Category Archives: Teen Events

Winter: Stuff and Things

For me and many of my colleagues, the winter months are dominated by One Book One Town – I’ve been a co-chair of our community reading initiative for eight of the past 10 years and as it’s our big anniversary season, things have been extra-intense in the best way. We have chosen two titles (Books for Living by Will Schwalbe and A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston) to celebrate the power of reading and the primacy of story in our culture and lives. Our signature event, where we bring our author to town, has been postponed due to Snowpocalypse Stella (currently beating a military tattoo of hail on the roof of my apartment) so this OBOT is going to stretch on a bit longer than normal.

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Overused, but whatever, it’s how the Northeast feels today

But teen events and outreach and other duties continue, so the winter seems to pass in a blaze of activity, speeding away from me and leaving little time to write. So here is a quick update. I hope to go back and detail most of this stuff, but, like my television-watching habits, there tends to only be time to move forward and never a chance to go back and pick up what I have missed. (For example, I know I’d love Battlestar Galactica. I know it is never going to happen.)

Anyway:

Our winter sessions of the Getting Ready for College series kicked off with our annual Summer Jumpstart event (about courses, camps, internships and other things to do during those hazy days that help students stand out during the super-stressful admissions season), presented by one of our high school Career and College counselors, Alice. She’s one of my favorite people in town, a frequent program-planning partner and a great ally in spreading the word about library services to teens and parents. We run 4-5 GRFC sessions each season on all sorts of ‘post-high school/college-bound’ topics  and while they tend to be ‘adult-heavy’ in terms of attendance (even the test prep ones, which will always bewilder me…) this one had about an even split between teens arriving independently and adults. Like all our speakers in this series, Alice presents her work pro bono, sharing her expertise with the community for free and helping those who might be unable to afford or access the ‘college-counselor-for-hire’ market and the essential information it provides to navigate this increasingly complicated process.

Just a few days after our awesome all-ages Hamilton event, I once again collaborated with our local University, this time with a teaching librarian, Matthew, for an all-ages take on the ‘Fake News’ phenomenon. It was another wonderful extension of a community partnership I’ve been nurturing for some time, since we see a lot of college students at our public library, particularly around exam times. We set a fast-paced program called ‘Trust or Truthiness,’ where we addressed some of the underlying psychology of how ‘alternative facts’ can spread (confirmation biases and the anchoring effect), who benefits from false information, why it’s important to seek out and find the sources which both present the news you need which strive to do so in a professional, verifiable fashion, and how to spot clickbait, with video tutorials from the wonderful Checkology curriculum by the News Literarcy Project. Matthew and I made a great team, passing the ‘presentational baton’ easily between each other, and attendees, which included teens, teachers and adults, had very positive reactions (though some adults were slightly put-out that we wouldn’t just ‘tell them what to look at’ in terms of ‘good news sites.’ We continually stressed that being a participant in a democracy means that we, as citizens, are going to have to do a little work for it now and then) so we know it was a success. I’ve been advocating for more of these ‘mixed’ programs for teens and adults together so I’m glad to have another great example of how engaged young people can bring their intellect, experience, and perspective to the community conversation. Our library is just getting started on this topic and I feel like we can’t address it, or highlight the library’s role in combating it, enough.

Our third Escape Room series was also a huge success…so far. We lost two days of sessions due to snow. I accept that I brought this upon myself when I designed an original game called ‘Escape the Arctic’ for a February run. I kind of adore some of the new puzzles I created for this game, and I’ll certainly write more about them once it is all well and truly done. One of the highlights of this third new game was that I was able to invite local librarians to come and play, creating a nice impromptu workshop on game design, which was valuable for me, with more conference presentations and teaching gigs at the State Library planned for 2017. We are going to run make-up sessions for the registered families and teens who lost their time due to the bad weather (of course, as I write this, it is blizzarding outside, with more snow to come on Sunday.) I have promised that next Winter’s session will be some variation on the theme of ‘Escape the Tropics.’

