Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Because Black Lives Matter, a Collection of Resources

Last night I sat and watched with my entire family the Kid Lit Rally for Black Lives Matter hosted by The Brown Bookshelf. It was a powerful, important and moving call to action. Below I am including a link to the recording in hopes that you will check it out and spend some time with it.

One of the things that I hear repeatedly and have worked to convey is the importance of every day diversity in our collections, on our reading lists, and in our personal and professional reading. This was also repeated multiple times last night. It’s important for white librarians like myself to remember that diversity, equity and inclusion can’t just be putting up a Black History Month display, but must include making sure that every book list, every book display, every book recommendation and our collections as a whole are diverse and inclusive. This is why I began the process in 2015 of doing Diversity Audits and have spent the last five years of my life not only holding myself personally accountable, but teaching and training others to do the same. Librarianship is still over 80% white and female, and no matter our good intentions, we come to the table with implicit bias and work in systems with systemic racism. We try to share tools here at TLT all the time to help ourselves and our peers do better. So today I’m sharing more of those tools with you. My fellow white librarians, we owe it to the youth serve to do the work, on ourselves and in our libraries.

Kid Lit for Black Lives Matter: Recording of the rally


Book Lists of Interest for You

SLJ – 50 BIPOC Board Books: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=50-Board-Books-That-Show-IBPOC-Faces-diversity-baby

Black Boy Joy for Younger Kids/Middle Grade: https://www.helpingkidsrise.org/post/2018/01/23/black-boy-joy-books-highlighting-the-everyday-life-of-being-a-black-boy?fbclid=IwAR23zymuKspxMesvZiG_wW1rUNocFJAYYe5zWtjduLdN_3RFnjXoWC9FjzM

Black Boy Joy Picture Books: https://www.readbrightly.com/picture-books-featuring-black-male-protagonists/?fbclid=IwAR0kHrFLns9cjpva_Qbu62nCIA-vD3pXAG5u5y5vC2d0hVW4aT6rv3ZC02w

Picture Books with Black Female Protagonists: https://www.readbrightly.com/picture-books-featuring-black-female-protagonists/?fbclid=IwAR0xEcRMTVsZPYmL-iXrfUSfAIpJuUo6f8VYO3PpYMv7RaDA3LF0NaIJMUA

YA Black Girl Magic: https://www.epicreads.com/blog/black-girl-magic-books/?fbclid=IwAR0ft7qSt4YeMPtEN_jXWzewOQjdElvQFj0ZXY1_RBJ_Mg2C5fiePvJxrVc

Diverse Meet Cutes and Rom Coms: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=meet-cutes-come-all-colors-YA-diversity-romance-POC&fbclid=IwAR0GmjLvKNt_p16R_12_ohYYmIRDmK1loDKox9pr-YjXzUip2mPQgr3LW68

YA with Black Authors 2020: https://www.buzzfeed.com/farrahpenn/young-adult-books-by-black-authors-2020?fbclid=IwAR2RiRZdAHwZ-x5dxNan2O5CuYSAL6ieppEg7Sz2aHOhCdxsWpGFPgFJ4ko

Because Black Lives Matter, Read Black Authors

Yesterday I tweeted and said something that really resonated with me: Collections Have Consequences. What we buy, what we read, what we share – it all helps shape the narrative. Today I just want to uplift Black authors. Here are a collection of lists of YA books written by Black authors. If you buy books for a library, I challenge you to see how many of these books your library owns. If you parent or are a reader, see how many you have read or bought for the people in your life. And keep in mind, books by Black authors don’t always have to be about Black Lives Matter, because part of what we mean when we say that Black Lives Matter is that they matter every day, in every way. Black youth deserve to see themselves in every day stories full of joy, hope, and promise. And white readers, like me, need to read contemporary stories about Black life that normalize and celebrate every day Black joy. On Twitter yesterday I saw a Tweet by Christine Taylor-Butler that said, “in this time of stress people want to “flood” their kids with books about racism. Please provide 20 joyful books for every one book on racism. They also need to know POC kids are like every other kid.” This is really important for those of us who build collections to keep in mind always.

