Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Teen Services 101: What Keeps Teens Coming Back to the Public Library?

Today we’re going to wrap up our Teen Services 101 series by assuming that you’ve done the research, created your space, hosted the programs and done the work. With all of that in mind, what will keep the teens that walk into your library coming back? Because that’s what we want, for our teens to keep coming back to the library.

They have to find something they need, want or value

If teens coming into your library and don’t find anything of interest to them, they’re not coming back. And since not all teens are the same, that means we have to have a variety of things available. This takes an investment of space, time, resources, staff and money. Some of the things that teens are looking for include: books, information, access to the Internet, a safe space to be social, and/or fun programming. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

They have to feel valued and respected by the library and its staff

And by staff I mean all staff. From the moment a teen walks through the door to the moment they leave, teens need to be treated well by staff. It’s not enough to have a dedicated teen librarian who respects and values teens. In fact, if at the end of the day when that teen goes to check out they have a bad interaction at the circulation desk, all of our work as teen librarians can be undone. This is why it is important that we work with all staff to break down bias, provide customer service basics training, and work to build positive opinions about teens in the library.

At one of the libraries I used to work at there was a staff member who loathed and detested teens and she made a point every day of positioning herself by the back entrance at exactly the moment when teens would be coming into the library after school and giving them the stink eye. They called her the “dragon lady”. It was a lot of work undoing all the damage she had done when I started working there. It was also a lot of work trying to dismantle her biases against teens to try and get her to stop this behavior.

At the end of the day, library administration should be setting high standards for customer service to ALL library patrons and should be training staff to meet those standards and holding them accountable if they don’t. Everything done behind the scenes is undone if we don’t treat patrons well and every dollar invested is wasted if we aren’t providing good customer service.

See: What Does Customer Service to Teens in the Library Look Like

They have to have a positive experience

At the end of the day, it is total experience that matters. Teens, like any other library patron, want to have positive experiences. And like everyone else, they are more likely to remember, talk about and share the negative experiences. We used to say that for every negative interaction a patron has they will share it with 10 people, but that has dramatically changed because of the impact of social media. One negative experience can be shared online with hundreds of people in an instant. The only control we have over what’s said about us online is to do our part to make sure our teens are having positive experiences so that they have something positive to say about our libraries and staff.

The reality is, even the most dedicated and amazing teen librarian or teen services team can’t do this alone. You need administration buy in and support, you need every staff member to support your work by treating teen patrons with good customer service, and you need the infrastructure to help make it all happen. That’s a big part of the job, advocating for teens and teen services and helping to put these elements into place so that teens have a space and a reason to come into the library, and then to keep coming back for more. And the number one thing you need to make all this happen is the knowledge, passion and dedication to help make it happen. It all starts with you, the teen librarian, but it doesn’t end there.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

The Challenges and Rewards of Serving Teens Today

What Do We Know About Teen Programming

So You Want to Do Teen Programming, but What About the Books?

Teen Services 101: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed?

I frequently get asked to speak or provide staff training. Sometimes I just get email asking for help from staff who are just going into teen services. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is this: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed? Over time, as I have refined my answer, I think successful teen services touches on 8 specific points to some degree or another. Keep in mind, not all libraries are the same so what works at one location may not work at another. But these are, I believe, some basic elements that everyone doing teen services should look into and consider when deciding that their library wants to do teen services and do it well.

Several YA/Teen Librarians and a handful of Teens help make TLT happen
  1. Foundations
    • Administration buy in/support; if you don’t have it, you need to engage in internal advocacy to cultivate it
    • A clearly outlined budget that includes a teen space, collections, programming, staff & marketing
    • Policies and procedures (the who, what, when, where & why of it all)
    • Goals and objectives (measurable, evaluate on an ongoing basis)
  2. Staff
    • Clearly designated staff who WANT to be doing teen services
    • Comprehensive staff training that touches on adolescent development, your library’s policies and procedures, marketing, and more. You’ll want to make sure your staff understands that when dealing with teens there are firm limits about interpersonal relationships that must be maintained to protect staff and the library while creating meaningful mentoring connections with teens.
    • Ongoing professional development, but what we know about teens and the issues that affect them (and their interests) are always changing
    • Accountability tools in place; make sure you have ways to nurture your employees and help the ones who are not a good fit to move into other department.
  3. Teens
    • Understanding of basic adolescent development, challenges
    • Understanding of basic teen issues (what do we know about the current generation of teens and how does it influence our practices?)
    • Know, understand & incorporate the 40 Developmental Assets
    • Cultivate ways of fostering teen involvement and feedback, both formal and informal
  4. Collections
    • Purchasing, organizing and providing access
    • Weeding
    • Merchandising
    • Reader’s Advisory
    • Collection Audits
  5. Space
    • Distinct and separate from both children and adults, even if it’s just a few shelves
    • Examine best practices for design tips
    • Keep clean, updated and inviting
  6. Services
    • Basic customer service training for ALL staff because all staff with serve and make an impression on teens
    • Service plan/outline (see above in foundations)
    • Evaluate and incorporate online services
    • Evaluating current offerings, continual evaluations for best practices
  7. Programming
    • Investigate known best practices
    • Determine workable programs for each location dependent on size, staff, and budget but incorporating best practices.
    • Incorporate traditional and self-directed programming offerings where feasible; more variety equals more teens served
    • Ongoing evaluation by location
  8. Marketing
    • Train, empower and maintain staff to do publicity/PR for teen services
    • Outreach (school visits, local events, small programs in outside spaces where possible)
    • Investigate using social media to reach teens
    • Remember implicit and explicit messaging; everything we do sends a message to teens about how we value them and whether or not we really want them in our libraries

The good news is that you can find a lot of this information right here at Teen Librarian Toolbox. If you look under the top TLT menu you can find a lot of the how and why under the Professional tab. We talk about teen development and issues under the Teen Issues tab. There are over 100 tried, tested and true teen programs offered under the Programs tab (and even more if you click on the Teen Programming tag). In the past year we have moved more to tags as opposed to indexing, so you’ll want to explore the various tags on TLT.

