Good things happen when you meet strangers*

It seems to me that we librarians work in bubbles. I work in a public library so I’m in the public library bubble. I like to picture this bubble as a geodesic dome, but it doesn’t matter how you picture it. What it means for me is the same: not only can I not remember the last time I on-purpose, in-person talked to an academic librarian about library things, but I can’t remember the last time I on-purpose, in person talked to any librarian (excluding coworkers) about library things. Of course, there’s social media. I read blogs, and I tweet and follow the twitters and facebooks of librarians outside my place of work. And when I’m feeling old skool, I read some listserv digest emails that have been festering in “old skool listservs outlook folder**.” But social media (or its archaic predecessors) doesn’t compare to the experience of meeting other librarians in person over food, or drink, or dance-partying.

That’s why conferences sing their siren song to us, and we all flock to any of the ones we can get ourselves to (or, preferably, get our libraries to get us to.)  But at conferences it can be hard to just MEET people. I feel like I’m in my own personal bubble (which I like to picture as a very small geodesic dome attached to an imaginary Vespa that I’m riding all throughout the conference.) The exception to this is portable conference bubble generally occurs when I can get myself to an informal gathering of people I already know by their twitter (or tumblr, or your social media of choice) handle. To that end I’d like to direct your attention a few things upcoming informal meetups. One is the Chicagoland KitLit Drinking Night, more information can be found here. The first meeting is on Saturday Sept. 17th, from 8-11pm. The Beacon Pub, incidentally, is the non-writing workplace of Stephanie Kuehnert Lewis, author of The Ballad of Suburbia and I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

And the YASF is hoping that our tweeps and facebookers will meet up with us during lunch at Anderson’s YA Lit conference on Sept. 24th. Once a table is found I’ll tweet from the account @awkwardlibris where I am sitting and then I’ll just believe (like a kid in a movie about Santa Claus) that YASFers and potential YASFers will flock to that table and awesome conversation is the end result.

*Title is a quote attributed to Yo-Yo Ma from Brainyquote.com Now, I’m not sure I agree with Mr. Ma, but I like his enthusiasm.

**Not the actual name of my outlook folder, the one on my outlook folder took up too much space on this post.

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Good program gone bad

Today a program failed. I had all the elements: a recently released movie that should appeal to tweens and teens, marketing AND a raffle of a copy of the movie and the book it was based on, and snacks. The combination worked well last summer, and it was fine in the fall programming line-up too, but today it was a bust. After a half hour watching the movie in a big meeting room by myself I decided to pack it in and do something more useful, so I’m rewriting (again) this long overdue YASF blogpost.

Panic Button to summon an army of magical teen volunteers

All in all, despite some minor hardship and expense in getting the raffle items for today I consider this kind of failure to be almost a success. No presenters were harmed in the making of this program, no teens either. There are a lot of ways for a program to fail:

    • Fifteen minutes before your program starts and your star presenter is an hour away, stuck in traffic.
    • The presenter showed but your meeting room equipment is failing and they can’t project their multimedia presentation.
    • The presenter showed on time and everything works; but, for some reason the hundred teens you estimated turns into only four actual teens who show. Mostly likely half of those that showed are the volunteers who helped with set-up and are only staying to tear down.
    • What if too many kids show? Word of mouth got around and now anime or manga club gatherings need a staff of ten just to keep the peace, but there’s still just the one teen librarian to manage it.
    • You lost (misplaced, forgot to order, or didn’t get the right amount for) the honorarium check and now the presenter is refusing to present and is, in fact, storming out angrily.
    • Insert your horror stories in the comments, I know you’ve got at least one.

These are the times when it would be nice to have a panic button that would deploy a regiment teen volunteers that are trained and ready to turn your failing program into a success. But, as great as teen volunteers are (and they are really great) they aren’t magical. Maybe this is why I like planning programs like today’s movie. I also sigh with relief every time I schedule a crafting, video game, or book club program. These programs still require time, some expense, and effort on my part, of course; but for the most part, (barring the unforeseen failure of a free movie in the battle of free movie vs. a very nice day outside.) they are safe and reliable and we know what and who to expect. Best of all, I rarely or never need to bring in someone from outside the library to do these programs. Too bad they can’t all be craft programs. (No, they really can’t all be craft programs.) When they fail, they do so quietly and without fuss. The only damage done is to my ego. But the “safe” programs are just not enough. To let my programs thrive, I must bring in outside presenters.

