Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Real Talk About the State of YA Services in Public Libraries

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I found my calling at the age of 20 while in college majoring in youth ministry. My heart was already dedicated to the idea of serving and working with teenagers and then I stumbled upon a job doing YA services at my local public library purely by accident, and it changed my life. For the last 25 years, my life has been dedicated to serving teens in public libraries. I feel blessed every day that I get to do exactly what I love.

When I began working in public libraries in the 1990s, public libraries were in a renaissance in both YA publishing and YA services. This was aided by the assistance of some phenomenal series that compelled readers in a way that we haven’t really seen in the last five years. Harry Potter and Twilight brought teens into the libraries in epic numbers as the desire for more books was hard to fill in the space that we had allotted. In some ways, The Hunger Games and Divergent sustained this, but I haven’t seen that type of series or book response in several years online or locally. That doesn’t mean that teens aren’t reading, because they are, but this was an entirely different phenomenon.

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As we the early 2000s approached, YA titles were skyrocketing in numbers and public libraries were pushing hard to increase their services to teens in local communities. Many multi-branch systems began hiring YA librarians for each branch. The reasoning was that we were putting all of this effort into service children and develop both readers and library users, it seemed like we should do the same for teens so that we would maintain that initial push and retain library users and supporters. We argued that once you lost library users in the teen years, it would be hard to get them back into the library. It was a correct argument then and it’s the correct argument now.

Recent reports indicate that public library use was up – way up actually – by millennials.  Millennials are by definition people in their 20s and early 30s. These are the very teens that public libraries were pushing to retain and it looks like that push to retain teens worked because millennials are in fact big library users. We said we would help raise a generation of adult library users, and by all accounts it appears that we did.

In 2008, you may recall, the market crashed and it crashed hard. Although the economy has slowly been recovering from that plunge, public libraries are still trying to regain their financial footing in this new world where individualism and capitalism are considered the end all, be all and there is a hard push against taxes, social services and social welfare, and just the idea of working together towards a common goal. Education, a traditionally feminine and unionized profession, has been consistently and categorically challenged by conservative groups as they push for privatization and whatever it is they are pushing for. Libraries, I believe, in some ways fall into these same categories. We are a female dominated profession that is funded by tax payer monies and we rally around the idea of the collective social good. In other words, we have a huge target on our back in the current political climate and we are struggling.

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And when public libraries struggle, sacrifices must be made and teens are often an easy sacrifice to make: they are a smaller percent of the population, they are traditionally reviled by adults who don’t remember what it was like to be a teenager, and it can, quite frankly, be easier just not to have them around. Teenagers can be loud, challenging, smelly, and hard to please. But trust me when I say that they are worth it.

Since 2008, I have watched my fellow professionals advocate and fight hard for libraries. I have seen friends laid off. I have seen libraries shut their doors. I have seen budgets slashed low, staffing sizes reduced, and a fight to get the most basic of materials and updated technology into our public libraries. And I have watched teens become under-served once again in our public libraries.

I have also noticed a dramatic shift away from emphasis on YA/Teen services. I have been watching this trend for a while and keep looking for statistics, but they are hard to come by. One of the things I started doing quite a few years ago was paying attention to job postings. Anecdotally, the number of YA librarian positions that are posted are fewer and farther between. Part of this is, of course, due to retention. There is not a lot of turnover in librarianship. Part of the reason also appears to be just a decline in the number of dedicated YA librarians being hired across the board.

Actually, speaking of a decline in hiring, there does appear to be a decline in the number of professional, degreed librarians being hired by libraries across the board. When MLIS librarians are hired, they tend to be in management positions and there seem to be fewer degree holding librarians per library or library system. For example, you may have an MLIS librarian as the head of youth services and have a variety of paraprofessionals working in the youth services department to provide things like programming and day to day operations. One of the library systems I worked for went from having 7 MLIS librarians to 2. There are no longer any specialists, there is no more reference, and the overall staff numbers were cut in half. The statement that public libraries are dying is categorically false, but I think there is an argument to be made that it is harder to get a full-time job with adequate compensation in today’s public libraries, especially if you want to dedicate your career to teen/YA services.

Source: https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/changing-face-of-americas-adolescents/index.html

Source: https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/changing-face-of-americas-adolescents/index.html

At the same time, we see an overall decline in the teen population. In these times of economic hardship, people are having less or no children, and who can blame them. The U.S. birth rate has hit a historic low. Millenials may be using libraries more, but they are often choosing to have zero to two children and we will all be filling the effects of that soon, especially in our libraries. In 2014, teens made up 13.2% of the population and that number is expected to keep going down. Though the overall number of teens in the population is growing because the population itself is growing, the percentage of teens in terms of the rest of the population is declining. It is projected to be 11.2% by the year 2050. In an era of shrinking budgets, it’s hard to keep asking admin for more staff and money to serve a declining population, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep asking because we should. Whatever percentage of the population they may be, teens deserve dedicated services by passionate staff who want to serve the and understand how to do it well.

Millennials are killing list – Business Insider

There have been a lot of articles decrying the bloody trail of items killed by millennials, but this is not one of those articles. I see the fruits of my labor in the early 90s and 2000s in the fact that this demographic groups are in fact using public libraries in large numbers. Millennials aren’t just using public libraries more out of economic necessity, but they are using them more because when they found they had a need, they remembered that we told them to use the library and they are. We told the public that dedicated service to teens would result in retained library supporters and users and we were right. We shouldn’t stop that effort now in the midst of these challenging times, but I fear that many libraries are in fact doing exactly that. What will the long term harm to public libraries be if we lose a generation of teen readers and library supporters? I hope we don’t find out because we agree today to rededicate ourselves to providing amazing YA services to teens in our public libraries.

Public library use in U.S. highest among Millennials | Pew Research

Guess who uses public libraries the most? Millennials – CNN

Talking heads in the media continue to tell us that the economy is improving, but anyone who works with the public knows that this is not entirely true. Most of the reporting looks at unemployment figures, which have gone down. What these figures don’t take into account is lower wages, the high rate of underemployment, the number of unemployed who simply gave up and stopped looking for work, and the number of adults who can’t actually afford to live on their own in the current economy. These too are the millennials, and they are struggling to make ends meet.