This outline is just a foundational building block, a sort of Teen Services 101. In part because the details are always changing as we learn more, learn from each other, share best practices and grow. I’ve been working with teens for 26 years now and the basics have been consistent, the outline above has worked for me. But the details, now those are always changing.

What would you add to the outline above? Let us know in the comments.

Additional Resources:

YALSA Teen Services Competencies


Strategies for Successful Teen Services

What I Wish I’d Known About Building Teen Services from Scratch

Teen Librarian Toolbox


Teen Services Underground


School Library Journal


Conversation Snapshots: Let’s Talk YA Lit Titles & YA Programming Success


YA Lit Suggestions

Although I do a lot of blogging here, sometimes good conversations happen on Twitter. Last Sunday, I wrote a post about updating YA titles that are discussed in media discussions and then I asked people on Twitter to recommend books for those updated discussions. Follow the tweet and you will see some of the recommended titles.

There were several recommendations for Scythe by Neal Shusterman, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. All great recommendations.

I keep thinking about how odd it is in retrospect that all these articles that talk about older YA don’t mention two of the first really popular – like word of mouth and all the teens come in asking for them popular titles: Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. What titles – old or new – do you think need to be included in the conversation? Please let us know in the comments.

Teen Programming Success!

The second question I asked this past week was about popular YA/Teen programming. What, I asked, is the most popular program you have ever hosted past or present? You’ll get lots of great programming ideas by reading through this thread. Many have them have been and continue to be popular for me and some of them are completely new ideas that I am looking forward to trying out.

Have some other teen programming success stories that you would like to share? Drop us a comment.

Beyond the Collection Diversity Audit: Inclusion is More Than a Book, Why we should be auditing all of our library services for inclusion and best practices


When I first began doing collection diversity audits, I had no idea that was what they were called. It was actually SLJ editor Kathy Ishizuka who gave me a name for what I was doing. I had Tweeted out pictures of me trying to figure out how inclusive my collection was and she said, “Oh, you’re doing a diversity audit”. And I thought, “Yes! That’s what I’m doing.” Doing diversity audits has radically changed how I approach and think about library services.

Since doing that first collection diversity a few audit years ago, I have changed my approach in the ways that I do a lot of things, keeping an eye always towards analyzing myself for inclusive practices and challenging myself to step out of my personal default, which is a white cisgender Christian perspective. Although I strongly advocate that everyone who buys books in a library do at a bare minimum a book order audit, I no longer do just a collection diversity audit and I challenge us all to think more inclusively about how we approach all of our patron services in the library. We need to be looking at every service, program and offering to make sure that it helps us build inclusive libraries.


1. Storytimes

I have not done storytimes for a really long time. As a teen librarian, it just isn’t something I’m actively engaged in. If I did do storytimes, however, I would keep an ongoing audit of the books that I use in storytime to make sure that I was practicing diverse and inclusive storytimes. And if I oversaw a department of staff that did storytimes, I would require them to do so and would build that criteria into part of their yearly evaluations. Not to be punitive, but because I believe it is important for children to see a more realistic representation of the world that they live in and we owe it to our public to be as deliberate as possible in making sure that we are doing everything we can to serve them well and with intentionality.

It would take a little bit of additional time, but storytime presenters could use a spreadsheet or set up a Google Form, which then compiles the data into a spreadsheet, to keep a running list of their storytime books and do a bit of data analysis to ensure that we are not skewing to heavily to the white default in our storytime offerings.

2. Displays


Although I am not currently in charge of doing any displays, at my last position I spent a lot of time analyzing and rewriting guidelines for how we approached displays. I wrote a policy which explicitly stated that each and every display that we presented to the public must be diverse and inclusive and put into practice measures that would help us ensure that they were. A simple display notebook was put together and we took a picture of each display for a variety of purposes, one of which was stepping back and giving us the space to analyze the books put on display to make sure that we were being diverse and inclusive here as well.

3. Book Discussions and Book Clubs

Many libraries offer some type of book discussion group or book club for patrons to participate in. A list is generated, copies of books are bought, and the public is invited to come read and discuss various titles in the library. Again, this is an area where we can step back and analyze our book choices before making them public to make sure that the titles we are choosing are diverse and inclusive.

4. Recommended Reading Lists

Many libraries put together recommended reading lists or best of lists. These may be an ages and stages type of list, such as a books for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. grades, staff recommended reads, best of lists, etc. Whatever types of lists we are putting out to the public, we should always take the time to make sure that those lists are as diverse and inclusive as possible before we make them public.

5. Public Movie Offerings

Does your library have a public movie license and show movies as part of your programming? Are you taking the time to make sure the movies you are showing are diverse and inclusive? I hope that the answer to this question is yes.

What about our marketing that we put out to the public? Whose faces are we featuring? The Fort Worth Public Library, my current library, recently put up a huge window sign and it features a variety of silhouettes and one of those silhouettes includes a person using a wheelchair at a public access computer. I so I appreciated the purposeful inclusion of someone with a disability in my library’s marketing practices. The truth is, every thing we say and do or don’t say and do sends a message to our patrons about who we are, what we value, and whether or not they are welcome in this space.

