Category Archives: How We Do

Satisfied

We (myself and the fabulous Hayley, a librarian at the local college and sub at our library) finally pulled the trigger on our Hamilton program this week. Because we plan programs so far in advance (not the best way to go about developing responsive services for teens, but in a heavy-programming library system, setting the schedule 4-6 months ahead of time is the only way to secure space) I worried that our ship may have left the harbor, but so many people are still completely obsessed with this (nearly-perfect) piece of musical theatre we didn’t want to throw away our shot.

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#hamilstuff

It went really well, if not exactly as imagined. When you love (or, are obsessed with) a thing you are programming around, you are all but helpless in the face of your vision for it. I’ve learned how to prioritize which elements are essential, which are nice, and which can be jettisoned when you inevitably run out of time, but when you engage with super-popular thing that you, yourself, feel passionately about, it’s easy to go overboard.

In planning Ham(ilton) Jam!, I didn’t realize until the event was running that I had created what I call a ‘leveled’ program (There probably is a proper technical term for this, but that’s how I think of them) created to cater to different levels of audience engagement simultaneously. This is commonplace, especially for youth and family programs, but something I’ve been reflecting more on in regards to teen programs. You want everyone to get something out of a session, but people prefer engage in their own way, on their own terms. If we want to put on frothy events, we have to be cognizant of and respond to this.

The Ham Jam (visualize that! Or…don’t!) was a fine example of a leveled program. Finding a good time to run it was (as always) a challenge: school stuff, a barely-existent budget, other library programs, etc. Wd decided to go on Hamilton’s birthday – January 11th. This was before our library program bible (we do SO many programs that I call our seasonal brochure a Cheesecake Factory menu. I kid, but I’m proud that we offer such a quantity and variety of classes and events to our community) was released so publicity would require extra effort, it was midweek (Wednesday) and it was during our traditionally quieter winter months. (I’ve had luck programming in such ‘slow times’ lately, with larger-than-expected turnouts, and as this whole thing was a banana-pants experiment anyway, I decided to go with it.) The ‘Hamilton’s Birthday’ angle was too delightful to resist.

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Board and #hamilfact by Hayley!

Although this was conceived as a teen program I didn’t limit registration and soon saw from our online reservation system that we were attracting a diverse age range, which was borne out by the attendance: About 60 Hamilfanatics ranging from an 85 year-old who knew every word to a crew of 3rd graders who requested that I just play ‘My Shot’ over and over again to a three year-old with serious dance moves (who showed them off in front of the crowd.) Some popped in for a few songs, some stayed for the first act, and about a third of the attendees stuck it out for the full three hours.

How can you plan for a crowd with such a diverse age range? Well, in short, I didn’t: I planned a teen program. Lately, it’s pretty much the same thing. I had to consider that there would be vastly different levels of engagement and focus in the room: Some would be singing. Some would gaze at screens, either the large one in the room or the small ones in their hands. Some would dive into the table games provided. Some would (purposely or not) pull focus and run around and dance. And some (a few benevolent chaperone-type parents in the room) would just endure it, just shy of complete indifference.

All of these responses and levels of engagement are valid and worthwhile.

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Tables games for the non-musical, signs to wave for the obsessed…

I wanna talk about what I have learned; the hard-won wisdom I have earned, because it took me a while to let go of my own expectations inside of my programs. The intellectual and creative exhaustion that occurred during my second year of weekly Fandoms group broke me for the better in this. I’d go into a session ready to share something I thought was important, or an obscurity that I thought the teens would love (sometimes it works: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; sometimes it does not: Documentary Now!) and many would respond by…ignoring the featured content, pulling out phones and/or just hanging out. After spending time preparing for each session, trying to thoughtfully incorporate high-interest educational elements, this could be frustrating, and alas, I admit it: sometimes it showed.

I don’t know how much of my irritation was due to a heretofore undiscovered teacher-type mentality lurking within me. Or maybe it was that Fandoms was the most success I’d had with a weekly program so I was being too ambitious, or that in our second year the number of teens in the room (35, 40, 50) felt unmanageable (I got used to it.) Or maybe it’s that I was a theater major who studied directing and liked to have things go exactly as I envisioned them. I don’t know when it happened, but one day I just let go and…stopped…trying to direct their focus. (I didn’t give up control of the room, exactly. We installed an in-program ‘policy’ where people who aren’t interested  in that week’s conversation/viewing filter to the back of the room and try not to get too loud as they play or hang out, and those who want to engage in the planned content move up, closer to the screen and speakers.) I realized that for our teens, who are often over-scheduled and stressed, to opt in to a library program on a Friday afternoon was a special thing and significant commitment, so they should spend their truly precious time as they saw fit, and if that meant getting sucked into phones, so be it. I would never want a teen to stop doing what they want in order to meet my expectations. (Unless it’s in any way destructive, but you know what I mean.)

(When I have some time I mean to study up on the way teens and others split their attention. I find that teens who seemingly never lift their eyes from their screens absorb a lot of whatever it is we are talking about during Fandoms, and other ‘gathering’-style programs, in a sort of mental multitasking. I find it fascinating and need to learn more.)

How did we plan a three-hour program for all ages that can satisfy multiple levels of engagement? I’ve mentioned some bits of it, but here are the specifics:

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One slide down, 222 to go!

There are ten things you need to know:

  1. We played the full score and encouraged people to sing along.
  2. We did not scroll lyrics for the show, but encouraged attendees to bring their own sheets/books/Hamiltomes, and to share them. Instead we scrolled…
  3. A 200+ slide presentation of #hamilfacts about the history in the show, the production, references to other songs and showtunes, and Revolutionary-era trivia. I keyed each fact to a lyric so I could track and manually advance the slides with a clicker while I walked around and supervised the room. I used Genius as a starting point, saving time and sanity as I generated a resource list for attendees.
  4. We put out a display of books for all ages on Hamilton, Burr and other figures from the show.
  5. We had table games, including a cast/historical figure match game, a word scramble and a crossword puzzle, as well as coloring sheets.
  6. We also set out birthday party hats and mini-signs with words from the show (Work! Hamilton! Boom!) made with barbecue skewers (an essential craft supply…I use them for everything.)
  7. We had snacks – pretzels, cookies, and a birthday cake.
  8. We had a ten-minute intermission, where we ate said cake and sang the Birthday song.
  9. We set a hashtag for Instagram and Snapchat and incorporated them into the slide show.
  10. We walked around the room and sat at different tables to chat with attendees and celebrate our favorite songs and moments.
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Cake, with cameo by my beloved skewers…

Not everyone did every thing. Some people just chatted or snapped or musical.ly-ed, some let their energy run wild, some sang their hearts out. No one seemed helpless or irritated by anyone engaging with the program elements in their own way and everyone walked out with something positive to say (including a dad sitting with his overjoyed daughter and her crew, reading a newspaper, who said at the end “That was not…terrible?”)

