Where Do The Teens Go?

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:

‘I think the high school programs are easy to run. I think a lot of times you have kids in a middle school program who may not want to be there, but it’s used as a form of afterschool day care by the parents who are working. I think once you get to the high school level, most of the participants really are motivated to be there, and they’re doing it because they want to—not because they have to.’ (emphasis added)

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 Team

  • 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.

3rd grade reading success matters

Grade level reading- 3rd grade

Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters

Early Warning Confirmed 

Middle School Students and Their Developmental Needs

Can’t Stop Talking Social Needs of Students in the Middle

Middle Schools Need to Focus on Caring and Connections

Developmentally Responsive Middle Grades Practices

Characteristics of Middle Grade Students

Developmental Differences Between Middle School and High School Programs – Engaging Older Youth: Program and City-Level Strategies

Are Middle School and High School Students Really That Different? Observations and Advice From MS/HS Teachers

Working with Middle and High School Friends: What Are the Developmental Differences?

Middle Schools: Social, Emotional, and Metacognitive Growth

CONNECT, CREATE, COLLABORATE: TEEN LIBRARIANS UNITE! THROW AWAY YOUR PICTURE BOOKS.

Storytime Opera

even cats can sing!
even cats can sing! illustration by Kyle Harter http://www.kyleharterart.com

Singing is one of those things that every human can do, but many avoid doing because they think they’re not good at it or that they have bad voices. There is no such thing as a bad voice. There are voices that people prefer to hear, but breaking things down in to good and bad–especially when you’re working with children–doesn’t do anyone any good.

Now I judge the heck out of singers. When people tell me I should audition for America’s X Factor Yodel Idol, or some other such nonsense, I want to cry. Those people aren’t singers. I don’t know what they’re doing–hollering slightly out of time, maybe, or gyrating while they emit sound waves–but that, to me, is not singing.

And there’s definitely a difference between singing on a stage, for people who might have paid to hear you sing, and singing because it feels good and it makes you happy. Ideally those singers on stage are happy when they sing, but not always.

But anyway. Singing in storytime is amazing. Singing and music can bring people together in a way unlike any other art. We know, anecdotally, that rhythm soothes and teaches—that’s why we sing nursery rhymes, and rub our baby’s back when she’s trying to fall asleep. That’s why dancing is so revitalizing for many–the rhythm does, indeed, get you. That’s why massage–the rhythmic stroking of our body–is so soothing. Science is also looking into whether or not music and rhythm can actually be used as medicine. I know that if I am having a bad day, or am stressed out, banging out some c&w rhythms on my guitar can have a positive effect on my mood.

Even without all that, singing is one of Every Child Ready to Read’s 5 skills. So there’s every reason for librarians to be singing in storytime, and programs beyond storytime as well (seriously, I played a Bob Dylan song for a group of 7th graders once and it was amazing).

“But I can’t sing!” you cry. Yes, you can, I reply. If you can talk, you can sing.

Listen. Kids don’t care. They are the perfect audience to sing to. They don’t notice if you’re pitchy, or off key. They love the sound, the rhythm, the melody, the movement. If you’re smiling and excited as you’re singing, they will love you. You will be a rock star in the eyes of toddlers.

“But you’re a singer!” you say. “It’s easy for you!”

Well, perhaps. I’m accustomed to singing, and I enjoy it. But listen– singing with kids isn’t the same as playing a set of original weepy folk songs at the coffeeshop. Firstly, I put everything in a higher key for the kids, so their piping voices can sing along more easily. I’m singing slightly above my range in every storytime, and most times my voice will inevitably break a la Peter Brady.

And no one cares. The adults will snicker if I reference Peter Brady, but no one is shocked that it happened. In fact, it sets everyone at ease and gets more people singing.

Further, the trick is to sing. Playing CDs is fine, but there’s something special about the human voice; and if you have chatty storytime parents, I find it’s much harder for them to talk through my earnest singing than it is to talk through a booming CD track. (I think Storytime Katie has written  about this but I couldn’t find the post.)