The Windows of The Fort Worth Public Library Central Branch

The Windows of The Fort Worth Public Library Central Branch

Whenever we put something out into the public with our name on it, we are de facto endorsing that thing. There is a difference between having a book in your collection and putting that book on display or publicly showing a movie as a part of library programming. Most libraries have it somewhere in their mission or policies that part of the mission, role or goal of the library is to be diverse and inclusive. But what practices do you have in place to help ensure that you and your staff are, in fact, doing that? How do you measure it? What type of training and accountability does your library have in place to help ensure that you are best serving, representing and educating your local communities? Even if you don’t do an audit every single time, you can do one say quarterly and get a better sense of how your library is actually doing  as opposed to just well, it’s in our policy and we feel like we’re doing this.

A diversity audit is just one tool in a toolbox that you can use to help ensure that staff are making inclusion a daily practice. An audit is basically like an inventory, you make a list of items, you do some basic investigation into the items on that list, and you come up with some type of analysis to determine how diverse and inclusive the items on that list are. Your goal is to create the most inclusive list as possible. This is especially important for librarians like me who are white and have a tendency to default to the white perspective, and currently 80% of us are.

How you make that list can be determined by you. I am a fan of spreadsheets and I usually set them up manually. Annabelle Mortensen recently discussed in a SLJ training on Equity in Action how she uses Google Forms to do programming audits. I have spent a lot of time training people how to do diversity audits, but the truth is that over time everyone will develop their own methods. What’s important, however, is that we all need to understand why it is that we should be doing them. I believe that we owe it to the public we serve to engage in the conscious and intentional practice of evaluating what we do, having some concrete data to prove that we are doing what we say we are doing, and mostly, that we need to hold ourselves accountable. It’s so easy to say we are doing a thing or that we have good intentions, but there is something to having that concrete data staring you in the face challenging you to do better.

I actually began doing collection and book order audits because I found myself serving a very high LGBTQ teen population and I was very aware that coming from a conservative Christian background that I might be under-serving my teens. I had teens asking me for more LGBTQAI+ books and I was telling them trust me, I’m buying a lot. But then I thought to myself, how do I know that this is true? So I did my first audit and the numbers proved to me that although I thought I was serving my LGBTQAI+ teens well, that they were in fact under represented in my collection. I then purposefully sought to fill the gap and repeated my audit. Even with this intentionality I raised the overall percentage of LGBTQAI+ titles from only 3% to only 6%. What I learned during this process is that even with the best of intentions, that we need more collection development data to help hold us accountable as selectors and to truly serve our local communities well.

As I like to say, diversity audits help us put the science back in library science. Data helps us analyze who we are, what we’ve done, and in what directions we need to be moving. Yes, it takes time and it is an imperfect process, but some data is better than no data. And our patrons deserve some hard work and intentionality from us, they truly do. So let’s do the work.

More on Diversity Audits

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Understanding Your Local Community (Part 1)

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: The How To (Part 2)

Sunday Reflections: We Need to Talk About the Way We Talk About Library Patrons


Earlier this week, a prominent library figure tweeted a poll asking how long you worked with the public before you wanted to kill someone. That poll has been haunting me for days. In a world in which my teens – and my own flesh and blood children – are being asked multiple times a year to learn what to do in the event of an active shooter and teens are organizing and marching for their lives, I no longer am comfortable with casual threats of physical harm to others, even in jest, to express my frustration with my fellow human beings.

Make no mistake, working with the public is often just as frustrating, challenging, terrifying, and stressful as it is rewarding. I have advocated long and hard to have a couple of patrons permanently banned from the library in the 26 years I have worked in libraries, always for the safety of staff and patrons.

And yes, I have ranted and raved and even made those sarcastic, snide comments about patrons. I’m not going to lie, I’ve done it in the past where I know patrons could hear. And I have done it on social media, more so in the past then I do in current days. Because over time, I have come to understand the impact of my words on patrons that overhear, on my fellow library workers, and on my profession overall. Every word we speak causes a ripple, and no one is left untouched by those currents.

You could go through my Twitter timeline and find numerous examples of me being a snide, sarcastic, frustrated librarian, mother, politically concerned American and even a human being. I hope that you won’t find is me discussing – even in jest – the desire to kill a library patron. I was and continue to be so very disturbed by this language.

As I have mentioned, I have been doing this for 26 years now. Like every library employee, I loathe and detest the months of January through April where patrons will ask me 1 billion times to give them a tax form and help them with their taxes. I get frustrated and dismayed by people trying to game the system, being hostile to patrons, being sexist and misogynistic to staff, etc. Anyone who deals with the public in any capacity has to put up with a lot of genuine crap. I have felt threatened on multiple occasions. I have filed a police report or harassment. I have been sexually harassed, by both patrons and my fellow staff. I have had to call the police and report incidents of child pornography, child abuse, domestic violence and drug deals. It is by no means all sunshine and roses in the library.

I am, in short, 100% familiar with and sympathetic to the very real frustrations, challenges, emotional burden and very real fears that come with working with the public.

But maybe publicly discussing wanting to kill library patrons isn’t the answer.

Talking negatively about our patrons publicly, either online or in our libraries, is not the answer.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t vent. There are plenty of times where even rage is necessary. But maybe we shouldn’t do it in public.

So what do we do to deal with the very real feelings we develop while working with the public?

1. Make sure that a staff member can tag out and have a moment if they need to while working in the public. This is harder in smaller libraries or during certain hours, but we need to make sure our systems are set up to protect the emotional health of our staff as much as possible.

2. Do not complain publicly about patrons in public areas of the library. Seriously, please don’t. It benefits no one. You are breaking trust with every patron who overhears you speaking ill of other patrons in public. They will wonder what you say about them, they will be frustrated by the negative environment you are creating, and they may seek out the same services in other locations.