It was a community event in every sense of the word, centered on a contemporary rap/sung Broadway musical about the scandalous life and times of an immigrant Founding Father, which is kind of amazing. It had something for everybody, including those who didn’t really want to be there. It was super-library and we were all satisfied.

We’re going to run it one last time, at our branch library this spring. (Probably during the day on a weekend – three hours on a weeknight was way too much for the littles in the room.) And this time we’ll call it ‘Jamilton!,’ as suggested by one of my Fandoms teens after this first run. (‘Why didn’t you mention that sooner? It’s perfect!’ I cried. ‘You seemed to really like Ham Jam, so I didn’t want to ruin it for you’ he replied. Beware: Enthusiasm can drown out better ideas if you get overly-attached to your own vision. Another thing for me to work on.)

I’m glad that the world, and our event design, was wide enough for all these patrons who may not ordinarily ‘see’ or interact each other out in the community to come together and enjoy this program together, each in their own way.

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Easily my favorite local mascot…

PS: Fun fact – Aaron Burr’s dad was born here in Fairfield. There is an elementary school named for the family, and whenever I visit, I listen to ‘Wait for It’ and ‘The Room Where It Happens’ on the drive there and back.

Deep Thoughts December

Even in the best of times, I’m an over-thinker (or catastrophist, or self-obsessive, or worrier, or weirdo, depending on your point of view.) The events of this year, specifically this past month, have only added to my list of personal, local, national and global concerns, as they have for almost everyone I know. I haven’t felt like writing or reading. I’ve been working myself to exhaustion in an attempt to quiet my mind (shift the entire adult fiction section to accommodate new genre shelving by moving 30,000 books, by hand, alone? LET’S GO!) but now that quiet, steady haven of a project is done. With a program planning deadline looming (and loosely-formed, disconnected thoughts about how, maybe, we need to slide a bit away from STE/A/M stuff and back towards focused and engaging information literacy work…) I find myself sinking into the helpless hopelessness I’d managed to forestall through repetitive physical labor. I usually find solace in the knowledge that this work, in the library and with teens in particular, makes a difference.

Except what if it doesn’t? As a person plagued with an ever-present, vague uncertainty, the validity of my work and the pride I take in it was one of the only things I never had occasion to doubt. This train of thought is terrifying.

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You, me, and everyone in 2016

When I tell people what I do, I get, from some people (colleagues, loved ones, strangers), a reaction can only be described as a sort of pity, mixed with revulsion. (Try saying “Ew!” and “Aww!” at the same time. That’s the face.) It makes me smile. I say that I love working with teens because I love to learn. I learn from teens every day.

When I first started our Fandoms United! group in 2013, it was easy to just wing it in terms of content: There was so much to cover, whole universes to unpack, and a lot of history to bestow. But, as I’ve said before, having weekly sessions with no plan will quickly sap your will to live. At a year and a half in, with no organizing principle, we had run out of stuff to do, say and watch. I was reaching, and they knew it. When our third year started, I announced that each month would be themed and that they would decide on the specific content of each week within said theme. It has worked beautifully: It’s easier to plan and the teens like knowing what’s coming, when their favorite topics will be celebrated, and how they can contribute and lead.

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The teens haven’t caught the reference yet.

Because I cannot resist alliteration, in making that first monthly schedule I sought a ‘D’ theme for the holiday-shortened month of December and decided to try something different: sessions where we could discuss the ideas, topics, and controversies that permeate fandom life: Deep Thoughts December. For the first run, we talked about shipping and remake culture (featuring my low-key and oft-repeated rant about how the Patrick Swayze canon is sacrosanct and that his films should never, ever, EVER be remade. Don’t @ me.) using a broad outline I generated after some research, which was then handed off to a teen, who would lead and guide the conversation. We began each session with a brief reminder that all views were welcome and personal attacks would not be tolerated. I also offered teens who did not wish to sit for an hour-long discussion the option to grab some cookies to-go that no one opted for (over the years I’ve learned that snacks should usually be served in the middle, not the beginning of programs.) The sessions were wild successes of the ‘let’s do this every week’ variety. (An attempt to spin-off Fandoms into a social issues discussion group didn’t fly – but we did try last fall. I’m think the time is right to try again.)

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The Ew/Aww face…

While some may not be articulate, I’ve found that most teens are thoughtful and hungry to voice and share their opinions. Many are not given (enough) outlets to do so as peers, in conversation with adults. I don’t know if that’s ever been untrue. When I get the ‘Ew/Aww face’ from others, or sense an incredulity when I talk about the things I have learned about from teens (including many of my own favorite ‘fandom-y’ things, to say nothing of breathtaking insight on the world at large) over the years, I can’t quite wrap my head around it. Teens are people. For every ‘bad’ one there are a dozen fantastic, intelligent, caring and motivated ones. Just like, you know, grown-ups.

Facilitating spaces where teens can be themselves, exuberantly engaged in and/or with the things they love, and taken seriously at the same time is one of the most valuable things I do for my teen patronage. It is transformative. (There is a thing about the intersection of pop culture, libraries and communities here that I don’t have the energy to cover right now. I’ve done presentations on it and, believe it or not, it starts with me riding a camel. Yes. Definitely not enough energy for that right now.)

Knowing what December is for, our Fandoms group was eager to dive into a new slate of Deep Thoughts. This time I let them select the topics: they came up with minority representation in pop culture, and the collision of canon, ‘fanon’ and speculative theory. They are not messing around (or making it easy to prepare for, not that I mind.) and it’s no surprise. (We started this first session with sincere acknowledgement that very few of us in that room endure systemic racism in our daily lives, and so carry distinct forms of privilege into the conversation)

Teens know what’s going on. They know that they will very soon have to choose in which ways they interact with and impact the world. It’s my job to help them, how and where I can, to be ready and, in their own way, to be brave. It’s not something I take lightly. I’m not as worried about the future as I might be when I remember that these teens will have a hand in shaping it.

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Snack time: Like this, but not cute

If I see that future, of course. It may depend on if I continue to survive the mid-program snack-grab stampede without serious injury. There have been some close calls.

OBOTery

When I talk about teen librarians, I often bring up the idea that we are ‘all-arounders’ – many of us have the skills to work all over the library and a working knowledge of other aspects of public librarianship in our buildings, so that we can better serve young people. On any given day I might help a high school student with research for a project, then turn around and provide readers advisory for a fourth-grader looking for more challenging books to read. (I have thoughts on that for some other time.) I love when I get to pitch in on other desks – I can’t walk past a ringing phone or a line of people waiting for assistance, so I usually find myself ‘jumping in’ several times a day.