My favorite moment of the games thus far: A player yelling at his team that someone lost a key…that was in his hand. We’ve all been there, friend!

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A nice thing: I was featured in our local paper due to the continued popularity of the Escape Room manual. (I need to edit/refine that…someday…soon.)

Our monthly Service Saturday drop-in volunteer program continues. We are just about through the super-intense ‘confirmation season’ where teens who need hours for their religious obligations flood the library. We hit an all-time high of 28 individual volunteers in one six-hour day. Last year we furnished over 500 hours to local teens and we are on-track to crush that previous record. This is one of the most essential services (no pun intended) that we provide our teen community, and while it leaves me with not a drop of energy at the end of the day, I’m proud that our library can be responsive to the needs of young people. And it just keeps growing…

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Action shot of Service Saturday

Our first big One Book One Town program was the revival of an oldie-but-goodie: Reader’s Theatre! (I love getting to dredge up those old stage skills from my college days.) We’ve done several of these based on previous OBOT titles but this time it was different: An experiential show where the audience toured the library, encountering actors in different spots and nooks all around the building. We used A Child of Books as our jumping-off point, and each performer read a selection from a classic title featured in that amazing picture book or a beloved folktale. (I got to read my favorite, The Crane Wife.)

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I was violently ill that whole weekend, but it was still a dream come true. And feathers!

What made this Readers Theatre truly remarkable was the incredible set and prop design by one of our Children’s librarians, the astoundingly-talented Kristina (who is also the person who brought A Child of Books to OBOT for consideration, because she gets it. I’m so glad that she’s part of the committee.) I’m still in awe of the work she did to bring these stories to life in the most evocative ways. Our cast, made up of library staff, adult, and teen community members, all got to play their parts in the incredible landscapes Kristina not only created, but put up in the very short window of time between the library’s closing and the after-hours event. She’s a true marvel, that one. The family audience enjoyed the show and many learned some new stories from around the world along the way. It was a great kickoff to OBOT season and a dynamic celebration of a pitch-perfect picture book.

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For Alice’s Adventures…

What’s next? Working with one of our high schools to refine their ‘Summer Symposium’ program (which I will certainly be detailing soon, as it’s another incredible library/school collaboration), Jen’s ninth-annual Peeps diorama contest at our Branch Teen Center, at least two (maybe SIX?!) all-day-marathon book-talking/outreach sessions at the high schools, more Librarians on Loan visits to facilitate private book club discussions, GRFC sessions on test prep, admissions, financial planning and performing arts admissions, some with fantastic presenters I have been working with for eight years now (wow!), and Fandom Madness IV, with teens taking on even more responsibility in designing and executing this beloved event.

Oh, and the One Book One Town signature event with several hundred people at the University Arts Center.

Oh, and vacation…to SCOTLAND! Bucket list level stuff for me.

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The view from my back deck, about halfway through the storm

But really, what’s next is shoveling. All the shoveling.

UPDATE: How did I forget our third-annual How to Win Your Oscar Pool program! It’s one of my favorite non-teen programs of the year, where my colleague, the brilliant Philip and I ‘Siskel & Ebert’ our way through the year in film, sharing information on how to make predictions and giving our own opinions on what should win. I think I love it because we get to share our expertise (although this is relative, at least for me when co-presenting with our library A/V guru!) and passion and be all snarky for the audience, which really seems to get a kick out of it. This year was great fun, but not as contentious as usual because, for once, we were in agreement about the best film of the year…and well…what do you know…?!

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Just an excuse to feature Moonlight again…

 

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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.

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.

yukionna
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?

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.

fandoms
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.

