If you manage a Thomas Jefferson, you have a star employee who always convinces you to send them to the best conferences and networking opportunities. They reflect well on your organization, though, so you don’t mind sending them everywhere all the time.
When a Jefferson is actually at work, they’re rushing in and out of meetings and can be hard to get a word with. Jeffersons thrive under pressure, and often come up with their best ideas on the spot and at the last minute, so make sure your Jefferson has plenty of “thinking” time (i.e., they look like they’re goofing off, but they’re not). Jeffersons thrive in positions where they work alone, or are collaborative on their own terms.
If you’re managed by a Jefferson, oh shit, I’m sorry. You’re going to wait weeks to get anything signed, you’re going to have little to no guidance when you need it. If you’re an outstanding performer, your manager will rarely be around to praise you, and if there are issues with your performance, it could take months for them to get noticed and resolved. Jeffersons should rarely manage people because they are never around. Jeffersons make great assistant managers, however, and are skilled at leading from any position.
Three years ago I wrote about ego and librarianship, a howl of anguish of sorts, a call to action, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. I don’t even recognize that person anymore–who was that woman, so full of words and opinions? Where has she gone?
I remember, faintly, caring a lot about what I did. I remember being a brazen, mouthy jerk, whose reach exceeded her grasp. I remember being ambitious and eager to make my mark, hungry to build connections and have conversations, anxious to do my very best work and do great things for the profession at large, as well as in my own smaller realm.
I don’t feel that way anymore.
I’ve been thinking a lot these days about this quote from Edward Albee’s (unpublished) play about Federico García Lorca. Lorca is speaking here:
Do you know what it’s like to fall in love with people who don’t want you?
Do you know what it’s like to be completely misunderstood?
To love your family so much the last thing you would ever want to do is to hurt them?
Do you know what it’s like to know you’re not like anyone else in the world in any way?
To want nothing more than to share, and give, and touch?
Do you know what it’s like to know how special and dangerous your talent is?
To live in a society so … so rigid, so set in its ways you don’t dare be yourself …
except deep inside?
Do you know what it’s like to be filled with poetry, to be filled with music, to be filled
with love, and pity, and fear, and anguish, and a deep, deep … terrible dread?
Do you know?
Do you know what it’s like to be me?
I’ve long felt–and have had confirmed by outside sources–that I have valuable talents, skills, and capabilities that are being vastly under utilized–but what do you do? What can you do, if you can’t find anyone who wants to take advantage of all you’re capable of?
I tried a lot of things in 2015 and 2016, and they all failed. I was rejected, a lot, and I’ve been trapped in a holding pattern for way too long. I’m a curious person, always seeking fresh challenges, and when that doesn’t happen I get bored, and when I’m bored I get into trouble.
To illustrate: In high school when I was bored, I decided to collaborate with some friends of mine and throw an anti-prom to protest the terrible theme of the actual prom: Moonlight Diggity. I started the whole project, and soon we had a local band booked to play at the VFW on the night of the prom, and our advertising included a hand drawn poster of a car on fire.
My principal called me into his office to talk about how I’d gotten caught up with some “bad influences.” I nodded and listened, thinking all the while about how I was so pissed that he was underestimating me– I was the brains behind this project. I was the one in charge here. I was the rebel with a cause. I was having my very own Frankie Landau Banks moment, if you will.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned how to work with this boredom without an outright rebellion, but sometimes even that strategy doesn’t work, and I find myself longing for the mouthy, outspoken person from just a few short years ago who was so eager to do great things. But I don’t know how to get that feeling back, and there’s only so much a person can do without the proper support.
It makes me wonder: how do motivate high achieving, self-motivated employees? How do we recognize talent in the profession and reward it? How do we nurture talent beyond those “emerging” years?
Of course I’m grateful to be working in the field, yet isn’t there always something more to strive for? Shouldn’t we always be trying to improve ourselves, our services, our profession?
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.
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.
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.
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
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 bookReading 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?
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
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.
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.
Where do the teens go? (saxophone solo) Where do the teens go?
I’ve long had a belief that service and programs in the public library, especially Youth Services (if you define Youth Services as 0-18), is a conveyor belt of sorts. We start with children in lapsit storytime, and our ultimate goal should be to create life-long library users who stay with us well into young adulthood.