31 YA Books by Black Authors: https://www.buzzfeed.com/ehisosifo1/ya-books-by-black-authors-that-you-cant-miss-this-year

Diverse Meet Cutes: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=meet-cutes-come-all-colors-YA-diversity-romance-POC

The YA Books by Black Women You Need to Read: https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/2019/04/228625/best-ya-books-by-black-women

Great Reads for Teens by African American Authors: https://www.bcls.lib.nj.us/great-books-teens-african-american-authors

YA Books by African American Authors: https://www.lapl.org/teens/books/african-american-literature-and-history-young-adults

YA Fiction by Black Authors: https://seattle.bibliocommons.com/list/share/1058529507/1132097257

If you have additional booklists to share or books to recommend, please leave a comment.

Because Black Lives Matter, a Collection of Anti-Racist Reading Lists

These past few days have seen a wide variety of global protests in support of Black Lives Matter. As a white woman, I constantly find myself having to do the work of breaking down my own misinformation, white privilege and internalized racism. Today I wanted to just share with everyone who, like me, needs to learn more, do better, and break down the white washed history that we are taught in our public schools a variety of links to various anti-racist book lists. If you haven’t already started doing the work, today is a good day to start.

Anti-Racist Reading List by Ibram X. Kendi


Understanding and Dismantling Racism: A Booklist for White Readers


31 Children’s books to support conversations on race, racism and resistance




Teaching Tolerance: Anti-Racist Education


Social Justice: Fifteen titles to address inequity, equality, and organizing for young readers | Great Books


Column: Ithaca teen shares how to be a white ally

More on being a white ally


RevolTeens: A Letter of Apology to the Class of 2020, by Christine Lively

Dear Class of 2020,

On behalf of adults everywhere, I would like to apologize. As adolescents, teens, emerging adults, your time between childhood and adulthood has been horrible, and it’s our fault. Your adolescence has been marked by terrors from the time you were born right around September 11, 2001 until your graduation now 19 years later, our country has been at war. You have attended schools that are falling apart structurally, and you have faced the terror of school shootings while also experiencing the terror of practicing being a potential victim of one every year growing up. You’ve been subjected to the incredible and unrelenting stress of high stakes testing every year in school. And now that you’ve survived all of that, your celebration of making it to the end has been canceled, and you’ve been cut off from seeing your friends, teachers, coaches, and anyone else who is not your family without any kind of warning. It would almost be funny if every single part of your growing up didn’t require you to face the possibility of death. It’s our fault, and I am sorry. 

I started writing the RevolTeen column and reading young adult fiction because I really like teenagers. I think teens are some of the funniest, most creative, most passionate, and most interesting people I’ve ever met. I believe that working with teens helps me to think through my own adolescence and give it some perspective. I think that many other adults, however, get to their high school graduation and think, “My God, the last six years have been horrible, but I made it and I never want to think about it again!” This is where the problem lies.

I heard a graduation speech this year that really brought this problem into perspective to me. The speaker may have been trying to be funny, but they weren’t. They told the graduating seniors: Now that you’ve graduated, you can spend the rest of your life working to forget how terrible high school was and move on to your “real” life.

What kind of garbage is that? Yet, I think that most adults feel this way, and it’s an attitude that we really need to change.

Basically, adults have accepted that life between the ages of 12 and 18 is horrible. We’ve also decided, “Look, it was a terrible time for me, so it’s just going to be terrible for my kids, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Sorry!”

So, what do adults get out of this attitude? Well, we get to commiserate. “Oh man, you think your middle/high school years were bad? Let me tell you what I went through!” We share these stories as if we survived battle, and for a lot of us, that’s what it felt like. We also get out of trying to help you with your problems. I mean, if we’ve all decided that being a teen sucked for us so it’s going to suck for you, we can just ignore your complaints. We can answer any pain you tell us about as an unavoidable trial of growing up. What do you want us to do about it? We’ve set you up in a no-win situation. If you try to talk to us about what you’re going through we can put you off with, “Of course you’re miserable! Everyone’s miserable at your age!” You see, we’ve crossed that graduation threshold and listening to you would just force us to relive the pain of our own adolescence. We’ve graduated, so we don’t want to talk about it. We’re trying to forget all about it. We also get to stay comfortable by not doing the hard work of changing systems. The middle school and high school experience has remained the same for generations in America. There have been incremental shifts and more accommodations for students with different abilities, learning styles, and talents, but the basic structure is the same. Changing entrenched structures and systems is hard. If we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that it just “can’t be changed,” then we don’t have to actually do anything but keep things the way they are.