A side effect of this is that my colleagues get to know what I do better, in terms of service to teens. (It also means if they know I’m around but not on the floor, when teens are mostly in school, they’ll track me down for RA or tech help. I love that too.) Anyone who works in a public library should have an idea of how to engage and assist anyone, of any age, they might encounter in the community. Advocating for the needs and rights of teens is one of the most important things I do in my job. For me, that means helping my colleagues understand what’s going on in my department and in teen culture, modeling good strategies for supporting young people and knowing that the needs of all patron groups have to be considerately balanced. (It’s my job to push for teens, but you can’t change hearts and minds if you’re a bulldozer who only sees the validity of your own personal perspective on public service, or anything, really.)

Being an ‘all-arounder’ means some of my ‘other duties as assigned’ lead me to work and projects throughout the library. I love this, too. I am currently the staff lead on our interdepartmental Collections team which has been tasked to assess and improve how we order, arrange, and display our materials, as part of our ongoing strategic plan. I have regular hours on the adult Reference desk. I create and lead programs for tweens, which is technically (but fuzzily) under the purview of our Children’s department, and every now and again I find myself presenting to adults (including discussions and classes on the history of and/or training in social media, my beloved ‘How to Pick Your Oscar Pool’ talking head/yelling match with our fantastic film librarian, and my upcoming History of LGBTQIA+ YA literature, which I should be working on right now. Yeah.)

My most favorite ‘other duty’, though, is co-chairing our community reading program, One Book One Town (or, OBOT.) In fact, it is one of my favorite work things, period.

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The goal of our version of this program is to get the town reading the same book at the same time, in the hopes of inspiring a community conversation. I’ve been privileged to be a part of OBOT since it began in 2006, and to have been helping to lead the initiative for eight of our ten years. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long but looking at that image of all of our past titles, I guess it really has been.

I can, and could, and might write more about our process on this blog in the future, but for now, I’ll keep it brief: We only pick contemporary books, published in the current calendar year (since we present our event in the winter months, that means our 2017 book would have been published in 2016) and we insist that the author or authors come to town and speak at our big ‘signature event.’ For most people in our community, our choices are surprises – they are not classics, best-sellers or book club favorites, although a few have gone on to be some or all of those things. Some of our titles are challenging. Some are downright confrontational in their content or point-of-view. The only thing they have in common is that they get people talking with family, friends, and neighbors, which is our ultimate goal.

My favorite thing about my favorite thing is that we don’t look at OBOT as a default adult event that sometimes includes young people, but as a community event. That means we are careful to make the program (if not always our book choices) accessible to as many people as possible in town. (Finding one book for literally everyone in a community is impossible. There is no such thing. Understanding this, we take a longer view: We choose something radically different in style, tone, genre and/or age range, than the years before. Eventually, over time, everyone will find a book ‘for them’ in the ever-growing pile of past OBOTs, or so we hope)

We’ve chosen some fantastic youth titles, and in the years our books have featured decidedly adult content, we’ve reached out to younger readers and their families with companion titles, school visits and programming on themes presented in the book. Also, we’ve never told anyone a book is not ‘for them,’ though we have suggested that parents read the book first to determine if the book should be shared with their kids.

Young people are (or should be) a valued and vibrant part of their communities and society as a whole. This is an easy idea to agree with, but it’s not always explicitly practiced. I will never be able to take a break from advocating vociferously (and judiciously, I hope) for teens in the library and in the town. This ‘fight’ will never be over. There will always be more people to convince and cajole. There will always be some who think young people have less intrinsic value than adults because they don’t pay taxes, because they don’t vote, because they are inexperienced, because they are (sometimes) emotional and (sometimes) changeable, because they aren’t worth spending time and/or resources on since they are about to leave the community anyway, because if ‘I survived my adolescence without (whatever)’ they can too…and on and on (These are all things that I have been told over the years.)

Panic at the Quick Center
Our ‘Whaaat?’ faces show what it feels like to run OBOT

For OBOT, I still sometimes have to remind people to keep our kid and teen readers in the picture – my fellow co-chairs (how have I not spoken about these two miraculous ladies yet! They are two of my favorite people on the planet. In addition to being consummate professionals, they are wonderful, patient friends. I know I take advantage of their grace, and I am grateful for their presence in my life in and out of work, daily.) and some of our team do so as a matter of course, but it will never be universally accepted by everyone. There will always be some people who consider a community project to be ‘for adults’ as a matter of course. Those of us who understand the power of including young people as equal participants in such things will have to keep on restating our case.

When people from other libraries ask about OBOT, or when we present on it, the best piece of advice I can give is to make sure you have a few youth services staffers involved in the selection process.  Of course, I’m biased here, but I think youth staff have an advantage, in certain ways, over ‘adult-stuff-only’ readers. When we select materials as part of our work duties, we evaluate content and formats that (mostly) are not meant to appeal primarily to us, as adults. We make determinations on quality and popularity using criteria outside of own idiosyncratic tastes. In my experience, I’ve found it can be challenging for some grown-ups to assess the strengths of works that are somewhere outside their own individual preferences. The best readers advisors and selectors can, of course, but not every librarian, and not every purchaser, has this ability. (I am convinced it can be learned and that is why reading and viewing widely is so important.) It’s something that, unless one is confronted by it in a situation like this or another group-based selection process, one might not really think  about.

Some people criticize youth books as reading ‘too juvenile’ or ‘too young’ for a community-wide choice. I find that to be an inarticulate (and irritating) way of dismissing titles, an assumed shorthand for ‘not good enough,’ an indication that they think books for youth need to clear some extremely high bar in terms of ‘quality’ (they must be revolutionary or utterly original, or  word-for-word, literarily perfect) to really be worthy of OBOT – metrics that are not consistent with those used to consider ‘adult’ titles. It is an assumption that adult stories are just naturally higher quality, merit more serious discussion, and automatically have more clout, or gravitas, or whatever. For them, ‘Adult’ is more estimable than ‘Youth.’ A lot of people feel this way and I completely understand why. It’s one of our society’s default postures, and it exists to such a degree that many people don’t pay attention to this very real bias against youth and ‘kid stuff.’ If they do notice, it feels innocuous enough to make my point of view read as obnoxious or overblown. 

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If you think ‘kid’ stuff doesn’t have the power to change your life…

I’m still (always) learning, but I have done my best to be a good ambassador for the concerns and interests of young people no matter where I go. I can’t help noting that our biggest successes – not just in terms of attendance or circulation, but the lasting positive effects of OBOTs-past – how readers talk about the  books and events for months and years after they end – happen when we choose inclusive books that young  people and families can share together. (The work of changing hearts and minds will never, ever be over. I’ve learned not to take it personally, but to always consider new methods and/or phraseology to help people understand where I’m coming from, and to meditate on the words of Dave Eggers:)

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Always this. It’s just the way it is. It’s okay. In fact, it’s amazing.

Last year’s OBOT was a dream: I nominated a book I knew the committee would never go for – I just wanted everyone to read it because it altered my perception of the world. It was wildly different than anything we’d ever looked at, let alone chosen. It was confrontational. It (on its surface, at least) would be more resonant with people who were not part of our established audiences, and it would definitely make some of our readers more than a little uncomfortable.