3. Cultivate private channels to discuss your feelings, concerns, and rant and rage. If you use Twitter, for example, you can create a DM group. I have been known to group text my fellow TLTers and let off a good rant about a variety of topics. I’m not saying you don’t have a right to your feelings or to express them, I’m just asking us all to consider the impact to the profession to do so publicly.

Like I said, I have not been and I am still not perfect at this. I, like everyone else, am a work in progress. I’m learning how to better deal with my emotions, how to handle them in healthy ways, and how to protect my library, my patrons, my profession and myself when dealing with them. I hope you will join me on this journey and really consider how we talk about our library patrons.

Helping Patrons Find What They’re Looking for On Our Shelves

I would like to propose something that will be complete heresy to many people in library land. But my friends, some of our standard operating procedures make it really difficult for our patrons to walk up to a shelf, find what they want or discover something new, and walk away a satisfied customer. So I have some revolutionary ideas I would like to propose.

We have to stop shelving books in strict alphabetical order

In most libraries, we shelve books alphabetically by author’s last name and then alphabetically by title within each author group. In a lot of cases this works perfectly well, except when the author writes a series or multiple series. What I propose is this: on our spine labels, we put the name of each series and the book number and shelve accordingly. Thus, each author who writes a series would have the series shelved numerically and patron’s browsing the shelves would clearly see what the series is and what book number it is.


This is a patron based system that helps make each library visit successful and satisfying for our patrons. Take, for example, Jennifer Lynne Barnes who writes multiple (all very good) ya series. Here we see that among the various series one of those is The Naturals and by putting that information on the spine label and shelving them in order on the shelf, patrons can walk up to the shelf and find the next book in the series.


My corollary to this is that we should also think about the ways in which we catalog certain series. For example, there is currently a DC Icons series which has various titles written by popular YA authors, which means that each book in the series would be shelves by author. However, if we shelved the books by series name, DC Icons, all the DC character books would be shelved together. This one in particular is tricky because some people might want to read Wonder Woman by Leigh Bardugo because they are Leigh Bardugo or Wonder Woman fans and not care about the other books in the series, while some readers will want to read the entire series. In this scenario I am still inclined to shelve all the titles together as DC Icons, but it’s possible that I am wrong.

On shelf merchandising

shelf1 shelf2

Rows and rows and rows of full shelves can cause browsing fatigue. Even I, a librarian who loves YA, can walk up to a book shelf and start browsing for something new to read and I get overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles that stand before me. This is part of the reason that those in the know about marketing and merchandising suggest having your shelves no more than 1/2 to 2/3 full. But there is something else we can do on our shelves to help break up the shelves and prevent browsing fatigue:

shelf5 shelf3

If you have multiple copies of titles, face those titles out right in the middle of the shelf. This works best with multiple copies because it allows a patron to take a copy and there are still a couple before it holding the row of books up. When scanning the shelves of books, having copies facing out in the middle of a row helps to break up that browsing fatigue and keeps the eye engaged.



Putting complete series on a new book shelf display, not just the newest title

Most libraries have a new book display section or shelf where we pull and put a new book on display. Sometimes, however, that book is book 2 or 3 in a trilogy, which means a patron who walks up and browses the display sees book 2 or 3 and now has to try and find books 1 and 2 before they can start reading book 3. What if we just put the entire trilogy on a the display shelf with the new book so patrons could walk up to the display, see the series, and check it all out at once? Yes, some readers only want book 3. But if we want to make things as easy as possible for our patrons, pulling books 1 and 2 and putting them on display with book 3 will help them discover a new series and walk away satisfied patrons.


Don’t get me wrong, all of these proposals require more diligence on our part when it comes to merchandising. It means we have to constantly go back into our shelves and straighten, fill holes, pull books and re-shelve them. And for most libraries, changing the spine labels to represent series would require a lot of work (and money) and re-training of staff. But if we are being truly patron centered and thinking about ways in which we can help our patrons walk away successfully with a satisfying user experience, I think the extra work is worth the effort. I think these are particularly good practices for teen readers who often want to browse the shelves but don’t always want to ask an adult staff person for help finding the next book in a series or for book recommendations. And let’s face it, even our best staff don’t know every book series order and this helps staff as well as patrons. Our goal is satisfied customers checking out books and I believe these practices help make that happen.

If You Buy It, Will It Circ? In Defense of Visual Merchandising and Why Public Libraries Should Do More of It

Straight out of college, where she majored in art, one of my best friend’s first job was as a merchandiser at Arhaus. She spent her days setting up displays, designing the flow of traffic through the store, and helping the store to sell merchandise. Her job was to set up the store in appealing and artistic ways that would get customers to buy the merchandise and they knew what they were doing when they trained her. Around that same time The Mr., also an art major, started going through management training at Kroger. Part of this training was in the fine art of merchandising. Although customers don’t think a lot about it when they walk through the store, stores are spending a lot of time, money and attention to detail to help make sure that we, the customer, spend as much money as possible before we walk out their doors. There is a science to why milk is placed where it’s placed and public libraries could learn a lot from the retail world.

Have you bought or sold a house lately? I was stunned when a friend was selling her house to learn that she had to put half of her life into boxes in storage. Her real estate agent then schooled her in the fine art of staging. This is when realtors set up houses to make them inviting and help them sell. Good real estate agents are also very much in the business and science of set up, display and design. We could learn a lot from them as well.