Class of 2020, we have failed you.

I write every month about “RevolTeens.” I love to highlight the teenagers who don’t accept adolescence as a time to be merely endured or survived. I want them to know that we adults see them and are in awe of their optimism and stubbornness. They’re the characters in every great teen coming of age story who fights back against the bullies, or goes out and stays weird in the face of rejection and judgment, or makes the football team when all the kids and adults at their school think they’re worthless. We all cheer for them.

But teens aren’t revolting for the romance of it or to become stars. They’re revolting because we tell them from the time they enter Middle School until the day they graduate high school, “Nobody likes Middle or High School. You just have to live through the next six years, and then your ‘real’ life can start.”

I have three young adult children of my own, and I work every day in a high school library. I talk with other parents and teachers and we’re all drained. My parents used to hope that my brothers and I would be successful enough in high school to get into college and have a good start in life. My parent and teacher friends now spend our sleepless days and nights just hoping our kids and the kids we work with will live to see their graduation. These are dreary days.

Class of 2020, you have survived. You may be holed up at home. You may be sick of logging into your laptop to find your schoolwork for the day. You didn’t get your graduation. But you have survived. You are the greatest RevolTeens of them all. Living is a revolution. You’re revolting against hopelessness, against stress, against anxiety, against depression, against generations of adults who didn’t make adolescence better for you than it was for us. You are a wonder.

Adults, we are revolting. Surely we can do better.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

Tween and Teen Programming Ideas: Online Scattegories is the Word Game You Need

Word games have always been my favorite kind of games, which is why I love Scattegories. It’s an older game that involves making word lists using specific prompts and a designated letter. For example, your letter might be S and then you’re given 12 categories for which you must come up with something that starts with the letter S. So for a fruit you might say “strawberries” It sounds easy but with a timer putting pressure on you and the challenge to come up with something that everyone else won’t, it’s a lot harder than you might think. You have to think fast and be creative because if someone else uses the same word as you, it counts for neither of you.

I was super excited when I found that there is a way to play virtual Scattegories over Zoom or whatever online group meeting format you may be using. If you follow this link the virtual game does almost all of the work for you: https://swellgarfo.com/scattergories/.

To play, you will need a small group of people to play as individual players or on teams. Please note, you could use this in person as well as online. But if you use it online to do virtual programming, you will need a virtually meeting platform like Zoom which gives you the ability to share your screen so everyone can see the word list. But you could also use this in a regular program (when it is safe to do so) and project the categories onto a large screen using a projector. The online Scattegories generator doesn’t have to be for virtual gaming.

If you are playing virtually, I recommend hosting a private room with a password to help make sure that you don’t get Zoombombed. You’ll want to create a safe online experience for your participants by using as many safety precautions as you can.

So let’s play . . .

Your initial screen looks like this on a PC:

or this on a handheld device:

Participants will need to have a piece of paper and pen nearby to play. When everyone is ready you push play, the categories are revealed and the timer begins counting down.

For this round everyone will be trying to think of words that start with the letter S to fill in the categories below. Remember, your participants will write their answers down on a sheet of paper numbered from 1 to 12 to correspond with each category.

Participants will write their answers on a piece of paper and then when the timer is done, the fun begins. As the host you will ask each participant to share their answers down the list. If two or more people get the same answer, that answer does not count. What you want here is to come up with something unique so that you don’t get cancelled out by another player or team. At the end of each round keep a total of how many each player or team got for a round and that will give you a total score.

I played this last night with a group of 5 families and found it easier just to have everyone hold up the correct number of fingers at the each of round to let me know what their score for that round was. We played 5 rounds total and at the end of those 5 rounds I totaled everyone’s score and declared a winner. They won bragging rights and everyone had a good time.

Thankfully, the virtual Scattegories interface allows you to make some personal adjustments. You can make it child friendly. You can increase or decrease the total number of categories that appear on the screen. You can even remove categories and add your own, which means you could make a totally bookish themed virtual Scattegories game. All of this customization makes this a really fun and innovative platform for library programming for tweens and up.

