Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Karen’s Guide to Working with Your Local Radio Station, adventures in creative marketing

For 7 or 8 years, I got to be on the local radio station every Friday morning. It was a glorious thing for me. So today I’m going to share with you how that relationship came to be and some of my tips for working with your local radio station. I highly recommend that if you have a local radio station, especially a smaller, independent station, that you reach out to them and find ways to work with them to promote your library.

I was really lucky in that our local radio station had great hosts and we developed great working relationships over time.  We developed a rhythm, but they always made sure to have a brief segment where we talked specifically about upcoming library programs.  All the rest we made up as we went along. It was exactly like the morning shows you hear as you drive to work, except I wasn’t as funny. I’m just not good at funny.


Here are my radio cohorts: Host Rob Whalen, Intern Paige Dunham and Intern Margaret Emily engaging in a cricket spitting contest. Emily is filming and narrating the video for live broadcast. From the WDCM Facebook page.

If you have a local radio station, make contact with them and offer to do a weekly show with them.  Be open to what they need.  Simply talking about books doesn’t necessarily make great radio.  So I stayed on top of current news and pop culture tidbits, and then when I found and opening I would swoop in and make that library tie in.  Are they talking about J-Lo joining the cast of American Idol?  Mention she is on the cover of this week’s People and you can come to the library and browse the magazine collection.  Are they talking about The Walking Dead?  Be sure and mention all the great zombie titles in your collection.  You have to be quick and stay on your toes. But you also have to remember that every single thing you say doesn’t have to be library related; simply by being there as a representative for the library you are getting the library recognition outside of it’s four walls in a creative way.

Keep in mind that your local radio station also may be available to do a remote broadcast; this is great if you have a big event coming up.  They do sometimes charge a fee to do a remote broadcast, so make sure and get all the details before hand.  A remote broadcast is a great idea for a SRC kick-off party, library anniversary celebration, or author event, just to name a few.  Be sure to meet with your broadcaster beforehand to discuss when they will do breakaways and arrange a variety of people for them to talk to during your event.  If possible, have prize giveaways.

When Working with Your Local Radio Station Keep in Mind: It’s Their Show and You are the Guest

WDCM Marion, Ohio was the radio station I worked with while at The Marion Public Library

They are running the show, so get the 411 beforehand.  There are things that you can not say and huge fines involved.  We all remember what happened with Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl.  You don’t want the on air equivalent of a wardrobe malfunction.  And you don’t want to offend your hosts. You are in their space so please try and respect it. Ask them point blank and establish clear boundaries: what can I not say?

Talk to your administrators to discuss their rules on that end, too.  You want to try and avoid talking politics or anything that will reflect poorly on the library.  You don’t have the same freedom that the radio host does.  It is really easy when it is just you and the radio host sitting in a room talking to forget that the microphone is there and people are listening. Let the radio hosts know ahead of time of specific topics that you aren’t allowed to discuss and make sure that you make your boundaries clear up front.

Make sure you have the personality for it.  If you are not the right fit, then this is not the right marketing vehicle for you.  That’s okay.  The radio station hosts will be able to tell right away if it will work or not.  Trust them, they know what they are doing.

If you can, try and make it a regularly occurring segment on a regular day of the week at a regular time.  If people know when and where to find you, they will tune in. As I mentioned I went every Friday morning like clockwork.

When Working with Your Local Radio Station Keep in Mind: The Ins and Out of a Radio Show are a Delicate Dance, Learn the Steps [Read more…]







STEM and STEAM Programming for Teens in Libraries (an Infopeople webinar)

SVYALit Webinar with author Christa Desir (Nebraska Library Commission)

From a Librarian in the Trenches: Thoughts on Themes (a guest post by Jennifer Wills)

I came into this Teen Librarian position all “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” about pretty much everything.  I was revved up by library school classes that stressed the importance of Programming For Teens and introduced me to the high holy days:  Teen Read Week, Teen Tech Week, and the Summer Reading Program.  Teen Read Week?  Awesome!  “Books with Beat?”  Um . . . Sure!  Let’s do this!  I will take a poster in every size and as many bookmarks as you can spare, thanks.  I threw myself into displays and contests and school visits and everything short of a stage show.  