The thing is, there is a lot of information out there about how to get customers buying merchandise, so why aren’t libraries using it? It’s true, we are a nonprofit community service based entity and we don’t talk about selling our merchandise, but we do want to be in the business of moving merchandise. In fact, it’s one of the most important things we do and one of the primary ways we measure our success: getting patrons to check out our materials. In fact, we spend so much time measuring and wringing our hands over circulation statistics, an issue I discuss here, and yet we spend so little time discussing better ways to help make that happen. Buying the right materials is only the most basic building blocks, it’s what we do with it next that helps get those materials circulating.

If you buy the right materials, we argue, our circulation statistics will be good. But just having an item on a shelf isn’t enough. And have you looked at our shelves lately (and yes, I know, not all shelves)? They are often too full, too overwhelming, and they don’t promote effective browsing. Sometimes, putting an item in our collection is the surest way to make sure that it gets lost.

Visual Merchandising – Applying Bookstore Insights to Public Library Collections

Have you ever worked retail? One of our daily tasks when I was a teenager working retail was to walk through my department hourly to fluff shelves, fill display holes, and face out merchandise. This was non-negotiable and clearly understood to be an important part of my job. And I was trained how to do it and given clear expectations. Retail stores do not come to play when it comes to merchandising, and libraries shouldn’t either.


YA Displays and Merchandising 2017

All of this falls under the heading of merchandising. Many people use the terms marketing and merchandising in tandem, and in ways they are two parts of the same whole. They both share the same goals: to get people using or buying your produce or services. In the world of librarianship, merchandising is our attempt to get people checking out our items. Merchandising is whatever you do to help move merchandise inside your store, or in this case, inside the library. Putting up displays is merchandising. Facing out book titles is merchandising. The colors you choose, the locations you choose, and the products you put on display are all merchandising. You can find a very basic discussion of merchandising at Shopify.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way here: I am no merchandising expert. I am a librarian. And if I have learned one thing about librarianship, it is that it often requires me to become a quasi expert at a wide range of things. And in the course of my career, one of those things has been both marketing and merchandising. In my training and study of merchandising, it has been mind blowing to learn how much research is done and how much the retail world knows about merchandising, down to things like color science and traffic patterns and location, location, location. The science is out there, already done for us, so let’s use our research skills to find and implement them in our libraries.

One of the Tween's bookshelves of honor.

Trading Spaces: New Jersey Library Association

I’ve been thinking about merchandising a lot. I even tweeted last week that I thought one of the things that public libraries should do is to invite merchandising experts from local businesses to come in and do staff training. I think all staff should be trained in the fine art of merchandising; I think all staff should be given directives that involve staff training; and I think that all staff should be held accountable for merchandising. We should train our staff and make sure that they walk through the library several times a day to straighten the books on shelves, to fill display holes, and to make sure we have titles facing out. It’s what they do in retail business for a reason: it works.


Just a few of the tips that I would suggest include:

1. Just Right Shelf Sizes and Face Out Titles

Weed, weed, weed so that your shelves are no more than half  to two-thirds full. At the end of each shelf that is at eye level, pull a book from that shelf and put it on face out display. Publishers put a lot of research into book covers, so let’s use what they know and do and use those book coves to get books circulating.

2. Contrasting Colors

When doing a display, unless you are doing a color specific display, put books with contrasting colors next to each other. For example, put a book with an orange cover on display next to a book with a blue cover. The contrast helps patrons visually distinguish between the books. This is harder said then done because a large number of books have black or blue covers. Visual artists know how to use color and contrast to draw the eye in and make it focus on what they want the eye to focus on; people who do graphic design do this as well. Let’s learn what we can from graphic designers, visual artists and visual merchandisers to create face out displays that will get books into the hands of our patrons.

3. The Book’s the Thing

Put the emphasis on the books as opposed to the display embellishments. You want to make it easy for the patrons to take a book off of a shelf or display and not feel like they are messing up someone’s time and efforts. In fact, if you can, include verbiage on your signage that lets patrons know that yes, these books are available to check out!

4. Rotate

Rotate displays and face out titles every 2 to 4 weeks. With displays and face out titles, we’re encouraging our patrons to check out materials via browsing, so it’s important that they always have something new to see. If you put a title on display and it doesn’t move, re-shelve it and give another title a chance.

5. Straighten

Make it a part of your daily practice to walk the library, or whatever your designated part of the library is, and keep things neat and straight. We’re all supposed to take 10,000 steps a day for health, so we might as well straighten while we’re doing it, right? Make it a part of every single person’s daily practice to merchandise the library and straighten the shelves.

There are so many other tips that are floating into my head now as I type this. We want to have balance, which is hard to achieve. A too full display and a too empty display both discourage browsing. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you want your display or shelves to be JUST RIGHT, but knowing what that looks like and how to achieve it is tricky business. And in all honesty, even with all the science and research, not everyone agrees, there are some best practices.

Here is some interesting research to help get us all started thinking about merchandising:

Retail Merchandising: Set Up Your Store for Retail Success

Visual Merchandising 101

Anythink Libraries Visual Merchandising

6 Visual Merchandising Tricks to Boost Your Sales

10 Unique Visual Merchandising Tricks You Should Steal

I know that not every library out there is struggling with the concept of merchandising, so share your tips and tricks with us below in the comments. But if you are one of the many libraries that are, maybe contact some local businesses and ask them to do some training and help your staff establish some best practices.

Cultural Humility in Librarianship: What is it? (a guest post by Adilene Rogers)

Today we are honored to share this guest post on Cultural Humility in Librarianship by Adilene Rogers.


As a youth services librarian, I find myself interacting with people from all walks of life. People with different interests, needs, and cultures from my own. A fact that can sometimes be a little daunting as I go through my day to day duties. As someone who works with the public, I have found that many of my colleagues look at cultural competency as a huge component of librarianship and, while I agree that cultural competency is needed in our profession, I think that not enough is said about cultural humility and how that can help us deal with some of the shortcomings that come with practicing cultural competence alone.

