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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

Anything 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.

Real Talk About the State of YA Services in Public Libraries


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millennials are killing list – Business Insider

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

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

Guess who uses public libraries the most? Millennials – CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does it all mean?

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

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

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


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

Things Libraries Do That Hurt Libraries and Fail Our Local Communities

Yesterday, Twitter erupted when an article was shared by Forbes magazine that suggested that Amazon bookstores should replace libraries to save taxpayers money. This is, of course, an absurd argument because the two entities have entirely different methods and goals. Amazon wants to make money and libraries are a non-profit that want to support their local communities. I won’t get into the arguments against this proposal here because it is being discussed at length on Twitter, and pretty well. (You can read the article and not give them clicks by using this Do Not Link URL: https://donotlink.it/lRL7)

The Teen, learning how to make new stuff at the public library.

The Teen, learning how to make new stuff at the public library. Providing programming, information resources and an opportunity to come spend time in a safe space is just one of the many things a public library offers.

At the same time that this is happening, I have been reading for a few weeks now about libraries in the UK where staff are being let go and entire libraries are being “staffed” by volunteers. That’s right, these libraries are being completely run by unpaid volunteers.

Experienced staff work on cultivating well-rounded collections to meet a variety of need in the local community.

Experienced staff work on cultivating well-rounded collections to meet a variety of need in the local community.

Both of these trends occur because of our increasing desire to move away from paying taxes. Nobody has ever liked paying taxes, but we used to agree that there was some community good that came from our taxes so we swallowed a bitter pill and paid them. But one of the things that the current cultural zeitgeist has done really well is to convince a majority of us that taxes are bad, community investment is even worse, and people who don’t succeed on their own must somehow be lazy or bad or not blessed by God or whatever the current argument is that shifts us from a model of investing in each other and community to caring only about ourselves and our immediately families. There is a lot of information out there which clearly demonstrates that the strongest and healthiest communities out there are those that invest in public education and public libraries and the arts and in helping to bring the poor up and out of poverty. Literacy rates, for example, are tied into crime rates. Third grade reading proficiency is actually a pretty good indicator of what future crime rates for a city might look like.

This is my 3rd grader. She is reading a book that she checked out from the library to me in the car to me. A public library provides her with access to more books and a greater variety of books than I could afford to buy her.

This is my 3rd grader. She is reading a book that she checked out from the library to me in the car to me. A public library provides her with access to more books and a greater variety of books than I could afford to buy her.

Even when I was discussing the Forbes article at lunch with my husband The Teen said, “The people at Forbes don’t care about the type of people who need to use libraries. It’s not like they aren’t a bias source.” I was proud of her insight, though I do wish we could collectively move past the idea that it is only poor people who use libraries. Many people use libraries and in a variety of ways and all of them are meaningful and valid.

At this event, teens learned how to use technology to make their own images.

At this event, teens learned how to use technology to make their own images.

At some point in the conversation someone started the hashtag #LibrariesSave and people started sharing stories about their visits to libraries or librarians themselves started sharing stories about work. After a while a few themes started to emerge. For example, there were stories about librarians staying hours after closing and without pay to help a student or how libraries were now doing more with less. And this is what I want to talk about.

A group of teens hang out in a public library, reading books and making stuff.

A group of teens hang out in a public library, reading books and making stuff.

Make no mistake, I feel that libraries are a valuable community service and that the work we do often goes unrecognized. In many ways, the work we do is heroic. I have helped people who desperately needed work apply for jobs, I have helped adopted children try to locate their biological parents, and I have helped people find public assistance and support at a time when they needed it to survive. I by no means want to diminish the work that we do. The day to day tasks of librarianship are actually more mundane then we sometime like to acknowledge. I order books, I cultivate collections, I help patrons make copies and send faxes, and I provide programs for teens. Sometimes those moments have profound implications for our patrons, but most professions have those moments where they connect with a person or provide a moment or service that will have a profound impact on their life. I have heard what happens with librarians referred to as vocational awe, which I get. I believe that libraries are profoundly important, meaningful and impact for individuals and communities. I like to say I’m a superhero, but I’m also just a person doing a job and I need a lot of things to be successful at that job, I need to make enough money to support my family, and I need (and deserve) to have work/life balance.

