Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Middle Grade Monday – “I thought of you when I read this”

So, I’ve long understood the power of a confidential phrase whispered in the right direction, “I read this, and it made me think of you.” In fact, that’s the reason why my student supply area has a bottle of lotion. Let me back up. 

I’m on vacation, or I would take a picture of the corner of my library where I keep student supplies. Here is  list of what is available there:

  • lined paper
  • pencils
  • electric pencil sharpener
  • colored pencils
  • a manual pencil sharpener for the colored pencils, because they are murder on the electric sharpener
  • a stapler
  • scissors
  • glue sticks
  • a ruler
  • tissues
  • hand lotion

Because these are the items that students most often need to complete their projects. Tissues and hand lotion?

We’ve all learned about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, right? I have a lot of students for whom tissues and hand lotion are luxury items. They will get a pass from their classroom teacher to come to the library to use the hand lotion, even when they have no intention of checking out a library book. They do their arms, their legs, focusing on elbows and knees, as well as their hands. This takes some time. In that time, I am able to sidle up to them and begin a conversation. Eventually, I will be able to honestly say to them, “I read this book, and I thought you might like it.” The power of a personal recommendation combined with the personal relationship established by the provision of necessary supplies. Hand lotion. It’s an outreach tool.

So, since I’m on break, I’ve been trying to think reflectively about what I am already doing and how I can adapt these practices to new applications in a way that will increase my ability to meet student needs. Or, in other words, I’ve been thinking about Pinterest.

Every week or so, one of my friends or colleagues will come to me asking, “What should I get for my child to read?” Most of these children are not in middle school, but this has no bearing on the trust these people place in me. They feel that I, someone who recommends books to children on a regular basis, have more skills in this area than they do. Or sometimes they are just at a loss for time or ideas. Or sometimes it’s just easier to convince their child that something is worth reading because “Miss Robin said it’s a good book.” Whatever. Sacred trust and all that. My go-to response of late has been to build them an individual Pinterest reading suggestion board.

Pinterest has the lovely characteristics of being a visual bookmarking tool that is easily shared with multiple people and can be added to on an ongoing basis. Why am I not already using it to create boards for my students? I’m not sure. It’s not easily integrated with my OPAC, but my students use my research website on a regular basis, and it would easily integrate with that. I need to think on it more, but I believe Pinterest, or another tool like it, could be a valuable tool for book recommendations for at least part of my student population. Has anyone out there successfully used Pinterest as a book recommendation tool? What advice do you have?

Quicky & Easy Program Idea: Bottle Wrapping

Bottle Wrapping

The town I live in has a local arts council, which does a lot of cool things. One of the things I recently discovered that they do is host what they call a “Pinterest Party”. They find a cool craft idea on Pinterest, gather the supplies to make it happen, and for a small fee you can come. Because it’s for grown ups, it usually involves wine and socializing as well. I love this idea for teens, but obviously without the wine. You’ll have to save the wine for afterwards.

The party I recently went to involved wrapping a variety of jars and bottles with things like yarn and twine to make decorative pieces. It was easy to do. And The Tween liked one I made so much she confiscated it and has made it into a pen holder for her desk. The other I might give to someone as a Christmas gift. (So if I give this to you as a Christmas gift, act surprised!)

I know that technology and MakerSpaces are all the rage right now in libraries, but I feel like old fashioned crafts meet a lot of teen needs as well: Teens can be active and yet meet their social needs; There is still creative and spatial thinking and planning involved; Fine motor skill manipulatives are always a good thing; and at some point problem solving will usually have to be involved (or maybe I’m just bad at crafting). Plus, I am a firm believer that STEM is enhanced when we add the A and remember to think STEAM – the arts are still important and can enhance STEM education.

What You’ll Need:

Empty jars and bottles (washed and dried out) – Wine bottles, olive jars, anything works
A variety of yarn and twine
Mod Podge
Sponge brushes
Charms and embellishments

What You Do:

See that big curvy part around the charm? That was hard.