The customization means that if you are hosting a Teen Book Club, you can make all your categories YA lit related.

This was fun and easy to do and I recommend it. There are so many fun programming possibilities to be had with this tool, both online and in person.

Join us for a Parent & Teen Virtual Book Club to Discuss THE BURNING with Laura Bates

Earlier this year The Teen and I both read a profoundly moving feminist novel titled The Burning that touched on a wide variety of issues that we are both very passionate about. So we are excited to get to host this online Virtual Book Club with the author, Laura Bates. It’s a free virtual event, but please follow this link to make reservations: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-burning-parentteen-book-club-with-author-laura-bates-tickets-105979304954

Please leave us a comment if you have some specific questions you would like us to ask.

About this Event

An important book for readers of all ages in the #metoo era

Read The Burning together with your teen and then join Laura Bates, internationally renowned feminist and founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, for a book club discussion.

The discussion will be moderated by YA librarian Karen Jensen of School Library Journal‘s Teen Librarian Toolbox, and her teenage daughter.

The Burning is a powerful call to action, reminding all readers of the implications of sexism and the role we can each play in ending it.

Praise for The Burning:

“A smart, explosive examination of gender discrimination and its ramifications.” – Publishers Weekly

“A haunting rallying cry against sexism and bullying.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Will take readers on an emotional roller coaster.” – School Library Journal

Cindy Crushes Programming: 5 Virtual Programming Ideas You Can Do Right Now, Part 2

With a lot of library teen programming pivoting to virtual for the forseeable future, teen librarian Cindy Shutts has been working on putting together virtual programming ideas that can be implemented quickly. She’s talked about running a virtual Dungeons and Dragons game. And she’s shared ideas like virtual escape rooms and digital art shows in part 1 of this series. Today she’s talking online puzzles and games, including pandemic favorite Animal crossing.

Online Puzzles

Evan Mather at Arlington Heights Public Library worked on doing a virtual puzzle with library teens via jigsawpuzzles.io and it was a blast. The amount of time depends on the difficulty of the puzzle.

Jackbox Games


Tracey Todd Vittorio at The Plainfield Public Library had ten teens come to her first Jackbox program and had the teens asking for more. I would recommend checking the ages on any games you use since some of them can have more adult content than others. Here is a list of their games that come with a filter.


Animal Crossing

A lot of libraries are having their staff develop library islands so that they can do virtual programming through Animal Crossing similar to using discord. This is fun since Animal Crossing is super popular. The downside is the staff would need to have a switch and the game, but if they do it could be a very easy way to program. The staff would issue a one time dodocode so that teen patrons can come visit the island. http://www.ilovelibraries.org/article/visit-library’s-virtual-branch-animal-crossing-new-horizons

Animal Crossing Cindy in her library room

Mario Cart Tournaments

Mario Cart is always a winner for teens and on the switch you can run a virtual tournament. This was a program the Brooklyn Public Library had and it is easy for teens to find because they can search under tournaments for your library’s tournament.

Virtual Volunteer Service

Since my teens get service hours via summer reading and it is looking like many libraries will have limited or cancelled summer reading programs this year finding virtual service opportunities is more important. I have seen a few libraries who have started a pen pal program for teens to write to seniors who are in nursing homes since many of them are not able to see their families. This is a great way to connect and partner with an outside group.

More Virtual Programming at TLT:

Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

Tween and Teen Programming Ideas: Nostalgia with an Online Twist

Tweens and teens are constantly participating in a balancing act of growing up but still being kids. And they like to do fun things. With everyone focusing on virtual programming right now, I thought I would share with you a few fun websites that tap into childhood nostalgia and provide some fun online programming. The best things about these websites is that you don’t need anything but a device to access them, so if your patrons are clicking through to you page or social media, then they probably have the means to access them. It’s not a perfect solution to being closed and having to practice social distancing, but it is a way to help our patrons find fun things to do during this time.


Mecabricks is an online, virtual Lego like building platform. It allows you to build fully rendered 3D Lego models virtually. You can pick the style and color of brick at each step of the way. The best thing about this site is that you don’t have to have any bricks at home. When I ran a Lego club the first thing I learned was how many kids had never really played with Legos because they are very cost prohitibitive. You could share this site with patrons just for fun or run a virtual brick building club and give participants specific challenges and ask them to share or submit their creations.

