Hi, Miss Julie’s Loves of Librarianship

  1. Libraries are for everyone

  2. Everyone benefits from libraries, whether they use them or not

  3. Make every interaction delightful, wherever it happens

  4. A degree does not a librarian make

  5. Every library its community, and every community its library

Libraries are for everyone

Libraries are for everyone in your community, whether they are homeless, trans, on the spectrum, divorced, high school dropouts, PhD students, or whatever else.

Libraries are places where all lives really matter, and we prove that we believe that statement by holding  open discussions on race in America, creating Transgender Resource collections, having police officers interact with the public within our walls, and putting up Black Lives Matter displays.

We remove financial barriers such as fines and fees whenever possible, and make getting, having, and using a library card as frictionless as possible.

Our programs are inclusive and we strive to make accommodations whenever required.

Our collections reflect our communities both as they are and as they aspire to be. Everyone in our community, especially children, should see themselves reflected in our collections, and also have ample opportunity to experience stories from those who are unlike themselves.

Everyone benefits from libraries, whether they use them or not

Rich old white man who continually writes articles about how no one uses libraries anymore–please shut up. People who aren’t you use libraries all the time, and the information, education, and sense of belonging that they gain from those visits ultimately benefits our whole society, even you.

You’re welcome.

Make every interaction delightful, wherever it happens

We strive during each reference interaction, every readers’ advisory session, every storytime, every program, through every online social interaction or email, to delight and inspire our users. We waive fines for the single mother who doesn’t want to go back out to her car in the rain to get her credit card, and the smile of relief on her face is worth so much more than her small fine; we bring stacks of books to a reluctant reader and let them know that while these are some of our favorite books, our feelings won’t be hurt if they hate them all–because we really want them to find their next (or first) favorite book; and when first grade teachers tweet about how their students are learning to write letters, we tweet back and ask for one, and send one in return.

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A degree does not a librarian make

An MLIS can be a wonderful thing. It can also be an expensive piece of paper that never really ends up making you good librarian, or gets you a job that allows you to pay off its cost before you die.

When I define librarian, I’m definitely more Urban Dictionary than Webster’s Dictionary (I  still love ya, Webster). If you must, I suppose you can make the distinction of degreed librarian or put MLIS at the end of your email signature…but in the end, I don’t care. Are you passionate about stories, regardless of medium or delivery method? Are you insatiably curious and demand answers, even for questions posed by others? Do you consistently post Snopes links on your friends’ facebook pages? Do you currently or have you ever worked in a library and brought joy to those who received service from you? Congratulations–if you want to refer to yourself as such, you have my permission to call yourself a librarian.

Every library its community, and every community its library

While everyone can use every library, libraries should begin and end with their immediate communities. Not only does this make practical sense–the community’s taxes are at work within your budget, after all–it makes everything else easier.

I attended a workshop recently about design thinking for libraries, and while I can’t encapsulate everything I learned here, I do want to share a bit about one of the steps–interviewing members of your community. When your library has a problem–crowded storytimes, lackluster program attendance, drug use in the bathrooms–it’s not your library that has a problem, it is your community, and the only way to begin solving this problem is to talk to your community. Interview members of the affected groups, and from that information work in small teams to create solutions.

Some communities love their libraries, and others seem able to take the library or leave it– and sometimes this has nothing to do with the actual quality of the library. If you’re a beloved member of your community, rejoice–and keep working hard to earn that love on a daily basis. As in any loving relationship, don’t take it for granted. And if you’re still trying to earn the love of your community? Don’t fret. Go back to love # 1, lather, rinse and repeat, and you’ll get there. I promise.

 

Why Kids Need to Read What They Want

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Is this how we want kids to act when it comes to reading? / flicker, C. Bitner

In the most recent edition of Cover to Cover by K.T. Horning, there are no early childhood, middle grade, or ya distinctions in books for children. Encompassing fiction and nonfiction, the breakdown is:

  • Picture books (including board books)
  • Readers/Beginning Readers/Easy Readers
  • Transitional books
  • Chapter books

That’s it. We have those formats, and within those formats, every genre is covered, for ages birth to teen. (Oh, but wait–where should graphic novels go? I’d include them with chapter books, honestly; the art in a graphic novel serves as a concurrent visual text, in my opinion. Or, heck, let’s put them in with picture books, maybe? I don’t have all the answers, clearly.)

In my ideal, imaginary library, this is how it would be– those formats would be organized, so kids who are being read to can find board and picture books, pre-readers can find the books they need, transitional readers the same, and then chapter books for independent readers who can make their own choices (with guidance from their parent/guardian and, ideally, a librarian). There would be a call number, and no other designations– no guided reading, or any of that other stuff. Just books and excellent staff and seemingly limitless choices. (I’m getting chills just writing about it.)