You can start from either the bottom or the top (I tried both and found top down to be easier).

Apply some Mod Podge to your bottle and begin wrapping. You’ll want to keep wrapping one continuous string, so don’t cut it off of the skein. That’s why you need about one skein per person. You just keep alternating adding a little bit of Mod Podge and then wrapping your away around.

Make sure you are pulling it tight and avoiding big gaps in your rows.

They didn’t say to do this, but I did it on one and not the other and I think the one I did it to looks better, so apply a layer of Mod Podge on the outside when you are finished. It will dry clear and I thought it gave it a more polished look.

Use a matching or complimentary piece of yarn to thread and hang a charm onto your bottle.

Other people glued on flowers, made initials out of string which they glued on top, etc.

Why I Recommend It:

This craft was easy to do and it is one of those crafts you can do and still sit around and be social. Also, I don’t know about you, but a lot of my tweens/teens are financially challenged so it is nice to have a program where they can take something home that they made and either use it to decorate their room or give it as a gift. This way, they have a physical reminder that not only did they accomplish and make something cool, but they’ll remember that they did it at the library and have those positive associations with the library. Craft programs affirm and empower our teens, they help them meet some of the 40 developmental assets (like their social needs), and they help make those positive connections were looking for.

Check out The Tween’s new pen/pencil holder

Also, check with your children’s department to see if they have left over yarn from previous events. Ask staff to save and collect empty jars. That will help bring the cost down but also makes this a great environmentally friendly craft – think Earth Day! – as you teach teens to upcycle.

Things I Learned:

Going around the curvier parts of a bottle is hard. Go slowly, doing only a couple of rows of yarn at a time and allowing it to get tacky before you add the next few rows. This helped keep it from sliding up and having wide gaps.

Yarn was easier than twine to work with and I felt like you ended up with a more colorful and polished look.

As I mentioned above, put a layer of Mod Podge on the outside of your bottle after you are done covering it in the yarn.

Take 5: Pinterest Boards for Crafting with Teens

Love it or hate it, Pinterest collects a wealth of ideas in a graphically pleasing way, and is an especially popular way to access craft ideas.  For National Craft Month, we’re highlighting five great Pinterest boards that focus on teen crafts that can be done, have been done, or we dream of getting done in libraries.

1.  Fargo Public Library: Book Crafts


Focusing on projects using repurposed books, this is a tidy page of individual projects as well as links to other sites with multiple projects.
(A word of experience regarding the books-into-boxes project featured – if you try it out, make your life easier: spend $20 and get an oscillating multitool.)


2.  Gina DeLoretta Meinl: Teen Crafts


With an emphasis on re-purposed, inexpensive crafts, an eye to trends in the library world, and thematic weeks and YALSA events, this board offers some totally doable craft ideas and a fun amount of whimsy to shake it up.


Over 500 pins here with plenty of links to external collections of thematic tutorials on stuff like duct tape projects, wearable crafts, repurposing jeans, and fine art.  Swartz has organized other boards with more targeted uses: this year’s SRP theme, eco projects, and science experiments as well.



Here’s where it starts to get fun.  The Libraries As Incubator Project is collecting your craft project ideas this month to add to this board.  It’s a new and growing board from this really exciting project that  you should definitely know about if you’re incorporating the creative process into your library programs.


Yes, this is my own board, but it’s not *just* my own board.  This is another place to get in on the fun.  Begun in 2011, this board quickly grew to a place where over 200 teen librarians and advocates share their favorite craft and program ideas, or bookmark their ambitious plans.  You’ll discover thematic waves as you scroll through it.  Zombies, Hunger Games, Harry Potter, T-shirts, gaming, re-purposed books, etc.  There is a lot of information and inspiration here.  Comment on this post, on one of my pins on the board, or drop me an email if you’d like me to add you on as a collaborator.

-Heather