I think that most public libraries do a pretty good job of getting kids from storytime to elementary programming, but start to lose those same kids during middle school. In my experience, middle school is rarely anyone’s favorite group or specialty. They’re hard to work with. They’re like toddlers, but bigger, and with more hormones. They’re trying on different personalities from day to day, and again, like toddlers, like to say no and push boundaries.
But you don’t have to (just) take my word for it!
The emergence of the middle school movement in the 1960s represented a milestone in the history of Human Development Discourse. This movement recognized that young adolescents are not simply older elementary school students nor younger high school students, but that there are dramatic changes that occur during this time of life requiring a radically different and unique approach to education. Middle school educators understood that the biological event of puberty fundamentally disrupts the relatively smooth development of the elementary school years and has a profound impact upon the cognitive, social, and emotional lives of young teens. In line with this important insight, they saw the need for the provision of special instructional, curricular, and administrative changes in the way that education takes place for kids in early adolescence. Among those changes were the establishment of a mentor relationship between teacher and student, the creation of small communities of learners, and the implementation of a flexible interdisciplinary curriculum that encourages active and personalized learning. (emphasis added)
I argue that middle school students require a unique approach to library programs, spaces, and services. Librarians for the middle school set can, and do, apply these same principles–a mentor relationship, small communities of learners, programming to appeal to interdisciplinary interests and encourage personalized learning.
Yet many libraries consider “Teen Services” 6th-12th grade, which is (in my opinion) a ridiculous age spread. A sixth grader has as much in common with a 12th grader as a baby does with a 5th grader. But so many libraries wonder why they are grappling with the question, “Where are the teens?” Can you imagine anyone being happy with your programs if you had lapsit lego time, or booktalked board books to a fourth grader? No! Then why do we do this disservice to our varied teen audiences?
But this approach doesn’t work for older teens who are in high school, which is where the 6th-12th “teen” melting pot really becomes sticky. 9th-12th graders are more firmly aware of who they are and what they want, and they have an increasing amount of autonomy.
By high school, youth are largely independent, making their own decisions about how to spend their time and exercising their increasing freedom. They are starting to think about what will come next for them postgraduation, and many have developed interests that they can pursue in youth programs. As a result, high school programs’ efforts to retain youth are different from those of middle school programs, as a provider acknowledged:
While librarian positions for early childhood have become more targeted–many libraries have a staff person in charge of early literacy programming, which is sometimes held by someone with a master’s in early childhood rather than an MLIS–and programs and materials for the elementary set have never been lacking, the expectation that one (or no!) teen librarian or a youth librarian who is interested in teens can adequately serve the entire population of sixth to twelfth graders in any one community is a bar set impossibly high.
(A lengthy aside, that perhaps deserves its own post: Serving audiences by age groupings is a popular model in libraries, and while it is a fine model, we must never forget that within any age group–from middle schoolers to senior citizens–there is a diverse range of interests and abilities, and when we program and develop collections, we need to hone in even further– twenty-something tech geeks are not interested in the same programs and resources as twenty-something organic backyard farmers. While age groupings can be a starting point, don’t forget to dig deeper.)
This also ties in to the discussion about where the Teen Librarian/staff should exist within the library ecosystem. In my experience, staff for teens are either part of Adult Services or Youth Services. (Although, sadly, sometimes there is no staff at all explicitly devoted to teen services, but just a children’s librarian or adult librarian with an interest in programming and/or literature for teens.) Both placement options have benefits and drawbacks.
I think in terms of collections, having teen books–and in this article, teen books are aimed at 9th grade and older–closer to the adult collection makes more sense. No self-respecting 16 year old wants to have to go into a children’s section for their reading material.
However, when it comes to programming, I believe that teen staff are better served by the programming know-how and collaborative nature of a youth department.