Summer reading programs, which are staff and time intensive, keep youth read, help prevent the summer slide, and keep youth engaged during the summer months.

Summer reading programs, which are staff and time intensive, keep youth read, help prevent the summer slide, and keep youth engaged during the summer months.

I also believe that in moments of vocational awe or out of sheer dedication of service, many library staff and libraries do things that harm public libraries. By trying to go above and beyond we actually end up undermining our work and sending the wrong messages to our public supporters. Public libraries are dependent on support and funding from outside sources. We need state legislators and local voters to vote on the funding we need to open our doors every day, so we are constantly trying to prove our worth. I get the why of this, it’s just that sometimes I’m not sure we are doing the how of it very successfully. Every action we do sends an explicit and an implicit message. Sometimes, I fear, our messaging is off. But trying to be heroes, we communicate a lack of need that genuinely exists.

This teen is using technology she doesn't have access to at home to learn how to make stop motion movies. A variety of books in our collection helps her learn how to use the technology.

This teen is using technology she doesn’t have access to at home to learn how to make stop motion movies. A variety of books in our collection helps her learn how to use the technology.

Take, for example, the proud boast that libraries are doing more now with less. And it’s true, most libraries are now operating with less budgets, less staff, and in some cases, less open hours. And yet we have not done anything to cut any of our services. So now our staff are being forced to do more, but with less of what they need to be successful. On the one hand, it looks heroic and feels validating. Look at us, we’re so awesome that we are providing all the same excellent services with less staff, time and money. Except that also hurts us, because when it comes time to vote on funding again, all we’ve done is demonstrate to legislators and tax payers that we didn’t actually need that staff, time or money to begin with. Why should voters vote to increase our funding to previous levels when we have just demonstrated to them that we can do all the same things with half of the resources? Behind the scenes you and I know the true cost of on staff and resources to try and maintain those services, but we have to make sure we also are letting the public aware of our true need. Not all sacrifice is noble, especially when it is impacting the quality or reach of our services or leading to staff burn out and health complications.

The Teen meets an author at the South Irving Public Library. When teens connect with authors, they learn about the writing process, meet new and different people, and are more likely to be more invested in reading.

The Teen meets an author at the South Irving Public Library. When teens connect with authors, they learn about the writing process, meet new and different people, and are more likely to be more invested in reading.

Or let’s consider the move away from supporting professional librarians. And this is always a very touchy subject in libraries. I am an MLS librarian, but I wasn’t always. I personally am pro-MLS because although I do the same exact job that I did before getting my MLS, going through the graduate program really helped me be a better teen services librarian. The who, what, why and how of what I do became better informed and from a more knowledgeable foundation. And I understand and recognize some of the arguments that are had in the to MLS or not to MLS conversation. It’s expensive, it’s a barrier to access that keeps our profession overwhelming white, etc. This is all true and valid. And I don’t think that everyone working in a library has to have an MLS just as I don’t believe that everyone working in a doctor’s office needs to have an MD. Like any organization, it takes a wide variety of people with a wide variety of experience and knowledge to keep the doors open and the library running, and every one of those people are important and valuable. I don’t say we need MLS librarians to mean that we also don’t need or shouldn’t value paraprofessionals and other support staff. I do, however, believe that some of the people working in our libraries should be degreed librarians. I also believe that the movement away from hiring degreed librarians allows our local communities to undervalue the roles of libraries in our local communities. Every time an MLS librarian leaves and we replace them with a part-time non-MLD paraprofessional and as we watch the number of degreed librarians in public libraries shrink, we are communicating to our local communities and state legislators that libraries and librarians aren’t as important or as valuable as we said they were. It is, in part, I believe why libraries in the UK can just let go of their staff and replace them with unpaid volunteers. We’ve spent years telling them that anyone can run a library and with very little training, education, experience, or resources, and they believed us. We are reaping what we have sown.