But as that first year progressed through Teen Tech Week (Learn Create Share @ Your Library) to the summer reading program (Make Waves @ Your Library) I began to notice that any time I invoked one of the provided themes for these special weeks, there was a definite shift in the conversation I was having with the teens.  They would be right with me as we talked about summer reading and prizes and such, but the second I mentioned the theme there was a subtle (or sometimes not-so-subtle) cringe, or smirk, or glaze of the eyes as if to say, “I see you are trying to market to me, Adult Person.  And you are doing it wrong.”  The focus of the conversation immediately changed from the library and how we are relevant to their lives to an explanation of how the theme was relevant to the event.  
Flash forward three years.  I’m a bit more settled in my job and I’ve discovered the secret that many of you know but no one mentioned in any of my grad school classes on programming for teens or advocating for teens or teen literature, and it is this:  getting to know and genuinely connecting with teens is the BEST PART OF THE JOB and absolutely essential for getting teens excited about libraries.  Knowing that means now I’m the one who cringes as each new theme is announced.  For instance, take this recent exchange:
Awesome Teen: {picks up Summer Reading Program entry form} What’s this?
Me:  That’s the entry form for our Teen Summer Reading Program.
AT:  Why does it say “Beneath the Surface?”
Me:  That’s just the theme this year.  But see, it says “Teen Summer Reading Program” there at the top.  {Proceed to tell him all about the program.}
AT:  But . . .
Me:  Yeah?
AT:  If the theme is Beneath the Surface, why does it have a Pegasus on it?
I feel like I’ve had this conversation at least ten times a day since summer reading outreach began in May.  There’s about five seconds of connection about how great summer reading is and five minutes of “What does this mean?”
I promise that I’m not here to bash YALSA or CSLP for their choice of themes.  I know there are exceptional librarians out there who take the themes and run with them in amazing ways every year (I’m looking at you, Karen!) I also know that for those libraries that don’t have a Teen Services department or dedicated teen librarian, the special interest weeks and themes offer a chance to focus on and connect with teens.  And I absolutely know that none of us are legally obligated to use these themes and that many of you have developed amazing stand-alone programs without them.   That said, I really think that by diving in to themes we lose a lot of what’s most important about our jobs.
I’ve been lucky enough to assemble a robust and opinionated Teen Advisory Board over the past few years and each special interest week or SRP leads to a lengthy discussion of the theme.  They tolerated “You are Here” for an SRP theme a couple of years ago and “Geek Out @ Your Library” for Teen Tech Week was met with stoic skepticism, but things came to a head last summer when I thought “Own the Night” might just be the end of them (“That’s a prom, not a reading program,” was probably my favorite reaction.)  And then “Beneath the Surface” arrived.  There was literally a two-hour meeting where the poster was deconstructed in a way that I’m pretty sure could be counted as their thesis project for grad school:  “Jen, there’s a creepy face in the shrub.  What is the purpose of this?” (It’s true, by the way, take a look.) “Jen, there is absolutely no correlation between this theme and reading books to win prizes.”   
About an hour into the meeting, as my teens talked about taking to the streets to ask random people what they thought the “Beneath the Surface” poster was advertising, I found myself looking around the table and thinking that this will definitely be the last year I use stock themes for anything.  From now on I’ll celebrate Reading for the Fun of It for Teen Read Week and Connecting @ Your Library for Teen Tech Week.   Those are the kind of general themes that say exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.  And I’ll use my TAB’s awesome passion for coming up with a better slogan for our SRP that we can use for several years.

My eyes are still clear, my heart is still full, and I know I can’t lose if I continue to just be my goofy self in a genuine way with these guys, learning what they love and telling them about the awesome ways our library can fit into their lives.

