Category Archives: Teen Service

What’s Next

‘What’s next?’ is a question. When I started this blog it was primarily for the housing of my Escape Room manual (which was created for a colleague who wanted to try her hand at creating one from scratch. Over 1500 views and clicks from around the world later…) I thought I might take the opportunity to reflect on a decade of Teen librarianship and what I’d learned from successes (and failures) as we built a service from scratch. I decided to subtitle it ‘Reflections on 10+ years of Teen Librarianship and discovering what’s next…

‘What’s next’ is a question, but it’s also, in this moment, an answer. What’s next for me is something I hadn’t anticipated just over a year ago when I embarked on this project.

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I think everyone from Long Island has, or knows someone who has this map…

I will be leaving my current position as Head of Teen Services to move into a new area (for me) of librarianship, in a new (sort of) location, as the Outreach Services Specialist for a county library system. (The ‘sort of’ is because I’m a native Long Islander, so in a way I’m going home, even though I’m a Suffolk girl. Not Jersey, Sue B.)

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Kidding. Jersey is cool…but it’s not L.I.

I’m excited and nervous, which is (I hope) the exact right way to feel as I embark on something new. I can’t quite believe this is happening and I’m still in a state of bewildered gratitude for having even been considered. I have a lot to learn, but I really, really like being a student, and more than anything, I’m thrilled to apply the skills I’ve learned as a teen librarian, manager, and teacher to a wider scope of library users (and not-yet-users) who can benefit from our services in meaningful (and even life-altering) ways. I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to make a difference as my focus shifts to the support and strengthening of libraries themselves.

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Less desk, more this…

My feelings about moving away from full time teen service work are very complex (rueful, maybe?) Though I’ve had moments of frustration and exhaustion, I’ve never truly felt burnt-out (something that happens to the best of us, which others have described more eloquently than I could ever hope to.) I’m proud of the communities I’ve helped foster through programs like Fandoms and Service Saturday, and One Book One Town, as well as initiatives like our staff Genre Circle and library Collections Team, and the work I’ve done with schools and local youth support groups. I find myself thinking about all that I wanted but never got to do, and the things I hope might still get done before (and after) I’m gone. I hope I’ve been able to convince my colleagues and community that teens must always be seen, heard, and valued. I would have been happy doing this work for the rest of my career, and as I’ve been telling my colleagues, it would have taken a truly extraordinary opportunity at an amazing place to pull me away, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

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Me, until it’s really time to go…

I’m cataloging ‘lasts’ in my mind and getting a little emotional over things I had not anticipated. I’m blithely refusing to think about the changes coming to friendships I’ve developed with people at my library and with colleagues through this great state, as well as with the citizens of this town, where I have lived and worked for 11 and a half years. (Or my neighbors, some of whom have lived in our little apartment house longer than I have.) I’ve been able to share the news with co-workers (and my friends and family, who are thrilled that I’ll be ‘coming home’), but because of some…political considerations (it’s budget season, after all) I haven’t been able to tell most people until now.

I’m not the only person leaving in the next few weeks and months, so it will be a time of extreme transition for our library, but one that brings the potential for new, exciting things for our community. In a season of change, I can’t wait to see how this most incredible group of professionals finds the opportunity inside the challenge (in the past five or six years it has felt like one ‘Donkey Kong Barrel’ after another thrown at us) much as they have always done. I’d be lying if I said there isn’t a part of me that wonders what role I might have played in the impending revival, even if I’m very much at peace with this new direction (and, as someone who rarely feels peaceful, I know this means it’s right.)

I won’t be able to tell our patrons, some of whom I’ve watched grow from tweens to adults, for another few days. (It seems like I’m running into a lot of teens that I haven’t seen around in a while. This happens all the time, of course, but it feels like they are all turning up at the same time just to make me misty-eyed.) While I hate that there won’t be a lot of time between sharing the news and my departure, I’m glad to have a bit of space to consider the best way not only to tell them, but to let them know that I hope to maintain my connection to them. The internet really is a miracle.

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Me, circa mid-May 2017

As the shock and surprise wears off and this becomes ‘really real,’ in the next few weeks I’ll be scurrying around, trying to make this transition as smooth as possible for my staff (in particular, the amazing Jen, with whom I’ve built this service over the past 10 years) who will be assuming (some of) my responsibilities. I’ll be packing and cleaning an office and an apartment, and hopefully doing one last weed of my adult collections (Fantasy, I’m coming for you!) I’m going to try and get more manuals together for this blog and start piecing together planned workshops for the state library. I’ll present at a conference (Escape Rooms with the marvelous Marissa!) I’ll run a few more programs. I’ll start moving (very, VERY temporarily to my family home as I look for an apartment or condo or co-op or…maybe a houseboat! Not really, but it’s fun to think about.) I’ll write out plans for the work I’m leaving behind and about a bajillion cards for these people who have made me the librarian (and person) I am today. I’ll go to a dozen lunches, dinners and parties. I’ll make sincere plans to visit, and be visited in return (because I’m not going far.) I’ll turn in my keys and parking permit and (try and fail to) sneak out a side door.

