What was so charming about my club? First of all, I lived in Japan for three years. As soon as I said that, the teens were enthralled. I got questions like, "Is it as cool as we all think it is?" or "Are you crazy? Why did you ever leave?" I don't like to brag, so it's not like I would talk about Japan so I could go, "Bam, son!" Sometimes, making a reference to Japanese culture just happens to be the right thing to say.
Clearly, though, the way I relate to teens is not based solely on having lived somewhere totally rad. (Yes, I'm bringing "rad" back.) There are plenty of other things that can be done to ensure that an anime/manga club becomes-- and remains-- exciting and fun. Once I get another anime/manga club of my own, I'll make sure to repeat the successes of the past by doing the following:
- Let them choose a name for their club.
This club is where teens can meet other teens. It is a source of identity, in a way. Give them control over what they can call their clan. The club I headed chose to name themselves "The Otaku Ninjas." They even came up with a hilarious and endearing signature Otaku Ninja move. So let them throw ideas around and don't cringe visibly. They should get to contribute to the atmosphere of the club just as much as you.
- Create meetings worth attending.
Of course, showing anime is fun but that shouldn't be your end goal. Go the extra mile and design a fun activity for each meeting. I've done Japan Jeopardy contests, action writing seminars, and lessons on Japanese language, calligraphy and origami. Use your resources! Try getting ideas for short programs online-- such as this innovative teen programming wiki created by my librarian friend Michael E. Cox-- or even teacher's manuals. Wee icebreakers go a long way; you might find something inspiring at Dave's ESL Cafe. If something doesn't work, get creative. Change things around, if possible. Whether it's a game, craft, debate, or whatever, they'll be happier doing something than nothing at all.
- Let the kids talk.
Maybe they've been cooped up in boring classes. Oh yes, they will want to talk. There are worse things than a loud group of teens, like having no attendees at all. At the same time, pay attention to their interaction. Some things are just not cool, like punching or bullying. At one of my meetings, a girl brought in this awesome Sailor Moon baton that lit up. It got thrown around too dramatically and someone broke it. Make sure that respect is a rule from day one.
- Learn from them.
I got to know a lot about anime and manga during really productive meetings. The kids would start talking about the latest anime they were infatuated with. Chobits. Cromartie High School. Azumanga Daioh. Show interest in these suggestions. Spend a few hours learning about them, even if it means reading some manga that you don't care for. I've had mini gush-fests over which Death Note character was more appealing, Light or L. Talk to them about the material they enjoy and they will keep coming back. (Useful websites: ADV Films, Anime News Network, Manga Updates)
- Assert your role with grace.
They know plenty of teens, so you don't have to start acting like one. You are the leader. Be accessible, be fair, and above all, stay involved. Some of my Otaku Ninjas started coming to the library more, not just for the club meetings. They quickly realized that I was there for them if they needed me and that their ideas for the club were important to me. I've heard of some teen clubs that run themselves, with very little librarian participation. I'm personally biased against that model. It will only work so long as the kids have the energy for it, and the demands on their time are great. Make sure that you are in charge so you can keep the club going after the teens start leading adult lives and may no longer attend. And don't rely on flyers around the library to be your sole mode of advertising. Be vocal. If you see a teen checking out a manga, tell them about your club!
- Collaborate on a special event.
By throwing ideas around we came up with the Otaku Ninja Cafe, a festival celebrating Japanese culture. Everyone got to contribute: one teen created the flyer, another made cupcakes, another brought Dance Dance Revolution. All were encouraged to dress up as in a cosplay. It was amazing how quickly they stepped up to the plate-- making tea, washing tea cups, writing guests' names in Japanese. Also, invite a journalist from your local newspaper. How cool is it to find an article in the culture section about your club? Once parents see what an awesome job you're doing, they will want their teens to participate.
Every librarian has their own style. I've seen some people do amazing things that I would probably never have thought of doing. This is what makes teen librarians such an adventurous lot! We aren't afraid to try new things, even though they may not work.
So what if you feel you don't know enough about anime/manga? Don't let that stop you. Start off with meetings about Japanese culture, or just show some anime if you have the license. Get to know what the teens are interested in. Then use those suggestions to design your next meetings. You might be surprised at just how many teens have been waiting for a club like yours!
As they say in Japan, ganbatte! (Go for it!)