Jen Scott Wills, MLS
I’ve served as the Teen Services Librarian for Boise Public Library’s Main Library for the past three years, though I’ve been addicted to libraries since I lived across the street from one as a kid. My teens always ask me if I actually get paid to do what I do (usually when we’re in the middle of some water balloon war or heated Mario Kart race) and I tell them yes and that I can’t believe it either. I’m obsessed with YA lit and read a little bit of everything, though David Levithan and Rainbow Rowell are definitely my spirit animals. You can find me at jen1nsw.tumblr.com or as jen1n on Twitter or in my office that the teens call my TARDIS. Because it’s bigger on the inside.

The mystery of movie making made simple: There’s an app for that

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7tUYlrjgZLY]

You can use iMovie to create fun movie trailers that will work as commercials for your library, an individual program or your SRP.  Here’s a tutorial on how to use it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIumHiKZoDA]

New Adult: A Broken Promise, Now a Rose by Any Other Name (by Chrisite G)

I have been following with waxing and waning interest for the last few months the chatter about the “New Adult” trend that publishers have been introducing.  You can trace it back to St. Martin Press back in 2009, when they wanted to market books as coming-of-age stories with characters in their twenties.  You can actually trace it further back to an online contest, sponsored by #YALitChat, and they had a really decent turnout for it.  The winners got the first 50 pages of their manuscripts looked over by St. Martin, and a lot of them were really idealistic.  Blogger and author Kristan Hoffman, who won the contest, stated that she felt that New Adult could really take off, Especially since New Adult could offer a variety of “flavors.” Sci-fi, fantasy, romance, historical, thriller, literary … Just like the Young Adult umbrella, New Adult can (and probably will) cover all these genres and more.”

In spite of this early optimism, even the reps for St. Martin admitted back then what I keep thinking now:  that New Adult isn’t needed, and that it’s just a marketing ploy. It was a way for ADULT FICTION to expand out of its box.  Which is good- we all like things expanding outside of their boxes, and it’s nice that publishers want to reach out to a section of readers that they think need special marketing.  I think it would have been wonderful if it had taken off that way.  Books like the Jessica Darling series by Megan McCafferty  or Prep often live in the Young Adult section but need to find an older audience, as they might need a college aged crowd who won’t go back to a teen section once they graduate.  (Note to readers- mine continue to haunt the teen area even after they’ve graduated high school, are constantly asking me for more teen and adult books, and are actually laughing at the thought of me calling them “new adults”)

New Adult is not coming out of its box, though. Instead, publishing is wrapping things up in bright, shiny pink polka dot paper with froufrous and lace, and that’s not acceptable. If anything, it’s basically the new shiny name for chick lit and backhanded acceptance that it’s OK for a FEMALE to read.  And that makes me incensed.

If you look at some of the definitions, now New Adult is considered anything coming of age for readers 14-35.  That’s a bit of a gap developmentally- what’s appropriate for a freshman in high school is not going to be appropriate for a freshman in college or a graduate student, and a far cry from the original intent of 18-26 year olds. How, realistically, am I as librarian supposed to put together a New Adult collection with a straight face?  “Oh, here, teenager, read the bodice ripper your MOM likes.  Oh, here, adult patron, please don’t mind that we have the scantily clad covers right next to the rapidly diminishing young adult section, because it’s the NEW ADULT area.”  If you search Goodreads for New Adult titles, you get at least 300 titles:  everything from Julie Cross’ Tempest (rated YA- 14 to 18 yrs by the publisher on BN.com)  to 50 Shades of Grey.  We’ve gone far afield from college experiences, moving out, and finding our way in the real world. 

Five young adult titles that are being called New Adult on Goodreads- where would you put them?

And take a CLOSE look at titles that are being considered new adult.  Notice a pattern?  How about the fact that the vast majority of them are romantic intrigue?  So, who exactly is the New Adult category for?  Random House just announced this morning a new digital imprint for their New Adult titles- called FLIRT.  Sci-fi is called Hydra while Mysteries is called Alibi.  So, if New Adult were actually FOR people 18-26 or 18-36, why would you call it something that is going to appeal primarily to young women while alienating the vast majority of readers?  Unless you WANT it to be aimed for that segment?