Does a library like this exist? Probably not. Although my personal library is like this. I’m sure everyone’s personal library is like this. So why do we insist that youth follow dozens of arbitrary guidelines when it comes to the stories they get to read?

Anyway. This summer I tried something different with our suggested reading book lists, in an attempt to create a small scale version of this literary utopia. I wanted to move away from parents just grabbing the list of their child’s grade, and slavishly following those suggestions we’d made, with the best of intentions. Instead of lists covering 2 grade levels, as had been the practice in the past, I had:

  • Pre-readers (babies-Kindergarten): includes board and picture books, all genres
  • Beginning readers (K-3rd): easy/beginning readers, all genres
  • Transitional Third Grade reads: transitional chapter books, all genres
  • Third Grade and Up: picture, beginning, transitional, and chapter books, all genres

Now, there isn’t just one Third Grade and Up list, oh no. There were several, with titles like:

  • Smile Diary: books for Wimpy Kid and Telgameier Fans
  • Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling
  • WONDERing what to read next: Wonder readalikes
  • Full STEAM ahead: books for kids who like to tinker and create
  • Myths, Magic and More: fantasy, science fiction, and the just plain strange
  • Game On: books for gamers
  • Tell Me A Story: books about the magic of storytelling
  • That’s Funny: Books to make you laugh
  • Can You Believe It?: Books to make you see the world in a different way

The books were listed not in alphabetical order, but rather in order of literary and thematic complexity.

To explain, each list had an introduction like this:

3rd Grade and Up

Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling!

If you enjoy scary stories, thrilling tales of true crime, forensic science, and the unexplained, then these books are for you!

Read from the beginning of the list when you’re short on time but still want a good story. Read from the end of the list when you’re up for a more textually and thematically challenging experience.

Not every book on every list will be right for your child. If you have questions about any title, please see [library] staff for guidance.

Third grade and up meant just that: independent readers from third to twelfth grades (or beyond! Mom and Dad, you can read these books too!) could read these books, all of which were chosen from our children’s department collection. I wanted to do this so that an older student who wasn’t reading at grade level wouldn’t be stigmatized by reading from a list that was clearly marked for a younger age. By having only a lower limit, rather than a lower and upper, the list was more open to more readers. And by keeping the selections limited to our children’s department, we were still helping parents make appropriate choices for their child (advocate for freedom that I am, I still want to make things easier for parents, so I’m not going to hand them a third grade and up list with really intense themes and situations).

Oh, and another cool thing–the books on these lists were jointly nominated by my library staff as well as school librarians from our main school district, and they used these lists as their district’s recommended summer reading. How great is that? School librarians got to suggest awesome books that they loved, while I did all the grunt work of collating and organizing them, and our wonderful graphics department made them into beautiful brochures.

Ultimately, I wanted these lists to provide some guidance, while also encouraging kids and parents to use library staff to help them find the  best book for them.

For teens we had 7th grade and up lists, with items exclusively from the teen collection. (Now, ideally I’d want to include picture and other books, but with display and cataloging restraints, this just wasn’t possible; and, again, these teens could also enjoy all the books on the third grade and up lists.)

For teens, our themes were:

  • Social Justice: books about making the world a better place
  • Not Okay: readalikes for The Fault in Our Stars 
  • Get Real: Realistic fiction and memoirs
  • Myths, Magic and More: Fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction

I have to say, the impetus for this project was the book Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them. We actually recommended this title to parents in our lists, and amazingly, the book got checked out. How many people actually read it, I don’t know, but it just goes to show that if you make something available, people will take advantage.

I was concerned about confusion and push back–would parents get on board? Would they understand it? Was I creating a problem where there wasn’t one?

I don’t think so. I actually think these lists have been doing what they are meant to do–broaden the scope of what kids read, and providing guidance while also encouraging choice.

Now, summer’s not over, so the verdict isn’t completely in yet, but so far I’m going to call this a success. Books are still getting checked out at a rapid clip, I’ve heard people express delight at the themes, and so far no one has been upset that a book about the Lizzie Borden case was on the “Murder and Mayhem” list (really, with a title like that, I was suspecting parents of sensitive kids would know to steer clear).

What do you think? How do you handle suggested reading/passive reader’s advisory?

 

 

 

 

Every Action Has an Equal, Opposite Reaction

In my post Where Do The Teens Go? I posited a Youth Services Department which is formed around a core staff of four two-person teams. Ideally they would all be full time, but that might vary depending on the size of your community and the number of schools you serve. Certainly some of the positions could blend, depending on the interests and skill sets of the people you hire. But I’m pretty adamant that positions be either devoted to in-library work or devoted to outreach, with collaboration led by the appropriate lead. This is because outreach is a full-time job, or if it’s only part-time, it should be the primary focus of the staff member.