I also play guitar. Which kids like. But you know, playing basic folk guitar is not that hard. If you want to be Eric Clapton, that’s another thing. But if you want to play three chords and sing “The Wheels on The Bus”, well, that’s within everyone’s reach. And even then, kids don’t care. One time a kid completely undid the tuning on my guitar and I wasn’t able to fix it, but I played “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” anyway, and not a single kid noticed. They just jumped their little hearts out. Some of the parents grimaced, but, well, that’s the cost of entertaining children–sometimes you annoy the adults.

So sing in storytime! It will only bring you good things, I promise you.

Other singing in storytime stories:

If you’ve written about singing in storytime, please link in the comments and I will add it to the list!

Review: It’s a Tiger!

It's a Tiger!
It’s a Tiger! by David LaRochelle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fans of Grumpy Bird will love the Tankard illustrations in this new picture book, which easily pairs with classics such as Head to Toe, I Went Walking, Brown Bear Brown Bear, Going on a Bear Hunt, or Walking in the Jungle.

The bold illustrations and clear, dynamic text make this book perfect for storytime. Toddlers and preschoolers alike can RUN from the tiger, climb the ladder to make an escape, tip-toe past snakes, and jump into a flower bed (that is hiding tiger that they must run from).

This book is a perfect fit for my Mini Movers storytime, so if you do a similar program, be sure to add this title into the mix!

It’s a Tiger! will be released July 18th. Review copy graciously provided by the publisher.

View all my reviews

May the Fourth Be With You: 2013

May 4th is on a Saturday next year and so help me, I’ll be planning and implementing a large scale, fun for the whole family “May the Fourth Be With You” Star Wars nerdamondium party that will be so awesome I may just explode.

Other libraries have done it with much success. You can get free cosplay storm troopers etc from your local branch of the 501st legion which is really the thing that’s going to make the party. The idea is to have a wide range of activities that would appeal to all ages, bringing in families as well as single adults. Additional ideas include:

Do you think you’d have a Star Wars party at your library?

Boundtracks: Pete the Cat and “New Shoes”

Oh, Pete the Cat! I can practically recite you from memory, and there isn’t a group of kids and adults in existence who aren’t magically swept up in your bouncy tale of sloppy shoes. (Although some more savvy color mixers insist that first your shoes should turn pink then purple but I call it a quick charming lesson in suspension of disbelief.)

As I await the arrival of Four Groovy Buttons (having not been terribly impressed with Rockin In My School Shoes, ymmv), I’ve been revisiting the original Pete the Cat, and during my commute this morning I thought that Paolo’s song “New Shoes” would be a great pairing (ha! pairing! shoes! ahem) during a storytime. You could have the kids just get up and dance, or if they need a bit more encouragement, pass out shakers or dancing scarves to help them find the groove.

Videos:

 

top 11 posts of 2011

When I first started this blog, I had no grand aspirations. I am passionate about the library field, child development, and children’s literature, and I wanted to have a place to express my thoughts, and I hoped that I would garner at least a dedicated, engaged readership. Fairly early on, I experienced the Elizabeth Bird bump, and for that I’ve always been grateful. I appreciate my twitter friends for all their conversation and ideas, and frankly, without them I probably wouldn’t be writing much at all.

Looking at my top posts, I realize that people love it when I write about things that a lot of librarians are probably thinking but are too scared to talk about, and my programs for children. I’m going to make an effort to write more about these topics in 2012, and also write more from the gut and the heart, no matter what the topic (my angsty review of Ingenue being an example of this new goal).

Thank you to all my readers for commenting, emailing my posts to your colleagues, and generally being awesome. Let’s do more of this in 2012.

top posts (excluding static pages):

11. Meow Mix. I think this is solely because of the cat picture, although I think my cat who doesn’t know how to meow storytime through line is pretty awesome.

