When your teen community asks for something, you should do all in your power to provide it. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that (the same holds true for pretty much any of us, anywhere, engaged in public service.) We have a fantastic Fandoms group that, up until this point, suspended for summer each year. For the first time, the teens who attend that weekly program asked for it to continue over the long, hot, sweaty break. (Yeah…I’m not a summer person.)
I’d love nothing more to carry on with our weekly ‘pop culture book club’ year-round, but it’s not so easy to find new ways to approach fandom-ry each and every week (as fast as our culture moves, it’s not that fast, especially when you are limited to a PG-13 and under version of it.) As I’ve said before, it can sort of drain your will to live. I wanted to find a way to honor their enthusiasm, though, so I proposed that, instead of our usual meetings with its familiar agenda (gather, decompress, catch up, share news, dive into the days topic/viewing) we might do a film series instead. The teens were ALL about it – Perfect! they declared. I gave them two options: A summer of documentaries or a summer of classic films. I presented the choice neutrally, hoping they’d opt for the latter…Without any prompting from me (I swear!) they chose classics, much to my delight. My brain started turning thoughtwheels instantly: A movie for each decade that reflected contemporary fandom! If I selected the films carefully it would be fun and insightful and in keeping with the spirit of the program these teens love!
Now, having done this job in this place for a while, I reminded them that, in fact, most of them would likely be absent for the bulk of the summer – jobs, assignments, camp, travel, the challenges of geography and transportation in regards to their homes vs. the library…I practically never see most of these teens at the library once school is out. Ah, no! they insisted. They asked for this and I was giving it to them! They would totally, definitely, 100% turn up for this!
They didn’t. (You saw that coming, of course.)
Of the 30 or so teens who come each and every week to our Friday Fandoms United program, maybe 4 turned up to Fandom Film Foundations with any sort of regularity. A few other film-loving teens turned up from time to time, but in terms of audience size, this program was not what you’d call a success, at least not in relation to our own high standards (developed over a decade, with the benefit of multiple Teen staffers running things and with libraries in very close proximity to schools…any success we have is tied up with these privilege factors.)
However, in terms of the quality of experience…this program was a home run! We know because we’ve heard raves from the teens who attended (and I’m always sensitive to cues that they might only be saying nice things because they recognize my own personal enthusiasm and don’t want to disappoint me…this wasn’t that), kudos from parents, and intriguingly, the post-program circulation of our selected films and the speed at which we are running out of our Classic Films by Decade bookmarks and a few requests from parents and other adults for a ‘guide’ so they can replicate the ‘class’ at home, at their own speed. (I’m totally going to do that now that our other summer programs are winding down.)
The What & How:
- Select a classic film from each decade that reflect common tropes/archetypes/themes prevalent in contemporary fandom.
- Start with a 5-10 minute librarian-led talk/instruction session before each film on what the ‘foundational’ ideas that link the classic to fandom, touching on the production history of the film, collaborators as well as the state of film in each era, etc. – research that was a joy for this film-obsessed librarian to do…
- Toss out a few questions for viewers to consider as they watched, along with a half-sheet flyer with the key ‘thinking points’ for each participant.
- Snacks, of course.
Will we do this again? Maybe…?
Things to improve on/adjust if there is a ‘next time’:
- Summer Friday afternoons are not great, even though it works so well for Fandoms -> Change to a weekday evening, where we’ve had more success with our Book Into Movie series…or maybe the weekend, in the doldrums of winter?
- Accept that new initiatives sometimes take time to grow -> Create a ‘family guide’ so program can be replicated at home, as well as adult-area display and try to create a buzz and build excitement for a second run in the future..
- There wasn’t enough ‘brand-recognition’ with an unprecedented program -> See if school film club people are interested (and active enough) to advise on/promote future iterations and spread the word.
- Consider converting into a family program -> This might require different, more kid-friendly films…a challenge when connecting classic films to modern fandom culture, which is increasingly not PG or G-rated.
Do I wish I had just said no when our Fandoms-ers asked for a 9-weeks-long film series over the summer, having guessed correctly that most of them, sincerely wishing for more Fandoms while simultaneously agreeing that our traditional meeting structure was too much to continue over the summer, wouldn’t be there in the end? I could have said no, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal…
Nah. You have to give them what they ask for, after all. Asking for something is not easy (usually) and you have to honor their bravery and celebrate that fact that they are comfortable enough with you and their place in the library to do so. You also have to try to not get too down on yourself if the teens don’t (or can’t) turn up. It’s not exactly failure (there is a difference between failure and disappointment.) It’s another learning opportunity and a chance to improve.
I’ll still tease them about it when Fandoms starts up again in a few weeks, though…
UPDATE: For now, I’ve made a guide/syllabus for the program geared to families, converting my speaking notes into questions to consider, and gathering the suggested films from each decade’s bookmark to create a display for the front of the library, just in time for the Labor Day weekend: