Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Real Talk About the State of YA Services in Public Libraries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millennials are killing list – Business Insider

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

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

Guess who uses public libraries the most? Millennials – CNN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what does it all mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

My favorite tools: Slack

This is the second of a series of post on productivity and organizational tools that I’m finding useful in my library work.

slack logoIf you’re not currently using Slack, you’ve surely heard of it. There are gobs of ways to use Slack for communicating with teams of people, and it makes a great compliment to the other productivity tools that you’re already using.

 

What is it?

Like Trello is a collections of lists of lists, Slack is a tool that allows conversations within conversations.

  • Each group of people makes up a “workspace” with its own login. These workspaces are easy to toggle on your toolbar.
  • Within each workspace, you can create conversations around topics that are indicated with a hashtag.
  • You can create additional conversations between a subset of people in the workspace.

This is just the tip of the iceberg too. You can add files, link services like Dropbox, Twitter, and Google Drive, and enjoy all the emojis you care to throw around.

But how is Slack useful to a librarian?

Pull your (various & sundry) PLNs together

If your PLNs are communicating via email threads, secret Facebook groups, Twitter DMs and group texts, you’re probably bouncing around to check these various sources multiple times a day. Stop it. Pull everyone together in Slack channels and you’ll have everyone in one place. No one is going to get forgotten when you dash off an email, there will be a notification any time you miss something, and you can keep use your time more efficiently. Plus, those venting sessions can now happen outside of publicly searchable web! Since I started using Slack as a PLN tool, I’ve felt more connected, less frustrated by the noise on social media, and we communicate more often in a more practical way. It’s the best.

Plan big projects together

Are you working with a few other people on a big author visit at your library? Set up a Slack workspace and create channels for all of the various pieces. Your to-do list has just become an asynchronous meeting, and  you’ve kept all of your ideas and documentation in one place. Plus, it’s searchable. TLT uses Slack to coordinate projects. So does another PLN I’m a part of. Our big project, Everyday Librarians, is launching soon thanks to the collaborative planning platform that Slack provides.

Minimize your email

OMG there’s so much email. Sooooo muuuuch eeeeeeeemaiiiiiil! Pulling your coworkers into Slack for minor but important conversations (“FIY, I won’t be here when the garden group comes to use the meeting room. Can someone set up the room for them?” “I’ll be in a program. Sorry!” “Yeah, me neither” “I can do it!” “Thanks, Jane!” “No problem, Susan!”) is going to clear so much clutter out of your inbox. Put all of that in a #RoomSetup channel and then it’s there when you need in, and hanging out behind an unobtrusive little hashtag when you don’t. That’s going to let those messages from vendors, patrons, and other non-coworkers be the focus of your email time, which is going to make that time so much more effective and so much less distracting.

 

Like I said, this is the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Slack can do. Please share in the comments if you’re an avid Slack user with great ideas on how to make it work for you and your groups.

My favorite tools: Trello

This is the first of a series of post on productivity and organizational tools that I’m finding useful in my library work.

I’ve been using Trello off and on, for professional and personal projects, since 2014. It’s visually appealing, simple to use, and dovetails nicely with Google apps. Trello, at its most basic, is a collection of lists of lists. Imagine a digital cork board with post-its that you can move from section to section. Here’s a board my coworker and I use to share our planning and ideas for the department:

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 10.18.14 AMNote that within each list is a “card”. Cards can be dragged and dropped from one list to another. So from our “ideas” list, we can easily pull something from a brainstorming session into our list of programs to schedule out for the next season. Each card can then contain its own list, conversation, to-do, attachment, or link and you can also push notifications on cards to people who are members of the list, as I did with this card for a teen service learning project:

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 10.25.19 AM

The boards get really fun when you start adding images!

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Trello will save your boards until you archive them, and it allows you to duplicate boards and move lists from board to board. This comes in handy for yearly planning tasks, like summer reading, or big events like our town’s annual summer party. I copy the board, change the year, and already have a to-do list to adapt for the current year.