I gave birth to my second and final child in 2008, the year that the bottom fell out of everything. I remember how terrifying it was to bringing this new delicate human being into this world that was entirely dependent on me as my library started laying off employees. I was very lucky to get to continue to work at that library for 3 more years as their dedicated YA librarian, a position that they no longer have. I am equally lucky to be working in my current position as a YA services coordinator with 2 remarkable assistants. I have many friends who have watched as their libraries were restructured in the past 5 years trying to find new YA services jobs that just aren’t there.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there are no more YA librarians or no more libraries hiring YA librarians, because that is not the truth. I am honored to consider several dedicated YA librarians among my personal friends and peers. But I am seeing that there are fewer and, as a passionate advocate for YA services, I get alternately angry and sad about what I perceive to be the decline in YA services in our nation’s public libraries. I feel like the public library use statistics regarding millennials proves that we were right about the power of dedicated YA services, so why are we moving in the opposite direction?

New Study: 55% of YA Books Bought by Adults – Publishers Weekly

But speaking of millennials and YA services, I think we must also consider the impact that this generation is having on YA literature. When I observe patrons perusing the YA collection at my library, they are just as likely to be adults as they are teens, a statistic which appears to hold true when you consider what publishing research tells us about who exactly is buying YA fiction. The answer is: adults. Now there are a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that a lot of these adults are buying YA fiction for teen readers. I am adult who buys YA fiction for teen readers and quite regularly. But this is also another way that we are seeing the fruits of our labor, we have raised a generation to be readers and the market didn’t keep up with their needs so they continue to read YA because those are the stories that most closely resonate with them, they are the authors that they grew up loving, and, although the YA market has really grown, it is easier to find a title in the YA section in comparison to the adult section which covers a much wider age range and number of titles. The YA section is, in a word, familiar, easier to browse, and like a warm, comfortable blank to millennials. We built it, they came, and now they’re staying.

But what impact has this had on YA literature itself? When we used to talk about YA literature, we were talking about books for ages 12-18. If you look at most YA being published today, it says 14+. Middle school aged teens in particular are being pushed out of the YA market which is aging up in terms of voice and content in part because the research has shown that this is where the money is. If you spend any time on book twitter or in the company of YA librarians, you are likely to hear them asking just who, exactly, is YA being written for these days. It’s a legitimate question with a complex answer.

Authors and publishers want to make a profit, this is capitalism after all. So if adults are buying YA, from a production point of view it makes sense to age YA up to meet the demands of those readers. Publishing tried out the idea of new adult fiction for a while, but it never seemed to take hold in the market. But those readers are still there and you can feel the impact on YA in terms of voice and content. Many authors will state that they don’t write for teens, they just write for whoever, and that’s a valid point of view. However, there are still those authors dedicated to writing primarily for the teen audience, and teens need these authors. Teens need books written for them that speaks to their real life experiences and that unique developmental challenges that they are facing.

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The other part of this discussion is that teens are changing. They are more aware, more engaged, and more open about talking about their lives and the worlds around them. It’s not that teens have grown more sophisticated, it’s that teens now have different tools to speak and demand to be heard. So this too changes the way we write the books we want them to read. Authors have to be more honest and relevant because teen readers demand it, even though it makes a lot of adults uncomfortable. Teen literature changes because teens themselves change just as the world in which they live does as well.

So here is some real talk about what I think is happening in YA services in our public libraries:

1. YA fiction is being ages up as a generation of YA readers has matured and continued to read the category as adults.

2. YA collections are just as likely to be read by adults as they are YA readers, and there are pros and cons to this. From an administrative point of view, a circulation statistic is a circulation statistic. As a YA librarian, I would like to see the emphasis on teens be at the heart of YA collections, but that is entirely dependent on what authors write and what publishers publish.

3. Young teens are being aged out of the YA market almost completely.

4. Some authors are trying to compensate for number 3 by increasing the breadth and scope of middle grade publishing, though many young teens appear reluctant to read middle grade because teen readers tend to want to read up in age. Some libraries are helping with this issue by building bridge collection of MG near their teen collections.

5. As demographics change and budgets get tighter, we are seeing a decrease in the number of dedicated YA librarians in our public libraries. Many youth services department continue to put an emphasis on teen services, but fewer libraries seem to have a dedicated YA specialist or a YA team or department.

So what does it all mean?

As someone who has been in this field for two and a half decades, I remember very well the glory of YA services in the 90s and early 2000s. And as I have mentioned, I work in a public library that is doing everything right and am proud to know fellow colleagues who are as well. But I can’t deny the subtle shifts I am seeing in these times and worry about the future of YA literature and YA librarianship. And I don’t just worry about these issues because I care about teens, which I do, but because I also understand that when we said we needed to retain teens in order to retain adults, it was true. The current status of YA librarianship effects the future of all librarianship, the future of public libraries.

Hey! The Library Is Kind of Awesome! Current Trends in US Public Library Services for Teens

This isn’t meant to be a the sky is falling type of post. Nor is it meant to be an old bitter get off my lawn or in my day kids used to whatever it is they used to do type of post. What this is meant to be is a reminder to us all: teens deserve dedicated YA books and services that meets their developmental needs. Public libraries need to be providing this if we want to continue to raise generations of library supporters and users. That call to action we put out in the early 90s wasn’t wrong, I feel that the recent statistics about millennial using the library prove it. The question is, what are we going to do with this information moving forward?

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It’s time for another renaissance in YA services in our public libraries.

Google is Changing Libraries, But Not in the Ways You Think

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I’ve never identified as a tried and true Reference Librarian, but I have worked Reference for years. When you are a Teen/YA Librarian, every system seems to put you some place different. Sometimes it is in Youth Services. Sometimes it is in Adult Services. And sometimes, if a library is doing it correctly in my opinion, Teen/YA Services is it’s own department, even if it’s a department of one. But, and this is a big but, even if you are your own department, a lot of libraries don’t have a public service desk in their teen areas and it is good practice to have someone available to talk with teens even when you’re not having a program, which is how I end up spending a lot of time working at the Reference Desk.