In my ideal and imaginary library, there would be the following full time positions, in terms of teams:
Middle School Team
Middle School Librarian (5th or 6th-8th, depending on where local middle schools put 5th grade; partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)
Middle school outreach librarian (5th or 6th-8th grade, partners with Elementary staff for 5th grade)
High School Team
High School Librarian (9th-12th, but collaborates with Middle School staff for 7th/8th grades)
High School outreach librarian (9th to 12th, but again collaborates with Middle School Staff for 7th/8th grades)
Early Literacy Team
Early literacy librarian (0-3rd grade, partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)
Early literacy outreach (0-3rd grade,partners with Elementary staff for 3rd grade, and with High School staff to provide services to teen moms/parents)
Elementary librarian (3rd-5th, partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade programming, and Elementary outreach librarian for 4th/5th)
Elementary outreach librarian (3rd-5th, again partners with both Early Literacy librarians for 3rd grade, and Elementary librarian for 4th/5th)
Further, the Adult Department would have a Young Adult librarian for 12th grade to early post college, and they’d collaborate with the High School Team.
Why does the Early Literacy team go up to third grade? Because early childhood is defined as such; when you are certified to teach Early Childhood, it goes up to 3rd grade/eight years old. Further, 3rd grade is typically a fraught time for emerging readers, and they can often use the support and skills provided by targeted early literacy programming.
I’ve lovingly collected several articles and posts for you about this very subject. Go forth, read, and learn.
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in public facebook groups dedicated to ostensibly professional purposes for librarians. It’s only happened once or twice–that I’ve noticed, and admittedly I can’t read every post in all the groups I peruse–but it’s been often enough and egrigious enough to get me back on my blogging soap box.
It goes like this: someone will pose a problem for which they seek advice or an answer, and many people will offer this needed advice. Then, somewhere in the comments, information is leaked–the name of a library. The date or time of the situation. And, recently, a patron’s first name, coupled with many specific, identifying factors. Like this:
If I knew that library, those librarians, and that person’s information, I know too much. I can’t un-know it, either. The situation I am most distressed by involves a patron who possibly has developmental delays. The tone used in the discussion was pretty disparaging.
I took a screen shot of it, which I won’t post or use. But it’s that easy. Your manager or HR department or the father of that patron could do the same thing just as easily. Most of these groups are public, and what many people don’t realize is that if your settings aren’t quite right, people can see these group posts or your comments in their own feed.
Listen: working in a library is tough. We need advice, support, a place to vent. But we also owe it to ourselves and our patrons to respect their privacy. I was heartbroken when, after initially tweeting about this nagging issue, a twitter friend of mine shyly spoke up, voicing that she sometimes worried about gossip or judgment from librarians or library staff.
Do I want to impede conversation and stop lonely librarians from getting help and support? Of course not. But I do want us to maintain our ethical integrity, and protect what’s worth protecting.
So what do we do? Not talk about these issues? No. I think there’s a way to do it without naming names or giving away too many details.
Here’s my strategy:
Tighten up. Have a small, private, trusted personal learning network that you can complain, grouse, and bitch to. A group that will hold your confidence. Your most trusted inner circle. Everyone should have this. Even here, though, don’t name names. Never name names.
Obfuscate. I get this strategy from Car Talk, when they would change puzzler details to make them more difficult to solve, and therefore more of a challenge. Do this with your library anecdotes and queries. Change the details to your scenario just enough so that you’ll still get appropriate advice, but no one will be able to figure out exactly when, where, or how this situation happened. Change names-all the kids in my stories are either Billy or Suzie, and those are usually the only details you’ll get about them.
Wait. Is it a pressing, time sensitive issue? Then maybe talk to a colleague in real life instead, or your manager, or your smaller, private network first. After some time has passed, you can get more input from a broader audience (but you still must obfuscate even after waiting).
I’m passionate and uncompromising about this subject because I am a beast when it comes to ethical behavior (in libraries and in life), but I also screwed this up very badly in my youth, and know how much damage it can do to all parties involved.
When I was in college, I worked (briefly) in the health center, as assistant to the primary counselor. I was held to utmost privacy standards. I was not to talk about anything I saw or heard in the office. I did not fully understand this, and one night I related a story to my housemates about someone I’d witnessed having a severe mental crisis–he’d been yelling, throwing magazines, crying. I didn’t name names, though, so I thought it was okay. A college staff member happened to be visiting my housing that evening, and heard my story, and reported me to my boss. I was called on the carpet, and severely reprimanded, but I was given another chance, because I was seventeen and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. My boss made it clear to me how hurtful it would be if this student in crisis, pained and vulnerable, later found out that other people were discussing gossiping about his private matters. I considered how much I disliked being talked about behind my back, especially about issues I had no control over, and I told her I now fully understood the policy, and would do better going forward.