What did I know? I got to introduce Jon Ronson to the readers of Fairfield. It was one of the best days of my career.

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In a state of disbelief: He was right behind me, backstage. This was really happening!

(I often get to do the author introduction at our signature event. It’s nerve-wracking to spend the day racing to get ‘the show’ ready, only to turn and address a crowd of 600 or 700 people, wearing a fancy dress. But I love utilizing my theatrical background, not just in terms of performance but technical stuff like direction, lighting, and house management. See, Mom and Dad! It was a good decision to double-major!)

Our upcoming event is shaping up to be a dream as well, literally: For our tenth anniversary, we co-chairs (our fifth year doing this as a team) hoped to find an inclusive, celebratory book, specifically about REDACTED. We didn’t have a specific title in mind – it didn’t exactly exist, at least within of our parameter of extreme currency, but we thought, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if…’ It was a long and stressful (and slightly anarchic) selection process where nothing leapt out at us. Then, right at the end of our usual timeline for making a choice, it appeared: Something that is pretty much exactly what we had dreamed of as we closed out last year’s event. As of this week, it looks like we’re just about set, so it’s on: OBOT10 in 2017.

Let’s go!

UPDATE: It’s Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston! Two Books One Town, with our first picture book as an ‘Official Selection’ and not a ‘companion’ title.

Breaking the Rules

tasticAnother Mystery Night (our fourteenth…wow) is done. It was a great installment of this annual spooky ‘haunted house/scavenger hunt’ shriek-fest: Full attendance, fun theme, everything where it needed to be for the game to work. (Another sweet thing: All my teen staff from both library locations in one place at the same time, which really only happens at this event!) The only minor issue was that our catalog upgrade which has made searching for items more intuitive for users makes for much easier gameplay: teams no longer have to enter in authors last name-first, or even spell things correctly for the desired item to turn up. What is great for our users is not so great for this once-a-year bibliographic instruction/after-hours live-action frenzy! There’s no real complaint there – just something to adjust for before I design the next one!

The basics of Mystery Night – it’s an annual, themed after-hours event where teens work in teams using the library catalog to search for items, following paths of clues leading from one item to the next through the library, with one team ultimately finishing first by finding that years MacGuffin.

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This year’s crop of clue-hiding items, waiting to be shelved for the players to find

Something else I didn’t anticipate: Usually our older teens (for this event, grades 10 and up) transition from playing the game to volunteering as ‘scarers,’ the performance element of this event, but this year’s group of sophomores, juniors and seniors…just…didn’t want to. They wanted to play. A lot of these teens also attend our Fandoms United group and at some point between our Friday fandoms session and Saturday’s event, they decided to split themselves up, knowing there are a set number of teens on each team so they wouldn’t all be able to play together. This was unprecedented and had a major impact on gameplay: Basically, each team had one or more experienced players (so we didn’t have a team or two made up entirely of inexperienced and hyped-up sixth graders.) The game went really, really fast. Too fast, it seemed. I plan for these games to take about an hour to get through and the eventual winning team, with some of those Fandoms ringers taking charge, was looking for the MacGuffin about 20 minutes in (ending the game way too early for the bulk of the attendees, and leaving me to scramble for a way to vamp until pick-up time.) Luckily, they couldn’t locate our loose cryptid for another half-hour, giving other teams a chance to catch up. In the end, we had four of six teams racing to finish first, with the remaining two teams in it, just a bit behind the others.

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Our Cryptid, made of old plastic toys and hot glue. I am not a natural crafter.

I keep meaning to put together a manual on how to do this program (or, our version of it – so many fantastic youth services librarians do similar things and have their own methods for success. That we can each approach an idea from different angles is one of the many reasons I love this job.) I will…I mean, there’s a tab for it up in the navigation, so I kind of have to.

For now though, I’m thinking about why it works, why it still draws an eager audience of teens that anticipate and return for it again and again, and why I get such a charge from planning and executing it, after all these years.

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Teen volunteers at one of the very first Mystery Nights

It’s a bit about tradition: There are certain things you can count on in libraries, no matter how we evolve and transform to meet the needs of our users. The best example I can think of is storytime. This is a generalization, of course, but I can’t imagine that a plurality of libraries would or will ever, as a core practice, ditch storytime. The format and content may change, but it is generally a pretty stable, universal (and mission-critical) ‘library thing.’ Our community regards Mystery Night as a tradition – a program that older siblings and acquaintances went to before our current cohort of teens could and it was an experience to look forward to. The format and content have changed, slightly, over the years, but the core practice, action and feeling of the event will not. I’m really proud of that. We’ve had long-running programs before but they all have, and will, fade away at some point in time. (I L-O-V-E my Fandoms group. We’ve just started our fourth year of weekly sessions. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever put together and I’m well-aware and perfectly comfortable with the reality that it won’t last forever)

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A prop from our very first Mystery Night. (H/T to Marissa, who saved it all those years ago!

It’s a bit about content: When it comes to programming, one of my mantras is that if they (your intended audience) can do it or get it at home, they will. This is partly because teens  (particularly those in the age-range that makes up the core of program attendees) aren’t always in control of their own schedules or transportation options. But it is also because a lot people feel like this. I certainly do. (Most people think I’m an extrovert. But I’m truly an ambivert – I love working with the public and the fast pace of my job, but I tenaciously protect my alone-time away from everyone and/or anyone. I draw energy from both, depending on my mood.) When I am designing the specific elements of programs, I try to be conscious about providing the ‘something special’ that our audience can only get from the library-ness of it all. Our big events are built around this concept – from Mystery Night to Escape Rooms to any of our live-action games.

In the end, it’s mostly about rule-breaking: Or, subverting the traditional image of what ‘the library’ is. Those of us who work in and treasure libraries know that they are not  (strictly) pristine and nearly-silent palaces of intellectual pursuit. However, in the imagination of the dominant culture at large, librarians are still stern and humorless ‘shushers’ and libraries demand quiet and serenity. (See: This commercial.) (See also, delightfully, this sketch – NSFW) Mystery Night leans into this idea of libraries and turns it on its head. Yes – players have to use the catalog and navigate the stacks to find stuff. But on this night, after the building is closed to the public, they do that familiar (in theory, if not in practice) search operation with the lights off and ‘things’ lurking in the (pun alert) inky dark trying to scare them and set them on tilt as they go about their mission. There is running. There is screaming. And there is giddy laughter, clever workarounds and librarians at the ready, some to help them if they struggle with their searches and some…dressed up like monsters (or whatever our theme calls for) waiting to creep them out.

This…is not library.

Except that it is. It’s their library. It’s our library.