Even though I don’t identify as a Reference Librarian, I love working the Reference Desk. I love the challenge of answering a question. I love the joy of helping someone find a book. I do some days grow weary of giving directions to the bathroom and answering the phone only to say yes we’re open, but there is a lot of joyful and intellectual curiosity to be had at the Reference Desk.

Sadly, two of the four libraries that I previously worked in have totally gotten rid of their reference desks, their reference staff, and their reference services. People stopped using those services, or so administration believed. But what if we killed Reference ourselves?

I’m old enough to remember libraries before access to public computers was a big part of our service model. Yes, I’m the crypt keeper, carry on. I worked in public libraries as public libraries were tasked with trying to figure out how to incorporate the Internet and how to provide public access computers. These were challenging times because we were suddenly tasked with devoting huge chunks of floor space that we did not have to a new and high demand service. And then we had to figure out how to staff them.

In the beginning, as libraries began having public access computers, new often part-time and minimum wage staff were hired to keep paper logs and sign patrons in and out of the computers. Then time management software was developed and it was believed that those staff were no longer needed and computers were moved and they often became a part of reference services, simply by defacto because the computers were always near reference and it turns out that time management software and printing kiosks don’t completely eliminate the need for human regulation. In fact, in these scenarios, reference became much more about helping patrons sign on to computers and print then it did about helping patrons navigate the library collection or find specific answers to specific questions. We know this because many of our regular patrons told us that as they had to wait in longer lines to ask reference questions that they simply stopped coming as they found that climate and goals of the library changing.

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This next part may be kind of controversial to say, but the idea of the climate of the library is important. You see, a lot of people who come into the library to use computers do so for one of two main reasons. One, they have a computer at home but don’t have a printer or their printer just ran out of ink. These patrons usually come in quickly, print, and leave. But the second main reason a person goes to the library to use public access computers is because they don’t have access at home and, often, this is because they are economically challenged, homeless, or a restless teen who travels in a pack and wants to sit at a computer with a couple of loud friends as they discuss whatever game it is they happen to be playing that day. Now suddenly, patrons have to wade through a sea of waiting patrons, some of whom smell, some of whom are engaged in questionable online viewing habits, and some of whom are loud or boisterous. Then there is the patron who is trying to pay a bill and they are talking loudly on their cell phone while the person on the other end is trying to walk them through their website.  There’s the parent with two kids and a stroller that doesn’t fit next to the computer who is ignoring the crying baby while they try to do whatever it is they are trying to do. In each and every one of these cases there is nothing wrong with the individual or their computer use, they are all there using a service we gladly provide, but taken together all at once it can be a lot. That’s a lot of people in one small space trying to use a service and trying to walk through or around them can be daunting and whether it is safe to say so or not, it does change the overall climate of the library. You know the expression location matters, and this is very true when it comes to where libraries put their public access computers.

So now we have large banks of computers with a lot of users that are located near the reference desk and increasing the patron load of reference staff and the wait time of patrons wanting to ask for help at reference.

Then comes Google. Google, it has been said and quite often really, will eliminate the need for librarians because everyone can just get it online. Anyone who really understands the Internet knows this isn’t true. For one, not everything is online. It just isn’t. Two, when you use Google it gives you thousands of responses and asks you to wade through a bunch of possible hits to determine what the correct answer might be. It uses a variety of algorithms to do this, some of which is influenced by number of hits and, yes, money. So if you ask Google a question, it searches and returns thousands of hits and says okay you, here are a ton of websites for you to peruse and find the answer.

Now, step up to the Reference Desk and ask the same question. A good reference librarian will ask you a variety of questions to help return a precise answer to you. In asking those questions, we are trying to filter out all the possible answers that Google is going to return and get you the correct answer or resource. In reference, we do the filtering for you.

It’s not just a failure to properly understand Google versus the reference interview, however, that has changed reference services. It is that Google has changed patron expectations, and in unrealistic ways. Google can return a list to you in mere seconds and it is immensely gratifying. It feels powerful. It feels immediate. You forget about the fact that you now how to wade through that list of replies, in part because more often than not the correct answer is in fact on the first page of links. But now reference users want reference librarians to respond as quickly as Google. It’s the ultimate man vs. machine conflict. I can get you a more correct answer than Google, but not in mere seconds. I like to call this the McDonald’s effect: Your way, right away. But the patron isn’t always correct and sometimes we can’t deliver right away.

I experienced this several times last week while sitting at the Reference Desk. A patron came up and asked a question, stating up front that they didn’t have any time, and then became frustrated when I asked some very necessary follow up questions to make sure I understood their request and got them a good answer. They were impatient and dissatisfied because I could not meet their unrealistic customer service expectations that have been formed by years of using Google. Librarian are often better than Google, but because we’re human, we’ll never be faster than Google. And that expectation is one of the main ways that I think Google and the Internet are changing libraries. It’s not that we are or will become obsolete, it’s that we must constantly manage patron expectations in a world where the myth of machine has a better PR spokesperson than libraries do.

The #Resistance and Social Justice for Teens (#SJYALit: The Social Justic and YA Lit Project)

Today’s teens are very politically active, from the March for Our Lives to Pride and everything in between, teens are finding ways to be active, be engaged and be heard, even before they can vote. The Teen has participated in 3 political marches in the last two years, making her own signs for each. I had a group of teens visit the Teen MakerSpace in June who made a variety of flags, signs and buttons that they wanted to take to Pride. I am constantly hearing teenagers talk about the same issues that adults are talking about; they are informed, engaged and just as passionate as the adults around them.

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We made buttons to hand out at the march

We made buttons to hand out at the march

Knowing that today’s teens are engaged, a lot of authors are working to put social justice themed books into the hands of teens. They’re sharing their personal stories or writing manuals that help highlight just what teens can do to help change the world. The books are out there, and they should be in our libraries.