Cultural Humility: What Does it Take to Change the World?

Some of you may be asking, what is cultural humility and how is it different from cultural competence?  Cultural competency according to the National Association of Social Workers is defined as “a congruent set of behaviors, attitudes, and policies that enable a person or group to work effectively in cross-cultural situations; the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures”. Cultural humility, on the other hand, is a practice of self-reflection on how one’s own background, experiences, and expectations impact a situation or interaction. It is also understanding that everyone is an expert on their own identity and that an individual’s background cannot be assumed.

Cultural Humility discussed on the ALA website

I work with mostly Spanish speaking communities and the number of times that librarians have told me “facts” about the communities I serve causes me great frustration. I have had teens come and tell me about teachers or librarians who claim to know them based solely on a few characteristics they have read about their culture online. We all know that teens are often unfairly judged for just being teens, now pair that with teens who have a gender identity that some may not understand, or come from a race that isn’t the dominant culture. Hiding behind the veil of just memorizing a few characteristics of cultures is detrimental in our interactions with our communities and I have seen it time and time again within our interactions. I once had an old coworker state that our latino teens are louder than our white teens because “that’s just how they are, it’s in their culture”. I had another librarian when I was teen tell me that they don’t do many teen programs because “teens don’t come. It’s just a fact.” So whether it is based on age, race or any matter of identity, there needs to be a self-awareness at what we bring to the interactions we have with our communities.

Social Work for Librarians: Cultural Humility

Cultural knowledge is not something that can be “mastered” and no matter how many lists or quantitative measures we have about a given culture unless we are from that culture we can never truly understand it. When it comes to cultural competency, we see competency as an endpoint or a formula that can be mastered if we memorize a few characteristics and often time we use those characteristics as a way to fuel our own biases. That is where cultural humility comes in, understanding where we stand with the communities we serve will help us make great strides with them. Self-reflecting has become part of my daily interactions with my teens and anyone else I come in contact with.

Cultural Humility as a Transformative Framework for Librarians, Tutors, and Youth Volunteers: Applying a Lens of Cultural Responsiveness in Training Library Staff and Volunteers

If you want to learn more wholepersonlibrarianship has a great article on cultural humility. You can also find a free webinar on the subject on ALA’s website.


BIo: Adilene (Addie) Rogers is a bilingual youth services librarian for the Sacramento Public Library. She is a graduate of SJSU and can usually be found reviewing bilingual picture books or discussing YA books on twitter @latinxlibrarian

Literacy: Privilege or Right? Highlights from the 2018 Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Literature Conference , a guest post by Lisa Krok

This year, the Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Literature Conference for Youth joined forces with the Annual Literacy Conference to tackle the theme “Literacy: Privilege or Right?” at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.  Now in its 34th year, the colloquium’s beloved namesake is still ever present in spirit.

vh1Virginia Hamilton was born, as she said, “on the outer edge of the Great Depression” on March 12, 1934. In 1960, Hamilton married poet Arnold Adoff. Virginia wrote forty-one books, winning every major award in youth literature. In 1984, the Virginia Hamilton Lecture in Children’s Literature was established at Kent State University, in Kent, Ohio, and has since grown into the Virginia Hamilton Conference. Hamilton passed away in 2002, but her legacy lives on. The Virginia Hamilton Conference is the longest running event in the United States that focuses solely on multicultural literature for children and young adults.

The event kicked off on a Thursday evening with the presentation of the 20th Annual Virginia Hamilton Literary Award to Marilyn Nelson. Nelson’s keynote address informed us that her father was one of the Tuskegee Airmen, and that she, her mother, and her grandmother were all teachers. This background instilled in Nelson the belief that literacy is more than a privilege or a right, it is an obligation. She is also concerned when she watches the news, worried about the poor and the people of color. Reading aloud from her book American Ace (Dial Books, 2016), she asserted “Yeah, but what about the poor? Hey, what about the people of color? I feel like there’s a blackness beyond skin, beyond race, beyond outward appearance. A blackness that has more to do with how you see than how you’re seen. That craves justice equally for oneself and for others. I hope I’ve found some of that in myself.”



Above: Annisha Jeffries presents Marilyn Nelson with the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award

Next up was the Arnold Adoff Poetry Awards, affectionately referred to as the “Rudini” awards, in honor of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, whose “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors” remarks have inspired many. Hope Anita Smith, Nikki Grimes, and Laura Shovan were in attendance to receive their awards personally. All of the winning and honor books are listed below:


After the awards, a panel of authors featuring Laura Shovan, Wade Hudson, Cheryl Willis Hudson, and Nikki Grimes discussed how Virginia Hamilton and Arnold Adoff have influenced or inspired their writing. Some of the comments included:

“Virginia and Arnold had such impact in terms of promoting inclusion and diversity… I have seen Arnold put himself on the line many times to move the needle down the road to have more opportunities for people of color to become writers.” – Wade Hudson

“Arnold Adoff had a sense a playfulness on the page… it is the first time they are being told ‘I can create’… poetry is playing with language. This set the stage for Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, and other writers of verse novels.” – Laura Shovan

“That book [Zeely, Scholastic, 1967] propelled me into writing for children.” – Cheryl Willis Hudson

“Whenever you have a reluctant reader, poetry is the way to go. The white space opens the door… and then they are hooked.” – Nikki Grimes

The evening concluded with book signings and many smiling faces.