It’s something unexpected, surprising, and delightful. It can be messy and it can be slightly dangerous (that running combined with some sharp corners: We always have plenty of staff working the event to rein it in as needed, especially with those giddy sixth-graders around. The biggest issue lately has been phones falling out of pockets but we always find them once the lights go back on.) It is always worth the effort, and the rewards extend far beyond the two-and-a-half hours the program runs. It is something that our teens keep talking about for weeks and months and years after they experience it.

I stumbled upon the term ‘froth‘ while doing some background research for a few upcoming presentations on our Escape Room method – it is the excited chatter that happens after a group experiences something together – a game, an event, an amusement park ride, etc. – that instant rehashing and story formation and insider myth-making. It’s a terrible (and squirmy, for me at least) word but, somehow, it fits.

Mystery Night is very frothy. (Eww.) The teens who play recognize the value of this program, and they remember it. And it truly is something they can only get from the library. I think we all should be vigilant about chasing the froth (eww), capturing it and even harnessing it where, and when we can. It’s not the same as feedback. It’s not quantifiable. It’s a feeling. It’s how I know I’ve done a good job and provided a meaningful experience for my audience.

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2016’s winners (I swear) with their ‘Cryptid.’ I hope they don’t look it up…

I love finding ways to challenge the public perception of libraries. I love having the opportunity to emphasize the fun of it all (while keeping that educational content in there, even if it’s Mary Poppins-ed over with a heavy dose of entertainment.) One of my favorite things to hear at work is ‘I didn’t know you did that!’ from anyone, but especially from young people: It’s not just a statement: It’s a door that has opened to reveal all sorts of opportunities.

Our teen audience treasures this program. Parents love it too: They are often a bit jealous that they don’t get to have a Mystery night of their own (Someday we’ll have a grown-up version.)

I mean, who wouldn’t want to run around and scream through the library in the dark?

Cat.Man. Strikes Back!

I have just completed an ambitious re-cataloging project in Teen Non-Fiction. I’m so happy that it’s done, and grateful that so much of the ‘decision-ing’ was shared with/completed by Marissa, our former Teen staffer, before she left for her new, full-time youth services job down the road… (sniff)

I’ve been given the responsibility of leading our system-wide, cross-departmental  Collections team as a part of our current strategic plan process, so the way we organize our stuff has been on my mind quite a bit lately, particularly in terms of improving ease of use for our patrons of all ages, interests and backgrounds. Inspired by the many libraries that are moving away from Dewey in varying degrees and towards something closer to what we did in the bookstore, I’ve been mulling over our options, focusing first on my own areas of responsibility (which includes not only our teen collections, but adult science fiction, fantasy and graphic novels.) After all, if I am going to recommend changes to the way we’ve always done things across the board for the whole library, I better put my (re-labeling) money where my (recataloging) mouth is. I decided to run an experiment on this notion of (vaguely) activity-based collections, starting with teen non-fiction.

(Actually, all this stuff began with a different idea entirely: an attempt at devising a ‘tonal’ method of cataloging teen fiction, based on the feeling a book gives you as opposed to genre…it’s nowhere-near sorted out in my head right now but with so many teen titles blurring, if not obliterating, genre distinctions, I feel like there’s…something to this wild idea. If anyone out there wants to help me figure out a cohesive and efficient way to make this happen, I’m ready to listen!)

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My face when I think about ‘tonal cataloging,’…as well as my soul in GIF-form

Anyway, we are taking all of our teen non-fiction and re-cataloging it into one of four primary, action-based categories: Learn, Discover, Make, and Lives (yeah, not so much an ‘action,’ but it’s an experiment.) Each item retains its Dewey number and when it all finally comes together, each book will have (yes, another new) label that is color-coded for its category and will be shelved in order, within its new category. And there will be bright colorful signage that my summer volunteers have been working on. (They hate Mod Podge now…and so do I.)

I hope it will help our patrons find what they are looking for, not just in terms of subject matter, but by the type of book in regard to the reading experience, be it general, topical information (LEARN), deeper-dives and ‘good reading’ narrative non-fiction (DISCOVER), instructional books for hands-on learning (MAKE) and the ever-popular, assignment-friendly biographies and memoirs (LIVES.) In terms of the fuzzy line between what is LEARN and what is DISCOVER, content is the most important factor, but when it’s close, we are considering the format and letting that be our guide.

I hope this creates a section that promotes browsing with less anxiety for our teens and their adults. Approaching a shelf of books can be daunting, even to those well-versed in Dewey. I want to make my teen collections (and all collections) as intimidation-free as possible.

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Labels! You either love them or hate them…

I LOVE this stuff. I love having my hands in the stacks and finding stray bits of label tape in my hair. I do have moments of doubt about whether or not this stuff (and the similar plans I am working on for adult collections for the entire library system) is a bit of ‘shuffling for the sake of shuffling,’ but this project is throwing me back in time to my beloved bookstore days. We did this sort of thing all the time, in pursuit of improving customer experience and driving those sales numbers. It was called ‘Category Management,’ or ‘Cat.Man.,’ and it was always a lot of fun to work on, even if it didn’t produce the monetary results corporate was looking for. Watching our ‘sections’ shift and grow as I moved from one store (that renovated while I was a supervisor) to another, new one (that I helped lay out, hire for and open) over the five years I worked there was fascinating to me.

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No. Not this Catman.

Cat.Man. was handed down from on-high, as the people in Ann Arbor who made the decisions (I wonder how many of them had M.L.I.S. degrees…) about what went where re-jiggered sections, continuously and endlessly it seemed, at the time. Taking board books out-of-order by author in favor of sections by concept (ABCs, 123s, Animals, etc.), rearranging computer books so they’d be organized by programming language, or getting aggressively detailed about sub-genres of rock music…A big package would arrive by mail with a long list of titles and a deadline, so it was up to those of us in the stores who were in charge of merchandising to fire up the label machines, measure our shelf footage and figure out a way to get it done. Usually this involved overnight shifts and too much coffee (and some of those weird, stuffed-pretzel snacks we sold for a time in the cafe.)

The Cat.Man. experience, for me, was about the fallacy of ‘the right way,’ at least in terms of how to organize stuff. Our store designers kept changing their mind about what should go where, hoping to make things faster, simpler and more sensible to our customers. They walked in with money, and if they walked out with it still in their pocket, something was not working properly. Paying for overnights (and any inadvertent damage caffeine-addled young adults might do to the shelving units) was worth it, if the final result improved ease of use (and drives sales…or circulation numbers these days.) And if one method doesn’t work, you can always try another. (Especially if you don’t mind re-labeling stuff!) Sometimes ‘ the right way’ is just for right now, not forever.