Shiny imprint of New Adult called Flirt.  Plus vast majority of books being published and categorical under New Adult are romantic intrigue genre.  Therefore, New Adult = romantic intrigue books that have younger protagonists for women ages 18-26.  What happened to the coming-of-age topics?  What happened to the other flavors, the sci-fi, fantasy, historical, thriller, literary?  Between the imprint name and the marketing, what are publishers demonstrating about their opinion of the target audience?  Do they not trust young women to seek out and read quality literature?  Instead of simply encouraging them to read the good books that they want to, why do the publishers think the books have to be decked out in such a way for the target audience to choose to read them?  Why is there a stigma of guilt associated with either the content or the act of reading, such that publishers think it has to be disguised as something with stylish appearance?  

Why do we have to turn something that could have been good into basically permission-giving for people to read one particular sub-genre without guilt?

Of course, there are other arguments, both for and against New Adult.  For more on the discussion, check out:

Karen’s 2 Cents: How in the world could something categorized as ages 14 -17 be considered NEW ADULT? 14 year olds are not adults.

A Night of Firsts

Last night I was invited by Dr. Joni Bodart to speak to her MLS students.  Since she teaches on the West Coast (I miss you place where I grew up), I had to drop in via my computer.  It was a night of firsts for me.

The first thing you should know is that it was such an honor to be asked by Dr. Bodart.  She is a giant in the field, and has always been a huge inspiration.  I did my final MLS project on Booktalking.  As you know, she has written a variety of booktalking books – which I referred to in my research.  So, being asked by her, yeah pretty cool.

Outside of a few conference speaking engagements, it was the first time I had ever talked to MLS students.  It turns out, I have a lot to say.  I spoke about the need for advocacy at all levels.  If you work with teens, you know that often you have to advocate for teen services right there in your own building.  You’re fighting for funds, staffing, space.  That’s not always true of course, thankfully many libraries have understood and embraced the need for teen services.  But even those that do, they often weren’t originally set up for it in terms of space and teens need a space – a space for ya books, to get together in the library.  So yeah, I did talk about advocacy.  Some of my favorite pieces that I have ever written is about advocating in the library and the way that you can put the building blocks into place to get staff interacting with teens in positive ways.  Here are a couple of those pieces:

What does customer services to teens look like?
Marketing teen services to non teen services staff (advocacy)
The “Be”-Attitudes of communicating with staff (advocacy)
This is my favorite advocacy piece: Libraries are the beating heart (of our communities)

It was also a technology first for me.  As you know, a few weeks ago we had a Google Hangout session with the fabulous author A. S. King and our contest winner Bryson McCrone (more on this next week actually).  One of the things I mentioned in my discussion last night was the need for teen librarians to stay up to date on technology, so it was fitting that I learned a new tech tool while doing it – Blackboard Collaborate.  I get bonus points for two new types of tech in one month, right?  Blackboard Collaborate was really kind of awesome, but simple to use.  Because tech can be tricky – and quite fickle – this was the part I was most worried about.  Thankfully, all the tech cooperated and, once I figured out how to use it, it went pretty smoothly.  When using Blackboard Collaborate there is a chat window on the lower left hand screen that makes the experience interactive.  I am not going to lie, I found that little chat window both awesome and distracting; I liked the way it made the experience interactive, but since I appear to be easily distracted it pulled me away from my thoughts a few times.  I am sure it is easier to incorporate with more experience.

After I spoke I was invited to stay and listen as Teen Librarian JoAnn Rees from Sunnyvale Public Library presented a talk on graphic novels and manga.  You’ve heard me say it before, but gns/manga are my Achilles heel as a teen services librarian.  I did what any smart person would do – I stayed.  JoAnn gave an amazing talk on graphic novels and it was interesting to hear how passionate and knowledgeable she was about the format.  I’ll have to e-mail her and ask her if it is okay to share the Top 10 lists that she shared with the class with you.

So this is the part of the post where I pretend that you asked me, “So what did you talk about Karen?” Well, I’m glad you asked, even if it was only in my head.  Joni asked me to talk about why I was a librarian, things I thought you needed to work with teens, and some of the things they don’t teach you are library school.