Why so much outreach? I’ve always been a firm believer in outreach, because I’ve seen it be successful from both sides of the equation. I’ve been the in-library person benefiting from excellent outreach efforts, and I’ve also been the outreach person who brings people into the library and acts as a recognized face from one place (school) to another (the library).

In my experience, here are all the things a person in any outreach position must do, and if you don’t think these duties deserve a full-time staff member, or at least a staff member dedicated to it, I don’t even know:

  • Reaching out–writing emails and making phone calls can take up a lot of your time, and if you have too many other duties (desk, collection development, in house programs) you’re going to play a lot of phone tag and a lot of email threads are going to get buried in the process.
  • Making connections–I’ve come up with a lot of great ideas just hanging out and chatting with teachers during a program break or while having lunch with them in the staff room during a day of multiple book talks. Making the time to just chat is very important, and often overlooked when people consider outreach positions.
  • Researching community partners–like you research a company before you apply for a job, research potential partners so you can propose projects and programs that meet their needs
  • Remembering names.
  • Booking visits–you need to check your calendar, check everything else, offer times, accept counter-offers, and be prepared for changes. If you have your outreach person staffing a desk for fifty percent of their work time, good luck. You’re setting them up for failure.
  • Tapping appropriate collaborators from the community and your own staff–I’m not great at everything (I know, shocker!) so when certain events come up on my radar, I’ll often reach out to my ever-widening network and see if I can’t collaborate and make the experience that much better for the entity I’m working with.
  • Being in the library– yes, I just said you’re setting your staff up for failure, but only if you take up too much of their time with duties other than outreach. Having some desk time, and helping with some in-library programs, is great for an outreach person, because the people they see in the community will be really excited to see them in the library. Countless times I’ve been on the reference desk and kids have walked by, staring at me wide-eyed, and then they’ll finally remember why they know me and yell, “You came to my school!” I once even had a child formally introduce me to his parent, by saying, “Dad, this is my librarian who comes to my school.” We shook hands and then I died.

Essentially, and to vastly simplify (for the sake of a Hamilton reference), outreach staff are the Hamiltons of the library, and in-library staff are the Burrs.

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You see, outreach staff should be constantly (non-stop?) going out, talking, telling everyone about the library and what it has and what it can do, and yes, sometimes they should talk less and smile more, so they can learn from their community partners.

On the other hand, in-library staff can be a little more laid back–they can wait for users to come in, after they’ve been charmed by the outgoing Hamilton approach.

While both approaches can yield results, neither is as successful as when they both work together–which means no one in the library has to throw away their shot.

 

 

 

The Librarian Dating Game

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I started writing this post in October 2015; finally published August 2016.

Once upon a time some librarian colleagues and I presented a program at our state conference talking about how public, school, and academic libraries can and should work together. We formatted it as a game show–The Dating Game, obviously–and had different librarians ask their counterparts what they could do for them, and talked about what they could offer.

It was a fun program and an incredible conversation.

As you can see from the above graphic, library users use multiple libraries in their lifetime, and multiple departments within each library. Just as a well functioning public library has collaboration with children’s, teens, and adult departments, so should the public library collaborate with school and academic libraries, and vice-versa.

Here’s some of my favorite sources on this subject. Let me know what you think.

NYC Public and School Libraries MYLibrary NYC Program

Teach More, Librarian Less

Libraries and English Language Learners 

Good School Libraries Bring Stronger Learning 

Study Ties Quality Library Programs to Student Success

Study Ties College Success to Students’ Exposure to a High School Librarian

How to Create a Knockout Summer Literacy Program

It Takes Two: The Need for Tighter Collaboration Between School and Public Librarians

Partners in Success: When school and public librarians join forces, kids win

We Need Tag-Team Librarianship: Active collaboration between public and school librarians benefits all

The Public Library Connection: The new standards require that public and school librarians pull together

School and Public Libraries Collaborate to Help Teen Community: Reports from the Field

A School and Public Librarian Find Common Ground on the Common Core

Nashville’s Limitless Libraries Hopes to Merge School and Public Library ILS

School and Academic Librarians Must Join Forces to Foster College Readiness

Factors Affecting Students’ Information Literacy as They Transition from High School to College

Informed Transitions: High School Outreach Program at Kent State

Community Collaborations: Librarians Teach High School Students

Academic Library Research Visits for High School Students

author, author!