Back then, the work wasn’t intellectually hard to do – the ‘decision-ing’ was out of our hands. While working on this current library project feels a bit like Cat.Man. reborn, this time we are the ones making the call as to what goes where. It feels much more serious, perhaps because I am working with a collection I have built myself over the past 10 years (and I’ve always been extremely sentimental about weeding.) I am doing my best to let the language our patrons use when they ask us for stuff be my guide, in this, as well as our ongoing/upcoming Adult Non-Fiction ‘capsule collection’ project and Fantasy project, which will include a new section where we put all the Star Wars stuff – regardless of format (fiction vs. non-fiction; book vs. video, maybe even despite age level…maybe…) together in one spot. We hope it will make things easier for everyone, but only time will tell.

Here it is:

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I’m going to do some color-coded shelf-taping too, just lining the edges of the shelves to match the labels and signs.

There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t talk about what a wonder the Dewey Decimal system is, to teens, kids and even adults. The fact that it always seems revelatory to them, however, doesn’t bode well for it’s continued use. While lots of libraries are moving in this direction and away from ‘tradition,’ its still a radical idea for some of our users (and staff.) It’s a (not-so) grand experiment.

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I’m not kidding…

Next up…emoji-based cataloging! I’m serious! I won’t call it that, of course. Tonal Cataloging for YA Fiction. Yeah. I just need to figure…it…out… </Madsface>

 

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Fandom Foundation Films ‘Fail’

When your teen community asks for something, you should do all in your power to provide it. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that (the same holds true for pretty much any of us, anywhere, engaged in public service.) We have a fantastic Fandoms group that, up until this point, suspended for summer each year. For the first time, the teens who attend that weekly program asked for it to continue over the long, hot, sweaty break. (Yeah…I’m not a summer person.)

I’d love nothing more to carry on with our weekly ‘pop culture book club’ year-round, but it’s not so easy to find new ways to approach fandom-ry each and every week (as fast as our culture moves, it’s not that fast, especially when you are limited to a PG-13 and under version of it.) As I’ve said before, it can sort of drain your will to live. I wanted to find a way to honor their enthusiasm, though, so I proposed that, instead of our usual meetings with its familiar agenda (gather, decompress, catch up, share news, dive into the days topic/viewing) we might do a film series instead. The teens were ALL about it – Perfect! they declared. I gave them two options: A summer of documentaries or a summer of classic films. I presented the choice neutrally, hoping they’d opt for the latter…Without any prompting from me (I swear!) they chose classics, much to my delight. My brain started turning thoughtwheels instantly: A movie for each decade that reflected contemporary fandom! If I selected the films carefully it would be fun and insightful and in keeping with the spirit of the program these teens love!

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For fun: Why did I pick each film?

Now, having done this job in this place for a while, I reminded them that, in fact, most of them would likely be absent for the bulk of the summer – jobs, assignments, camp, travel, the challenges of geography and transportation in regards to their homes vs. the library…I practically never see most of these teens at the library once school is out. Ah, no! they insisted. They asked for this and I was giving it to them! They would totally, definitely, 100% turn up for this!

They didn’t. (You saw that coming, of course.)

Of the 30 or so teens who come each and every week to our Friday Fandoms United program, maybe 4 turned up to Fandom Film Foundations with any sort of regularity. A few other film-loving teens turned up from time to time, but in terms of audience size, this program was not what you’d call a success, at least not in relation to our own high standards (developed over a decade, with the benefit of multiple Teen staffers running things and with libraries in very close proximity to schools…any success we have is tied up with these privilege factors.)

However, in terms of the quality of experience…this program was a home run! We know because we’ve heard raves from the teens who attended (and I’m always sensitive to cues that they might only be saying nice things because they recognize my own personal enthusiasm and don’t want to disappoint me…this wasn’t that), kudos from parents, and intriguingly, the post-program circulation of our selected films and the speed at which we are running out of our Classic Films by Decade bookmarks and a few requests from parents and other adults for a ‘guide’ so they can replicate the ‘class’ at home, at their own speed. (I’m totally going to do that now that our other summer programs are winding down.)

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I was so excited for this one!

The What & How:

  • Select a classic film from each decade that reflect common tropes/archetypes/themes prevalent in contemporary fandom.
  • Start with a 5-10 minute librarian-led talk/instruction session before each film on what the ‘foundational’ ideas that link the classic to fandom, touching on the production history of the film, collaborators as well as the state of film in each era, etc. – research that was a joy for this film-obsessed librarian to do…
  • Toss out a few questions for viewers to consider as they watched, along with a half-sheet flyer with the key ‘thinking points’ for each participant.
  • Snacks, of course.

Will we do this again? Maybe…?

Things to improve on/adjust if there is a ‘next time’:

  • Summer Friday afternoons are not great, even though it works so well for Fandoms -> Change to a weekday evening, where we’ve had more success with our Book Into Movie series…or maybe the weekend, in the doldrums of winter?
  • Accept that new initiatives sometimes take time to grow -> Create a ‘family guide’ so program can be replicated at home, as well as adult-area display and try to create a buzz and build excitement for a second run in the future..
  • There wasn’t enough ‘brand-recognition’ with an unprecedented program -> See if school film club people are interested (and active enough) to advise on/promote future iterations and spread the word.
  • Consider converting into a family program -> This might require different, more kid-friendly films…a challenge when connecting classic films to modern fandom culture, which is increasingly not PG or G-rated.
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I’ll never do a bullet journal…

Do I wish I had just said no when our Fandoms-ers asked for a 9-weeks-long film series over the summer, having guessed correctly that most of them, sincerely wishing for more Fandoms while simultaneously agreeing that our traditional meeting structure was too much to continue over the summer, wouldn’t be there in the end? I could have said no, and it wouldn’t have been a big deal…

Nah. You have to give them what they ask for, after all. Asking for something is not easy (usually) and you have to honor their bravery and celebrate that fact that they are comfortable enough with you and their place in the library to do so. You also have to try to not get too down on yourself if the teens don’t (or can’t) turn up. It’s not exactly failure (there is a difference between failure and disappointment.) It’s another learning opportunity and a chance to improve.

I’ll still tease them about it when Fandoms starts up again in a few weeks, though…

UPDATE: For now, I’ve made a guide/syllabus for the program geared to families, converting my speaking notes into questions to consider, and gathering the suggested films from each decade’s bookmark to create a display for the front of the library, just in time for the Labor Day weekend:

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Genre Circle

It’s been quite a week in Libraryland controversy…but then again, when isn’t it?

Some of the ideas expressed in reaction to the above-linked Book Riot piece have been swirling around in my mind for years now, especially recently as my library embarked on a new strategic plan about a year ago. One of the topics that keeps coming up as library managers discuss it is the idea of workload and who is responsible for what, exactly, particularly in the breakdown of MLIS vs. non-MLIS library staff. I don’t particularly care to weigh in on that here, but since some of the brouhaha this morning has centered around an article about the responsibility of librarians to be widely-read (or not), I find myself gravitating to subsequent discussions and comments on positive and proactive suggestions to address the balance of hobby-reading and ‘for-work’-reading.