After reading biographies on Hillary Clinton and Malala, Thing 2 decided she wanted to find ways to be a helper. She now makes us walk around the neighborhood on Trash Tuesdays and pick up trash. Books inspire and help build compassion.

After reading biographies on Hillary Clinton and Malala, Thing 2 decided she wanted to find ways to be a helper. She now makes us walk around the neighborhood on Trash Tuesdays and pick up trash. Books inspire and help build compassion.

Some of these stories talked about staff staying hours after the library closed and without pay to help patrons finish up a task. While noble, this also doesn’t help the cause. For one, it’s not fair to ask staff to remain after hours and without pay. Everyone deserves to have a good work/life balance and people need to have a livable wage and be compensated for their time. But more than that, all of this unpaid labor, donated time, and donated resources simply mean that our administrators don’t have a real understanding of what the library needs to be successful. Every hour a staff member donates is one hour that admin making budgets and schedules don’t know need to be included in their planning. Every resource donated by staff, and I know we’ve all donated food or craft supplies or prizes, is a budget item that isn’t accounted for. This means that the next year when our administrators are making budgets or going to legislators to request support and funding, then don’t have a real idea of the true cost of running our libraries and they don’t know what to realistically ask for. Also, you’re setting yourself and your predecessor up for failure. What happens when the next year you have a medical emergency and you can’t donate all that time or all those craft items and now you are being asked to perform at the same standards with the same resources as the year before because your administrator doesn’t know that you were donating some of those time and resources.

These t-shirts were creating by a group of teens learning a variety of ways they could combine technology to create their own clothing and engage in self-expression.

These t-shirts were created by a group of teens learning a variety of ways they could combine technology to create their own clothing and engage in self-expression.

I’m all for defending libraries, though I grow weary that we keep having to do so because privileged, non-library users keep attacking us in the library before taking a moment to really find out what libraries are doing and how often they are being used. And every time this happens I’m reminded that libraries need to do a better job of marketing libraries so we won’t keep having to have these moments of necessary defense. I also think when we defend our libraries or even when we market them, we need to be careful in how we do so. Sometimes, I fear, we are undermining our own goals in the ways that we talk about, market, and defend our libraries. More with less may translate in ways that suggest we can, in fact, cut library funding. Declaring that we don’t need MLS librarians may translate in ways that suggest that libraries are less professional than we want to appear. And donating our time and resources may translate in ways that suggest that we need less funding and support than we realistically do to function well.

These teens are in the library because they needed a space and access to technology to successfully complete a school assignment.

These teens are in the library because they needed a space and access to technology to successfully complete a school assignment.

I think we need to work on refining our message, understanding and communicating our worth and value, and demanding the adequate support and funding we need to truly be good at what we do. I know a lot of library staff that are barely surviving in barely funded libraries. As an institution, we are very dependent on public perception and support. It is vital to our continued existence that the public truly understands what libraries do, how they do it, why they do it, and what they realistically need to continue to do it well. We need to work on our messaging, and I believe it is critical that we need to do it now.

When we hurt our libraries, when we fail to realistically plan and staff our libraries, when we undermine our own worth and value, we’re also hurting the local communities that we serve. Our local communities deserved well staff, well stocked, and well run libraries with trained, qualified staff who provide quality patron service and help them reach their personal and community goals. We aren’t just hurting ourselves, we’re hurting the very people we have chosen to serve in our profession.

Summer Reading Programs: The importance of staff training and the summer reading pep rally


Summer reading programs are one of the biggest parts of most, if not all, youth services departments. In this, my 25th year as a YA Librarian, I have put together 25 SRPs and executed 24. I have only had one summer, when we were moving between states, where I did not spend my summer hosting a teen summer reading program. Summers are busy, stressful and time consuming times. Yearly srps take up a huge chunk of youth librarians time and resources.