10. Make it Happen: Teen Space. Pretty much an airing of grievances post that also allowed me to congratulate and laud a fellow librarian. Now complete with a comment I didn’t initially approve because it’s super negative, but hey, whatevs. Different strokes for different folks.

9. New Storytime Favorites. Why is this so popular? I dunno. Probably because I mention cats and I’m a librarian. The cat/librarian diagram is so venn it’s almost just a circle.

8. Tales of the Madman Underground: A Love Letter. This was a very personal post and book review, and I almost didn’t publish it. But this book is amazing and I think that librarians—much like teachers—need to fight for the right to be real, flawed, human people with pasts and problems like any other people. Just because we work with children doesn’t mean we’re all Mary Poppins, and we shouldn’t be punished for being real people. But seriously, read that book.

7. The Ethical Librarian. This one is me totally ranting and raving on my high horse while my horse is standing on a soapbox. You might as well call me the Bughouse Square librarian. I took an information ethics class in library school, one of the few actually challenging courses I took, and it ruined me forever. You’re welcome.

6. #makeitbetter. I just hate bad librarians. Sorry if you’re one of them.

5. You might not being doing it wrong, but you could certainly do it better. Ah, my screed against library schools. I might not get so worked up if I weren’t $50,000 in debt, but that ship’s sailed, huh? Good times. And by good times I mean kill me.

4. Librarian, Weed Thyself! Wherein I apply the CREW and MUSTIE methods to people. I am a monster. A pudgy, cuddly, hyberpolic monster.

3. Beginning Reader Storytime. A warm and fuzzy post about how I revamped my library’s preschool storytime. How…charming.

2. How to Become the Best, Most Versatile Baby & Toddler Programmer Ever. Babies and toddlers are tricky audiences.

And, unsurprisingly, the number one post of 2011 is…

1.  Summer Reading, Pain in my a**. So many people enjoyed my rants about the sacred cow of summer reading, which really pleased me. I love when people reassess long running programs with a fresh eye. Can’t wait to see what people do with their 2012 summer reading programs.

Happy new year, everyone!

Love,

Miss Julie

how to become the best, most versatile baby & toddler programmer ever

1. Buy all of John M. Feierabend‘s* books. Pay special attention to The Book of Tapping & Clapping, The Book of Bounces, and The Book of Wiggles & Tickles.Read them. Find the taps, bounces and wiggles that you like and can perform without feeling too self-conscious. Memorize them.

2. Buy all of Hugh Hanley’s Circle of Songs CDs, which come with photo-illustrated books. Repeat the same process as with the Feierabend books.

3. Buy all of Annie Kubler‘s board books. Revel in the simplicity of the drawings, the diversity of the babies, and the clarity of the nursery rhymes and classic children’s songs such as “I’m A Dingle Dangle Scarecrow” and “Row Your Boat”.

4. Buy all of Helen Oxenbury‘s board books. Enjoy the adorable babies and simple actions that are easy for parents to do with their child during storytime.

5. Buy some simple toys. Baby and toddler storytimes should be half program, half playtime. After all, children learn through play! Play time is also a great time for parents and caregivers to talk, share information, and make friends. Building community is just as important as building emergent literacy skills.

6. Build on the first five steps as needed. This is a solid foundation for baby and toddler program, and a great place to begin if you’ve never presented a laptime or toddler story time before. With these materials in your arsenal, you should be able to present a wonderful program at the drop of a hat, while continually adding new books, rhymes and toys to keep things fresh.

As for the actual storytime, I have my regular opening routine. For babies, I’ll read one book, then go through a sequence of bounces, tickles, wiggles, and songs (I play songs on the guitar, but you can easily sing songs without accompaniment). The order of these doesn’t matter too much. I try to read the babies as much as I can. Some babies love bounces, so I’ll do more bounces. Other babies love singing, so we’ll sing more. I’m happy to cater to their preferences.

For toddlers, I add one more book in the mix, sometimes two more if they’re particularly attentive.