On the main landing page you’ll see all of your boards. This includes those you create and those other people add you to as a collaborator. Star the boards you want to see at the top. Active boards float up too, with less active boards floating down to reduce visual clutter.

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 10.20.35 AM

Note here that I have two “Gathering On The Green” boards as I mentioned above. Because you can color code boards, I’ve greyed out last year’s board. Note also, that my personal board for Christmas can live here too — all of the sharing happens on the boards themselves, so I can keep my gift list, my family’s clothing sizes, and holiday dinner menu brainstorming in a similarly tidy and organized fashion and it’s not connected to my work boards.

Keeping on with the visual aids, you can color code cards themselves, as I did here. Each list is a reminder of items to acquire and then pack for an outreach event. Green meant “packed and ready to go,” yellow was “in progress,” and red still needed to be done.

Screen Shot 2017-12-13 at 10.46.33 AMI like that Trello can work this way on a very minute, granular scale, and also work to organize big idea brainstorming and “what if” kinds of conversations. Each board and each list has its own flavor, and the flexibility that offers is very helpful to me. If you’re a Bullet Journal user wishing you could share your lists and work collaboratively within the Bullet Journal structure, take a look at Trello. Trello also offers a blog with productivity tips and suggestions for making the tool more useful for you, in addition to highlighting new features.

I highly recommend Trello if you’re trying to juggle multiple projects and roles (like most of us do) and you like the flexibility of having an online platform that can go anywhere with you and plays nicely with your other cloud based work. It’s also available as a mobile app. And it’s pretty.

The Importance of School Visits, by Kate-Lynn Brown

As a teen librarian, I’ve done three school visits for two different libraries. The first was while I was still in college. I spoke to the sixth graders about volunteering for the Summer Reading Club during their lunch.

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A middle school cafeteria at lunchtime. I was thrown to the wolves. Even the most seasoned veteran would be scared by the gossip, the hormones, the frenzied atmosphere created during the teens’ social hour. It was a moment that made me realize I was cut out to work with teenagers: yes, my palms were clammy. No, I was not afraid to stand in front of this group and convince them volunteering at the library would be the best part of their summer. I got on the microphone and scanned the tables for familiar faces. I caught a few and smiled. The speech I had rehearsed all week came out naturally. Students waited for me to finish (and were relatively attentive while I spoke), then swarmed me for fliers. I stopped by each section of tables to make sure they didn’t have any questions. I nailed it.

whatsyourmessage

My subsequent school visits have been in more official capacities: with a full-time teen librarian, I spend all day in a classroom or media lab performing book talks. We each pick three or four books to present to the teens, offering variety with at least one nonfiction title, one graphic novel, and one fiction book. To prep we read the books, pick passages to read aloud, and create and practice a presentation to get the teens interested in each selection. My coworkers who have been doing this for a while have impressive Google Doc archives of their go-to book talks.

The day is exhausting–and I don’t know how teachers run through a lesson multiple times in a day or week!  Bright and early, we run through our library spiel: Who has a library card? Here’s how you get one! Who comes to the library? Here’s why you should! We let the students pick the order we’ll talk about the books in, taking questions and initiating conversations about each title throughout the class period. The bell rings, and we start over again.

So why are school visits so important?