Most Childrens/YA/YS librarians begin planning for the next year’s SRP as soon as the previous year’s SRP ends. I would like to propose that you include a summer reading pep rally as part of your yearly summer reading program planning. I call it a pep rally, but it’s really a staff training day where you train staff on the how, when, where, why and whatnot of your library’s summer reading program.


Over the years I have found that one of the things staff hates the most is to appear uninformed when asked questions by the public. It’s one of the things that I hate the most. As YS librarians, it’s easy for us to forget that although the ins and out of SRP are common knowledge to us, staff may not feel fully informed and invested. But we need our front line staff to help promote SRP and be able to answer any questions that patrons may have. Thus, the SRP pep rally was born to help meet the dual need of creating staff buy in and making sure staff felt fully informed. It’s a fun way to keep staff informed, create buy in, and build team morale as we kick off what is arguable one of our busiest and most stressful times.

Tada: The Stupendously Amazing TEEN MAKERSPACE MANUAL

Here’s what we did:

  1. When creating your SRP budget, put a budget line in there for the srp staff training day. I recommend hosting a catered breakfast or lunch. Staff training always seems to go better with food.
  2. Pick a date a couple of weeks before your summer reading program launches and book your meeting rooms.
  3. Decorate your room on theme to help create excitement. You can use items that you purchased to decorate for the summer reading program. The more use you get out of your decorations, the better.
  4. Are you doing a skit or reader’s theater to promote SRP in the schools? You can use this very same intro in your SRP training day. Do something fun to break the ice and get everyone’s attention just like you would when doing school visits or at a program.
  5. Provide a basic FAQ sheet that staff can take with them and keep at their service desk with the basics. Go over these in your training and allow for any questions.
  6. Take a moment to discuss things like the summer slide and the value of srp to kids and the community. Help staff understand that this isn’t just busy work designed to stress staff out, but that it has concrete value that enhances the communities that we serve.
  7. Do you do crafts in your summer reading program? Maybe have a hands on craft or two available to help demonstrate what you’re doing and give the staff something fun to do. For example, one year I was doing Sharpie tie dye t-shirts with my teens and at our SRP staff training day I invited staff to bring a plain, white t-shirt and we did this craft as a hands on activity. Then, staff were allowed to wear their shirts on Fridays during the SRP.
  8. Thank everyone in advance for their help in promoting SRP and emphasize that they are a valuable part of summer reading success – because they are!

It’s true, having a staff srp training day creates more work, but it’s important work. An informed staff with good morale provides better customer service and works better together to meet the library’s goals. There is value in making sure staff is informed and cared for, even in our most busy times. Especially in our busiest times.

The 3Ps of Creating a Welcoming Library

We live in a time where we are witnessing a dramatic increase in the number of racist, misogynist, religious and homophobic attacks on Americans, especially in public spaces. Yes, these things have always existed, but current research indicate that there is an increase in incidents and we should pay attention to this. As a public space, it is imperative that libraries examine best practices to make sure that we are creating a welcoming environment for all community members and that we are protecting the safety of our patrons. To do this, I suggest that we think about the 3 Ps in which we regularly engage to make sure that public libraries fulfill their mission.


The First P: Policies

Policies are those rules we put into place to help both patrons and staff understand what is expected on both sides to help create fair and equitable access to public library collections and services. Because of their role in service, it behooves us all to examine how our policies do or do not help us achieve the goal of being welcoming to all and creating a safe and inviting environment for the public, including the most marginalized members of our communities. Our policies are the foundation of creating a welcoming environment.

Acceptable Patron Behavior Policy

All libraries have an acceptable patron behavior policy which outlines what behaviors will not be tolerated in the library and what the consequences for unacceptable behavior will be. Many libraries adopt a one or two warning (strike) policy where you receive a warning and then you are asked to leave. This is a great policy when you consider things like talking loudly in the library or perhaps running or horseplay, but less so when you consider things like verbal or physical assault of staff or patrons. Verbal assaults, bullying, sexual harassment, cat calling, etc. are being talked about a lot right now in our culture and I think this is a great time for public libraries to re-examine how we respond to this behavior. I recommend a very direct statement that this behavior is not tolerated heren and immediate removal of offending patron. This behavior is very different then many other behaviors and can create an atmosphere of fear, shame and alienation for our patrons. I suggest re-writing acceptable patron behavior policies to make it clear that any intentional hate speech, verbal assaults, sexual harassment or bullying of patrons will not be acceptable and is grounds for immediate removal from the library.

