Share and Share Alike

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

fandoms
Whaat? (CLA 2016)

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

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

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

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

But what I have to say isn’t for her, anyway. It’s for me.

I swallow, and fight to keep my voice even. “I’m not going to stop being who I am just because you don’t like it.”

“And I’m not going to stop talking about it just because you don’t understand it.” Knees shaking, I take a small step toward her. “I’m only going to talk louder.”

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin (page 312)

“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)

Fandom Madness!

brackets and notes

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

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

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

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

Teens mourning Li’l Sebastian

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

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

motto
Fandom Madness Motto

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

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

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

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

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

 

Beginnings

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

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

Mystery 1
That’s from 2006…

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

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

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

First-gen  ‘library kids’ in ’08

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

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

Future librarian...

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

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

 

 

Another Librarian Blog…Yay?

shiny shoes
Sparkle shoes: always appropriate

I don’t think I’m particularly remarkable. I love my job. I love working with teens. I love finding ways to connect them to their passions and I love to help them create a little space for themselves in our community. I love trying new things. I fight hard to advocate for the teens in my adopted town, and for libraries in general across the board.

Now, so do most people who do this job. I’m no different from librarians near and far in that regard.

So why now? Why a blog? Why another blog by a youth services librarian?

I’ve been doing this Teen Librarian thing for a little while now. I’ve gone from a fresh face doing something relatively new in this little corner of the world to an ‘old-timer,’ as a colleague recently told me. And with that, I’ve been hearing from others asking how I’ve* done it: Create a teen library service from scratch and build it into something vibrant and vital over the past 10 years.

* Really it’s, ‘we’ve’ – what a fabulous group of staff, both Teen Librarians and professionals in other departments and organizations, as well as passionate allies I’ve worked with over the years!

The truth is…I can’t remember it all. I remember a lot, but I’m cursed with a ‘mile-a-minute’ brain (and mouth). We’ve moved so fast and done so much that I’ve come to realize that I need to put it down somewhere. So why not a blog?

So this will be a bit about what I’m doing now, what I’ve done in the past, and what I hope we can accomplish in the future, here in the library and maybe beyond.

I guess I’ve never lacked for ambition.