Left to right: Laura Shovan, Wade Hudson, Cheryl Willis Hudson, Nikki Grimes

Friday morning bright and early, the conference reconvened with a keynote presentation from Dr. David Bloome of the Ohio State University. Bloome introduced jazz music as a metaphor for reading comprehension. The audience was treated to music samples from Herbie Hancock, Michael Camilo, Mongo Santamaria, and Albert King, and asked to make comparisons among versions of the same song originated by Herbie Hancock, Watermelon Man, and covered by the others.


Dr. David Bloome


After the morning keynote, attendees dispersed to attend a variety of workshop sessions. With a total of thirty-one amazing workshop offerings within the three breakout time slots, it was challenging for attendees to decide where to go next.

Sam Bloom and Elisa Gall, contributors to the blog Reading While White, presented Holding Up the Mirror: What Does #WhitenessinKidLit Look Like? Bloom began by stating, “As White people, we do not have the lived experience and expertise IPOC have – we are working towards understanding and strengthening our own racial awareness to make White racism visible so that we can push against it.”

Gall continued by sharing lessons, insights, and questions inspired by What Does it Mean to be White? by Robin DiAngel: “We are assuming today that we agree that racism exists. Today the goal is looking at how we live in a society in which we SAY race has no meaning… but by every measure we have racial inequity. Our ‘open-mindedness’ or ‘being good people’ has not ended racism. If anything, it has helped keep those inequities in place. When you feel uncomfortable, please take that as a learning opportunity.”  Gall describes oppression as a result of groups embedding their discrimination into the fabric of society, based upon who holds power. We then end up with “–isms” and “–ias”, (think sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc.). Those in a position of privilege may take their own identity status for granted, since it hasn’t gotten in their way.  Racism needs to be the first priority, because “if we attempt to undo sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, etc. without first undoing racism, we will inevitably undo those -isms and -ias for White people only.” Bloom and Gall continued with too many incredible quotes to include in this article, and finished their session with “What would you do?” type scenarios of varied situations/interactions that addressed the issues discussed in their presentation.


 Above, Elisa Gall : “How might my glasses shape how I view myself and others? What might my glasses make it easy for me to see? What do my glasses prevent me from seeing? How might my glasses shape my expectations, what I do or do not take for granted? What I see as ‘fair’ or ‘normal’?”

Workshop two on my agenda was Trafficked Child Soldiers in International Literature by Linda T. Parsons and Lisa Patrick Pinkerton, both instructors from the Ohio State University. Several books were shared via book talks that portrayed tragic patterns of brutal abduction, dehumanization, and indoctrination. The audience received index cards with passages from one of the books presented. Participants read these aloud to create a found poem by putting together different passages in new ways. Next, the group was given a printout from a chapter from Chanda’s Wars by Allan Stratton. Each person read through the chapter while highlighting certain passages that stood out to them. The passages could then be sequenced in various ways to create poetry that is “found” within the book. This is a great option for teens who say “I can’t write poetry.” Once they are introduced to found poetry, they may become more confident and interested in poetry in general. A handout was given with geographical locations and character ages depicted in the books discussed, so that choices can be tailored for middle grade students and teens.


Novels Referenced:

de Graaf, A. (2006). Son of a Gun. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.

Hutton, K. (2017). Soldier Boy. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Lewis, G. (2015). Gorilla Dawn. Illus. by S. Mleyer. New York, NY: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum.

McKay, S. E., & Lafrance, D. (2013). War Brothers: The graphic novel. Buffalo, NY: Annick Press.

Perkins, M. (2010). Bamboo People. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Stratton, S. (2008). Chanda’s War. New York, HY: HarperTeen.

After lunch, it was time for session three. Barbara Tschantz introduced attendees to multiple works by award winning illustrator, Bryan Collier. Although these are picture books, they are used in middle grade and high school classrooms. They can be used to teach kids how to create a richer experience reading for meaning by using an element-by-element analysis. Repeated elements that could be visual metaphors, use of light, details that seem significant, and perspective/point of view are analyzed to gather deeper meaning. This works especially well when breaking students up into small groups.


Barbara Tschantz


 The final stop of the day was the closing keynote by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson, creators of Just Us Books. Using Virginia Hamilton’s Zeely as an inspiration, they stressed that their books are “accessible, authentic, culturally specific, global, and yes, UNIVERSAL.” Cheryl shared an anecdote about Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s mirrors. “Mirrors should not be reminders  of Snow White… not associating fairness with fair [skin]/whiteness.” She now sees the term fair as “equitable, true colors shining like a beautiful rainbow.”  Just Us Books also endorses fair hiring, training people of color, and demanding textbooks and trade books are accurate.

The Hudsons’ most recent book, We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices, is an anthology of diverse authors. They define RISE as “being in a state of alertness or curiously awake”, RESIST as “deciding to take action”, and RAISE as “speak up, speak out, offer our truth”. They certainly do.


Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson

Alexa Sandmann, co-director of the conference, thanked today’s presenters and stated, “We READ, therefore we rise, we resist, we raise our voices”. What a perfect quote to wrap up the day!  Mark your calendars for the 35th Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Literature Conference, April 23, 2020.


Left to right front row:  Lauran Shovan, Marilyn Nelson, Nikki Grimes


Left to right back row: Lindsay Bonilla, Wade Hudson, Cheryl Willis Hudson, Julie Rubini

More resources from the conference, authors, and presenters:










https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/osu1376439323/inline (found poetry)





Lisa Krok is a branch manager in the Cleveland Public Library system, a Kent Alumna, and a Ravenclaw. She can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Many thanks to Christina Getrost for sharing her photos to add to those of the author.

Circulation Statistics are an Imperfect Measure of Who We are and What Libraries Do

I know several libraries that are chewing their nails about declining circulation statistics. The issue is, of course, that circulation statistics are one of the primary measures of success for school and public libraries. They are, however, an imperfect measure of both library success and impact. For a profession that has the term science right there in the title, we rely on some pretty flawed data to help drive what we do.


