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 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.


Creating a Non-Fiction Collection for Teens

A lot has changed in regards to my library’s teen space & collection within the past two years. In September of 2009, a thorough weeding project made room for our newly created teen space. No longer in an awkward part of the children’s room, the teens now have their own area in the adult department. It’s full of many things that were not available (exclusively or at all) to the teens before. There’s a table! And lots of chairs! And a zine collection! And teen-created artwork on the walls! It’s pretty great.

One thing that we didn’t have, however, was a separate non-fiction collection for teens. Books that would be considered teen non-fiction were mixed in with the adult collection (although there were some juvenile non-fiction books that may have worked for teens, as well). It wasn’t until December of 2010 that we decided to create an entirely separate non-fiction collection for teens that would be housed in the teen space. I’m not exactly sure what took us so long, considering we already have graphic novels, manga, Cliffs Notes, and YA audiobooks as part of the teen collection. But I am glad we made the move!

I pulled some books from the library’s other collections & then also ordered a bunch of new items (books on health, relationships, finance, etc) to balance out the collection. I’ve been putting some of the newer, more appealing books on display (Lauren Conrad Style, the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook) to draw attention to this new section of the teen space. And it’s made a big difference. It seems that more teen non-fiction is being checked out, which is awesome. Now I am waiting patiently for one of our teen patrons to check out First Guitar Tutor (by Terry Burrows) & become a world famous rock star. I can’t wait!

The Ever Elusive High School Student

Libraries are always trying to find a way to get high school teens into the library.  In communities where the demands on high school students are so great, a different approach is needed to get them to use the library.  Unless they get a little something in return, teens aren’t going to show.  I’ve previously written about our Finals Service program.  This program has been exceptionally successful and it inspired us to look at the other times of the year that high school students were using the library and develop additional programming.

It quickly became clear that teens are indeed coming to the library throughout the summer.  They were not here to participate in the Summer Reading Program, but here to check out the titles on their required High School Summer Reading lists.  The first step was to make it easier for them to find the books from the lists that they were required to read.  A display of all of the books on the list was created so all of the titles were together in one place. Additional copies of the books were purchased along with titles the library did not own and display stickers were placed on the spines so these books would return to the Summer Reading shelf in a timely manner, making them available for the next patron.

This approach to circulating Summer Reading titles was helpful but we felt like we weren’t doing everything that could be done.  There were a lot of students waiting until the 11th hour to come and get the books.  They didn’t want to wait for a copy to come in from another library; they wanted the book in their hands at that moment.  Question:  How can the library continue to satisfy the needs of these students without breaking our budgets and using all of our shelf space?!?

Answer:  The High School.  All of the extra books that we needed were already in the community.  They were sitting unread in a dark library through the summer.  We needed more copies; they had copies that were not being used . . . perfect!  We worked with the library staff at the high school to hammer out the details of how the exchange would work.  The high school copies were picked up at the end of the school year when the school library was no longer circulating.  Our Tech Services and Circulation departments put temporary barcodes on all of the books and made sure that the circulation period was long enough to enable students ample time to finish the books, but not too much time that books couldn’t be used by several students throughout the summer.  There was a cut-off return date for all of the high school’s titles to ensure that we gave ourselves flexibility to try to track down the books that weren’t returned on time.  Teens being teens, all of the titles didn’t get back by the time they needed to be returned to the high school, so replacement copies were purchased for the high school.

Working with the high school isn’t the solution for every library.  Perhaps your high school library stays open and continues to loan through the summer.   There are other options to help teens in your community obtain the titles they need.  Can you do a book loan between libraries in your area?  Can you ask the community for donations of the titles needed?  (Donations can be either new or copies that their teens have used in summers past.)

Libraries and Young Adult Librarians are always looking for opportunities to work with high school teens without reinventing the wheel.  These are a couple of solutions but YASF and teen librarians are always looking for more.   Watch how your patrons use your library and see what you observe.  Do you have any teen program ideas?  What programs have you tried?  Were they successful?

Beyond Review Journals – Finding Cool Books for Your Collection

Review journals are always the first place most of us to go to find books to buy for our collections.  But good as they are (and as a reviewer for Booklist I think I’m contractually obligated to say that), we all know that not every book with teen appeal gets reviewed in one journal or another.

So – where else to go when you want to find some cool books for your collection? Well, your best bet is to go where the teens are going.  Or, read what mags they’re reading. Be open minded about what you see and you’re sure to find some neat titles at a number of venues – print, online, or physical.