I think of that story each time I read another post where patrons are clearly identified in everything but name, and sometimes by name as well. That kind of sharing doesn’t just hurt the person in the story, it hurts the teller, too. It might be satisfying in the moment to vent or cast aspersion, but in the long run–if your boss finds out, or your library board, or the patron–that satisfaction will be cold comfort.
Talk the Talk: The Art of Booktalking to Young Adults
Whether you’re talking to a single 12-year-old or an entire classroom of high school seniors, an effective and engaging booktalk can be a challenge. Learn best practices for presenting to young adults and how to find your finest booktalking voice. Try your hand at constructing an impromptu book talk of your very own, and leave the session with greater booktalking prowess for talking up some great reads to teens.
In October at the Illinois Library Association conference, I had the honor and the pleasure to collaborate with Alice, Katie, and Mike to talk about one of my favorite job duties: book talking to teens.
For the first seven years of my library career, I didn’t get to book talk, even during my brief tenure as a teen librarian. I was primarily an early literacy librarian, so I spent all my time reading picture books, crafting story times and other programs for young children, and occasionally doing reader’s advisory for teens on the reference desk.
So when I switched jobs in 2012, one of the things I most looked forward to was the chance to book talk, something I’d scarcely learned about in library school.
Being excited did not equal being prepared, however. I will admit, some of my first solo book talks were TERRIBLE. I talked for too long, I wasn’t familiar enough with the books (or I was talking books I wasn’t excited about), and I was talking solo. Over the last three years I’ve learned a lot through trial and error, so when Alice asked me to collaborate with her on a presentation about book talking, I was eager to share my own hard earned knowledge, and that of my collaborators as well.
While this blog post can’t replicate the awesomeness of our ILA presentation, I hope to cover some of the main points for those who attended, as well as lay it out for those of you who are just reading the post.
Who While normally I am great at working alone–and prefer it–when it comes to book talking, I definitely want to be part of a duo at the very least. (Recently I had a book talk with four different staff members on hand, and it was amazing). When it comes to book talks, there is power in numbers, and I now do my best to avoid solo book talks that are longer than one class period.
Why talk as a team?
Variety, of books and voices. We don’t all love the same books, or talk them in the same way, so students benefit from hearing a realistic fiction fan and a sci-fi fan during the same book talk session.
Endurance. For my schools, it’s often easiest to schedule us to see an entire grade during one day, so having more book talkers on hand guarantees that you can get through six hours of book talks without losing your voice or your mind.
Fun. With a team book talk, you can go from being a solo act to being the Smothers Brothers or Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. It’s nice to have another person to riff off of and look to, and it makes your book talks more diverse and dynamic.
Where to talk Does anyone just, like, hold book talk programs in the library that teens will come to? I think this is probably a rarity, so most of the time I’m guessing you’re going to be book talking in a school to a class or a set of classes.
My ideal situation is book talking to one or two classes in a group, in a larger space such as the library media center or common area. I’ve grown to like having a few tables at the front where I can display my books covers out.
I also take out a mobile circulation station (laptop, hot spot, scanner) which I set up away from the book talk area, so teens can check out books they are excited about ON THE SPOT. This has changed the game when it comes to book talks– no more handing out lists and hoping they’ll come to the library to check something out, nope, if they want it they get it. (This means the number of books you bring is radically different, which I will address in the next step).
What to talk Ideally, you’ll talk books that you have 1) read and 2) are really, really excited about. However, none of us live or work in an ideal world (if you do, you’re a lucky duck!), so sometimes we’ll have to book talk on an assigned theme, or we’ll accept a last minute book talking request and we won’t have enough new books read to fill the request, so we’ll have to fake it.
If you’re trying to talk books you haven’t read, the team and I had a few strategies to share:
Read a LOT of reviews. Certain reviewers are better at indicating potential readers than others, so once you figure out those reviewers, turn to them first. Bookshelves of Doom is great for Fantasy/Horror, and Stacked is great for realistic fiction and fantasy/sci-fi. I also turn to common sense media quite a bit so I can be more certain of the content of thornier books, especially when I’m talking to sixth graders.