Circulation statistics measure how many times an item is checked out of a library collection. Most libraries use this data for a variety of things, including collection development and annual reporting. One of the things circulation figures look at is overall circulation. For example, a library will run a report and determine that the library system circulated 1,000,000 items for the year. Depending on the size of the collection and the service area, they will then determine whether or not this is a good number. Over the years, we track circulation increase and decrease to determine whether or not we are contracting or expanding. Circulation statistics are a really big deal, but should they be?

Any business, and though we are non-profit, libraries are in fact a business, needs data to help drive discussions, planning, evaluation and more. For profit businesses measure things like profit and loss, return on investment, and staffing costs. To be clear, libraries do and should be measuring these types of figures as well. But today we’re going to talk about one of our primary tools of measurement: circulation statistics. Though circulation statistics are a very standard unite by which libraries evaluation their success and plan, I would argue that they are a very ineffective tool. Furthermore, I worry that many libraries place far too much emphasis on this number, which is inherently flawed as a measuring tool


Circulation is not the same as reading nor is it a measure of impact

Circulation statistics tell us if an item is checked out and that’s it. As a data point, it doesn’t give us a lot of information. This data doesn’t give us any information about what the patron did with the item once they checked it out. For all we know, a patron checked out an item and then it sat in their car for two weeks where they forgot about it and returned it completely unused. This data also doesn’t tell us if the patron liked the item, if they liked their experience of the library, or if that item made any impact on things like personal growth, education, or recreation. Circulation data is not the same as impact or use. To be clear, there is no real way we can measure this data, but it is a slippery slope to suggest that circulation is the same as impact. At the end of the day, the only thing this number tells us is that a patron checked out an item. It’s only the beginning of a story, of an item’s journey. We never know what happens next.


We know that circulation doesn’t realistically reflect the way patrons use certain collections

Fiction books and biographies are typically items that a patron will check out and read because it takes an investment of time. DVDs are also an item that can’t be used inside of a library. But there are many items and collections that are used in-house or both in-house and out-of-house. Take board books for example; These are short books that are typically read to babies and toddlers. Many parents and caregivers will bring their small child with them to the library and sit down and read many board books to their children before selecting just a few to check out and take home. The same happens with pictures books. Likewise, most children and teen librarians will tell you that a lot of graphic novels get read right there at the library. There are many areas of the collection which have use higher than what their circulation statistics may indicate. One way to try to get a better number is to measure in-house use as well as circulation, but measuring in-house use is both an imperfect act and it requires more work for staff. I would argue, however, that we should be collecting this data for collection development and for measuring use and communicating our use to admin and our communities.

The Teen spending time in the Teen MakerSpace

Circulation doesn’t measure sharing within households and friends

When I first began working in libraries, a book called Rats Saw God by author Rob Thomas was published. This book had tremendous word of mouth from teen to teen and many teens would check it out and then share it with their friends. One teen might check it out, meaning it got one circ., but many teens read that single copy on the single circulation. I parent a teen who loves to read YA. We will often both read the same book even though it only gets checked out by one of us. As a family, we have often traveled in a car listening to an audio book. Four people are listening to that book, but it only gets one circulation. The same happens when we check out and watch a movie. One circulation statistic does not indicate how many people may or may not have engaged with that item.


There are many access barriers to circulation

Recently, we kept finding a book hidden on a shelf. We had a teen that was coming in every day, grabbing this book and reading it, and then hiding it so that he could pick it up and read it again the next day. He couldn’t check out the book and take it home because his card was blocked by fines. Fines, fees, blocked cards, the rules we put in place to get cards – especially if you are a minor – can make checking out an item hard. Many of our patrons find creative ways to get around the access barriers we put in place. Many patrons stop using the library all together or stop using traditional library materials because of the access barriers we put in place. Many library patrons use the library in ways that aren’t represented by circulation statistics and we put up a lot of access barriers that prevent our patrons from doing the very thing we need them to do to measure our success.


Libraries are more than the circulation of traditional materials

Circulating traditional items is not the only nor is it the most important thing that libraries do. The various services and amenities that libraries provide are legion, and many of them are hard to measure. Circulation statistics and program attendance are concrete figures, but they don’t tell the whole story. We can add in things like Internet computer use and PAC searches, but this is still an incomplete picture. Some libraries use tally sheets to keep track of the number of informational and reference questions answered, but this is also still an incomplete picture. When we talk about libraries, we need to gather as much data as possible to help us measure success and communicate this success to our administrators, our boards and our communities, but we need more than statistics. We need personal stories, we need patron feedback, and we need to paint a more holistic picture of who we are, what we are doing, and the benefit we bring to our communities. Statistics are not enough for us to tell our stories and measure our success.


There are other things we should be looking at when we talk about circulation. How is our library at marketing? What kind of transportation barriers do people have to get to the library? How are we doing at customer service and retention? Once patrons are inside the building, are they able to find what they want or do they walk away empty handed? What type of external competition are we facing? What budget and staff challenges do we face? Is our process for ordering, processing and managing materials efficient and do they promote quickly getting materials into the hands of our patrons? There are so many more questions we should be asking ourselves and so many issues we should be discussing beyond circulation statistics.

Circulation statistics. They are important and have value, but I fear that we place too much emphasis on this data. In the year 2018, it does not tell the whole story of who we are and what we do and what obstacles we have to overcome to do it. So yes, track your stats and keep working towards growth, but let’s also keep the big picture in mind. We are more than just our circulation statistics and those statistics don’t tell us everything we need to know. We need to find better ways to measure our success and tell our story.