| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter


Teen Advisory Group

After school and on weekends, teens flock to the Michigan Avenue Branch of Ypsilanti District Library. Why? Because the library’s Teen Advisory Group (TAG) plans and implements programming and has created a cool space to study, write, learn, and socialize in a safe and happening environment. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Ypsilanti District Library Young Adult Librarian Jodi Johnson: Most libraries in the United States have teen advisory boards, but I feel my Teen Advisory Group (TAG) meetings and activities are effective and innovative because I incorporate my knowledge of positive youth development principles and necessary 21st century literacy skills into TAG work to provide opportunities for student growth. By allowing teens to plan and implement programs with my guidance rather than just suggest materials and activities, they are afforded with the opportunity to perform work they can add to their resumes. They learn to take personal responsibility and follow through on commitments. Additionally, they get to informally evaluate and alter programs to make improvements for the next year. During TAG meetings, teens get to discuss behavior in the Teen Zone and help set rules for all teens using the space and participating in daily casual xbox gaming competitions. This gives them experience talking through conflict scenarios and problem solving and they buy in to the rules they help create and make sure they’re followed, even when adults aren’t immediately present in the space. They learn to work together and create real products such as TAG logos for t-shirts, publications, and promotional materials such as flyers and videos.
Because I survey TAG members periodically about their goals, I can tailor programs to their interests and invite volunteers to teach specific skills that may be useful to their careers. I also get to know them well through our work together and offer
By accepting the library as their space they have control in, they keep it active and vibrant for all teens, making it a true community gathering place.
programs to help them learn life skills such as how to improve communication skills and avoid abusive relationships, often taught by local nonprofits such as the Corner Health Clinic and coordinated with the help of the library’s manager, Joy Cichewicz, who has developed a wide network of library supporters in downtown Ypsilanti.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
Our best experience this year was partnering with four other downtown Ypsilanti teen service nonprofits to plan and help run a downtown teen block party that was attended by 400 people. Funding and overall leadership was provided by the Corner Health Center, but planning and implementation involved teens from the library’s Teen Advisory Group, Ozone House Ypsilanti Drop in Center’s Peer Outreach Workers, the Women’s Leadership Group of the Sheriff Department, and Eastern Michigan University’s B-Side of Youth. It was great to work with other organizations. We got to know each other and the teen services provided throughout the community, and I learned ways to improve what I do in TAG meetings, especially new methods for keeping track of student responsibilities, progress, and program evaluation. Library teens designed the logo, laid out the flyer using Microsoft Publisher, attended planning meetings where they provided input activities that should be offered, distributed flyers, and manned the library’s promotional tent featuring gaming and crafts.
Other partnering successes include work with the local music duo October Babies who came to the library multiple times to teach music, Japanese, and origami. Library teen origami dragonflies are part of their recently released music video and teens are featured in a short documentary created by one band member, both of which will be screened at the library. Students and faculty from both the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University are always willing to come and share their knowledge on subjects ranging from Japanese mythology in anime, Japanese language and culture, and computer game programming. Another highly successful collaboration has been with the nonprofit writing center 826michigan. Volunteers have led a weekly teen writing group for over two years and helped students create a play that was performed at the University of Michigan, as well as other creative writing pieces such as poetry and short stories.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest lesson learned is the negative side of working with volunteers. Not every organization or individual follows through on commitments due to underfunding, understaffing, and the personal life of volunteers, causing some of our teen programs to be cancelled or not as successful as hoped. I need volunteers to offer high quality programs led by experts at a low cost, but also need them to follow through on their commitments to students who don’t always have consistent adult involvement in their lives, I’m learning to be careful and state expectations clearly to try to avoid program collapses in the future.  
What really differentiates this program?
Unlike many other teen boards, my TAG is mostly comprised of teens from public housing who aren’t always successful at school and are occasionally involved in the juvenile court system. Teens feel welcome here and value that they’re given an authentic voice in the way the library is run and the opportunity to express themselves through poetry, fiction writing, and music in TAG created publications and programs. By accepting the library as their space they have control in, they keep it active and vibrant for all teens, making it a true community gathering place. Many teens make the 20-minute walk to the
We provide a caring environment where teens feel we value them, give them useful community roles, monitor and model responsible behavior, offer a variety of creative outlets during our programs, and time and space to just hang out with friends...
library almost every day to be a part of what TAG offers.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Teen involvement in decision making at all stages of planning leads to success. Programs that are imposed on them, no matter how cool they seem, do not work well. In addition, the atmosphere we strive to maintain in the youth department of the library supports my interest in youth development and extends what I can offer TAG members. We provide a caring environment where teens feel we value them, give them useful community roles, monitor and model responsible behavior, offer a variety of creative outlets during our programs, and time and space to just hang out with friends while engaged in activities such as xbox gaming or playing cards, which also allows teens to build friendships and improve communication and conflict management skills with a diverse group of students. 
In looking at library programs similar to yours, which program do you think is doing exceptional work?
Although our library is small in comparison, I keep an eye on what is happening in Chicago Public Library’s YOUmedia labs and Detroit Public Library’s HYPE Teen Center. They are both funded through grants, which I don’t currently have, but I try to at least give my Teen Advisory Group members opportunities for similar types of learning by allowing them to create promotional videos, music and publications with software. In addition, our jewelry and art programs are beginning to lean more towards informal times when teens can make use of materials to make their own creations with only loose instructions given.
Signup for Email Alerts

Person Profile


  • Ypsilanti District Library-Michigan Avenue
    As a community resource, the Ypsilanti District Library's mission is to enrich life, stimulate intellectual curiosity, foster literacy, and encourage an informed citizenry.


GreenFist Project at Sprout Urban Farms

How Motivated Kids and Better Food Access Fit Together

Stuart Ray, Mindy Ysasi, Mike Kerkorian, Ellen Carpenter from Grand Rapids' Nonprofits

Jumping Ship: Former Corporate Leaders Tell All

Berston Bicycle Club

Kids Discover the Power of Pedaling

View All People


Infancy to Innovation list

Infancy to Innovation

Engaging families of color in identifying problems and solutions

Verona Early Grade Reading Achievement

Verona Early Grade Reading Achievement Program

Improving K-2 reading



Mixing learning and fun
View All Programs

Bright Ideas

ostdogood LIST

Company Supports 4th Grade Field Trips to Lake Michigan

Parents working more than one job or odd hours, a lack of funds, and no transportation often prevent kids from experiencing one of Michigan’s incredible natural resources. For the majority of west side Grand Rapids elementary school kids, Lake Michigan is sadly out of reach. OST has teamed up with Grand Rapids Public Schools to give fourth-graders at west side schools the opportunity to experience the big lake firsthand.

1000 Books Program at Kalamazoo Library.

One Thousand Books Before Kindergarten

If you were writing the book of a child's life wouldn't you like it to have a happy ending? Every day more children are signing up for a Kalamazoo Public Library program intended to give them a life that includes loving the reading of books. 

Superior Watershed foundation youth program

U.P. Youth Help Conserve Great Lakes

K-12 students are taking part in a monarch butterfly project, while 16-24 year olds have been working in the Great Lakes Conservation Corps for years. Both are initiatives through the Superior Watershed Partnership to connect youth with their environment.
View All Bright Ideas