Wonderful…Dangerous

Librarianship is one of those professions where everything in your life can be harnessed to make you better at your job. My passion for pop culture has enhanced our thriving teen Fandom group (we are just about to begin our FOURTH YEAR of weekly sessions!) I’ve long been a passionate cross-genre reader. And coming from a big family, I’ve always had young people around me (as well as plenty of what we might call ‘new adults’ when I was a tween/teen myself…but with 100 cousins that’s inevitable.) All these things, among countless others, assist in my day-to-day work.

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A treasured gift from my colleague and genre circle-r K.C.

This is a great thing. When you love what you do, you can’t help but think about it, a lot, all of the time. Great ideas don’t always arrive from 9-5 on Monday through Friday (or 12-7, as the case may be.) Sometimes we bring things home so we can make our work stuff meet our own high standards. We get used to being open, all of the time, to that next incandescent moment of perfect inspiration. But these ‘above and beyond’ activities can blur the lines between your professional life and your private time outside of work to a damaging degree. There is a danger – of a draining of enthusiasm and burnout, of unreasonable expectations, even of a wanton exploitation of your willingness to be ‘on’ all the time.

How much do my personal reading choices improve my job performance? Immensely!

I love reading. I take great pride in my readers advisory for teens and adults, skills I have been honing since I got out of college (hey ya, Borders Books and Music!). I won’t lie – I die a little inside when I see librarians respond to requests for recommendations by saying ‘Well, let’s go to Novelist…” (Novelist is great…but there is nothing like the delight in someones eyes when you give personalized recommendations and those algorithms just can’t compare.)

I realize that’s not fair. Does every librarian have to be a reader? I don’t think so, not even a little bit. (I do think that Reference and Readers Advisory are often conflated in a way that they shouldn’t be.) (I also think libraries should be going all-in on ‘advisory’ in the same way many libraries are in the realm of Maker/Tech so we can take advantage of the giant cultural vacuum created by the shuttering of big-box bookstores…but I can’t start on that now…)

Now, how much of my personal reading should be mandated by the needs of my job? Uhh…

It’s a tricky question to answer. In theory, the answer is a big ‘none-zo!’ But the reality of working with an economically, socially and academically diverse patronage of teens, and parents, as well as with adults, means that if I want to serve my community well, I need to have a broad knowledge of what they want and need to read (and watch, and listen to, too.) There is no way to accomplish this kind of professional development, which is parasitically – in a good way! – intertwined with my own love of reading as a hobby, on work time. I hate to see this question reduced to an online screaming match (Truly. Dial it back a bit…maybe it’s not about you personally…and it is really a time for you to listen for a minute) when there are some positive ways to address some of these issues.

Is there a way to improve our book knowledge (or title recognition, as we called it back in the bookstore) on work time in a way that improves our services (including the way we develop our collections) and is not a burden on our already overwhelming workloads, other staff or schedulers? In pondering these questions a few years ago, I started thinking about something I had heard during a library conference – that a large system somewhere in the middle of the country (I’m so disappointed that I can’t recall where, exactly) with a big collections department held a monthly book study circle, where staff would gather and discuss a genre. From what I gathered, it is not an uncommon thing in the massive county systems that don’t really exist in my neck of the woods. It was a fantastic in-house professional development opportunity and one that I hoped to replicate at our little two-library system.

It took some convincing, but after rallying some allies in other departments, all of whom were already fantastic readers and RA specialists, who also wanted a way to improve and sharpen their skills, we were able to set into motion something that has become one of my favorite work-things: Our very own voluntary Genre Study Circle for any full or part-time staff who are interested in learning more about the wide range of literature we house in the library.

We meet once a month on Friday morning – a specifically chosen, out-of-the-way time that doesn’t interfere with programs, alternating between branches as best as we can. We keep it very strictly to one hour, or at least we try very hard to. Each session focuses on a genre or style as selected when we set our program twice  a year, and is led by a different staff member who will present a bit before we start booktalking about the history, current status and popularity of said category. We’ve covered the usual suspects, genre-wise, and now that we are entering our third year, we’re reaching out even further: Fan Fiction! Animal Stories! Celebrity Biography! It is a flat group – no one person is in charge. We take turns leading: alerting staff of each meeting, sending along some suggested titles for those with no idea where to start, taking notes at the session that we make available to staff who cannot attend and sometimes providing themed treats (because…library!)

It’s a wonderful way for staff who might not normally venture outside of their reading lanes to get a taste of something different, and learn directly from their colleagues about more titles in that category. (Do we wish more people would/could attend? Sure…but our group does grow a bit each year, and most people who turn up once keep coming when they can.) It’s a little bit of a crash course and a lot of fun. It’s a positive way to encourage staff, even those who cannot attend, to widen their horizons, at their own pace, by committing to one book a month that is (perhaps, maybe) outside of their (preferred or ‘comfort’) zone.

Almost all of us have been ‘converted’ and have fallen in love with a genre or format we might have never considered. Best of all…we’ve started taking field trips! I feel comfortable saying that we are all better at our jobs because of it. We’ll even be trying something new in our next session that will likely become our summer tradition: An author study, this time on Stephen King. As perhaps the most squeamish person on the East Coast, this will take me very far out of my comfort zone. I’m so excited to begin.

 

Volunteer Frenzy! (Say Yes)

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Cart cleaning…don’t think about it.

It’s that time of year! As youth services librarians put the final touches on their summer plans  – events, activities, decor, classroom visits, reading games (or otherwise) – some of us are lucky enough to deal with another rush – of teens needing all the volunteer hours…right…now! No joke: I get several emails each day, starting in mid-May, from teens looking to earn service hours (2, 4, 6, 20!) before school lets out in mid-June. The library offers several options for volunteering, but no other area matches the teen department in terms of volume and tight turn-around requests for hours.

I mean it when I say ‘lucky.’ I won’t deny it – working with volunteers can be challenging. They run the gamut from ‘I want to be here’ to ‘I have to be here’ to ‘I really have to be somewhere or else I’ll be in big trouble so this will do.’ When I need help or coverage for things, my staff and colleagues are always ready to jump in, but our volunteer days are always the very last thing they opt for. They hate it and I get it. It’s not an easy thing, working with young people. Some adults don’t have an aptitude for it (not judging – they do their adult-y stuff very well.) Combine that sensibility with an activity where you are giving teens something they need and have literally asked (or pleaded) for, but aren’t really too happy or enthusiastic about doing, and you have a situation that is challenging for everyone involved.

The way we work with teen volunteers is a bit different from you might expect – completely drop-in and at-will. We offer a regularly scheduled volunteer opportunity each month (Service Saturday, the first Saturday of every school-year month, and its cousin, Service Wednesday in the summer) but there is no registration and no limit to how many teens can attend in the set time frame. I’ve been told that this is bonkers: How can you plan? What if you run out of work? How do you make it meaningful for everyone involved?

How and what indeed…I’m going to take that backwards.