Why am I a YA Librarian? Because I think it is meaningful work that I am called to do.

What do you need to be a successful YA Librarian?

We had a really good discussion about boundaries and protecting yourself from what I called “Elmo accusations”.  Some librarians have a different point of view, but as much as I love my teens (and I genuinely do), I don’t friend them with my personal FB account, I don’t text them via my personal phone, and I don’t email them via my personal email address.  When we communicate I do so via library channels.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have meaningful conversations, because we often do.  But you hear in the news way to often of boundaries being crossed and accusations being made with adults and teens and I want to protect myself – and the integrity of my library and all the hard work I have done – by making sure that there are appropriate boundaries in place.

But what about those things they don’t teach you in library school?  If you read here often you know that is an ongoing discussions Christie, Heather, Stephanie and I have.  There are some things you can teach, like creativity.  But I think you can develop creativity.  Other things I think we need to spend more time talking about is the day to day situations that we are facing: dealing with staff (many of whom may not share your passion for libraries or teens), dealing with the real life situations of your teens, and working with community leaders (and members of your community) where you have to speak in a language that is different than library speak.  Nonlibrarians don’t really speak in library speak.  I’ll get back to this point in a minute.

Our teens are at the heart of what we do.  It is them that we are serving, mentoring and nurturing.  Yes, nurturing.  To work with teens, you really do need to 1) care about them, 2) understand them (keep reading on adolescent development, and 3) spend some time in their world (cruise teen oriented pop culture sites, watch some of the shows they watch, find out what music they are listening to).  Businesses that succeed do so because they spend a lot of time researching their target audience and meeting their needs.  Librarians must do the same.
Things I Never Learned in Library School part 1, part 2
So, back to the dangling point I made earlier about communicating with your communities.  Let’s talk the 40 Developmental Assets.
The 40 Developmental Assets are an important tool because they help us plan and evaluate what we are doing in our youth services departments.  When planning programs and services, I know that if they help a teen meet a developmental asset than it has value.  Likewise, when communicating the value of my teen services it serves the same purpose. 
Let’s examine a standard marketing practice, shall we?  The yearly director’s report.
I can put out a report that says items in my teen collection circulated 5, 142 times and this is what the members and my community think: Compared to what?  I don’t know, is that good or bad?  What does that mean?
Or, I can say: Through a variety of programs and services the Karen Jensen Public Library helped teens in the Karen Jensen Community reach 27 of the 40 developmental assets including providing them with opportunities to have leadership roles and giving teens a voice through our teen advisory board, providing teens with opportunities to serve their community through our teen volunteer program, and supporting a teen’s commitment to learning by providing quality library collections, opportunities to engage in literature based programming and discussions, and homework support materials.
By using the 40 Developmental Assets as a planning, evaluation and communication tool, you help underline the value of libraries in your community.  See also, Asset Builders Coalition support materials.
So there you have it, my first experience as a “teacher” to library school students – but with a lot less “ums”.  Maybe one day after I get those “ums” under control I can be a teacher, it was pretty cool.

Banned Books Week Roundup: Read In, Speak Out for Libraries!

You may have noticed, but it’s election season.  And back to school time. Which means it is also time to start thinking about Banned Books Week.

Banned Books Week at ALA
You can get information and graphics for Banned Books Week at ALA

Banned Books Week is a reminder to us all to celebrate our freedom to read.  Access to information – to new thoughts and ideas, no matter how radical they may be – is the cornerstone of democracy.  And yet every year, we hear case after case of someome attempting to (and sometimes succeeding) remove that access by having materials removed from school and public libraries across the nation.  Without the materials in libraries, that means our patrons have to find ways to access the information themselves, often costing money they don’t have, especially in these hard economic times.

I took a moment to look at what it would cost our teens to buy the books they want and need for both pleasure reading and school, and this is what I came up with as a modest estimate.