The past couple of conferences I went to, there was some chatter about author visits at libraries—namely, how do you get anyone to care about and come to your author event? (I’m assuming here you’ve found the money already. Top notch authors are almost always going to be quite expensive, so start budgeting now and looking for financial partners. Also, start locally if you’ve never done an author visit before. Cutting down on travel costs cuts the budget significantly). I’ve done a few author events at my library, and seen other well done events in action, so I thought I would share some of my hard earned wisdom with you, my dear and lovely readers.

1) Choose your author wisely.
Not every great book has an author worth visiting with. Harsh, but true. When selecting an author to bring to your community, you need to consider reputation, charisma, and speaking skills just as much as you consider the quality and appeal of the author’s work. People have already spent time with the book(s). You want to get them excited about spending time with a person. When choosing an author, make sure to….

2) Consider your audience.
Think about who your author writes for– lower elementary, upper elementary, middle school, or teen. Sometimes there is overlap. Andrea Beaty has both picture books and chapter books, and is great for Prek-5th presentations. Adam Selzer has middle grade, middle school, and upper YA novels, as well as adult nonfiction about Chicago history and hauntings that appeal to teens /and/ adults. You really want to target your audience, because this will tie in so much to your promotion of the event. You can have an author present for more than one audience, but make sure those events are clearly delineated. Also, think about your community– is it conservative? Artistic? Older? Younger? Make sure you have a population that will be interested in the person you’re bringing in.

3) Promote.
This seems like a “duh” moment but it’s very important. It’s not enough to put a few lines in your newsletter or a picture on your webpage. You need to hustle. This is not a drill, people. Most authors worth having are going to be expensive, and you want to make the turn out worth everyone’s while. So target your audience. For me, I hit the middle schools–and I mean hit. At the two middle schools in our main district, I physically went to the school and presented a 15 minute, high impact promotion about the author to as many kids as I could. (At one school, I managed to see every student during the day; I was on my feet from 8-3 and it was amazing.) I’ll talk more about my specific promotion strategies at the end.

4) Get a bookseller.
If everyone’s done their job, there will be a hunger for your author’s work, and people will want to get their copies signed and maybe even take a picture. Also, you want your authors to make money so they can keep writing books. Partnering with a local, indie bookseller is imperative. Further, booksellers often have insider knowledge about when and where certain authors will be touring– if you form a strong partnership, oftentimes a bookseller can get you free author appearances for your library. They are more likely to do this for you if you have a record of bringing out good crowds for events, which you will if you follow these guidelines.

5) Make the event an EVENT.
You’re essentially throwing a party, so throw a damn party. Have a cake decorated to look like the book cover. If there’s a special or unique food mentioned in the book(s), serve it. Decorate. Have music that relates to the tone of the book playing before the start. Make sure to introduce your author with appropriate excitement and pomp. Hype everyone up. Throw your hands in the air. Whatever you have to do, do it. Bust out your best Neil Patrick Harris hosting the Tonys here, because that’s what it deserves.

Let’s walk through an example of an author visit that I worked on.

ADAM GIDWITZ!

860661_515247835185202_1408791629_o1) Choose your author wisely.
Adam’s visit to my library and local schools was already in the works when I began my job last fall, but I quickly jumped in and started implementing my master plan. Adam is a perfect visiting author. He is energetic, engaging, interesting, and an excellent performer. His books–A Tale Dark and Grimm, In A Glass Grimmly, and The Grimm Conclusion–are excellent and have high appeal factors for a wide variety of readers. Adam was also extremely gracious and easy to work with, providing me and my coworkers with lots of information we could use to promote his visit– including making a short video just for our middle schoolers.

2) Consider your audience.
From working with the schools and the school staff, we knew the personalities we were dealing with, and we knew that plenty of kids would be excited about seeing Adam. Word of mouth about his books spread quickly as kids talked it up to each other. We also knew the fairy tale element–fairy tales being one of the text types in the new Common Core State Standards–would lend the presentation a whiff of educmacational value, which doesn’t hurt when talking a program up to parents.

3) Promote.
I’m lucky to have a great marketing department to work with, so they did a wonderful job of getting this event in the newsletter, on the website, and in the community (including a local newspaper blurb!) As the School Outreach Librarian, it was then my job to TAKE IT TO THE SCHOOLS. This is one of my favorite parts of the process, and while I’ve found a formula that works for me, be aware that your mileage may vary. Like any creative, personality driven library presentation you need to promote in a way that makes sense for your style, especially if you’re working with kids. You need to be genuine and genuinely enthusiastic. If you’re not, your promotion will fall flat, and no excitement will be generated.

My promotion formula is based largely on the author, as illustrated by this mostly gratuitous pie chart:

piechartStart off with a quick, punchy book talk about the author’s works. I talked up Adam’s two novels (this was before the third one was released) and also showed an awesome book trailer in German, because everything sounds more awesome in German. Then, I segued into talking about Adam as a person and an author. I gave a brief biographical sketch, including–and this is important—pictures of Adam when he was the same as the teens I was promoting the event to.