Lite Brite

This online Lite Brite is the same concept as above with the virtual Legos, except it’s a Lite Brite. You make a pattern with little colored pegs and then turn it on and they light up.

Etch a Sketch

Here’s another childhood favorite brought to you online. In this one you use the arrow keys to sketch and then shake to erase your picture and start over.

Jigsaw Explorer

This website lets you do puzzles online. You can also create a custom puzzle and share it online. So turn pictures of your library building or book displays into puzzles and share them with your patrons.

Fuse Beads Picture Converter

So this one is not entirely online, you still need some additional supplies if you want to make the final fuse bead creation. But if you want to make fuse bead (also known as perler beads) crafts, you can use this online tool to turn your favorite photos into perler bead patterns. You can then print them out, place your beads, and fuse them to make your own personal fuse bead art. But I also think you don’t need to do the perler bead part if you don’t want to. It’s fun just to see what is created.

There are a ton of free online art, craft and digital media tools. If you Google you will find tons of great lists being compiled by art teachers, homeschooling parents, and other librarians just like me. There is no limit to what you can find and share. And the creative challenges that you can come up with. Please share some of your favorite online creation tools with us here in the comments.

Sunday Reflections: Advice for Graduating Seniors – It’s All Political

Last night I watched the Graduate Together special in which the class of 2020 was honored and President Barack Obama gave a commencement address. In that address he talked about how the class of 2020 would be our leaders and gave them, frankly, good advice about doing so with honesty, dignity and respect. It was, as most commencement speeches are, an inspired speech that reflected the current times – because how could you not mention them? – and asked our graduating class to go out and make the world a better place.

Online, there was push back. People were upset that President Obama made his commencement speech political. But here’s the deal, whether we like it or not, everything is political. Especially right now.

Everything is a political act.

Voting is a political act. Not voting is a political act, it’s just not a very good one.

For many of the kids graduating this month, simply having the audacity to exist is a political act.

Many of our kids have learned very early in life just how important politics is at every level. They have had to fight for the right to exist. To be safe. To be heard. To be fed and healthy.

But many of our kids do not. I know because I constantly hear friends and family say things like, “Oh I don’t get involved in politics.” Which means that they have probably never had to fight for their right to exist.

As I grow older, I am learning how very important politics is at every level. I used to be less engaged in local politics. I know, I’m ashamed of me too. But I have watched as other states have followed the advice of scientists and studied the scrolls of history and made more measured plans as they seek to respond to the current pandemic. In the meantime, my governor has thrown cautioned to the wind. Even as my state has growing death rates we are re-opening. Thankfully there are pockets where local government is choosing a different, more measured approach based on science. Because politics at every level matters.

Texas has had minimal testing for Covid-19. A couple of weeks ago residents of the county in which I live learned that a unit came to offer testing on a Sunday, but the local judge had ordered that no one tell the general public so that they would not get tested. We will never know the true numbers at any level for this pandemic because the tests we have are faulty (I’ve read they can have as high as a 40% false negative rate) and many leaders are purposely trying to keep the numbers low. It’s all political.

The Teen will be voting in her first election this fall. She has marched, mailed postcards, and done many civil acts of service up to this point. There are many ways that you can engage in politics, even before you are old enough to vote.

If I could impart any wisdom to the graduating class of 2020 it would be this: It’s all political. So make sure that you are involved in every way to help shape those politics. Start before you turn 18 and never stop.

And it’s more than voting for top leadership every 4 years. Vote in every election. Go to school board and local city council meetings. Add your local, state and national representatives into your contacts and contact them regularly. Hold them accountable for their actions. Demand transparency and accountability. Make your voice heard.

A large majority of the teens who are graduating this month will be able to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Do that. Do not let what is arguably one of the most important elections in the history of our nation in your lifetime go by without casting your vote.

