Me, Myself, and Audiobooks

Sherman Alexie author and narrator.

I admit it; I’ve never been a fan of audiobooks. I think it all started about fifteen years ago when I listened to my first audiobook for teens. It was awful.  As a newish librarian, I wanted to refresh my memory on a teen book that I had read a few years earlier so I thought I would try listening to the story rather than reading it. What a mistake. The reader was practically emotionless making what had previously been an edge of your seat kind of story, pretty boring. I ended up giving up on the audio and instead rereading the book. Over the years co-workers also told me how fantastic audiobooks were during their commutes to work and occasionally I would try one, but more often than not, the experience just wasn’t that great, I would find my mind wandering and soon the story had moved on without me.

Then, last August, with a short solo road trip looming on the horizon, it was recommended to me that I take The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie along for the ride. From the very beginning, Alexie enthralled me with his tale of a boy living on the Res while trying to experience life at a white man’s school. By employing his pacing and cadence as a Native American speaker Alexie enthralled me. I listened to the story every moment I was on the road and even sat in my garage to finish listening to it when I returned home.

Encouraged by this experience, I decided to give teen audiobooks another chance. Next up was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  While I didn’t really like the story (gasp!), the performance by Kate Rudd was amazing. Through her reading, you could practically feel the strength it takes the main character to draw each breath. In fact, Rudd gives all of the characters life and personality making this production definitely worthy of ALA’s Odyssey Award for audiobooks.

My most recent encounter with teen audiobooks was unique from the past two. It was The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. This time, the story was read by two actors, a man and a woman, to reflect the alternating storytelling of the brother and sister in the book.  While each reader was very skilled and enjoyable to listen to, it was a little weird sometimes because both of them would voice some of the same characters due to the alternating point of view. The other thing that I encountered while listening to this book could have happened with any book. After listening to the story for over 14 hours, I popped the twelfth CD in only to have the story fade in and out and at times completely disappear. I actually wasn’t able to finish listening to the story and had to read the last ten pages of the book instead.

Now, after having these positive teen audiobook experiences, I have another admission. I’m a cautious audiobook convert. While I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those people that always has an audiobook in the car, I will definitely be open to recommendations.


Summertime Musings

It is the last week of the summer reading program here at my library and I find myself reviewing what has taken place over the last eight weeks. Thousands of titles have been read and hundreds of volunteer hours have been recorded. Many families have been delighted by themed programs with special performers. New friendships formed among teens who attended book discussions and field trips to see book-based movies. It has been VERY busy and sometime exhausting, but always worth it. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, I wonder about those who question the need for public libraries and the services we provide. For parents unable to afford the price of conventional summer activities, we supplied free enriching programs and opportunities for their children to maintain and develop new literacy skills. Middle school students developed useful leadership skills and camaraderie among their peers as Junior Volunteers, while teens spent the summer reading and networking in the library. Yes, it was a hectic summer but every minute was totally worthwhile! How was your summer?

Saying Goodbye

Several weeks before I retired, I planned my very last Teen Advisory Board (TAB) meeting.  Instead of conducting business, I decided to have a party and invite former and current member so that I could officially say goodbye and hug everyone. I knew that several of the teens that had graduated from high school were attending colleges in Illinois, but I had not the faintest idea if anyone would be home that weekend.  When I did not receive any replies, I assumed that everyone was just too busy.

When the doors opened on the day of the party, I was speechless and I just could not stop wiping the tears!  One of the former members told me that she had not been home for a couple of months, but she just had to come to say thanks and to give me a hug.  When Ryan, a young man who always “marched to the beat of a very different drummer” arrived, I said “you came”!  He looked at me, said, “why did you think I would not come?  I could not miss it.  Everyone lavished me with gifts, then, expressed their love, thanks and appreciation for my encouragement.