I cannot state enough how cool this is. Even the most jaded eighth grader will guffaw when shown a picture of someone in their youth. Suddenly the teens can relate just a little bit easier to this person, just by seeing their dork-tastic 90’s hair and braces. Contrast this with a picture of what the author currently looks like, just so the kids know who they will actually be seeing at the event.

Also: food. Most people are into food and get excited about it. I ask authors their favorite foods then and now. Adam’s answer for his current favorite food was blood pie. I used this heavily in my promotion. “WHAT is a BLOOD PIE?” I asked dramatically. “You’ll have to come to the event to FIND OUT. Because we will be SERVING one.” Cue 45 middle schoolers groaning excitedly about BLOOD.

All of my presentations were about 15 minutes (yep, only 15 minutes). I wanted my message to be brief and intense. Between the BLOOD PIE and Adam’s middle school picture, and a gory 3 minute retelling of Cinderella, the teens were left with strong images and a strong incentive to attend the event. You can see my keynote slides here: gidwitz copy

4) Get a bookseller.
The bookseller we brought in sold out of paperbacks and sold almost all of the rest of the stock he brought with him. This made everyone happy.

4) Make the event an EVENT.
Our attendance exceeded expectations. We were hoping for around forty five people but had over one hundred kids and teens  held in thrall by Adam’s presentation, which included a full telling of the fairytale “The Juniper Tree.” As promised, we served BLOOD PIE (berry pie with no top crust). No one was more surprised and delighted by this than Adam. “Wow. That was just something I made up,” he said. That’s me…the person who makes dreams come true. Especially when they involve BLOOD. We also had cookies decorated to look like the cover of Adam’s book. They were so gorgeous, one girl just held her cookie, crying that it was too beautiful to eat. IMG_0400 IMG_0402Not mandatory, but forcing your author to pose by the food can’t hurt. You can see the BLOOD PIE to the left (to the left, all the blood pie is on the table to the left). We also had BLOOD PUNCH because BLOOD. BLOOD YOU GUYS. This entire post could have just been the word BLOOD.

So that’s how I (and my awesome coworkers) achieved author visit success. What about you?

Make It So

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As she so often does,  hit the nail on the head with her post Everything Old is New Again.

I wonder, how many libraries with MAKERSPACES consulted their youth departments before creating this BRAND NEW THING? Because, seriously, been there, done that, have the stained shirt to prove it.

Some of you might argue that maker spaces are more digital, or involve power tools, or whatever. To which I reply, So certain types of making are better than others? Our flannel stories, origami programs, bookmaking and playdough are inferior to flashier, decidedly more masculine forms of making?

Same old story–when women do it, it is easier, lesser, and undervalued. As soon as a dude says it’s cool to print a robot out of plastic, then it’s something.

Which is not to say I don’t like the Maker/DIY movement. Just that…maybe ask for help from people who’ve built their entire careers around it. They might have something to teach  you. And by might, I mean definitely.

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via Howard Lake
via Howard Lake

I think my “ego” post actually contained within it several separate issues, all of which deserve their own careful looking over. Let’s do that, shall we?

first: speaking and keynotes.

I’ve been to several events where, as one commenter noted, the keynote speaker is someone famous who has just written a (usually awful) children’s book (because any idiot can churn out a book for kids, amirite?) and who blah blahs about how they LOVED libraries when they were kid or love libraries today or something else, then tell us why they just HAD TO TELL THEIR STORY in a MARKETABLE FORM.

Ugh. Gross. Don’t do that. Ever.

I say that both to the famous people in regards to writing children’s books, and to conference organizers who book them. There are so many wonderful authors who are also excellent speakers, why not book one of them?

Or, to be daring, why not book a straight up storyteller? (Ben Haggarty is one of my personal favorites). Instead of forcing your attendees to listen to some smarmy pap about “Go libraries” or “These are tough times, huh?” let them listen to a goddamn plain old good STORY. Of course, the theme will resonate with listeners, because a good storyteller will choose an apt tale, but the listeners will have to work for it. And they will appreciate it all the more that way.

Some of you might be thinking, why should I listen to a story? Because libraries are all about stories. Why do people read books? To read stories. Why do people read e-books? To carry a lot of stories with them in a portable form. Why do people need to create a resume? To tell the story of their work life. Why do people check out DVDs? To watch stories. Why do people create videos? To tell their story in a visual format. Why do people (sometimes, rarely, not often enough) access articles from our databases? To write a paper, or make a presentation, that tells a story. ET CETERA AND SO FORTH.