You would think that voting, an important part of our government, would be easy, but it is not. Every where you turn there are road blocks designed to keep many of our most marginalized citizens quiet. Gerrymandering, for example, is still rampant. As are steps to dismantle the Voting Rights Acts. Right now, our nation is embroiled in debate about whether or not we will let citizens cast their votes by mail even though it may be the safest way to do so because we are in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic. There is a lot of push back against mail in voting even though our military has been voting by mail as far back as the Civil War and millions of other citizens vote by mail because of travel, disability, and more. People at the top work so hard to silence voters because they don’t truly want the people to be heard. Make them listen anyway.

The issues at hand are vast and complex. Institutional racism, sexism, and poverty are just some of the issues. Growing threats of authoritarianism. The Teen was horrified to learn the other day that there is a small movement to dismantle the 19th Amendment, which gives women the right to vote (specifically, it initially gave white women the right to vote. Rights for other groups of women would not come until much later.) There are roadblocks and hurdles and pushback. Fight to be heard and valued and respected.

There will be a lot of intentionally placed hurdles designed to prevent a large number of our graduating seniors from succeeding. And many of them are starting out with so many disadvantages right from the get go. The world is, sadly and infuriatingly, designed like that.

If you come from a position of privilege, fight for those who are intentionally being pushed out of the conversation. Use your power to bring other voices to the table. Learn when to speak, and when to listen. Don’t talk over or for others, but demand that they be heard. Understand that for any community to truly work, everyone has to have a voice.

Use your voice. And listen to other voices.

This is it. This is your moment. Make it as political af because you have a voice and a right to be seen, heard, respected and valued. You are turning the page into the next chapter of your book, so help write it. We need you. And I’m sorry that we have failed you.

Take 5: Things to Keep in Mind While Doing Virtual Programming

Because of the pandemic, most libraries have taken their programming online and I’m in a lot of online groups where we are talking about the who, what, where, and how of virtual programming. Necessity is, as they say, the mother of invention and a lot of library staff are finding themselves trying to figure out how to reach their library patrons with their buildings closed. We live in a world where being together is suddenly quite dangerous which makes programming hard. Online seems like a natural – and safe – answer to this new world. Here are 5 thoughts I’ve had about virtual programming.

Consider Resources in the Home and Your Audience

The problem with pivoting to exclusive virtual programming is that although we know that right now it is the safest way to do programming, we also know that it leaves out a lot of our most vulnerable patrons. Access is and always will be an issue that libraries wrestle with, it’s one of our founding principles, and it should be one we consider when doing virtual programming as well. So when you are doing DIY and craft program tutorials online, please consider who you are reaching and what kind of impact it may have. Use as few resources as possible and keep in mind how readily they are available in most homes. For example, I saw a library that had taken their Lego Club online and this will be challenging because Legos are expensive and a lot of kids won’t have Legos at home, which is part of the reason that they come to a Lego Club in the first place.

Programs that use inexpensive objects that can be found in the most number of homes is the ideal. And you’ll want to avoid using resources that are scarce right now like toilet paper rolls, flour for baking, etc. Simple paper crafts like cootie catchers and origami are ideal because they are cheap and a lot of homes have some kind of paper, even if it’s scrap paper waiting to be tossed.

Use the Right Tools

There are things I really like about virtual programming and I think now, libraries were missing a trick by not doing more virtual programming and doing it more often. Yes, I know that there have been libraries making and sharing video content online for a while, but I think one thing we are learning is that this is a way for us to increase our library profile and engage with different library users. I think more libraries will keep some type of virtual programming in place and it is here to stay, which is good.

However, one thing I have learned is that you must use the right tools. This is hard, because a lot of us were thrown without knowledge or warning into this nightmare scenario, I get that. But moving forward, libraries should work to make sure their staff have the right tools. This includes things like good lighting, backdrops, a tripod to hold your recording device, etc.

And speaking of tools, librarians should not be using their personal tools to be doing their jobs. They should especially not be using their personal cell phones because it is my understanding that using your personal device for work can make it open to public records requests. You’ll want to check into that before you use your personal device for work.

Respect Your Staff

I have seen some discussion on various forums about whether or not we should or can force staff to be online for virtual programming. Some staff members have a variety of personal reasons why they may not feel comfortable presenting themselves online. Body image issues, safety issues, privacy issues – there are a lot of reasons why staff may not feel comfortable recording themselves and posting those videos online. And I think they are valid and should be considered with great care. Remember, online is far reaching and forever and it is not the same as local and in person.