So if our teens didn’t have access to books at their school and public libraries, they would have to come up with an average of $1,218.63 to buy 4 of the most popular book series (Harry Potter, the Hunger Games, Twilight and The Mortal Instruments) and an average of 4 books a month for school.  Keep in mind, this figure would be significantly higher if any of those 4 books a month for school are non-fiction because non-fiction titles have a higher price point.
This is why libraries are so important – they support the educational goals, both academic and personal, of all the members of our communities, including our teens.  But removing books from the library compromises that access.
Banned Books Week is an excellent time to remind teens – and your communities – about the importance of reading and libraries.  Remind your communities to vote for libraries! And the best way to cast your vote is by being a library user and supporter.
Looking for some ways to promote Banned Books Week this year? Check out these previous articles:

Banned Books Week: Teen fiction is . . .
Redefining the “3 Rs” for Banned Books Week (Radical, Rebellious, Righteous)

Also, here’s a look at a recent incident involving the book Pretty Amy by Lisa Burstein and another way in which teens are denied access to information.  Recently, a major teen magazine decided to pull its review of Pretty Amy because they felt it was inappropriate for their audience.  They didn’t let teens decide for themselves by presenting an honest review, they simply refused to review it.

What if Amy wasn’t pretty: A tale of censorship
Let’s Talk Access! And why libraries are radically unsafe places and that is a good thing
Amy speaks: Pretty Amy’s censorship uncensored (a guest post by Lisa Burstein)

Banned Books Week is an excellent time to brush up on your advocacy and marketing efforts, so stop by our section on Advocacy and Marketing and read all about it.
How about some posters and bookmarks?  Yeah, we’ve got those to.  You can find some at the TLT Graphics section of our FB page or find some that I designed for frequently challenged author Chris Crutcher last year.
Want one final – and exciting – way to speak out about Banned Books Week?  Join our BBW “Read In” and share a guest blog post about a book from the BBW list that you love.  Simply send me your review, or story, at kjensenmls@yahoo.com by Friday, September 28th.  Join us during Banned Books Week for a guest post by Lisa Burstein, author of Pretty Amy, books reviews and more.
You can get official information for Banned Books Week at BannedBooksWeek.org

Is There Power in the Message? Putting positive images of teens in the press

Teens often get a bad rap.  Especially in libraries.  Especially with non-teen services staff.  Right now in your head you are thinking of the one or two members on your staff who hate when the clock strikes 3:30 and the teens comes bustling in through the front doors.  Some of them carry skateboards.  Some of them are giggling, talking loud.  Almost all of them are travelling in some type of pack.  And those certain staff members – they are waiting to pounce.  You see them coiled and ready to launch their attack the first moment that opens.

Then you open the newspaper and see about the fights, the drugs, the robberies, the teenage pregnancies.  I’m not going to lie, all of that is a concern . . . BUT

Last night I watched 5 teenage girls who had given up years of their lives to train earn an amazing victory.  Swimmer Missy Franklin, 17 years old, turned down endorsement deals so she could stay at home and swim with her high school team.  Michael Phelps began his world record accumulation of Olympic medals as a teenager.
There are teenagers who have started organizations to help the sick, poor and needy.  There are teenagers that go on mission trips.  There are teenagers doing amazing things every day to help make this world a better place.  So maybe sometimes we could focus on them.
As someone who works with teens, I have watched the Olympics and thought time and time again – these are the stories we should be talking about.  What if our headlines focused on local heroes every day instead of local crimes?  Maybe then teens would strive for positive attention instead of negative attention.  One of the things I keep reading in the coverage of the Aurora shootings is a call from readers not to use the alleged shooters name or picture, not to give him fame for what he has done.  To, in fact, make him he who shall not be named and take away his power.
I can’t pretend to understand the psychology of criminal behavior.  But I watch a lot (and I mean A LOT) of Criminal Minds and it seems that the goal, the pathology, of some criminal behavior is to get attention, fame.  And as parents we often hear about children who engage in negative attention seeking behaviors because as they often say “any attention is better than no attention”. 
So let’s take away the negative attention! And honestly, I think this is a good 40 Developmental Assets approach.  Decide as a teen services librarian that you are going to focus on the positive and give your teens positive goals to reach.
Here are some ways that I think you can do this:
Create a place in your teen area where you can display teen created artwork, poetry, and more. See Putting the “Teen” in Your Teen Space.
Create a local community bulletin board in your teen area and post newspaper clippings of your teens positive accomplishments.
Work with local businesses to provide rewards for A/B students.  Maybe have lock-ins and pizza parties.  Or, your library could forgive fines for students that show their report card during a certain time period.  (Unblocked cards leads to an increase in circulation).
Create opportunities for teen created programming. See Teens Got Talent
Share with your teens via your social media those stories you encounter in the press about teens doing well, such as Olympics news coverage or those stories about teens that start businesses to help their local communities.  See The Big Help, Friends for Change, Mobilize, VolunTEEN Nation and more.
When we help our staff, our communities and our teens focus on the positive, we send a powerful message about teens.  We give them new goals to strive for.  We empower them and give them a voice. 