Observe your fellow book talkers. This is another pro of talking in teams. There are some books I still haven’t read, but I’ve heard my colleagues talk about them enough that I’ve memorized their talks.
Admit it! I’ve taken out a few books based solely on their covers and blurbs, so I admit this to the kids. “I haven’t had time to read this one, but it has a rabid squirrel on the cover, so I was pretty sure someone would want to read it.”
Remember the mobile circulation station I mentioned? This affects how many books we bring. We try to bring multiple copies of as many books as possible, so we can repeat book talks throughout the day. This reduces the number of unique book talks we need to prepare and present, and the physical number of books that we have to take out to a school. Each book talker generally brings out two to three large tote bags full of books, and we usually take back one or two tote bags of books that didn’t get checked out.
How to talk The right way to book talk is the way you feel comfortable, excited, and enthusiastic. Everything else is up to your personal preferences and strengths.
I will say this– if you’re able to take a stand up comedy class (seriously!) or another kind of live literature or storytelling class, this could improve your book talks immensely. Because really, what is a book talk other than a story about a story? And while you don’t have to be a laugh riot, the ability to land a joke can go a long way in making your book talks more enjoyable for your audience (don’t forget the teachers in the back!).
My style involves a lot of personal anecdotes. Teens are fascinated by personal narratives and making yourself even the tiniest bit vulnerable can have a huge impact on how they perceive you.
Why Why do we book talk? To get teens to read, yes. To circulate books, yes. Book talking was created by teen librarians for teens because even in the 1920s, teens who could read were choosing not to, for many reasons. Very noble goals, and goals I try to achieve with my book talks.
I also see book talks as a way of developing relationships– with the teens, with their teachers, with the school librarians, with their school, with your coworkers. Even if teens don’t care for any of the books you talk during a particular session, with any luck they’ll realize you know a lot about books, and might come seek you out to help them find what they want to read.
So that’s the Hi, Miss Julie guide to book talking! Thanks for reading.
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.
In addition to inspiring big and awesome things, I’m pleased that my post articulated for a lot of librarians a feeling that they had been wrestling with for a long time, but could never quite express–a feeling that librarians who work with children and teens aren’t respected, aren’t taken seriously, and aren’t valued. And in the year after writing that post, I realized I wasn’t really talking about ego, I was talking about self-worth.
Many of us struggle with self-worth and self-esteem on a regularly basis, both personally and professionally, constantly feeling that we are falling short. I know I do. I feel guilty about something pretty much every minute of every day–about an email I didn’t answer quickly enough, or how I don’t visit my family enough, or what junk I ate for lunch because I am incapable of packing one, and on and on. When I fall into these spirals of shame and self-blame and awfulness, sometimes the only thing that can snap me out them is a thank you note from a grateful teacher, or a compliment from a coworker about a recent success. Because sometimes no matter how intrinsically and self-motivated I am, or how much I believe deep in my heart that my work is valuable and I am good at it, sometimes you just stop believing that until someone else recognizes it and reminds you of it.
The youth librarianship community has really stepped up in this area (or maybe I’ve just become more mindful of noticing it). Not a day goes by that I don’t see compliments flying on twitter, conversations full of idea sharing, heart felt “thank yous” and pats on the back. And I see more of us reaching out into different areas of the profession, staking a claim in the worlds of tech, letting it be known that we have expertise that is worth listening to.
To that end, let’s keep it going– let’s dig deeper and reach higher. Make sure to take advantage of any local and national awards, and take the opportunity to speak out about your favorite librarian. Even if they don’t win, you can certainly share with him or her what was said–and just the process of nominating someone, thinking deeply and thoughtfully about their contributions to the field, will be a benefit to both you and them.
Beyond Movers and Shakers and I Love My Librarian, I assume most state library associations have awards for librarians, so take a look and see who you can recognize. I know that my state’s awards for librarians are often lacking for nominations, so if you’re in Illinois, I plead with you to submit one. YALSA has an award for excellence in Teen Librarianship, as well as awards recognizing excellent programming. ALSC has the ALSC Distinguished Service Award, but perhaps another award or two could be implemented– youth librarianship is vast.
Are there any opportunities to recognize our fellow librarians that I have missed, especially those that are youth and teen centric? Let me know.
And thank you, dear reader, for being a friend. Next time I see you in person, the cheesecake is on me.