So libraries are about gaining access to stories, and, more recently, they are an avenue for creating and storing new ones. And shouldn’t we celebrate this fact with every keynote and every conference? This is not to say, of course, that non storytellers can’t tell a good story–it’s just a bit trickier, and that’s what the market has been glutted with in the past few years. I’m just saying…try something different, and see how it goes.

While I myself am well aware that I am not keynote level (I’m slogging along, paying my dues, very happily), off the top of my head I can think of five or six excellent women who work with youth who are at a point in their careers where I think they’d be damn fine keynote speakers. They’ve taught courses at the master’s level, published, and are all around engaging and inspiring. But librarians like that don’t seek the high profile engagements, because they are too busy, you know, being great librarians.

I don’t know how to get this to change. Does it need to come from a management level? Do public library directors and school principals need to push their staff more to engage with the profession on a larger stage? Perhaps. What do you think?

say hi to Miss Sarah

the teen librarian you wish you had (or were)

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I met Sarah Jones (Teen Librarian) via twitter, and I’m happy to say that via the gloriousness of the internet we’ve become real life friends. I’ve been continually amazed by  her efforts whenever she talks about her job on twitter or facebook, and I finally decided that I needed her to tell her story, in her own words, for all my blog readers to see. So, without further ado, here’s a tale of how one teen librarian, through gumption and awesomeness, took her library’s teen programming from pathetic to positively awe inspiring. 

A few months ago I gave a presentation at my state’s annual conference about teen programming.   I submitted the proposal because I recognized that I hadn’t heard anything new about teen or youth services at a conference in a long time, and decided that might mean that I’m an expert.  The presentation went great; it was standing room only, people took notes, and people had so many questions that we ran over our allotted time by quite a bit (and they were GOOD questions, not the kind of questions that come from that ONE person at every conference.  You know who I mean.).

I’ve been a full time teen librarian for a few years now, but the position was new when I started it.  I took over for someone who made a genuine effort but was a youth librarian not only at heart but 4 out of 5 of her work days.  A lot of libraries have that murky position—a staff member who does storytime three days a week but still stays late on Friday to throw a video game night for the local teens.  There were a lot of such librarians at my presentation, great people who WANT to be doing a good job, but who aren’t passionate about teen services, and aren’t sure where to start.  The great news for those librarians is that those of us who come to work each day barely able to believe we got so lucky as to score full time teenbrarian positions are often very, very willing to talk about of successes in excruciating detail, and will encourage you to steal our ideas.

I started my position in the Spring of 2010, which meant I took over an SRP (Summer Reading Program) that someone else had already planned.  I don’t remember many details of how things worked that summer, but my stats show that about 220 teens participated across three buildings.  The next year I burned the thing down and planned my own program from start to finish.  The very simple breakdown:

-read anything you want for ten hours, get a prize

-read anything you want for another ten hours, get another prize and get entered into the grand prize drawing and an invitation to the wrap-up party

-for every hour you read beyond that, you get an entry into a prize drawing for one of 5 or so super awesome other prizes

That’s it!  Super simple!  No dictating what they read or how they read it, or even what quantity they read.  If a special needs teen participates and only reads one book in 20 hours, that’s fine by me and he or she has no reason to be embarrassed, because I don’t even know.  If all they read is online fanfic, they don’t have to worry about figuring out how many pages it would be equivalent to.  It’s all just time.

To keep prizes cheap but also fun and motivational, I go the grab-bag route.  Every grab bag gets a full sized candy bar.  Some grab bags get an additional little something.  Smencils are a hit, and I also throw in things like rubber ducks, weird things I find in the $1 bins at Target, books I have left over from book clubs, really anything works.  A smaller number of bags get a small gift card, usually to Target or Game Stop.  Depending on budget, I might do 15-20 $5 gift cards.  I like to give a few $10 Coldstone gift cards, and then I always throw in one $20 card to a random bag.  They all get stapled shut, and the rule is that they can’t fondle them before they pick.  It’s important that you say fondle so they laugh.  I clearly mark and set aside a set of bags that only contain things that have no nuts and do not have a nut allergen warning, and another set that have no candy at all in case of a diabetic or severely food allergic teen.  Before they pick I ask “any food issues?” and so far it’s worked just fine.

The grand prize is easy.  When you were a teen, what did you want more than anything?  MONEY.  Last year, I gave away 5 $50 Visa gift cards.  Even at 30 I would totally join a summer reading club for a chance at winning fifty bucks!  And I’d likely spend it on the same things the teens do, realistically.

The Above-and-Beyond (that’s what we call the entries that come after they’ve finished the 20 hours) prizes are where I get to have a little fun.  Usually one or two are bigger gift cards for Game Stop or Barnes and Noble or something like that.  And then the other three are based on some theme.  Past themes have been Twilight, The Hunger Games, Manga/Anime, and Art Supplies.  For my Winter Reading program this year I’m making a Nerdfighter basket and a Doctor Who basket, among others.  It’s all about what your teens are into and what you can afford.