So here we go: a slow reboot of everything in my life. No one can know the future, but I intend to leap into this new opportunity with clear eyes and an inquisitive spirit. I hope you’ll stick around and take this journey with me. Let’s go!

han

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Reference and Response

I crossed a big item off my bucket list last month – I traveled solo (sort of) to Scotland. It’s a country that has loomed large in my imagination since I was a little kid (having read Margaret George’s book Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles at far too young an age) and it more than lived up to my expectations. I love travel and exploring new places, and this was the first time I truly felt that I could just drop everything and never, ever leave a new place.

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I haven’t, and (for the foreseeable future) I won’t (although there are some big changes coming soon…watch this space) but the memories made during this trip will live in my heart for a long time. I realize that this reverse-wanderlust has a lot to do with the ‘vacation’ aspect of all this – it’s easy to want to live somewhere when your experience consists of hotels, sightseeing and someone cooking your meals (and washing your dishes), and in my case this was enhanced by the fact that I used a fantastic tour company, so most all of the stressful elements of going to a new place were handled.

Like any adventure, the best part of my trip was meeting fantastic people. I didn’t know anyone in my group when I arrived in Glasgow, but a week later, flying out of Edinburgh, I had connected with and made new friends that I wound up spending a significant amount of time with (which is sort of a big deal, as I really enjoy my ‘wandering city streets and skulking in foreign alleys-alone time’ quite a bit.)

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Edinburgh is made for skulking

Since I’ve returned, I’ve been thinking a bit about how it is that our little crew (or clan, because Scotland), with a 15-year age-span, all engaged in wildly different work, and hailing from different corners of the country, managed to forge such a meaningful connection. It is, as one of our fellow tour-mates noted, because we spoke the same (semi-coded) language: References.

The first time I noticed it was at a castle (we were always at some incredible castle, because Scotland) when I heard, from somewhere in the pile of people, ‘Don’t Blink.’ My head shot up and I started scanning for the person who dropped the Doctor Who reference. We made eye contact and shared a smile. It was on.

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Like a fairy tale or something

As the trip proceeded we began speaking in pop culture, connecting over shared (and sometimes surprising) interests in a way that seemed like we had developed our own language of strange phrases and private jokes. Giggling, singing songs from ‘The Nightman Cometh.’ Quoting ‘Hannibal.’ (I will find my Fannibals anywhere!) Bridging the silence with gentle teasing about our own obscure favorites and clapping with joy finding out that someone else had heard of or loved something we treasure.

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You’re a master of karate / And friendship / For everyone!

It might seem like a superficial way to connect, but this introduction via pop culture lead to expansive conversations (and a sense of goodwill when opinions diverged) over the course of long bus transfers, quiet moments in hotel lobbies and amazing meals in pubs all over the country (Haggis: Delicious!) It was intensely familiar: this is how I talk with my oldest friends and family members near(ish) to my age. It was anything but shallow. These new relationships were quick, comfortable, and thanks to the miracle of the Internet, will likely last for a long while.

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Haggis! With neeps and tatties…and bacon

I think we’ve all had those moments of connection over pop culture ‘ephemera’ at work. One of the most wonderful things about working with teens is getting to witness that delighted moment of recognition when you compliment a shirt or a pin, or can drop in on a conversation about OTPs, or ask them for recommendations on books, shows, movies, or bands to enjoy (I would never have fallen in love with Bob’s Burgers or Steven Universe if it weren’t for my Fandoms group insisting that I get over my ambivalence towards animation.) I have these kinds of interactions with adults, too, but they are more often than not muted and cautious. (Of course, as generations shift and what used to be marginalized as ‘nerd culture’ becomes more and more profitable, universal, and centralized, this is changing.) What do we have to lose when we share our enthusiasm, demonstrate our expertise in the things we love, or allow others to do the same?

It’s important, and often vital, to keep a ‘professional’ distance from patrons in a public library, but professional doesn’t have to mean impersonal. Recognizing and responding to our users in this way can lead to opportunities with lasting value for everyone involved. I’m thrilled to see more and more libraries turning to pop culture as another avenue to expand their reach into their communities and demonstrate that our ‘institutions’ truly see, appreciate, and value everyone.

Many teens in our weekly Fandoms group came to their first meeting knowing they’d be walking into a room full of strangers (a major anxiety trigger no matter your age or experience level) having only met me, the librarian who geeked out for a minute over their Sherlock laptop sticker or Fourth Doctor-inspired scarf. As each new person introduces themselves to the group, they name a few of their beloved fandoms. As they do, without fail, others in the group will whoop, clap, or shout a catchphrase, and the newbie will smile, or wave, or respond with a reference in kind. You can see their tension ease. They have found a place.

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Over time, I’ll see these teens turn up at other classes and events, volunteer for different departments, or use our spaces to gather, study, or just hang out. Many of them will become library-users for life, and it all started with a simple moment of reference and response. They know that the library is theirs, and that someone who works there speaks their language, or at least is willing to learn it.