Fandom Madness!

brackets and notes

I grew up a soccer orphan. My brother played and my dad coached so my weekends were full of fields and watching kids run around and being bored and contrary. My dad also played in an adult intramural league. His teammates were mostly European and Asian transplants to Long Island and they called themselves ‘Inter(national) United.’ They were great fun to watch, although I’d have never admitted it at the time, as they played and shared a camaraderie that transcended language. (The guys also exposed me, at too young an age,  to an infinite world of exotic curse words…but anyway.)

This blog will probably go on a bit about our success with pop culture programming, but it is likely true that no one library program has brought as much joy to my nerdy heart as our Fandoms group, which began back in September of 2013. I’d been thinking about extending our pop-culture events from one-off bonanzas based on movies and book series into something that could be done on a weekly basis and that would look more like a traditional book club, a type of program that I had consistently failed at for seven and a half years. (And still. For the life of me, I can’t make a teen book club work. And I’ve tried every last permutation. And this is a reading town...) I was looking for a way to treat this stuff as seriously as libraries traditionally treat books: a program that would facilitate careful and  considered analysis of TV, movies, music, comics and whatever pop culture ephemera might arise. For teens. That was inclusive and universal. And fun. And weekly.

After struggling with these vague notions of bringing Tumblr to life in my library (oof) while vacuuming my apartment (cleaning = brainstorming), I remembered, for some reason, my dad and Inter United. Why not catch-’em-all (I’m sure I’m not Pokemon-ing right…), a program that any one in any fandom could come to? A Fandoms United!

Here we are, almost three years later and this little idea has blossomed into something very special, and something big – an average of 32 teens each Friday afternoon. I couldn’t be prouder of the teens who come each week – they really get what we are trying to do. The goal of this program is to help foster a community for these teens. I’m happy to say, despite some inevitable bumps in the road, we really have!

Teens mourning Li’l Sebastian

While fandom-ry is infinite, finding teen-friendly material to run a weekly program with original content will eventually drain you of the will to live, particularly if you’re invested in finding ways to get some of that good library stuff (analysis, concept introduction, learning) jammed in there in between all the squees and screams. It’s good to organize your meetings based on themes (more on the technical stuff in the future with our forthcoming Fandoms Manual) and it’s good to switch it up so you’re not just viewing stuff endlessly. Enter my favorite activity: Fandom Madness!

We are about to come to the end of our third-annual tournament, where we use formal debate skills and drill down and select our champion character.* Like any repeated program, it has evolved (and mercifully simplified) over the years. We set up a bracket system (4 groups of 8 characters as seen above), and let teens nominate fictional characters from any fandom universe one week, then vote for finalists the next week using a weighted system (1st place = 5 points, etc.). That’s where we get our brackets and the real fun begins!

motto
Fandom Madness Motto

Each character battle is heavily debated by the teens: pros, cons and contrasts. (You haven’t lived until you’ve anticipated middle schoolers making the Leslie Knope vs. Deadpool argument). People get 45 seconds to make their points according to a strict set of guidelines with which to evaluate each bracket battle. Talk about actions. Talk about friends and enemies. Talk about what groups they represent and how well they do so. Talk about character arcs over time. Do not talk about perceived hotness. Back up your statements with examples. And most of all, remember that everyone has a right to state their opinion – if it falls into these parameters. Just because someone disagrees with you it doesn’t make them less of a person and it certainly doesn’t make them stupid.

To do this right, you have to trust that your teens can go deep and then get out of their way. (Lots more on that to come…) To watch them confidently line up to make their arguments about these silly-seeming works of fiction warms my cold little civil servant soul. They come in with notes prepared, ready to defend their points of view (as seen at the top of this post.) They are so passionate, so clever, and so persuasive. They know this stuff. They know they know it, but they rarely get a chance to confidently share their expertise at home or in school, heck, in any setting. Best of all – for all that they know, they are willing to listen and be swayed. More than once I’ve seen high schoolers reconsider their position based on a sharp observation laid down by a little sixth-grader (or fetus, as the older kids uncharitably call the littles, who, of course, are the same age as when they started coming to Fandoms. It’s horrible and cute at the same time) who had, up until this point, been too shy to speak, but wasn’t willing to see Shego get bumped from the game without a fight. (Truth: I still don’t know who Shego is…)

tinaI’m a big nerd who watches an insane amount of TV, argues with her siblings about comics minutiae and reads film criticism for fun. These teens show me new angles on the things I thought I knew backwards and forwards each Friday afternoon, but never more so than in this month when we Madness.  It’s my favorite thing we do in Fandoms, apart from the Tina Belchers they make me for my birthday each year, of course.