Over the years, I frequently wrote letters of recommendation when the students were engaged in the college application process.  When I received an e-mail from a former TAB member, I was so overwhelmed with such pride for him.  Mark was unable to attend the party, but he expressed his thanks for the help and guidance that I had extended to him.  “Your service in organizing student run programs and the Teen Advisory Board was so helpful for me. Thank you also for all of your recommendations.  I am in my second year studying Architecture at Cooper Union in New York City and I cannot believe how much I am taking in. My sights are limitless for the future…”  I must have gone through a box of tissues, and will always carry a special place in my heart for this talented, focused young man.

I may no longer work at the Teen Services desk, but I will always be an advocate for teens, so I look forward for opportunities to stay involved.  One of the current TAB members organized a team for the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life overnight walk at her high school so I signed on to walk in memory of my sisters.  We met for lunch during Spring Break just to chat and to finalize plans for the event.  One of the local high school librarians asked me if I would be interested in participating in the teen book discussion group that is held after school once a month. A middle school student invited me to attend her school play that was performed on a Saturday evening. What a stellar performance!  She just bubbled when I presented her a bouquet of Roses…

I am reminded of a line from a Spiritual that continues to resonate from the core of my being. “If I can help somebody as I pass along this way… then my living shall not be in vain”.  If you are having a challenging day, may I encourage you to “keep on keeping on.”  You may never know how much you are impacting the life of a teen.

Rose Allen

Teen Librarian, Retired


And the Winner Is…

I had the distinct pleasure of serving on the 2011 Caldecott Medal Selection Committee and as my involvement ends, I pause to muse over the experience in its entirety and take a quick account of what I have gained. Of course for starters there is the massive shipment of books from publishers (over 600!), the wonderful collection of selected works, the late night soirées after long committee meetings and the responsibility of submitting commendable nominations. However the highlight has been connecting and collaborating with new peers.

Because of this experience, I have an even greater appreciation for award committees and have begun to think of ways to incorporate elements from my experience into future library-related endeavors. For example, one goal is to connect more with others who share similar interests regardless of their occupation. On the Caldecott Committee, I had the opportunity to collaborate with teachers, librarians and even an award winning author. Each unique background lent a richness and depth to the work of our committee. As a result, I am considering forming a “think tank” or “sounding board” group that will consist of librarians and non-librarians.

Paying attention to details but not missing the big picture or broader context is another lesson learned in my experience.  All in all, I cannot fully describe the delight and reward of serving on the award committee, but what I can say is that it was truly enriching and will not be soon forgotten.

Are They Getting on Your Last Nerve?

If there is one thing that I have learned during my years as a librarian, it is that I will treat teens with respect and I will always require the same from them. I am not their friend; however, I will try very hard to remember their names, always acknowledge their presence, then, try very hard to engage them.

Have you ever had that one teen that arrives promptly right after school, enters the teen space, stakes out his/her territory then proceeds to get on your last nerve?

Teens know when we do not like them. Too often during extremely busy times, we may be inclined to offer minimal service to a teen when there are several impatient adults in line who really just need to wait their turn.  Teens may never approach the desk even when they are in desperate need of help.  Even if some of them love to read, they may not think that is cool for their friends to see them with a book.  It is vital that we step out from behind the desk as often as possible, mingle or just roam in the stacks as time permits. Most of the time, someone needs help but they are terrified of asking because they may have had an unpleasant interaction with a staff member who really does not like teens.

Programming is an essential service that libraries provide for all ages.  Just as it is so imperative that we solicit teen input as we are planning our slate of programs, it is crucial that we engage our teens one-on- one as often as possible.