  1. We get out into the community! I have been thinking a lot about outreach lately, and it’s something that successful public libraries all seem to do and do well. That being said…
  2. The library is much more than its building! Someone said this to me at a graduate school event recently, and it resonated. You might know that the library is more than a building with books in it, but you should remind the members of the community you serve of this, too. So, as a teen librarian, going to the schools serves that purpose. I directly serve the teenage population, so they should see me in spaces important to them.
  3. We reach students who we might not have otherwise! Some kids might never come into the library–and if they do, might not approach the librarian and ask for a recommendation. This ensures we’re reaching a much wider audience and getting more teens excited about different things the library has to offer. If they recognize us, they might even feel more comfortable coming up to ask a question.
  4. We are given a captive audience. Teens hear about titles we have, events we’re running, and programs we’re starting. It’s one of the few times we’re guaranteed a captive audience! What we have to say isn’t lost in their social media feeds or irrelevant when compared to their after school chatter. Whether they doze off at their desks or hold on to every word we say, for that class period the teens are ours. Of course, in a classroom we’re not going to see every teen patron that visits the library; but over the course of a semester worth of visits we hope to reach a good percentage of them.
  5. We get so much out of it.  I see the teens in a new environment where they’re more comfortable. I’m going into their workspace instead of having them come into mine. I see kids get excited about reading who might not be big readers! That’s the point of book talks for me: how can I sell this book so even a reluctant reader might be drawn in enough to pick it up? What can I tell an avid reader to make him go for this title over any other other? It’s one of the challenges of this job that I love.
  6. We get to read outloud- and the teens get to listen! I love reading to them. One of my favorite parts of creating a book talk is picking out what passages to read aloud.Teens love being read to. Even the teachers love being read to! I’ve gotten to the end of a passage only to look up and see every eye in the room is on me, at full attention. While younger kids are read to all the time, it really doesn’t happen often for teens. I think being read to is a totally underappreciated art, and a great way for people to experience a story in a different way.

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One of the times I feel most important as a librarian is when I leave the physical space of the library and go out into my community.  As a teen librarian, going on school visits is a huge part of that. I love any chance to interact with my teens and try to create a meaningful experience for them, especially when a book or another resource we have is a part of that experience!

Meet Kate-Lynn Brown

katelynnbrown

Kate-Lynn is a teen services information assistant in New Jersey. She is currently a student in the Rutgers Master of Information program, which she will complete in May 2018. She loves reading thrillers and creative nonfiction. You can find her digital portfolio here and follow her on Twitter, @katelynnbrown95.

Doing a YA Diversity Audit: Answering some follow up questions, including “What about the Conservatives?”

On posts, in tweets, and in my mailbox, one of the questions we – TLT – get asked a lot is “What about the conservatives?” Because we post regularly about GLBTQAI+ literature, talk about advocacy, etc., some are left with the impression that we do not care about meeting the needs of the more conservative parts of our population, which is in no way true. This question came up multiple times regarding my recent series of posts on doing a collection diversity audit.

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To begin, some background, both personal and professional: I have worked in libraries for 24 years. 4 different library systems in two different states. Personally, I am in fact a Christian. I have an undergraduate degree in Youth Ministry from a conservative Christian college. I live and work in conservative towns. I can assure you, the conservative view point is in no way under represented. In fact, doing a collection audit will help you have the factual information you need to help address these concerns.

Also, I want to address the question of what does it mean when someone says that libraries are liberal and don’t respect conservatives. By definition, public libraries should be inclusive which means they should have books on their shelves representing every point of view. That makes us default liberal, I suppose. But what do people mean when they ask about the conservative viewpoint? They could mean politically conservative, fiscally conservative, dealing with religious beliefs, or just wanting what is commonly referred to as “clean reads”. Often they mean from a Christian or political point of view, but even in non-Christian religions there are both more progressive and conservative points of view. When we talk about religion in the public library, it is vitally important that we stop operating from a Christian point of view.

Because I work with teens, I have found they are most frequently talking about 1) this concept of “clean reads” and 2) the inclusion of GLBTQAI+ literature. I’m not going to debate the basic humanity of any marginalized people, so the inclusion of GLBTQAI+ literature in a library isn’t up for debate. An individual can choose to read or not read, but a public library can not choose to buy or not buy.