What other ideas do you have for spreading the positive message of teens?  And what resources or campaigns do you know of that are encourage teens to be actively engaged in positive ways in their communities? I’m always looking for new resources to share.

Thinking Out Loud: Marketing and the Library Lock-In

My mentor called me the other day and asked about what I would do in a particular situation that involved teens at a library lock-in, my very glib response was, “I wouldn’t have had the lock in.”  Already many of you are seeing flames and thinking about your replies – but wait, let me explain myself.

I have come to think of the library lock-in not from a programming perspective, but from a marketing one.  Everything that we do sends a message and we must ask ourselves, what is the take away of this event. To me, I think we can make a fair argument that the library lock-in may be a form of false advertising.  You see, we invite teens in when the library is empty and we let them run around (although probably not literally) and yell and scream (also probably not literally) and use the space in a way that they will never get to use the space the remaining 364 days of the year. In fact, if they came into the library any other day they would probably disrupt other library patrons and be reprimanded (although hopefully quite nicely) by staff.  A library lock-in is not normal operating procedures and would could argue that it does not help teens understand the role of the public library in the community and appropriate ways to use the library.

I often worry, too, that we librarians have forgotten ourselves the value in the library: the importance of books and how the written word can change lives, the importance of information seeking and evaluation skills, the importance of the freedom to take in a wide variety of information from multiple points of view and decide for ourselves how we are going to incorporate that into our lives.  I wonder if we sometimes aren’t undermining ourselves and our message, our value to the community, by trying to be something other than a public library. It is almost as if the message we are sending is “being a library isn’t enough, we must be more for people to love us.” Instead, what we need to do, is make sure our message is loud, concise and strong – communities need us because they need intelligent, empowered, thinking and feeling members and that comes with access to a public library.

Now, for the other side of this coin: I recently had occasion to dialogue with a teen librarian who uses a lock-in as a reward for teens who participate in her winter and later in the year summer reading challenge.  She is a pretty awesome librarian.  This changed my mind a little bit on my stance.  You see these teens, they are regular library users who have come to understand and appreciate the library’s role in their life.  Here, as a reward, it speaks an entirely different message: you are a valued customer and you get a special moment in a sacred place.

So before you flame me, please remember that I AM a library advocate (please see The 2012 Project for proof). I am an advocate for teens and authors and books and information and intellectual freedom. I’m just not 100% sure that I am an advocate for library lock-ins. So let’s talk about it, share what you think in the comments. And for the record, yes – I have done library lock-ins, just not recently.

Saving Big with Your Library

You may have heard that there are some problems with today’s economy, those same problems are affecting the very teen patrons that you serve.  This is a great time to remind your teens about the value of your library and your teen services program . . .