*I just realized he has music CDs as well. You should probably go ahead and get those, too.

In case you’re wondering, at my library, the ages for baby times are 4-18 months, and toddler times are 19-47 months.

P.S. Do your baby and toddler times need revamping or freshening up? I’d be happy to come talk to your staff in person or via skype about programming for these ages. If you like, I’ll also throw in a 30 minute musical storytime for your patrons! Drop me  a line if you’re interested!

Sleepy Storytime

(I wrote this last winter but never finished it, so here it is now, as we are hurtling into fall and winter with its sleep-inducing weather.)

The frigid temperatures inspired me to put together a sleep-themed storytime, since this time of year all I want to do is stay beneath the covers and sleep until spring. (Not to toot my own horn, but I think I did my job too well: one of the teachers with my favorite school group actually fell asleep during this storytime).

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime!

Oh, Bob Shea. Oh, Dinosaur. This book is practically perfect in every way. There’s shouting, making fun of grownups, spaghetti, and the opportunity to yell “DINGDINGDING” at the end of every round. (Now that I think about it, I might try busting out my finger chimes next time I read this out loud. Man I love my finger chimes.) This is a super strong opener, so make sure you’re up to the task of selling the rest of the storytime with equal verve.

“Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”

I sang this with the monkey mitt. You have a monkey mitt, right? What genius created a furred glove and those adorably ugly puff ball pipe cleaner goggly eyed creations to go with them? Man. Why can’t I come up with something like that? Then I could have an informercial. Maybe even a spot on QVC. Anyway. I love that song, and the kids do too, but I’ve always felt the ending was lacking. I always feel like I should add some sort of pithy capper—“And then the monkeys spent the rest of the night in the ER”! or something, but nothing ever seems to fit. This time around I decided we’d kiss the monkeys owies and then sing them a lull-a-bye. I chose “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Then we tucked the monkeys into bed after they fell asleep. I felt much more satisfied with that ending. Try it; you might like it. Or try sending them to the ER. I’ve also worked in some banter about concussions; parents and teachers really enjoy that, and the kids enjoy that the adults are laughing.

If you have toddlers or want to add a music component, play this version of song while the kids jump, dance, or even shake some shakers:

Ten in the Den.

John Butler’s books are so adorable (cuter than a pillow stuffed with bunnies) I just want to barf glitter every time I read one. Ten in the Den isn’t my all time favorite (that’s reserved for Whose Baby am I?), but it is one of my sure-fire storytime winners. I sing the book, which you really should do, too (no shame if you’re pitchy) along with some hand actions for the kids—rolling their hands for “roll over, roll over” and either clapping or patting their legs when the animal stops rolling.

The Squeaky Door.

I’d normally put a book this long at the beginning of a storytime, but it doesn’t feel right at the beginning. You don’t want to follow this book with anything else besides a “see ya later.” At the end, when Grandma fixes the door, I had the kids help me fix the door by making the squeak get softer and softer until it disappeared. At the very end of the book, I was always afraid that the kids would squeak instead of shhhh, but no one ever did.

Some other sure-fire hits that would fit this theme: Where is the Green Sheep?, Monkey and Me, Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late.

Book Review: I Spy with My Little Eye

I’m certain that I Spy with My Little Eye by Edward Gibb will become a storytime staple. It follows the classic Brown Bear, Brown Bear formula of guessing what animal comes next, with color being the major clue, with the added treat of peering through a hole die-cut in the pages. Each page also provides a word bubble clue (“I have a very long trunk”) to give kids an extra clue about the next animal.

The pages are printed on a heavier paper, which will certainly help the longevity of the holes in the center of each page. The illustrations are digital but have the appearance of ink and watercolor. This book is also a nice size, which I appreciate. Large enough to show off the pictures during storytime, but not hugely awkward to hold.

This is a book you should definitely add to your collection and your storytime rotation.

Reviews referred to:

Time Out New York Kids 

Kiss the Book