Category Archives: Thinking

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.)

no nj flag
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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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.

side-eye

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?

dont
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.

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.

burr
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.

Required Viewing

moonlight-poster

I’d been trying to write: about despair, about teens and politics, about closets and queerdom and the guilt of passing, and how it all relates, however tangentially, to what I believe is the dangerous and outdated myth of library neutrality. (Yup. My brain connects things in mysterious ways.) It was all swirling around, becoming more and more inflammatory, as well as less and less coherent, so I decided to take a break. Instead of writing, I took myself out for my impending birthday, and in doing so, am once again irrevocably changed by art in its highest form. Seek this film out and see it as soon as you can.

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!)

mads face
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.

MissDimmsdale014
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.

tired-face
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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Lucky

Another Escape Room down (more on that later, surely…) and with its conclusion comes something more significant, in terms of our library service for teens: The departure of Marissa, our part-time librarian trainee (or whatever she decided her job title was here...) off to begin her first full-time, professional library gig.

marissa
Some Molly Weasley realness…

Her last week was bizarre (wonderfully so) and intense, because she was the person who designed and executed this iteration of our Escape Room program (Escape from Malfoy Manor, because of reasons, using the manual I wrote so hey, at least we know it works!) so it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Marissa started working with me at age 16 as a page, after a lifetime of being a library kid, from story time to Mystery Night. When she told me she was going to library school directly after college and that she wanted to be a Teen Librarian, I was…surprised. It’s something I hear from teens from time to time, but thus far, no one has actually gone and done ‘the thing.’

I won’t say too much more, other than mentoring her has been the absolute best thing I’ve ever done as a librarian. (Cue: Weeping with joy...) She’s a fabulous human being with excellent taste in music, even if she made me cry in front of our colleagues at her farewell snack-break, making some people think that I was sad to see her go, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m so very, very happy that she has found her calling and that she found it so fast and early. Best of all, she’ll be right down the road at a fantastic library system so I’ll get to keep an eye out and watch her continue to do incredible things (and guilt-trip her into coming back every once in a while to help with big events…!)

I’ve always been lucky when it comes to the people I work with, in general but more specifically in the part-time staff who I have mentored, collaborated with and managed over this past decade. (I‘m fully aware of and grateful for our privilege in even having more than one staffer to work with teens. Like I said: Lucky.) Our department is small but there are a lot of expectations placed on us in terms of our reputation for innovation, the demand for more and more program additions each year, the explosion in teen literature and the correspondent need for sharp and authentic readers advisory…If you ask anyone who has to manage a schedule, you will hear all about the need to balance competency and dependability.  It’s an equation – you want the most skilled and talented employees to work for and with you, but it doesn’t matter how stellar someone is if they don’t turn up, or leave you hanging, or just disappear (years of book store management has certainly affected my perspective on this.) It’s not easy to find people who can handle the extremes of teen services, let alone those who want to work with teens, let alone those who are available during those critical after school hours, let alone those who both excel and can be relied upon, day in and day out.

And when that person turns up…anything becomes possible.

Jen, approximately

The most fortuitous thing that has ever happened in my career was when our Branch Teen Librarian, Jen, accepted her job. (Not pictured, as per her request) I didn’t quite know it at the time, but she would become the bedrock of not only an exceptional after-school teen center service, but of our entire department as well. I’ll never forget the first time I met her, very early into my career, when she was doing one of those grad school ‘interview a librarian and write a paper’ things. Her young son was antsy, so she was playing videos for him while she asked me about library science stuff (most of which I may or may not have made up.) (There is a separate post in here somewhere about the trauma of watching that little boy grow up and become taller than you and making you keenly feel your age, but…maybe not.) Her no-nonsense practicality was so impressive (and something I have to work very hard on projecting, personally.) I don’t remember anyone I meet only once but I remembered Jen when she came in to interview for the Branch Librarian position a few months later (and I remember what she was wearing…’lawyer clothes,’ – fitting, as it was her previous career after all…it just struck me as funny at the time, with my Teen library uniform of jeans and t-shirts, and knowing her now, it still kind of does!)

It would take me weeks to talk about everything I’ve learned from her over the years, and how much I admire her (especially her organizational skills, her ability to manage the rigors of her job and the demands of raising two kids, and the incredible speed at which she gets all sorts of stuff done. I can’t touch any of  it. She says it’s because I’m pulled away from Teen Services by my other managerial duties so much. I say it’s because she’s simply superhuman.) We’ve built this thing together and are a team in every sense of the word. My job is to support her as she executes her brilliance and to work as hard for her as she does for our department and our library. That she is still willing to work with me after all this time is something I consider a true measure of personal success.

I’m loud and opinionated and unreserved, a giant open mouth with wild ideas. Jen is subtle, measured and level-headed, with a talent for finding the most sensible way to transform many of those wild ideas into realities. We are (likely because of these differences) a talented team of Teen librarians. Her demeanor couldn’t be more different from mine and there is the object lesson: doing this job well isn’t about personality, but temperament. It’s about authenticity. Most of all, it’s about remembering. To paraphrase Dave Eggers, either you can see through the eyes of youth, or you can’t. You either remember what it was like to be a teenager or you don’t. It’s not something you can fake, or a show you can put on, or something you can turn on and off at will. In my opinion, that is the only true prerequisite for this job.

muskox

Everyone who has ever worked with me, from these two outstanding pros to our wonderful teen pages over the years, has been able to operate from this place of remembering. I’ll miss working with Marissa each week but I’m excited to see what she’ll do in her new role. I’d be bereft without Jen – a quaking, blubbering mess incapable of coherent thought. I get teased for ‘Knope-ing’ my coworkers and especially my staff, but I don’t care. They are, all of them, “beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox(en). Thank you, ox(en).”

I’m so damned lucky.

“And I may have only been a teenager, but I knew a truth that he obviously never grasped: the joy you find as a teen, however frivolous and dumb, is pure, and meaningful. It doesn’t matter that it might ferment and taste different when you’re older. That’s the whole point of being a teenager – not worrying about the future. 

And when you find something that makes you happy and giddy and excited every day, us fangirls know a truth that everyone else seems to have forgotten: you hold on to that joy tenaciously, for as long as you can. Because it’s rare to get excited about anything these days. Ask your parents. “

Kill the Boy Band  by Goldy Moldavsky (page 63)