Today’s unemployment rate hovers somewhere around 9%.  That means 2 important things:  a lot of teens are living in a household where a parent is dealing with unemployment and many teens are having a hard time trying to find jobs themselves.  Everywhere you look belts are tightening and teens and their families are trying to find creative ways to save money and stretch budgets.  And your library has some great tools to help them . . .
Financial Aid and Scholarships – make sure your teens know that you have a wide variety of resources to help them find and apply for financial aid, including free Internet access.  Put the information together in easy to navigate ways:  create a web page, a handout, a display.  Just make sure they know where to go and find it easy to use.
Do It Yourself – Highlight areas of your nonfiction that will appeal to teens and help them meet these new needs.  Craft books can help fulfill gift needs, room redecorating, and more.  Some teens may be looking to find out how they can repair their car.  There are a wide variety of craft books that help you make your own soaps and lotions, re purpose out of date clothing and even show you how to decorate on a dime.  Pull out your best resources and put these books on display.
Things that teens can do to save (or make) money using library information:  Make their own gifts, redecorate their room, find recipes for low cost snacks, fix their car, make their own spa materials, re purpose old clothes, make crafts out of recycled materials, sell things and make money on e-bay, create a blog or webpage and sell handmade items, apply for financial aid and scholarships, find a penpal, find volunteer or intern opportunities . . .
Remember when coming up with programming plans that you can create programs around these themes and reinforce your message.
Homework Help – Chances are your library has access to a wide variety of databases that can help teens excel on school projects, papers and daily assignments.  Highlight these resources and tell teens how they can help.
Reading Rocks, But Books Cost Money – Whether it be to fulfill a school assignment or read the newest installment of The Pretty Little Liars, teens need access to a wide variety of books.  If a teen bought every single book they had to read for school, it would cost teens (and their families) 1,000s of dollars.  In fact, just buying 4 books a month for school assignments would add up to over $1,200 in the course of a year.  Remind teens that you can save their pocketbook!
Try Before You Buy – Whether it be books, music or movies nothing is worse than spending your hard earned cash on something only to find out that you hate it!  Remind teens that they can try before they buy and determine whether or not they like something before they shell out their bucks.
The Digital Book Revolution (and Audio Books, too) – This year the e-reader has really taken off.  From the Kindle to the iPad, there are a wide variety of ways that teens and their families can now choose downloadable books.  In fact, they can download audio books to a wide range of audio devices as well as digital books.  Make sure teens know how you can hook them up.
Let Me Entertain You – You’ve got teen programs, right?  Going to a movie today can cost you around $20.00, and that’s not even with popcorn and soda. Video games cost on average anywhere from $20.00 on up.  You want the latest movie on DVD?  Again, $20.00 bare minimum.  Remind your teens that you provide a wide variety of entertainment options, whether it be attending the latest library program or putting together their own low cost party.  They can check out a DVD, put together a low cost party menu, find some fun games to share and voila’ – best party ever at little cost to them.
Have game nights (both board and video games) and give teens fun opportunities to hang with friends and play with resources they don’t have.  With the right programming and the right message, your teen area and programs can become a destination hot spot.
Tech Me Up, Scotty – Teens love technology and they want access to a wide variety of tools.  Keep your library technology up to date and make sure teens know what you have.  Make sure you have teen friendly Internet access policies.  Let teens know about new resources ASAP.  Incorporate learning how to use these resources into your library programming: have programs where teens learn how to create blogs and webpages, manipulate photoshop editing software, make movies, learn powerpoint and more.  Keep them up to date on things like Google Chrome and Google +.
Calculate the Cost – Libraries everywhere are helping their users understand how much a library can save them by using library savings calculators.  This is a great tool to help punctuate your message: put an actual number on it.  For example, in the graphic at the top of the page I calculated how much it would cost to buy copies of some of the most popular teen series plus an additional 4 books a month for school.  Create a visual to convey your message – infographics rock and are effective.  Take a moment and send out a calculator on your webpage or FB page (or both).  There is a tangible financial benefit to using your library, make sure your teens get the message.
Make a plan to communicate your message:
  • Put together an infographic that works for you and your community.  Include the cost of school materials, entertainment, and technology..
  • Put the graphic on display in your teen area and share it digitally via your various communication channels.
  • Put together a display of your various non fiction materials and communicate how they can save you money.
  • Put together a program where teens can make crafts for the upcoming holiday season and walk out with physical products they can use as gifts.  Or ask a community member to do a financial planning talk, which I recommend by following up with some type of hands on activity.
  • Repeat your message multiple times and in multiple formats.