Consider assisting teens as they are preparing for their college entrance prep by spending some time helping them to navigate the Library online databases that are available to them from home 24/7.  Encourage them to apply for some of those specialized scholarships that are often looked over during the application process.  One student informed me that he had learned of an organization that offered scholarships for tall people (he was well over six feet tall) and he reluctantly asked me if I would consider writing a letter of recommendation for him.   Likewise, offer to write letters of recommendation for that first paying job, or for a volunteer or internship position

Depending on the school district, many teens have to do a certain number of Community Service hours before they graduate, so I offer them service credit if they attend Teen Advisory Board Meetings, if they are participating in a Library Volunteer Program for Teens, if they assist me during a teen program, or if they accompany me on a field trip to a bookstore to purchase items for the Young Adult Collection.  If they are investigating a detailed project to satisfy the requirements for an Eagle Scout Badge, consider contacting your department heads at your library and inquire about possibilities. Always follow-up, then work closely with the individual who will be supervising the teen to iron out logistics so that the teen will know what is expected of him/her.

One of the teens who was working on His Eagle Scout Badge, asked me it there was a project at the Library that he could investigate in order to fulfill the final arm of the requirements for this prestigious award.  I spoke with the Technical Services Department Head and she informed me of the RFID project that was in full swing. She expressed that she would love to have a committed teen to assist as it would help to move the targeted completion date up.   After training and learning the logistics, Andy trained, then, supervised a team of Scouts to assist him. This dedicated group successfully tagged 6, 000 items during two weekends.  When Andy’s parents invited me to speak at his Eagle Scout ceremony, I was so honored and so impressed to be present at such an inspiring event.  After all of the speeches were done, Andy hugged me and expressed how much he appreciated our giving him a chance to fulfill a dream.

I will never forget a day when I dashed into my local Jewel Supermarket to pick up a couple of items before I headed for points west and home.  I was in the checkout line and noticed a tall young man at the register.  He smiled at me, and then asked if I remembered him.  He did not look familiar, so I apologized and said no.  He proceeded to tell me that when he was in the eighth grade, I helped him with his research paper when his class came to the library for a field trip.  He said that he would always remember me because I helped him to find the information that he needed and he was able to get an A on his paper.  He is currently a student at DePaul University. Yes, the tears started to roll down my cheeks.

We have all learned that safety pins that are pierced into strategic parts of the anatomy; pink or purple spiked hair or Jeans that are threatening to fall below the knees at any given moment, does not define an individual. That teen may just be trying to make a statement about finding himself.  We never know when we might impact the life of a teen.  If today’s teens could travel back in time to the last century when I was in high school, they would probably think that I was extremely bizarre.  Let us never forget that weird, obnoxious,  teen who is always hanging out at the Library and getting on your last nerve, may, in just a few short years,  be your doctor, your dentist, your counselor, or your stockbroker.

Book(talk) It!

I did booktalks at my local high school last Thursday in celebration of Teen Read Week. I remember when I was first asked, sometime last year, to do booktalks for their students. I was pretty nervous going into it, but I felt really prepared. I brought a stack of some really excellent new books, along with some surefire older ones that almost all teens fall in love with (like Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin). What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the fact that most of the teens stared at me with a blank look on their face. I quickly learned that I was living in a fantasyland thinking that I was going too reach that entire room!

Booktalks are exciting for teens who like books, but if they’re not readers, they’re probably not going to care. But still, I try. I bring a wide selection of books for both boys and girls, and I give them enough of the plot to try to hook them, but not enough that they feel like they’ve heard the whole story. I’ve found that it also helps to bring the newest books in a series, but also to talk about the first book in order to possibly grab the interest of readers who aren’t familiar with the series. I also try to keep my energy level up (even though I repeat myself to several classes throughout the day!). The last time I was at the school doing booktalks, a student from the newspaper was taking photos of my presentation. I later found out that she had to discard all of them – I move my hands around when I talk, and every photo was too blurry to print!

The night of my booktalk last week, I ran my monthly manga program back at the library. When it was over, one of the circulation staff called me over. “I just wanted to tell you,” she said, “that a girl came in and checked out The Maze Runner. She said some lady had talked about it at her school this morning.” That lady was me! I was that lady! As a 32-year-old who is often mistaken for being several years younger, I’m not often called a lady, but I’ll take it. Because this lady is really, really excited that someone was listening.

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?