Teaching Tolerance | Diversity, Equity And Justice

Many teens today are also choosing to join what is being referred to as “the resistance” or adopting the theme of resist. Teens may be choosing to join for their own personal reasons, but the theme is often the same: they want to resist fascism, racism, sexism, homophobia, or the growing rise in white nationalism that they see in the news. It would be too easy to express the resistance as being anti-Trump or anti-GOP, because for many teens, is framed more as being pro: Pro Equal Rights, Pro Gay Rights, Pro Democracy. It’s just as much that they are fighting for something as they are fighting against something.

I have taught The Teen and some friends how to use Canva to make postcards to send to representatives

I have taught The Teen and some friends how to use Canva to make postcards to send to representatives

Using Canva to Make Postcards

The Teen, for example, has grown up in a home where we talk openly and frequently about feminism and sexual violence. We talk about consent. We talk about healthy relationships. We talk about equality. So we choose to march in the Women’s March because we were personally appalled at the lack of concern that Donald Trump’s statements regarding his own admitted sexism and sexually predatory behavior garnered in the media. And on the one year anniversary of that march, we marched again. And having grown up in a system where she was taught armed intruder drills before she was taught her ABCs, The Teen also choose to march in the March for Our Lives march for more reasonable gun laws.

Teens resist. – Home

Teens Resist (@teensresist) • Instagram photos and videos

Teens started March for Our Lives, but all ages participated – Vox

In the same vein, many of my LGBTQAI+ teens and their ally friends marched in Pride to not only celebrate themselves, but to keep fighting for LGBTQAI+ rights and equality. They came into the Teen MakerSpace and found creative ways to use the supplies provided to share their message of love and equality. We didn’t host or advertise a program, they just knew we were there and used the resources provided in their own creative ways. That’s exactly what we like to see happen in a Teen MakerSpace, spontaneous creativity and self expression that is teen inspired and teen led.

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Today, I am sharing with you a Take 5 list of books for teens like these who desire to be active in social justice. Although fiction books like The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely take a realistic look at social justice in action via the narrative, this list looks specifically at nonfiction titles with inspiring true stories, real life tips, and everything a teen might need to be inspired and engaged in social justice.

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From Amy Reed, Ellen Hopkins, Amber Smith, Sandhya Menon, and more of your favorite YA authors comes an anthology of essays that explore the diverse experiences of injustice, empowerment, and growing up female in America.

This collection of twenty-one essays from major YA authors—including award-winning and bestselling writers—touches on a powerful range of topics related to growing up female in today’s America, and the intersection with race, religion, and ethnicity. Sure to inspire hope and solidarity to anyone who reads it, Our Stories, Our Voices belongs on every young woman’s shelf.

This anthology features essays from Martha Brockenbrough, Jaye Robin Brown, Sona Charaipotra, Brandy Colbert, Somaiya Daud, Christine Day, Alexandra Duncan, Ilene Wong (I.W.) Gregorio, Maurene Goo. Ellen Hopkins, Stephanie Kuehnert, Nina LaCour, Anna-Marie McLemore, Sandhya Menon, Hannah Moskowitz, Julie Murphy, Aisha Saeed, Jenny Torres Sanchez, Amber Smith, and Tracy Walker.

This title releases on August 14th 2018 by Simon Pulse.

Other titles on this list include:

resistbook1 resistance3 resistance2 resist5 resist4 resist3 resist2resistance6resist10ihavetherightto

There are a lot of things libraries can do to promote teens and civic engagement. Hold mock elections. Have a button maker? Allow teens to make buttons that express themselves. Have a postcard or sign making party, or just make supplies available. Put up displays that feature both fiction and nonfiction titles about teens and civic engagement. If your library is worried about being seen as taking a side on a controversial issue like gun control, remember you can encourage teen engagement as a concept without taking a position one way or another on an issue. Empowering teens is about teaching them how to use their voice for the issues that they care about. Democracy survives only if citizens are engaged, and that engagement begins long before you can press a button in a voting booth.

Sunday Reflections: Wrestling with Local History

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This weekend, the city of Mount Vernon, Ohio is awash in the arts as we celebrate the annual Dan Emmett festival.

2018 Ohio Festival Schedule | OhioFestivals.net

If you’ve never visited the Midwest, the local small town festival is a glorious affair that celebrates, well, anything. In Fredericktown the celebrate the tomato, in Marion it’s popcorn, and in Circleville it’s pumpkin. But throughout the summer and fall, you can finally find a small town festival somewhere to celebrate something and it’s really quite charming. You wander from booth to booth, there are a few rides here and there, local talent shows, and my personal favorite, fried fair food.

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In Mount Vernon, we celebrate the arts and our local artistic claim to fame, Dixie song writer Dan Emmett. Dan Emmet is said to have written the popular anthem Dixie, though there are also claims that he stole the song from a local black family, the Snowdens. He also was a regular participant in minstrel shows, which were popular during the time but now (most of us) recognize that black face is unacceptable and that a lot of the popular art that we celebrate when we celebrate Dan Emmett is, in fact, really quite racist.

The first day of the Dan Emmett festival this year, a man came in asking for a print out of lyrics to the song Dixie because he wanted to prove to his wife that the song was racist.

Civil War songs: Dan Emmett’s legacy in Knox County

At the library, we have a display case up with a variety of items celebrating the life of Dan Emmett and the Dan Emmett festival. One of the items in that display is the very old sheet music to the song Dixie, which has a picture of four men wearing black face on its front cover.

Earlier this year, a local group exploring the issue of racism in our community met to discuss whether or not having a Dan Emmett festival is racist in and of itself.

Mount Vernon’s Blackface Minstrel – The Collegian Magazine

I currently work in a community which is 97% white. I previously worked in a community that was much more diverse, but was also at one time considered the headquarters of the KKK. That’s a lot of local history to wrestle with.

This weekend, White Nationalists met to reconvene one year after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlotesville. Although they may not recognize it yet, this community too will have a lot of complicated local history to wrestle with.