If the solution to “Programmers Anxiety” is not to stick to the safe programs, what is it? Well, the first action is going to be a no-brainer; gain the experience all while expecting things to go wrong. Stress out about it if you must (I must.) Don’t be afraid to plan programs that are going to stress you out. The first author visit that I ever tried planning was a dismal failure compared to the second and so on. Experience also allows for that holy grail of programming: knowing your audience. I know that my audience is very big on writing workshop programs; so, my second author visit was a combo. One program was a standard author visit and then after about an hour break the author did a writing workshop. Many kids came to both, some came to just one or the other, but either way both programs went swimmingly.

Knowing my audience much better now means I have a better grasp on the kinds of programs that really do require sign-up, and what works better as a drop-in. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, I know. Our Children’s Department only does sign-up because they are expecting too many people, as do our adult computer programs. For my programs though, it is frequently the opposite. For some reason, if teens must sign up at my library, then they will come. This also allows me to cancel or reschedule programs where I’m not getting any interest.

Speaking of getting their interest; marketing is something we talk about at conferences and on blogs, but there is only so much advice that gets tossed around, and even less of that is applicable to any particular library setting. Using “word of mouth” is one of those things we get told a lot that is a mixed bag of usefulness. If the kids think to tell their friends and want them to come then word of mouth can be a great tool, but it doesn’t always work that way. Other advice is “take advantage of every marketing resource you have.” But, I don’t pull out the big guns of marketing on all my programs. I know the Anime Club is going to be well attended; I just have to let them know when it will be. But when I have a program I really want to do well then I push it on our website, social media sites, brochures, newsletter, electronic sign, and at every program I have leading up to the one I’m worried about, I’ll mention it. What do you do to ensure (as much as possible) successful (by whatever measure you deem success) programs?

90 second Newberys

(This post is cross-posted to the my individual library/review blog.)

Let’s face it, when it comes to encouraging literacy and promoting libraries through viral video the results are….mixed. But if we give patrons the chance to create videos out of their favorite stories I think the results have the potential to be amazing.
James Kennedy is the author of The Order of Odd Fish and from what I can tell an all-around stand up guy. We’ve been email introduced by a mutual awesome acquaintance and James will be coming to my Library for a presentation this summer. I also did a program proposal for ILA this year for a Tween/Teen Local Author Panel and James jumped right on board with that idea. Though we’ve only corresponded via email I think it is fair assessment that he is all about using his talents to encourage literacy for all.

And in that spirit he recently announced a contest on his blog!

Big news! I am pleased to announce, with the New York Public Library, the 90-Second Newbery Video Contest! Thanks to Betsy Bird at Fuse #8 for her help in getting this off the ground.

I think this is a brilliant idea and I want to see some stellar videos as a result (some already exist and you can see them on James’ website or on the link to Betsy Bird above!)

Okay, so here are the rules

1. Your video should be 90 seconds or less. (Okay, okay: if it’s three minutes long but absolute genius, we’ll bend the rules for you. But let’s try to keep them short.)

2. Your video has to be about a Newbery award-winning (or Newbery honor-winning) book. Here’s a list of all the winners.

3. Your video must condense the plot of the book in 90 seconds or less. Again, exceptions will be made for something really ingeniously bonkers, but it has to be related to a Newbery winning book.

4. Upload your videos to YouTube or Vimeo or whatever and send me the link at kennedyjames [at] gmail [dot] com. Make the subject line be “90 SECOND NEWBERY” and please tell me your name, age, where you’re from, and whatever other comments you’d like to include, including whether you’d like me to link to your personal site. You can give an alias if you want; I understand privacy concerns.

5. Sending the link to me grants me (James Kennedy) the right to post it on my blog and to other websites where I sometimes post content (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and to share at public readings, school visits—and hopefully the 90-Second Film Festival at the New York Public Library in the Fall of 2011.

6. Deadline is September 15, 2011.

This sounds so awesome. I’m going to be encouraging every eligible person to create and submit an entry and I think you should too!

A Follow Up on Cardboard Tube Wars: How to successfully pull off a cardboard tube battle for tweens and teens in a public library without loss of life or limb.

So earlier I wrote about my weird inspiration for a program, specifically the Cardboard Tube Fighting League. Since that post, the program has been successfully completed in my Library with everyone having fun and no one getting hurt. The program was a great success and good vanquished over evil (at least pretend good vanquished pretend evil based on the sides the kids choose.)

