of choice. Janet Baumgardner, along with Pat McKay from Richmond Public Library and Lisa Blouch from Henrico County Public Library knew that many teens would jump at the chance to star in their own TV commercial, even one extolling the joys of reading. And that was the hook; that was the connection they needed.
From the hundreds of entries received, seven teens from each library system were picked and notified. Release forms and "talking points" were sent to each winner in preparation for the taping. Luckily, Chesterfield County Library was closed on Columbus Day, so the selection of the date and site for taping was an easy one. The production was expertly done by the FOX 35 staff who turned Bon Air Library into a TV studio and transformed nervous teens into acting pros in one evening. The "actors" chatted about books and reading as if they had known each other forever. At the pizza party afterwards (provided by FOX 35), they exchanged phone numbers and enjoyed an adrenaline high, far different from the subdued young adults who had arrived at the taping session. The producer was excited by the quality of the tape made by the teens, from which the public service announcements were edited. In fact, FOX personnel were so pleased that they ran the PSA's beyond Teen Read Week and are considering running them nationally.
- The popular musical group, Widespread Panic's generous offer of five sets of free tickets and an invitation backstage after their Richmond performance on November 7 (coordinated through the American Library Association), was the second component to the regional promotion of Teen Read Week by the three library systems. Local college radio station WVCU, from Virginia Commonwealth University, was enthusiastic about the chance to offer something this exciting to their listeners and readily agreed to give away the tickets to callers who named their favorite books. Widespread Panic fans named Grapes of Wrath, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Be Here Now and Hero With a Thousand Faces as their favorites.
- Q 94, one of the most listened to local teen radio stations in the Richmond metropolitan area, offered to devote an early morning talk show to Teen Read Week. Pat McKay from Richmond and Janet Baumgardner from Chesterfield County Public Library found that talking about what they believe in so strongly - reading, books for teens and getting information from the library—made the taping session fly by. Host, Sheilah Belle proved to be an ardent library and literacy supporter and plans were made with her to re-connect on other promotional activities.
The above segments combined to form a successful first annual Teen Read Week celebration in Chesterfield, Henrico, and Richmond, Virginia. The partnership also strengthened the bond among the three library systems and paved the way for further cooperative programs.
We are looking forward to this year's Teen Read Week celebration, October 17 - 23 and have agreed that earlier planning will result in greater community awareness. In fact, we plan to begin publicity in the summer, while teens have fewer constraints on their time, and might be visiting the library for pleasure. School cooperation was definitely a valuable component in publicizing last year's FOX 35 contest. This can and will be built upon. Expanded pre-publicity in the 2 local publications aimed at teens, or having teen readership --TAB and STYLE WEEKLY -- will also be pursued. We hope to continue our partnership with the local FOX 35 TV station. Lessons learned in dealing with TV include the importance of written, step-by-step guidelines, rather than simply having a conceptual agreement with the television station, and the necessity of a release form to be sent to the parents of the teens to sign well ahead of the taping session. This mailing should include the time and location of the taping, directions and other pertinent information.
Our experience proved that Teen Read Week is a valuable opportunity to reach an important segment of our population. Time spent in celebrating teens and calling their attention to reading for fun is time well spent. Please join us in participating in TEEN READ WEEK, 1999.Pat McKay works at the Richmond Public Library, and Janet Baumgardner is on the staff of the Chesterfield County Public Library