What to Do about Slang?

Please note, this paragraph includes a discussion of some offensive terms and those terms are included.

There are a lot of commonly accepted terms that are frequently used that are, in fact, very offensive. For example, the term gypsy is actually a slur against the Romani people but it is used very frequently to mean someone who travels or wanders. Some version of the word retard, including the term itself, is also used frequently; such as when some calls a liberal opponent a libtard. Even the term lame, used to mean something that is not cool, is rooted in hateful speech against those with a disability that prevent walking. In truth, even telling someone to man up, or not to cry like a girl, is problematic. Many terms are used casually by people who have no understanding of what their origins are or the underlying hate and bias that they include. So what are library staff supposed to do when they encounter these moments?

Common Words With Nasty Pasts – Everything After Z by Dictionary.com

I personally have been known to tell my teens why the speech is offensive and ask them not to use those terms anymore, with the understanding that if they do so moving forward, they will be asked to leave the library. This is where the grey areas of policy and procedures come in, where interpretation and implementation can be harder. If a patron complains, we have a responsibility to address the patron complaint, especially if it is a patron who feels threatened by the speech or behavior. But to be honest, I have heard groups of teens talking among themselves and have taken a moment to stop and tell them why this speech is harmful.

When we speak of patron complaints, I think it is important to separate intention from effect. A patron making hateful speech may deflect by saying they didn’t know, that’s not what they meant, or that they were joking. But I think it is important to look at what the actual effect of the behavior on other patrons is and the environment that it creates. If a patron is complaining about the speech or behavior of others, it is imperative that we address those complaints.

Collection Development

In 2018, librarianship is a profession that is still predominantly white and female. With that demographic comes a lot of unexamined internal bias. Couple this with the fact that a majority of books published are still by white authors and many book reviewers are still white, and you have the perfect storm for some incredibly unbalanced collections. Our collection development policies should be examined and written in a way that makes acquiring more balanced collections a priority. They should understand and use terms like own voices (books about marginalized groups written by a member of that group) and they should be so bold as to set measurable thresholds for acquisition. For example, we can ask that our staff examine each book order placed to make sure that it is not exclusively a reflection of the white, cishetero male landscape that is often most promoted in publishing. We’ll talk more about this in practices, the next P, but our collection development policies need to make it clear to staff and patrons that our radical inclusion and diverse representation are the goals of our collections. Having this goal written into our policies helps us make it clear to our staff and patrons that this is non-negotiable.

Marketing and Displays

In our marketing materials and in our public displays, their own form of marketing, we need to make sure that we are also making radical inclusion and diversity our goal. Putting these goals into policy form helps to make it clear that it is a priority for our libraries. A policy states, this is a thing we value and are going to do and we will hold each other accountable to make sure that it happens. Again, write your policy in ways that make it clear that this is goal you want your staff to reach. Give measurable output goals, such as each display can contain no more than 50% of titles authored by traditional white, cishetero Christian male authors.

The Second P: Practices

If policies are the foundation, then our practices, or how we execute those policies, are the next important step. If a policy says this is what we value and what we are going to do, it is our practices that help us evaluate and determine whether or not we are effectively fulfilling those promises that we made in our policies. Examining our practices means we have to evaluate our day to day operations to make sure we are doing what we said we were going to do. Our daily practices should prove that we are honoring our policies.

Train Your Staff, And Then Train Them Again

Policies are meaningless if we don’t communicate them effectively to staff and tell them how we want them to implement those policies in our day to day operations. This means we need to have effective – and ongoing – training. If in our policy we identify harassment of other patrons as an unacceptable behavior, we have to train our staff how to handle these incidents when they occur. And, most importantly, we have to let them know and trust that management and administration will back them up when they implement the policies we have put into place. All staff have to be on the same page when it comes to policy interpretation and implementation or else it all breaks down.