1) Urban Outfitters – Okay, so you have to put aside all the drinking game and Kama Sutra titles loaded up on their book table, but I always find something I want in my collection when I browse this retailer which has branded itself cool and edgy.  You can look through their online “book store” (find it referenced under Apartment), but I really prefer to visit the stores.  That way I can actually skim through the books to determine whether it has content I can feel comfortable having in my collection (remember, no journal reviews means no back up if a book gets challenged), and it also gives me a chance to surreptitiously watch what teens in the store are picking up.  A cool title I just found there:  The World of Geekcraft

2) Modcloth – an online retailer.  Again, books come under their Apartment heading.  Since they mainly sell fashion, the majority of books I come across here have something to do with style, i.e. Fifty Dresses That Changed the World and Fifty Shoes That Changed the World are recent gems that will work well in my nonfiction collection.

3) “Rolling Stone,” “Entertainment Weekly,” etc. – Books reviewed in these pages often rank high in teen appeal – especially those that profile bands and entertainers.  And don’t be afraid to buy books about long gone bands or dead entertainers.  Among certain young adults I know, anything about Johnny Cash is hot (yeah!), so Roseanne Cash’s memoir is something to consider.

3) Bookstores – Whether you browse in  indies or chains, never visit a bookstore without a notebook.  I especially find books I want to buy in the humor section.  Examples? Desperate Cupcakes and Every Zombie Eats Somebody Sometime.  Peruse the comics and manga section too when you’re out and about.  I almost always find something I’ve missed.

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!

Creating a Teen Zine Collection

It’s no secret that I love zines (which I often describe as self-published mini magazines). I’ve been reading them since I was in high school, and I’ve made many close friends because of them. So when the possibility of creating a zine collection for teens at my library (the Homer Township Public Library) was brought up, I got REALLY EXCITED. A few months later, we now have a small collection of zines available (which still makes me REALLY EXCITED). So here’s a little bit about the how and the why, in case you want to do something similar.

Why a zine collection for teens? There are several reasons. Many teens have never heard of or seen a zine. As a librarian, I am lucky to have a public space in which to introduce someone to new things. I also think it’s our responsibility to offer collections of all kinds, and while zines will never be as recognized as other forms of media, that doesn’t make them of any less value. Having zines at the library (and offering books, pamphlets, and workshops about zines) shows teens that you don’t have to be a super famous writer in order to have your voice heard. All you need is a story to tell & access to a photocopier.

How did I create this collection? The short version is this: Once I got the okay from my director, I did some research on zine collections in public libraries, and then I headed to Quimby’s. I was able to spend a few hours sitting on their floor, flipping through hundreds of different zines and mini-comics (I wanted to make sure what I was buying was age appropriate, of course). I pulled a few zines from my own collection, had some zines donated by friends, and then I bought Whatcha Mean What’s a Zine? and Stolen Sharpie Revolution. We decided not to catalog the zines, and to keep them as an in-house-only collection (for the meantime, at least). I purchased a small bin to store them, made up a sign, printed off a few copies of Zines 101 (thanks, Zine World!), and started to spread the word. I spent about $100, and now we have a unique collection of awesome zines in my teen space.

Zines are not usually found on the shelves within public libraries (although the number is increasing each year). I’m lucky enough to have a director who is supportive of new ideas and a teen community that is responsive to additions to the YA collection. As a zine enthusiast and a public librarian, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Teen Volunteers

Many Jr. High and High School students have community service requirements to fulfill for school or church or (perhaps) something less wholesome. If we can come up with some jobs for these volunteers that are interesting and/or meaningful their level of investment will be higher, their perception of the library may change or elevate and you could engage some new or more frequent users.  I just presented at the Illinois Library Association Conference on Teen Volunteers with some super awesome people (Lynn Elam and Tobe Liebert from Hinsdale Public Library, Amy Alessio and Dan Schnepf from Schaumburg Township District Library, and Diane Norris from Orland Park Public Library). If you are looking for meaningful ways to engage your teen patrons, here’s a few ideas:

1. Computer/Tech Mentors – a few libraries are pairing teens with adults to give one – on -one instruction on all things technological. Mentoring sessions could include learning to create a PowerPoint, opening photo attachments in e-mail, setting up an e-mail account and more.
2. Tech Aides – Libraries are also using teen volunteers during busy after school hours, evenings and weekends to help troubleshoot computers, printers and copiers.
3. Readers and Leaders – The Orland Park Public Library trains teens to work with pre-readers using Every Child Ready to Read initiatives as well as hands on multi-sensory activities that encourage pre-reading skills scanning from left to right, letter formation, and narrative skill development. The teens go through extensive training, are given checklists each week to work from and talk with parents after each session about what they worked on with their children.
4. Service Projects for the Community – Schaumburg Township Library District has been particularily proactive with it’s Teen Corps programs ( They create community service projects such as knitting projects to go to new babies and animals in shelter.
5. Service Projects in your Library – You can also use teens to help start/complete projects in your library such as creating youtube videos to promote your collection or give instruction on how to use something in the library, helping with space planning, rearranging/redesigning collections/furniture in you YA Department, and creating promotional flyers.