I’ve done this program two years in a row now.  That first, sad year when I took over someone else’s program I had 220.  The first year of my own program I had 435.  Last summer I had 647.  It turns out that spending less on incentive prizes in order to give them a chance at winning a BIG AWESOME PRIZE totally works.

There is, of course, more to my success than a prize basket including Hunger Games kneesocks.  Another important thing is that if teens are IN the library, they are more likely to turn in their forms.  So PROGRAM PROGRAM PROGRAM.   The ins and outs of my programs and failures and successes therin would take a whole separate post, but QUANTITY is seriously important.  At our Main library I’ve got something going on each week—often 2 or 3 or 4 things a week.  At each of our two branches I’ve got at least one thing a month throughout the year, and during the summer I try for 2.  I’d love to do more, but I’m the only person who does teen stuff for three buildings, and I have to sit at the reference desk sometimes or the youth department will mutiny.

There is ONE summer program that has to be addressed here though, and that’s the Summer Reading Wrap-Up Party.  While the grand prizes are a huge incentive,  getting the invitation to this party is the big awesome thing that EVERYONE gets.

And the party must be awesome.  This could mean different things for different libraries, but it definitely has to be something you don’t usually do as a program, and if it can be something you don’t usually allow at all, even better.  For me this means the dreaded after-hours program, where the teens get the run of the library after closing.  It also means LASER TAG.  My first summer as the planner of the SRP, I got the crazy idea that there should be laser tag at this event.  I quickly realized the terribleness of the idea of letting them play in the library proper, and I found a place nearby where I  could rent  a giant inflatable laser tag course. Since only about ten kids could play at a time, I had other things set up that were a little less exciting—video games, karaoke,  and lots and lots of pizza.  I made sure when handing out the invites to stress how insanely awesome the party was going to be, and also that I was going to be VERY VERY STRICT about not allowing anyone who didn’t complete the SRP to attend, so if they wanted to bring friends to this party, the friends had better finish the program too.  Guess how many teens came to that party?

…..

115.  Luckily I had roped a LOT of friends into helping supervise, and I’d required registration so I was ready for them.  By then end they were getting a little nutso, but overall it was a great time with no big problems.  As they were leaving, I heard many kids say “I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL NEXT YEAR!” so I knew I was going to have to bring it in 2012.

And bring it I did.  A little thing happened called The Hunger Games, perhaps you’ve heard of it?  One morning I had one of those great “in the shower” ideas that I should make it a Hunger Games themed party—I could still have laser tag, because that TOTALLY makes sense!  It would be the arena, where they’d kill each other!  On the invite I encouraged the teens to cosplay and held a costume contest.  I had many stations with HG games I found online so that they would keep busy while waiting their turn in the arena.  I made a scavenger hunt and a trivia game and gave out copies of the then just-released DVD as prizes, and one girl was so excited she’d won it that she squealed.  I kept them so friggin’ busy that they didn’t have a chance to misbehave, and I got a TON of adult volunteers to help me run all of it.  For me it was key to have my friends help, and not my coworkers, because I knew I needed people with a high teen tolerance level.  As soon as they saw the Hunger Games font on the invitation the teens started to get REALLY excited about the party.  Total attendance?  216.  TWO HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN TEENAGERS AT ONE PROGRAM.

Don’t be discouraged by humble beginnings.  Don’t start out thinking that this wouldn’t work at your library.  I never thought that the attendance at a wrap-up party two summers after that first one would have been the same as the total participation in 2010.  I’m not special, I’m not anybody you’ve heard of, and I’m not a mover or a shaker.  But I’m on the front lines, talking to teens, throwing programs and hoping they come over and over and over again until they do.   Start now, keep it up all year, and they’ll come to your SRP.   If you asked me what I’ve done to build the relationships with my teens that I have, I’d say, “Eighteen programs this month” and then probably eat a Kit Kat.

Read more about Sarah’s programs and teenbrarian philosophy at teenbrarian.blogspot.com

ego, thy name is librarianship

cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar
cc license photo by flickr use r zoonabar

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a bit of an attention problem. No, not attention deficit– I have a need to be, if not the center of attention, at least left of center. Even though I am an introvert at heart who needs significant alone time to recharge and prepare, I am actually happiest when I am in front of a crowd. I meet this need for attention in many ways–by working in an area of librarianship that demands that I present storytimes and other programs, by being a performing songwriter on my personal time, by writing this blog. Often these endeavors are satisfying enough in themselves, but sometimes–during dark, lonely afternoons as I type up program plans, or ponder what to write about next on the blog–I crave even more attention, but I don’t know how to get it.