I am constantly learning the various sayings, stereotypes and every day expressions that I have internalized that are, in fact, often harmful to others. As a child of the 80s, I frequently used the term lame for something that I thought was absurd or stupid. Now that I understand the root of the expression, I no longer do. I also no longer refer to ideas or people as crazy or unhinged or hysterical. Just the other day I read that the term sleepy eyed is rooted in anti-semitism. So we can not expect our staff to know and recognize all the various ways that we may unintentionally being harming our patrons. We can, however, be in the process of continually training our staff to recognize biased language and ask them to not use it once we have learned about it.

This ongoing training needs to happen because our front line staff our the face of our libraries. They are who our patrons see and interact with when they come into the library. We must have high expectations for our staff about what is and is not acceptable behavior. We also have to help them have the confidence to respond when patrons complain about the behavior of others. This is about training, empowering, and trusting our staff. And then holding them accountable. It’s an ongoing process because who we are, what we know, and how that informs library policy and procedures is always changing.

I once worked for a library system that gave its staff scripts to use when a new policy was being introduced or something big was happening culturally so that the staff knew what they could and could not say, at what level they could engage, and who to refer a situation to if it wasn’t addressed by the script. I can not recommend this practice highly enough. For example, this library system dramatically changed some of its circulation practices which they knew would upset some patrons, so they gave the staff very specific language to use when patrons complained about why the library was making the change. In comparison, at another library system in which I worked, the decision was made to interfile the paperbacks with the hardbacks because of space. This library system didn’t talk about it with staff and gave no real reasoning, so when the patrons complained, you could often hear staff saying, “yeah we hate it too and we don’t know why they did it.” There was no staff buy in and no staff training, which meant the staff were left to handle patron complaints on their own and it did not go well.

I have worked in libraries long enough that I am sad to say that I have occasionally heard library staff engage in hateful speech with patrons. One of the communities I worked in had a large influx of Hispanic residents and they started a Spanish language collection, the staff at this library really could have benefited from having clear talking points to help explain to the public what the reasoning and purpose of this collection was. My youngest once went through a stage where she sang this annoying song incessantly, out of desperation I finally forbid her to sing it. She looked me square in the face and said, “you can’t control what I think in my head.” She was absolutely correct. This is also true of our library staff, we can not make them less inwardly biased or racist if that is their personally philosophy, but we can 100% demand that when they are working for the library that they treat every patron, every piece of material, and every service without bias and to hold them accountable if they do. Let your staff know what your library values, how they are to help the library achieve it, give them the training and the tools they need to be successful, and then hold them accountable.

Collection Diversity Audits

If our collection development policies make it clear that diversity, or real world representation, is a goal, then we need to have practices that help us make sure we are achieving this goal. We can do things like periodic diversity audits to make sure our collections are inclusive. We can do the same for each book order we place. Take a moment when doing acquisitions to examine the make up of the books and the authors on your book orders and in your collection to make sure that it is not an exclusively or even predominantly white cishetero Christian male. As you develop a technique that works best for you, this will become second nature and less time consuming, but we owe it to our communities to make sure that we are building the best and most authentic collections possible to make sure that they can choose to read more fully about the world.

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

Marketing and Display Audits

This practice should also be applied to our marketing and displays. Have staff members who do displays occasionally make a list of what materials they put on display and ask them to examine the breakdown of that display. Were there diverse titles from diverse authors included? Make it a standard practice to take a picture of each display (and then keep a past displays notebook) so you can see what types of displays you are doing and make adjustments moving forward. Examine a year’s worth of displays and ask yourself, what topics did we cover? Did we only include diverse titles during months like Black History Month? Then, set a display schedule for the next year that is more intentionally inclusive. With a little bit of evaluation and planning, we can create more inclusive and representative displays, create a more welcoming environment, AND increase circulation.