The truth is, most towns in this country have a lot of local history that they have to wrestle with, and in the year 2018, we see this happening on a national level. I never imagined that I would actually live in a time where we discussed race riots as something other than in the past, but these past couple of years we have seen the resurgence of white nationalism, neo-nazis, racism, hate crimes and more. Make no mistake, these things have always been present, they have just been more well hidden in my lifetime to white people like me than they are now. Today, these issues are once again front and center, making it harder for comfortable white people like myself to pretend that we live in a just world or that racism is anything other than it is: real, hateful, and deadly.

Public libraries serve their local communities. We are steeped in local culture and history, we preserve, protect and celebrate it. But what happens when that history is full of racism?

In Mount Vernon, there are people who want to rename the Dan Emmett festival. Some people want to adopt a new name that incorporates the history of the Snowdens into the festival as well. Some people just want to drop any human from the name of the festival at all. I’m not going to lie, as we reflect on our country’s history and discuss things like statues named after Confederate soldiers, I see the wisdom in celebrating tomatoes and popcorn as opposed to people. People are complicated and even the best of us are not perfect.

I have walked the streets of the Dan Emmett festival. I have watched friends sing. I have eaten funnel cake and buckets of fries. I have felt that sense of community as I nodded hi to people that I recognized from the library or stopped to pet that cute dog on the leash. There are lots of charms to living and working in a small, rural Midwest community. In fact, Mount Vernon, Ohio has a rich and thriving arts community and it is definitely something to be proud of.

There’s also a lot of ugly history to wrestle with, as there is everywhere. And you would be surprised how often librarians are asked to do this. How do we preserve that local history? How do we talk about it? How do we present it or display it? Should we include Confederate flags or figures in our local history displays? Should we put up sheet music with black face characters on the cover? Should we ignore it? Pretend it didn’t happen? Put it on display without comment?

Working with local history can be a complex challenge because people are invested in their local communities. On a global scale, we have never figured out how to talk about the violent and racist past of United States history. We can’t do it on the macro level, and we certainly haven’t figured out how to do it on the micro level. This falls under the umbrella of things I never learned in library school. Where are those conversations about how to deal with local history in local public libraries?

Four years ago, on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson. Protests broke out in the surrounding community. The Ferguson library became a haven for the local community, staying open. They are now tasked with preserving the history of that time in the local community. What they do in this project of preservation matters.

‘In This Together': Ferguson Library Stays Open Amid Violence

When we talk about the Nazis and World War II, we often reflect on how we personally might have responded. Racism today is no less urgent, those conversations are happening. I think often about what I want the history books to say about me, about who I am right now and the choices I am making. I want to be on the right side of history.

History, it turns out, doesn’t stay in the past. It’s time once again for public libraries to think about what it means to be neutral or not and how we engage in current events by how we talk about and present history in our libraries.

We have to wrestle with our local history because our local futures depend on it.

Listening to Old Ghosts : The Haunting Influence of Our Town and Spoon River Anthology, a guest post by author Mary Amato

I have had the pleasure of working with author Mary Amato in the past, as we worked together to discuss ways in which librarians could provide more music based programming in libraries. GUITAR NOTES by Mary Amato is a moving story of grief, music and friendship that I will never stop recommending. Today, I am honored to have her join us here at TLT to discuss her newest release, OPEN MIC NIGHT AT WESTMINSTER CEMETERY.

My high school produced Thornton Wilder’s Our Town and I was in the “chorus”—one of the unimportant dead sitting quietly in the town cemetery. Although I was devastated that I did not get the part of Emily, the main female lead, the play had a lasting impact on me. I still remember the chill I felt at each performance, when the character of the stage manager simply walked out and said: “This play is called ‘Our Town.’ It was written by Thornton Wilder. . .”

The other plays I had seen tried to trick the audience into believing they were watching something real by having a scene pop to life. This was something different. This was a character telling us that what we were about to witness was a work of fiction—and yet that character was a part of the fiction. I was hooked.

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During my high school years, I was introduced to Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters as well. Reading this 1916 work was like strolling through a cemetery and meeting the ghosts of the buried souls. The book is a collection of short poems each from the point of view of a person buried in a fictional small town in Illinois. I was an Illinois kid, and my favorite poem in the collection was The Fiddler: “The earth keeps some vibration going/There in your heart, and that is you/And if the people find you can fiddle/Why, fiddle you must, for all your life.”

Librarians and English/drama teachers have no idea what material they introduce will resonate with students. Those two works have been partners in my literary life and you can see their influence in my latest YA, Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery (Carolrhoda Lab™, 2018), a script-novel hybrid about a 16-year-old girl named Lacy who wakes up dead in an old cemetery.

I use the conceit of a narrator, a stage manager, who breaks the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience to kick off the novel. “Dear Reader: This play, based on a true story, was originally written for the Deceased and was first performed in Westminster Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland. All the characters you will meet, unless explicitly identified as Living, are Dead.” Like the stage manager in Our Town, my narrator seems to be in two worlds at once.

You can see Spoon River Anthology in the novel—especially in the book’s second act— as the various inhabitants of this cemetery rise and tell their stories.

The idea that every person has a story, no matter how ordinary, and that every story is worth hearing is a theme in Wilder and Masters that speaks to teens. During those turbulent years, teens want to know that their own stories matter. There is also comfort in realizing that a story can endure even after someone much loved has died.

As a teen, I loved walking through cemeteries and reading inscriptions on gravestones, imagining each person’s story. I still do. That exercise is what led me to set my latest novel in a cemetery and watch the characters emerge.

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Now, one of my favorite creative-writing exercises is to provide students with photos of old gravestones and ask them to use their imaginations to write a monologue from the point of view of the name engraved on the stone, a mission that would surely resonate with Wilder and Masters, wherever they now reside.

 Meet Author Mary Amato

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Mary Amato is the author of many books for children and teens. Her latest novel, Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery, is available from Carolrhoda Lab™. Visit Mary online at www.maryamato.com.