‘Meaningful:’ It’s important for teens to feel valued. I work in an affluent area (with non-affluent neighborhoods including my own residential pocket, surrounded by less affluent towns with residents who use our services heavily) where teens are often seen, sometimes heard, but not always valued. There is a significant difference between these three things. General teen advocacy is one of the most important parts of my job. Teens have tremendous value and deserve to be furnished with meaningful opportunities to make a difference in their communities.

But…not during our drop-in service hours. We set this in place because we were getting so many (so, so many) requests for volunteering and it was proving to be onerous to schedule times that worked for ‘the library’ (or, the staff who didn’t mind spending time teaching teens how to do stuff even though they’d likely never become ‘permanent’ volunteers) and the busy, primarily high-school-aged teens who needed hours. A drop-in program meant that teens didn’t have to plan in advance – they can stay for as long as they’d like. They can turn up at any point in the day. They can skip a session. For over-scheduled teens, swamped with school, jobs, clubs, future planning – figuring out how to get hours done can be a source of stress. By moving to a drop-in system we did our best to minimize that for them. Yes – it meant more stress for us, but we are grown-ups and we can take it.

Once we settled on this course of action, we had to let go of the idea of volunteering as an enrichment activity. I wish it were otherwise. I am always looking for ways to extend what we do for volunteers into something with more intrinsic value, but the more we carried on with this plan of action, the more we realized that it was really okay – the teens are looking for and need hours. Skill-building is incredibly important. Opportunities to take ownership and feel a sense of responsibility are vital for teen development. (Hey ya, 40 Developmental Assets, I see you over there, judging me…we care about you and use you to evaluate most all of our services and programs!…Just not this one…okay? Please don’t be angry.) Sometimes, though, you have to accept that the teens you are working with, in that moment, aren’t interested in what you are selling, development-wise. They want hours. They want someone to check off a box or sign a form or scrawl a signature and jot a phone number on a sheet promising (threatening?) to check up on whether or not these hours were actually completed. (Never, not once, has anyone called us to verify hours, even those that were court-mandated.) We have heard our teen community, and while we know what teens ‘need,’ sometimes you have to give them what they are actually asking for.

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A recent teen volunteer

Once we let go of (or reluctantly set aside) of the idea of meaningfulness, it became easy to plan for volunteers without knowing how many would turn up. We’ve developed a list of stuff to do throughout the building and only on our heaviest days (when we get past 25+ volunteers) do we ever come close to running out of stuff for them to do. It’s not glorious – shelving and shelf-reading and the dreaded rounds of dusting and even worse, cart cleaning. We have to keep an eye out for teens so disinterested that they move past the point of caring about accuracy (no, we don’t mind if they approach their tasks in a fashion that would make a sloth look industrious, but we do run shelf-tests and have had our semi-nuclear moments when we spot egregious errors, but they are exceedingly rare. Most volunteers get the job done right.)  Our program has blossomed – like anything else, it has taken years of consistent and diligent adherence to our schedule, but there has been exponential growth in the number of teens we serve.

The word is out, and aren’t we lucky. Teens know this is a place that will help them with what they need outside of just the general providing of stuff. That’s a big deal.

They also know that if they find themselves in a ‘volunteer emergency,’ my favorite descriptor used during the May-June rush, we will do whatever we can to get them those precious hours. We say yes, whenever we can. Then, more teens ask. We keep saying yes. On and on it goes, and here I am today, with three volunteers who turned up because I said yes to one of them. They are shelving in our new book area. Maybe they’ll continue to volunteer in their spare time, but it’s more likely they won’t. After all, they are so busy all the time. They will, however, leave with a good feeling about the library. That has always been our most central goal –  it may not be lofty, but it’s meaningful.

UPDATE: We just crossed the 500-hour mark with our drop-in and appointment volunteers for this fiscal year!

Share and Share Alike

I’ve done a miserable job of keeping up with this blog…I guess I can blame it on a combination of conference presenting (on Fandoms, rocking the Captain Phasma shirt and Hannibal pants), failed conference proposals (on Escape Rooms…womp womp), Summer Reading planning (skipping the athletics theme for a retro riff on our tenth anniversary) and getting busy with my library’s Strategic Plan plans (I’m the lead on our Collections team…spending a lot of time thinking about adult non-fiction, mixed-media collection spaces and other stuff), an ambitious re-organization of the Teen Library and/or summer reading prep. Be nice to your youth services colleagues this time of year, friends.

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Whaat? (CLA 2016)

Part of this time crunch has delayed my plans for sharing our Escape Room manual – something that has been in demand for a few weeks now online. I’ve popped in to the library on this beautiful New England spring day, and as I write this, I’m sitting on the adult reference desk, just to set this monster piece of work free. It’s here!

Librarians share. I’ve come around to the idea that while it seems we operate in our own little silos, we are doing similar stuff and each, reinventing the wheel over and over again. (This is true and untrue.) In my early years, I was actively encouraged to not share…there weren’t a lot of teen librarians in the area and my former supervisors wanted to promote this air of exclusivity around what I was doing (things that seemed innovative and novel but really weren’t, at least not on a global as opposed to local scale). Now, these supervisors are/were wonderful (and blissfully retired) people. But they were wrong about sharing. It took me a long time to understand that I could respectfully disagree with them, and in fact, I’ve spoken with a few of them since that time about these things, and without fail they have encouraged me to ‘get out there’ in the hopes of supporting new librarians and continuing my own professional education. Things are changing in some wonderful ways.

After all, none of this stuff is mine at the end of the day. I’ve been able to take some non-library things and make them library things, but I haven’t, as of yet, invented anything. Translation is not creation. There are no patents pending. I’ve sent this Escape Room manual out to over 50 people across the country (and world…hey there, Canada and Japan!) so far, and they’ve shared it with who-knows-who out there. It’s gone. It’s away from me. I’ve heard back from a few people who have said it is helpful, which is terrific. There’s also been a lot of silence and non-response…which makes me wonder if it’s just way too much information. (I am not into the whole brevity thing, and I consider myself a hyper-verbal, deeply strange outsider even though I’ve been doing this thing in this spot for a while. It’s a bit of a posture, a bit of a stance.) At this point, it is what it is. Someday I’ll cut it down a bit. After I write some more…

Anyway, if this manual, written since I had a hunch that I’d be passing the baton to a colleague for the next go-round, is of any help breaking down this complex program so it is accessible to librarians, particularly those with little experience with live-action gaming events, that’s great. If others can learn from my failures and false-starts, that’s awesome. (I have coworkers who also would prefer that I stopped advertising my mistakes and promote the idea that the ‘error’ part of ‘trial and error’ doesn’t apply to us. But I fail all the time, and I learn from it each time.) Most of all, if it means libraries are able to construct unforgettable experiences by doing something unexpected and surprising for their  community, I think that’s wonderful. Share and share alike.