For the love of all that we hold dear, please examine each and every public display, including outside art and poetry displays, to make sure they are not creating a hostile space for any patron. What we choose to put on display sends a message, and it gives the appearance that the library condones the messaging. Putting a book on a shelf is quite different from putting it on display in spaces that a patron can’t escape being subjected to.

These same evaluation questions should be considered when you create your marketing materials. Library brochures, annual reports, and social media posts should be representative. Even if the statistics say you live in a primarily white community – my local community is 97% white – we need to make sure that our marketing materials are diverse and warm and welcoming. While 97% of my community may be white, that means that 3% of it is not and that 3% deserves to be represented as well.

The Third P: Patrons

Many people think that libraries are about books, but the truth is libraries are about people, about the communities we serve, and books are just one of the tools we use to do so. Our primary mission is to make our communities better by providing access to the tools they need for education, recreation and personal and community development; books are just one of the many tools that we offer to help achieve this goal. So if our libraries are really about community and the people in the community, then we have an obligation to examine what we are doing to enhance the lives of every single member of our communities.

Our Goal: Create a welcoming environment

The primary goal of a public library is to create a welcoming environment so that every community member feels safe and valued and can, in fact, access the various resources that we provide. Our goal is to provide access, to take away access barriers, and one of those access barriers must involve us examining our environments to make sure that every community member feels welcomed. Any misstep on our part can alienate various community members, and then we have created a barrier to access.

Some of our community members have what they perceive to be as competing interests. For example, more conservative Christian communities object to the normalization and acceptance of the GLBTQIA+ community. In contrast, GLBTQIA+ members of the community want to be able to read about people just like them in the books that they read. Christian conservatives would argue that including GLBTQIA+ books in our collections are hostile to them, but I would argue that this is not the case because they have the choice to read or not read those books and if we are doing our jobs correctly, there are plenty of other materials for them to select. But if we fail to purchase and include GLBQTQIA+ books in our collections because of personal bias or community pressure from one group, then we are failing to serve a portion of our public by failing to provide them access to materials that are right for them. This is true of Muslim materials, atheist materials, etc. Creating a welcoming environment means that every member of our community should be able to find something that represents them on our shelves and in our collections, the corollary is that every member of our community will also be able to find something that they find objectionable. Providing access and breaking down those barriers to access means that we are all inclusive in our collection development policies and allow our patrons to select the materials are right for them.

When our patrons have competing interests, I think it is important that we our determining factors are 1) choice, 2) inclusion and 3) safety. All patrons should have choices, which means we must support inclusion. And at the end of the day, we must also guarantee our patrons safety. We build inclusive collections and present inclusive services, we allow our patrons to use those in the ways that are best for them, and work to guarantee the physical safety of each patron coming into our library space. It’s true that we can not ultimately guarantee a patrons safety because we can’t predict or control the actions of other patrons, but we can guarantee our patrons that if something happens we will do our best to respond swiftly and fairly.

Creating a welcoming environment means that we put faces and families of all kinds front and center in our marketing materials. It means that we make sure that our displays contain books by a wide variety of authors on a wide variety of subjects. It means putting up signage that expressly communicates to our public that every person is welcome regardless of race, gender, orientation or belief. It means that we are communicating in both implicit and explicit ways that all are welcome in our spaces.

Hafuboti offers a variety of welcoming signage at https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/

Hafuboti offers a variety of welcoming signage at https://hafuboti.com/2017/02/02/libraries-are-for-everyone/

Consistently enforce the rules, so that staff and patrons all clearly understand what is expected of them. Address inappropriate behavior, ask patrons who are clearly and maliciously attacking other patrons to leave immediately. Make acceptable behaviors clear and post them where all can clearly see. Create welcoming signage. Make it clear to patrons that all patrons are welcomed in the library. Make this clear in explicit ways – signage, policies – and implicit ways – by creating diverse marketing materials, displays and collections.

A public library is a community organization. We have to do the work to make sure that we are welcoming to every member of our community.