Mary and I previously worked together to discuss ways to involve more music in public and school libraries and getting teens journalling. Please check out those posts:

Bring the Power of Music Into Your Library

YA A to Z: Being Heard – Anne Frank, Diaries and Teens

Rethinking Book Displays – Again

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I am very lucky in that I have two very artistic assistants who do displays for our teens. After 20some years doing displays, I was getting kind of burned out and to be honest, I wasn’t awesome at it. But my assistants are, so it was a task I was happy to delegate. We would work together to come up with themes and I would put together book lists, but my assistants did all the artwork. It was win-win and a great team effort. We were all proud of the displays we were doing. I mean, look at these awesome displays . . .

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My assistants put together elaborate and artistic displays that often involved custom made letters, artwork and a lot of bling. They were amazing to look at. The only problem is, they weren’t doing what we needed them to do: nobody was checking the books off of the displays. We were doing displays to help get teens reading and books circulating, but the books were sitting there on the displays without being checked out. This became a concern. So we put our heads together and started asking what we could or needed to do differently.

After a lot of discussion, we decided that maybe it was because our displays were too good. That sounds like a weird thing to say, but think of what happens when you visit an art museum. You are taught to stand back and look at the artwork from a distance with admiration and respect. Look, but don’t touch. So we wondered if maybe patrons weren’t viewing our book displays in the same way that you might view art at an art museum: look, but don’t touch.

So we began a series of experiments. First, we pared down the amount of bling we had on our display, but still had a colorful background. We wanted to still have colorful, eye catching displays but didn’t want to intimidate our patrons and make them think that they couldn’t walk up to the display and check out a book. And thus our experiment began . . .

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This still didn’t create the result we wanted. One or two books would circulate, but on the whole our displays still weren’t moving books the way we wanted them to.

So then we decided to pare down our display to the very basics and put the emphasis on the books. We went with bare walls, a simple sign and books galore. When possible, we would include interactive elements, such as this what YA would you like to see on Netflix display where we invited teens to participate and share their thoughts with us. Or we are including buttons like the display below that has an “I Read Past My Bedtime” button to take when checking out a book from our Read Past Your Bedtime display. We even include signage that says things like, yes please check these books out and read them.

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At this bare minimum, we discovered that yes, the books were being circulated off of the displays more. In fact, in the Netflix themed display you see above, we filled more holes than we ever have on one of our YA displays. This made us very happy; our goal is, after all, to get books into the hands of readers.

We are going to be continuing this experiment for a while as we try to determine how best to utilize our display space to increase circulation and get YA books into the hands of teen readers. Let us know below by leaving a comment what you’re doing with your display spaces and what you have found to be the most effective ways to get books circulating off of a display.

YA A to Z: Peace and Quiet – Recharging Your Battery After Summer Reading, a guest post by librarian Lisa Krok

 It’s almost here, the end of summer. Which means for a lot of us, summer reading is wrapping up. Today librarian Lisa Krok is joining us to talk about recharging your batteries.

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We all know that summer reading brings with it a flurry of activity, endless prep and cleanup, and most importantly, happy kids who are keeping their minds engaged and avoiding the summer slide. Now that your maker projects, crafts, concerts, slams, book clubs, cup stacking, video games, and cupcake wars are done, catch your breath. Literally…stop right now and take in a few deep inhales and exhales and be mindful of feeling yourself decompress. I think we get caught up in go-go-go-go for so long that we forget how to unwind and relax. We have served our patrons well, and now we need to recharge in that blissful month between summer reading ending and school starting, August.

Think of the speech they give every time you board an airplane: put the mask on yourself first before assisting others. Our nature as librarians is to be helpful, but we must take care of ourselves first to be of any good to anyone else. If you’re feeling burned out and exhausted, it is time to recharge. Ironically, one of the things that will help you recharge is to unplug. Yes, I said it. If you can’t do it for a week, do it for a day. If not a day, do it for an hour. No phones, no emails, no social media, no screens of any kind, just BE.

Stop and breathe some more; enjoy your surroundings. There are many things to appreciate that cost little to no money at all. Go for a walk in the park or visit your local botanical gardens for some beautiful sights and intoxicating scents. Many towns have free music in the park or at local colleges on the green. Bring a blanket along and enjoy a picnic. If you enjoy cooking, make your favorite meal; if not, treat yourself to a cherished restaurant. Have a soak in the tub for as long as you want (bring a book, of course).

Spend some time on your own or as a family at a local lake, beach, or pool. Sunshine and good books have tremendous healing powers! So do furry friends that may live in your home and relish extra cuddle time. Catch up with friends and family you haven’t seen because you have been too busy. Enjoy simple pleasures like lemonade or iced tea on the porch, smiling as your kids create with chalk on the driveway, or just watch the world for a while: wind blowing in the trees, squirrels running, birds chirping. Bring out some bright pencils and color in those Harry Potter and curse word coloring books (my two personal favorites) you bought but rarely use. Have a nap. Paint your nails. Practice some yoga poses. Light those scented candles you have been saving for something special. YOU are special, and you deserve them.

Lisa Krok

 Meet Our Guest Blogger

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Lisa is a branch manager and teen librarian in the Akron-Summit County Public Libraries in Akron, Ohio, a member of the 2019 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers team, and a Ravenclaw. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach. A to Z

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes, If You’re Lucky, You Find More Than Books at the Library

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It is Friday night and I have just packed up all my stuff after sitting outside in the baking sun for a public library outreach event. I am pulling a wagon up a hill to load up my car and go home to binge watch some TV when I see them walking around town, a group of my library teens. I look over and say hi and they say hi back from across the street. As I see them there, this tight nit group of friends, my heart swells with pride.

Let me go back and explain.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

A little over 3 years ago, I first met a teen who would soon become one of my library regulars. At this point and time, there was no Teen MakerSpace, but proposals were being written and plans were being discussed. I didn’t realize at the time, but the TMS would change everything.

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That's TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That’s TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

In January of 2016, the Teen MakerSpace opened. This one teen soon began coming quite regularly. Another teen started coming, he liked making stop motion movies and would frequent the stop motion animation station. And soon after, a teen here and a teen there started coming. Many teens have come and gone, but this small group of teens started coming quite regularly. And sitting in this space, conversations began.