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.)

Crane Wife
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…

 

please say that again…

I am always saying how lucky I am (because it’s true!): I have a job that I love in a profession I believe in and I know that the work I do each day makes a difference. The staff of my library is outstanding – truly the best that I have ever worked with or seen. Unlike some teen librarians I talk to, my colleagues seem to like working with teens (even outside my constant harping about it.) So I was surprised when a someone was a bit…snarky about my excitement over the impending Youth Media Awards. (As an irrepressible ‘list and awards’ fan, the announcement each year at ALA Midwinter ranks just under the Oscars for me.) I’m choosing to take that moment of side-eye as having more to do with my (often excessive) enthusiasm than that other thing. It was a fleeting moment, certain to be instantly forgotten. But I’m not sure, and it’s still (slightly) bothering me a few days later.

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It might be that other thing: That it’s easy and comfortable for adults to scoff at young people and their stuff and their seemingly temporary concerns and ‘dramas.’

I’ve known many extraordinary teens in the time I’ve been a librarian. Some that I am working with now really stand out: the members of the LGBTQIA+ support group that uses one of our libraries as their meeting space. I try to sit in with them as often as I can and always make sure to have their information on hand for anyone interested or in need. It may be self-serving, but these teens are the ones I seek out when things in the wider world get tough because they are incredibly kind, brave and just plain fun to be around.

I made sure to arrange my overloaded schedule to be with them on Friday. The tenor of the group was much as it ever is – bright, cheerful, laughing. A room of teens from across the county gathering, catching up after being apart for a week or longer, celebrating the small victories of their day. As we got into the session, though, things darkened as they began to share thoughts on the inauguration and fears about what reactionary politics could mean for the gains in equality we’ve seen up to this point. Some were quiet, some angry, some were making mordant jokes, but all of them expressed fear and a growing sense of helplessness.

Whatever your politics might be, this is no time to disregard the fears of our teens. When it was my turn to contribute, I tried to focus their energy towards action, challenging them to think about how they would respond to the things that are making them uncomfortable and unsure. When a trans teen said that they felt useless, I responded honestly. Of course you do, I said, ‘you all have it harder than adults.’

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They were thunderstruck. Usually this group is so energetic they overlap questions and answers with a rapidity that would impress the most caffeinated professional pundits. After a few beats of silence, the teen whispered “Oh. Please say that again.” And so I did.

I told them how I see it: Teens have little control over so many factors of their lives: They don’t have economic power (even in this affluent corner of the world.) They have to abide by the rules of their guardians, and while some have compassionate support systems, more endure home-lives that range from willfully ignorant about their needs, to hostile, to dangerous or even non-existent. Their access to transportation, medical care, education and (often) information is strictly controlled. Few of them are truly seen, or heard, or taken seriously by anyone in their lives except each other.  In so many ways, they must rely on others to act for them.

Another beat of silence, and this time, with a sly smile, the teen again whispered. “Say. That. Again.”

When I’m working on other desks, or just living my life out in the community, I am often asked how I can stand working with teens. What most people are really asking is how can I stand these teens these days. This is a lazy, self-indulgent question that, to me, indicates an abdication of the responsibility we have as ‘grown-ups’ and representatives of older (but rarely wiser) generations to help young people learn exactly how to navigate the often-fuzzy ‘rules’ of adulthood.

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I (too often) find myself defending the value of service to teens. I worry that it has become a losing game. Those who work with young people must never become complacent about the importance of seeing, hearing and helping young people, or insisting that others treat them an essential part of our communities. To tell a teen to ‘get over it,’ that they are ‘lucky’ to have contemporary problems (as opposed to the ‘historical’ ones of older generations) or, that they’ll understand it all in some future, hazy ‘one day’ does nothing to assuage their fears or feelings of helplessness in the moment. When someone says something like this, they aren’t interested in helping. They either cannot or will not remember that they once experienced those same fears and uncertainties. They are just making themselves feel better.

It might feel true: Maybe it’s likely that teens will look back, with the advantage of age, and realize that their current problems aren’t such a big deal. But in the moment (this moment, especially) the challenges they are facing as individuals, as well as in their communities, country, and planet, seem insurmountable. How can we expect them to ‘get over it’ if we only offer an generic insistence that they will, without providing the specific support they need to gain the skills they need to cope, or without sharing our own stories, revealing our past (and current) vulnerabilities, treating young people with the respect they deserve?

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Don’t talk down to teens. Don’t talk down to anyone.

I asked this amazing group what they were going to do to ensure that their place in the world remains visible, accessible, and protected. Though they know that their options to act are limited, they responded: They would band together. They would stand up for what they believe in, where and when they could. They would carve out and hold space for those still afraid or unable to live their lives authentically.

When a co-worker asked me the same question this weekend, I wasn’t able to answer as thoughtfully as the teens did. After a long, silent moment I said: Through my work.

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.)

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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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