Here’s what you need to pull off a Cardboard Tube Wars Program:

A waiver is handy. There are all kinds of sample waivers for programs on the internet. Find them, use them as a template and make sure your waiver is approved by your Library through whatever your approval process is before you start having parents sign them. I included the rules from the Cardboard Tube Fighting League in my waiver so that parents and participants would have them before the event ever started.

Plan the program for the summer, but start planning for it before Christmas. In November send out an All Staff Email asking for the cardboard tubes from their wrapping paper. You will get all the cardboard tubes you’ll ever need and then some.

Before you advertise the program to the public go through your tubes and try to select the ones that are about an inch and a half to two inches wide and about three feet long. Think of these as being “standard size.” You want the size of the tubes and the thickness of the cardboard for those tubes actually used in combat to be standard for all participants. The point is, after all, to be the last one with a cardboard tube still intact.

If you can, make the program registration required and base the number allowed to participate off the number of standard sized tubes you have.

Make sure in your promotional materials that you state that the tubes will be provided by the Library!

The cardboard tube fight is the apex of the program, but it isn’t the entirety of the program. Before you battle you must have armor. Pre-cut cardboard shields, markers, duct tape, yarn and extra cardboard tubes and cardboard boxes are all perfect for making all kinds of armor including gauntlets and helmets. The armor has the added benefit of identifying which team the kids are going to be one. Let them decorate their tubes in the team colors too. The teams need to be even (because, once again the team with the most intact cardboard tubes is the winner.) So if you have uneven teams, pull in a teen volunteer. In fact, I highly recommend having a teen volunteer help out at this program. Their help is INVALUABLE and then they can jump in to the fray if needed.

Before you allow them to start the battle it helps to read the rules again. Then they are fresh in everyone’s mind. Also before you battle, take lots of pictures. The armor they create will be amazing.

For a reward beyond the satisfaction of having made awesome armor and battled the hardest I got some cheap plastic trophies from a party supply store and a cheap plastic medal. I let the kids battle until it was obvious that one team was the clear winner. Then there was the problem of the fact that there wasn’t just one kid left standing. So I let them battle until only one kid had a tube. It was the largest guy in the room and one of the smallest girls in the end round. The girl was so quick and good at cardboard tube fighting that the guy ended up surrendering and letting her break his tube. She won the medal and a trophy (she was on the winning team too.) Most of the kids took their armor home with them and everyone had a great time.

Inspirational Cardboard Tubes

This post could be thought of as a programming post, but really, it is more about a whack to the head by inspiration.

Finding program inspiration in the most unusual places is one of the joys of being a programmer/librarian. For this summer, inspiration struck me early, just before the generic Holiday season in winter of 2009. One day, while thinking about the cardboard tubes under all the wrapping paper I had unsuccessfully applying to my gifts, I remembered the glory of cardboard tube fights with my sister, and also using them as impromptu odd megaphones that give your voice that nice echo effect. Then I came across the notion of using those tubes in Library programming via a couple of teen librarian listservs. An idea was truly born by then.

Now, I know you are thinking that all those listservs would just show you how to “craft” and “DIY” the stuffing out of those tubes, but that is where you are WRONG. Let me tell you about awesomeness that is the Cardboard Tube Fighting League. The CTFL is based in San Francisco and sponsors both duel tournaments and battles. They have very specific rules to both. They have cardboard armor-building workshops. They have a lot of fake history and testimonials! But mostly, they have my heart.

So, I developed a program for the summer: a cardboard tube war battle using official CTFL rules of combat. Teens have to sign up so they can receive a Library-sanction tube and a parental waiver to get signed.  Before the tournament cardboard boxes will become armor (but NOT shields)! During the tournament the goal will be to break the opponents’ tubes! After the tournament there will be snacks and glory!

Of course for practicalities’ sake, there are rules:

The first and most important rule is to NOT break your tube. Breaking the tube is how you lose. In the tournament style play the team with at least one tube left standing wins…shared fame, glory, and the right to tube fight again another day. Because the objective is to hurt the tubes and not one another other rules like no stabbing or body slamming and “try not to work the face” also apply. The point of this program is to have fun, safely. Anyone exhibiting unsafe behavior will be ejected immediately, by me, Scary Battle Ref Librarian Sarah. I will put my mean face on if need be.

This program hasn’t happened yet, but the response so far has been really good and 15 kids have already signed up (most excellent numbers for my Library). So, where have you gotten you strangest program inspiration?