* Our champions: Leslie Knope in 2014, and Harry Potter in 2015. Both characters are ineligible in future brackets as past winners.

UPDATE: Our 2016 winner is Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender!

 

Beginnings

2016_2_9_Escape the Attic Teens The impetus for this blog came from hearing from several colleagues asking for information about our recent Escape Room program series. You can’t describe construction of live-action games in a sentence or two over social media – (I can’t describe anything in a sentence or two as it is) so I began work on a manual for the program that I could share (it’s coming to this blog soon…soon-ish) with those who wanted more information.

As I’ve been putting the manual together (and once I started thinking about starting this blog,) I realized that I’d been doing original, live-action games at my library since I started working as a Teen librarian. Literally: my first-ever program as an ‘official’ teen librarian was a Mystery Night.

Mystery 1
That’s from 2006…

Many libraries do ‘Mystery Nights,’ and they vary in form and function depending on who is creating them, as should be expected. I learned about this program at my first library job, under the tutelage of one of my early mentors, Kate. She ran it as an after-hours game for teens that was her most popular event of the year. When I moved off Long Island, I actually drove back home the very next weekend to help Kate with that years’ installment. (It was amazing – the teens knew I had left so they had no idea I was the person dressed in black, running around our tiny library, dropping heavy books, putting phones off hooks so they’d screech, randomly shrieking, etc. as I ‘haunted’ the library.)

When my former director told me, a mere month into my tenure, he wanted a big-deal teen event ASAP to help demonstrate the value of teen services to town budget hawks, I panicked for a minute – I still had no idea what I was doing most days and I certainly hadn’t gotten a read on the needs and/or desires of the teens in town – but then I remembered Mystery Night. With a quick call home, a blessing and a warning, I was on my way to my first program.

The blessing was permission to replicate an event structure that had been Kate’s brainchild. The warning was this: You know what you are doing, so don’t let anyone rush you through the time you need to get this right. It is  a piece of advice I’ve been privileged to give other teen and programming librarians over the years.

First-gen  ‘library kids’ in ’08

There is no experience quite like diving headfirst into a complex, multifaceted program when all eyes – staff, supervisors, parents, town officials and most of all, the laser-focused eyes of teens and tweens who’d never had events just for them in the library – are on you. I learned a lesson during that process that still holds true: If you build them a unique experience, teens will come.

Since then we’ve adopted this as one of our guiding principles of event planning, and used it to construct live-action events and games around popular book series, movies, video games and just about everything under the sun. I plan to write more about our method – which has evolved over the years into something that I would have found incomprehensible (but really so much easier!) than what we first did in ’06 – and how over time it has become the base structure for of dozens of events as I move forward in compiling this blog, but this is still our most beloved (not biggest – and that’s an important distinction) annual program. It has become a community tradition, one that younger siblings can’t wait to participate in, and one that older teens who have little time for library programs in their busy lives return to, so they can have their turn haunting the library.

Future librarian...

Our newest teen librarian was an attendee at that very first Mystery Night. (My back audibly creaks when I think about that.) She recently found one of the props from that Saturday night so long ago, as seen earlier in this post, and brought it in to show me. She kept it. I wish I had kept pictures of that event somewhere.

As I put the finishing touches on this monstrous Escape Room manual – our most ambitious live-action game yet – it turns out that everything old is new again. Again.