Over time, this regular group of teens began forming close friendships, the kind of friendships you read about in YA books. They started coming basically daily to the library and hanging out in the Teen MakerSpace. A few of them create art quite regularly. Some of them come in and read while waiting for the others to show up. Then they gather around a table, some creating art and some not, and they talk. They talk, they laugh. On occasion, they have fought. But what friendship has ever existed without the occasional fight? They have loved, laughed, cried and raged together. They are a bright light in a darkness that has existed in a world being torn apart by hatred and political discord.

I watched this summer as they came to the library every day and made stuff or read or just hung out. At some point each day they would get up, walk downtown together and share a $5.00 pizza. Then they would come back and hang out some more. Their friendship is the stuff of YA novels and John Hughes movies.

One day I sat with them as they planned meeting up the next day at the river to go swimming and tubing. One of the teens wasn’t permitted to go, but she brought sunscreen and made sure they all put it on before leaving for the river. She also packed them each a snack bag, making sandwiches cut out to look like butterflies. A couple of days later I got to hear them all talk about their glorious summer day at the river. It was, in a word, epic, the type of summer memory that many kids only dream of.

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Several of these teens have had a really rough summer. I can’t tell you what those challenges have been, because patron privacy is a real thing. But in the midst of this epic friendship, there has been a lot of heartache and very real life challenges. They have been there supporting each other through them all.

To be quite honest, they haven’t always liked me. One summer push came to shove and I had to kick one of the teens out of the library for a couple of weeks because they were being hostile to my staff and creating an unwelcoming library environment for all. I have had to enforce library policies and ask for changes in behavior that haven’t always been appreciated. But I always made sure to let them know that it wasn’t them I had an issue with, but specific behaviors. They kept coming back and I kept welcoming them back, because the truth is, I like my teens.

The truth about working in a public library is that it can be mundane. You know the work you do is important, that public libraries are important, but the day to day tasks of working in a library are, well, work. You put together collections of books to buy, you straighten shelves, you do research behind the scenes to plan programs, you buy the daily supplies you need. There is not a lot of glitz and glamour. There is politics and budgeting and helping the 100th person print off a paper or make a photocopy. There are opening and closing procedures. There are meetings and discussions and the gathering of statistics to discuss in these meetings and discussions.

But then there are the moments . . .

The moment where someone tells you that a book they read because you bought that book and put it in your collection changed their life in some way.

The moment where someone comes to a program and tells you that they had a good time or learned something new.

The moment where you see a group of friends walking around downtown and you realize that that group of friends exists because you created the exact right environment at the exact right time for them to come together and get to know one another.

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For three glorious years I have watched this group of teens grow close, support one another, and help each other find their voice in a world that often doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. I am proud of who they are, who they are becoming, and the very small part that I was honored to be able to have in all of that.

No matter what else has happened or will happen in my career, I will never forget the moment when I watched this group of teens walk down the street and I realized that in whatever small way, I helped them find what they needed at the library – It wasn’t a book or a movie or a computer, it was each other. And it happened at the library.

I am thankful that I got to be a part of this and so very proud of these kids, their friendship, and the small part my library played in bringing good into this world.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Public Libraries, 3D Printers, and Guns – oh my

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolWe considered a lot of things when we were discussing adding a 3D printer to our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. These things included space, time, money and staff education. At the end of the day and after a lot of research, we decided that a 3D printer wasn’t right for our library for a variety of reasons, but none of those reasons included guns. It turns out, we should have considered guns as well. We were very naive about 3D printers many moons ago.

Like most librarians, I have been through active shooter training at my library multiple times. I’ve been taught where to go, what to do, and how to keep myself and my patrons safe should an active shooter come into the library. I was actually already working as a teen librarian when Columbine happened, and the landscape of what it means to work with teens has changed significantly since that day. Just this past year we saw teen led protests asking us to think about school safety and gun violence. Now, more than ever, working with teens means you have to think about gun violence, gun safety, and the second amendment.

Last week, the news began reporting that there was a possibility and a fight over whether or not plans for printing unlicensed, unregistered guns on a 3D printer could and should be released to the public via the Internet. Until I heard it on the news, I didn’t know this was something that I should be worried about, though of course it is. The distribution of these plans so freely on the Internet would change everything we know and talk about when we discuss the second amendment and a “well-regulated militia.” And as these guns are printed via plastic filament, they would be unrecognizable by standard safety equipment. This would literally change the entire discussion we are currently having regarding gun safety.

If you have watched the rebooted version of Lost in Space on Netflix, there is actually a character who prints a gun using a 3D printer, which becomes a significant plot point later in the episode. This gun is, of course, used by a bad guy to hold characters hostage and get them to do their will. As guns always do, this 3D printed gun changes the arc of the story and creates a new power balance.

So what’s happening in the public debate? The Trump Administration recently settled a lawsuit which opened the door that would allow for the CAD plans on how to print 3D printed gun to be released via the Internet. This means that anyone with access to a 3D printer could print for themselves a gun and that this gun would be unlicensed and unregistered. It would allow any and all people with access to a 3D printer to bypass current laws and regulations. This would create a large number 0f guns in existence that could not be traced to any specific time, place or person. A legislator introduced legislation to stop the release of these plans, which had not passed as of last night. At the last minute, a judge moved to bar the release of these plans until more is known.

The battle to stop 3D-printed guns, explained – Vox

Here’s the things: some plans for printing a 3D gun are already available on the Internet, though they were reportedly taken down. But if you understand anything about the Internet, you know that things uploaded don’t really ever go away. In the discussion about this issue on NPR this morning they emphasized that if you wanted to, you could in fact still find the first initial plans for printing a basic 3D printed gun.

3D Printed Guns and the Library: A Reminder That Policy is Important

What does this have to do with libraries? Many libraries provide access to 3D printers and if you haven’t already, you need to be thinking about what your policies are and how you will respond to this issue. Because many libraries have active policies in place barring bringing weapons into the library, they also have policies in place about creating weapons in the library. I did an informal poll on Twitter and many respondents indicated that they did, in fact, have a no weapons policies in place. A few respondents indicated that they will need to bring this issue up with their administration. One respondent stated that in their state, Kentucky, it was against the law to prohibit a patron from making a 3D printed gun if you provide access to a 3D printer.