Doesn’t this all sound awfully conceited? I know. It does. But I’m nothing if not honest, so yes, I’ll admit to thinking I am awesome. I think I do excellent work, and have unique contributions to make, even though I don’t have a slogan or a hashtag or a large, slavish following. Sometimes I wonder if I were a man, writing about ebooks, if I’d get more attention. But since I am a lady writing mostly about playdough and early literacy, decidedly unsexy topics in librarianship (and when did “sexy” begin to equal “intriguing” or “worthwhile” or “interesting”?) I have a decidedly smaller circle of admirers and colleagues, most of whom are my fellow unsung heroes of the library world. As a children’s librarian, if you write more about how you use books with children than you do about the books and authors themselves, you don’t get as much notice.

Perhaps it is just my sensitive ego at work, but I feel like the librarian bloggers who work with children and teens and who write primarily about programs don’t get the recognition they deserve. Storytime blogs such as So Tomorrow, Awesome Storytime, Mel’s Desk, Playing by the Book, Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Bryce Don’t Play, and Storytiming provide real, concrete advice for creating worthwhile programming, which should be the bread and butter of libraries. If all of us wrote more book reviews and less about the programs we created using those books, or why we create the programs we do, perhaps we’d get more notice. If we blogged about hot button topics like e-books for babies or stripping our children’s departments down to look like futuristic lunchrooms filled with ipads, perhaps we’d get a ton of traffic. But we don’t. We write about our quiet successes and failures, about the simple craft of creating a flannel story, about what rhymes will fit with certain themes, and when we do review books, it’s always with an eye to How will I use this with a group of children? When we get dressed for work, it’s always with a thought about how easily we’ll be able to get up and down from the floor during storytime, and whether or not sweat will show if we’re doing a lot of jumping songs that day.

In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship (Swiss Army Librarian being a rare exception, with his marvelous ref questions of the week). These men spin elaborate fantasies about librarians being information rockstars who dress to impress (either flashily or with an eye to ironic hipsterism), dismiss librarians who still use books to connect with patrons as hopelessly backwards, and come up with gimmick after gimmick to get libraries “noticed” without ever once writing about a concrete, applicable thing that they have actually done. Show me how libraries and librarians are amazing, don’t just tell me and expect me to be convinced.

I’m on very precarious ground as I write this, because honestly, my main motivation is that I am sad that I am not more recognized. [I really regret this sentence right now! While I, personally, do want to be recognized, more than that I want my tribe–kid and teen librarians who work so damn hard with little to no recognition in the wider library world–to be noticed and appreciated. Which they might be. I’ll admit to not being able to read everything ever printed about libraries. JJ 01/16] I want to be noticed. I want people to listen to what I have to say. I want to be offered speaking engagements, to have a larger platform to  discuss my ideas of how to better librarianship, to be valued. I want to win awards. I crave approval and recognition, and yet, to paraphrase Lillian Hellman, I cannot and will not cut my librarianship to fit this year’s fashion. I don’t particularly care about e-books, only that I wish we could give our patrons what they want. I don’t particularly want to shove ipads into the faces of babies and toddlers because I still believe screen time is ultimately damaging. I don’t really care to have the perception of librarians go from shushing bun heads to strutting pimps. (I think Frank Zappa* is a better rock star librarian model than any rapper, but that’s just me. Like Frank, I believe in free speech, showmanship, and being a decent human being. Like Frank, I think you can push the envelope of expression without being hateful to women.) I like books, and I believe librarianship is about books, if you stop and think about how books equal stories, and it doesn’t matter what goddamn container they come in, be it paper, digital, audio, or a film or a video game. Stories are what people crave, and stories (like the storycorp partnership with libraries, or the not so new resurgence of reading aloud to adults–and adult librarians, if you need help on reading aloud, you know who to ask) are what libraries have and always will do best.

So next time you need a keynote speaker, perhaps consider one of us librarians who spend most of our time on the floor–often literally. Our subject matter might not be “sexy”, but we know how to tell a damn good story.

*”If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the library.” – Frank Zappa

welcome, Illinois Library Association/Wee Be Jammin’ friends!

Wow, this year’s ILA conference knocked it out of the park. I’ll be exploring some of the things I learned in more detail later on, but I did want to say hello to anyone who finds my blog post-conference. In the mean time, the ILA Youth Forum blog has a pretty nice recap of all the programs that were of interest to youth librarians if you want to check that out.

Also! If you’re interested in starting music programs at your library, I’d be happy to come out and visit you! I can present a program for your patrons, a workshop for your staff, or both! See the music page for more details and contact information. And thanks for reading!