In these discussions I saw at least one manager reply that this is what programming librarians signed up for and that is not exactly true. Unless it was specifically discussed in the job description or interview or offer, most programming librarians sign up to do in person programming and stortyimes, which is quite different from what you are seeing happen now. I would argue that a lot of librarians need more coaching and training to pivot to effective virtual programming because it is not the same as in person programming. It requires different knowledge and skill sets including knowing how to plan for virtual, how to engage with a virtual audience, and the technical capability to put together and edit a good virtual program.

Again, there are libraries and librarians that have been doing amazing virtual programming and engagement for some time, but if this is new to your library or staff, it’s not fair to just assume that everyone is on board or that they have the skillset necessary to be good at this. If it’s new to your library, there are a lot of things to keep in mind including your staff’s personal boundaries regarding being online. There are ways that you can create virtual programming that can be effective and engaging without asking your staff violate their personal online boundaries. Tasty, for example, has been making amazing cooking tutorials in which we never see a person’s face. There are ways to balance staff talents and concerns and still make engaging virtual content. Help your staff work through and develop the type of virtual programming that works best with their skillset, keeps their concerns and boundaries in mind, yet helps the library reach all of its goals.

Think Long and Hard About Doing Live Virtual Programming

I have seen a lot of discussion about doing live virtual programming versus creating and sharing prerecorded videos. At the same time, I’ve seen my fellow librarians post about doing live programs that were invaded by racists, where adult males used it as an opportunity to chat up females in the group, etc. We’ve always had to worry about keeping our patrons safe in programs, but now that we’re online we have to worry about keeping our patrons safe in a platform in which things can be recorded or screenshot and shared forever.

I would recommend not going live as often as possible for several reasons. One, it helps you protect your patrons from the various scenarios you read about happening online. Two, it gives the library more control over the quality, content and messaging. If you take the time to put together and edit a quality video, you have more control over those things. Also, if you have staff that are just dipping their toes into online programming, having the ability to edit can help give assurances that they won’t look or sound bad online; it can help ease them into this new world.

But most importantly, it gives libraries more control over their public image and pr. I spent a lot of time on Twitter and I know that things get quickly screen shot and shared. One misstep can last forever so you’ll want to try to minimize the chances for those missteps to occur. And if you feel you need to go live for whatever reason, you’ll want to wait to do so until your staff become more comfortable and arguably better at virtual programming.

If or when you do choose to go live, put as many safeguards as you possibly can in place. Train staff how to handle various scenarios. Let them know it’s okay to end a program or kick a patron out if necessary. Use passwords, disable chats, etc. Come up with the best protocols that you can and make sure your staff are trained and empowered to react in the moment. And then back them up if they ever have to.

Yes, Copyright Still Matters

When libraries closed their doors and pivoted to virtual storytimes and programming, the issue of copyright immediately came to the forefront. I’ve seen arguments that copyright no long matters because we are in crisis, and that argument makes me uncomfortable. Especially now that you have publishers changing and giving us all specific copyright permissions to follow. As a profession that has been tasked with being models and instructors for things like information literacy, accessibility and yes, copyright, I think it’s vitally important that we continue to be that example and follow and uphold the law. Even when it’s wildly inconvenient to do so.

The pandemic won’t last forever. And though it will last longer than many people realize and the world will probably be more different when we get to the end of this, I think it’s important that we still follow copyright law and permissions. We would still want our patrons and our vendors and our legislators to respect and honor us, and we owe it to our partners to do the same. Publishers have given us written instructions about what they would like us to do in this time and I think it’s important to honor and respect that.

We all rushed into virtual programming because we had to. Now we can take a moment to pause, take a breathe, and look at how we can develop best practices. Have meetings with staff (virtually, of course), look at what other libraries are doing, and develop the practices that work best for your systems and staff. We don’t all have the same resources and we don’t all have the same staff, so it’s good to develop reasonable and meaningful expectations that work for our system. Figure out what the goals and best practices are for your system, get the tools you need to help make that happen, and then go. Be creative. Engage with your patrons. And find meaningful ways to keep doing the work and keep your staff and patrons safe through this pandemic.

You’re doing great. I promise.