Library prepared for 3D printed gun technology | KATV

As a side note, it’s relevant, I think, to point out that even most cons which actively encourage cosplay have policies against bringing realistic looking weapons to the con. This is a matter of public safety and is, I think, good policy. It is public safety that we must consider as well as the law.

If your library provides access to a 3D printer, now is a good time to look at your policies and make sure they are current, relevant and accurate. Hopefully you have done the work beforehand and your policy does address things like making weapons. If not, now is a really good time to reconsider your policies.

Policies should be well thought out and articulated to the public and staff and consistent with public library standards. If you don’t allow weapons in the library, you can’t allow the creation of weapons in the library. And all staff should be trained on how to enforce the policy and how to handle any potential patron complaints. Remember, the discussion of gun safety is a very volatile discussion at times in our cultural discourse, it is entirely possible that staff will encounter some extreme emotions on both sides of this debate and they need administration help in knowing what to say and who to kick those complaints up to.

Library administration will want to continue to pay attention to this issue and keep their policies current. The issue of gun safety and rights isn’t going away and this just complicates that discussion. It’s the job of administration to be aware and pro-active. Public libraries fail staff and patrons when they are reactive as opposed to pro-active. We need to do our due diligence.

And in case you’re wondering, no I don’t think that patrons should be able to use 3d printers in the library to create weapons of any sort. It’s a matter of patron and staff safety.

YA A to Z: P is for Penultimate, how a competitive writing competition inspired a YA novel

Today for the letter P, guest blogger Cecily Wolfe is joining us to discuss her YA book

The Competition.

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In the spring of 2017, I was asked to chaperone the members of my middle school age daughter’s competitive writing team at the state championship event. The two-hour drive with these young writers, some I had never conversed with before, got me thinking. As a writer myself, most things do, but this was an extraordinary circumstance. I wondered if anyone had written about teens participating in a writing competition, and after a brief search on my phone after arriving and managing to snag a donut and coffee somewhere amidst the controlled chaos (very controlled – after three decades, those running the event know what they are doing), I discovered that none, if they existed, were easily found.

The Competition was born that day, or at least the start of many notes that evolved into the story. Some of my daughter’s teammates were happy to be there, and others weren’t. Both sides told their stories, from their love of writing and storytelling, to the pressure from parents to win, both for the prestige and for the money. The scholarships involved were specific to the host college (it is the same every year) but not enough to cover the tuition, and certainly nowhere near the full, four-year scholarship the characters in the novel aim towards.  What spoke to me most was the emotional aspect of the experience, and my notes, written on the back of handouts left on tables as I waited in the café area of the school building that held the initial assembly that morning, included facts as well as those emotions.

Less than a week later, I accompanied a friend who was visiting a family member in state prison.  Her family’s struggles were the inspiration behind my 2017 YA novel, That Night, and as we talked on the drive down to Richland Correctional, a young girl with an incarcerated brother she adored crept into my thoughts. What if this girl, who was too young to visit her brother without her parents’ permission, was a writer in this competition story that was building in my head? Mary Sofia, determined to rise above her violent family history and be a role model to her younger brothers and sisters, was born that day, and Raiden, Camara, Michael, and Jada not long after.  A longtime friend of one of my daughters who is on the autism spectrum was the inspiration for Julia, with whom I took great care while writing. Julia never says she is autistic, but her behaviors lead her classmates to suspect she is. I also took a chance writing a biracial and a Chinese character, knowing that as a white woman, I am putting myself out there for some criticism. I was wary of stereotypes and asked my daughters’ friends who are from these backgrounds to read what I had written and share their insights, which were invaluable, with me.

What does all this have to do with the letter P?

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The Competition is the name of the book, but the actual competition is called The Penultimate. While the influence of the real event held in Ohio every year, called the Power of the Pen, is what started the story growing in my thoughts, the details of the fictional event are different. In The Competition, 100 high school juniors compete for a full scholarship to a prestigious private college worth $200,000. The four main characters as well as the secondary characters have different motivations for participating, but all have made the cuts from district and regional events and have proven themselves as some of the top writers of their age in the state. Some of what happens is inspired by real events: for example, one of my daughter’s teammates was so stressed out because of parental pressure that she vomited after one of the writing rounds, and so do some of the characters in the novel. The overnight stay is entirely fictional, and provided more social time to explore the relationships that build between these four teens who have never met until the day of the competition. With such diverse backgrounds and challenges, how and why would they ever become friends?

Common ground, of course, and as The Competition illustrates, it can exist when you least expect it. Often it isn’t discovered until difficulties arise and you have to work together to overcome them, as these characters find out only hours after meeting each other. Like my first YA novel, this one is about dealing with adversity while holding on to hope and trust, becoming stronger for the challenge, and being emotionally present for others who are facing their own struggles.

About The Competition, which publishes on September 18 in both paperback and electronic editions:

For Mary Sofia, The Penultimate writing competition is more than a chance at a free college education; she wants to show her younger siblings that they can all rise above their violent family history. For Raiden, the pressure to succeed comes from within, although he knows that family traditions play a part in his determination. For Camara, writing fiction is almost compulsive, but her own dark secret may be the best story she can ever tell. For Michael, swimming and writing fit his introverted personality perfectly, but meeting a smart and beautiful girl at The Penultimate makes stepping outside of his comfort zone easy. All four will compete against each other along with 96 other high school juniors for the chance of a lifetime: a full scholarship to a prestigious private college. Some students will do anything to win, but others may pay the price.

Meet Cecily Wolfe

Cecily Wolfe was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. She graduated from Kent State University with degrees in English and library science, and enjoys her career as a librarian in Cleveland. She is the author of That Night, (longlisted for the 2018 In the Margins book award), Reckless Treasure, A Harvest of Stars, and the Cliff Walk Courtships series.

https://www.cecilywolfe.com

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