I find the concept of “clean reads” to be troublesome because 1) it’s very personal, 2) it implies that other types of books are by definition dirty or less than and 3) unless a person has read every single book in their collection (and no librarian ever has or ever will), this can be a very difficult question to answer. So, what I find to be a “clean read” might be different than what the person I am talking to considers to be a clean, or let’s use the word appropriate because what they are in fact looking for is a book that is appropriate for them or their child. Doing an extensive RA interview can help answer this question, but it’s not foolproof. So I always try to add caveats and give the person I am talking to tools to do further research themselves. This includes teaching them how to use the online catalog and subject headings, finding reviews, etc.

So from the get go, the idea of how do public libraries serve and include the conservative point of view isn’t as straightforward as it is presented. Another issue with the question is that the conservative point of view often works from the standpoint that non-conservative points of view shouldn’t be in our public libraries at all, which is by the mission and definition of a public library an incorrect point of view. Many conservatives, and I know this as a member of the conservative Christian community, believe that any point of view that is contrary to their own should not be permitted because it is offensive. The public library is not there to represent only a portion of the population, it is there to serve and represent the whole, although I would argue that there are in fact some exceptions. For example, works that advocate against the basic humanity and safety of any population group would be considered hate speech and should not be purchased because they put a segment of the population at harm. My POC or GLBTQAI+ teens should be able to come safely into the public library and not have their very existence threatened by the books in my collection.

The reality is that the very thing many conservatives fear is the answer to the question of how are they being served: inclusive collections. Inclusive collections mean that conservatives, whether they be politically or religious conservatives or just readers wanting the appropriate book for them, are best served by truly inclusive collections.

amishreads3 amishreads2 amishreads1

The library that I currently work at, The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, has a large, dedicated Amish fiction collection. This is, of course, in part because we serve a large Amish and conservative population. We understand our local community and work hard to meet its needs in inclusive ways. I have worked at other libraries with large Chinese and Vietnamese collections because there was a large, local Chinese and Vietnamese population. Every library works to understand and serve their local communities in a variety of ways.

I would argue, however, that building inclusive (or diverse) collections, is part of that service. For one, even if it represents a small percentage of your local population, that small percentage still deserves to be represented respectfully in their local library. Their existence is not up for debate, their worth and their rights aren’t either. Secondly, reading diversely is part of the educational value of a public library, the whole “walking in another person’s shoes” and developing compassion for your fellow human beings. We fail our local communities in that aspect of service if we don’t actively build inclusive collections. Even if you serve a local community that is 99% white and conservative, building inclusive collections is part of your mission statement, or at least it should be, because reading outside of one’s own experience is part of a holistic education experience. We are not helping our local communities become educated citizens if we neglect the reality that we live in a diverse world.

We must also never forget that what a person reads ultimately comes down to personal choice. However, our patrons can’t make choices to read diversely if we don’t provide them access to diverse collections. What they ultimately choose to read is on them, but what we provide them access to is on us. If we take away their choices because we presume to know what they want because of a set of very specific and local statistics, then we are failing our local communities.

That’s what inclusive collections are about: ACCESS and CHOICE. That is also why librarians make the statement that if you don’t find something offensive in your local public library, then they are doing it wrong. Take politics out of the mix for a moment and let’s examine another topic: baby care. Not everyone agrees on the topic of baby care. If you have had a baby or listened to people who have tried to raise babies, you will recognize the truth of this statement. Should you let a baby cry it out and sleep train or should you respond to a baby’s every cry and practice kangaroo care? You can find people who will advocate, and quite passionately, for both sides of this coin. And you should be able to find books in your local public library that represent both of these arguments. The person who bought those books might have an opinion on the matter – I certainly do – but that personal opinion doesn’t matter when building a public library collection. We buy authoritative, well reviewed books to represent all points of views. If you walk up to your religion and politics collections, you should find the same: a well balanced collection of titles that represents multiple points of view on a variety of controversial topics.

The truth is, when libraries start doing the work of actively building inclusive collections, it can seem to the majority groups that marginalized groups are taking over. This is part of the fear that comes in equality because those groups that have historically held a position of power are being asked to give up that power in the name of equality, and they almost never want to. For example, men, white cishet Christian men in particular, have historically made up the bulk of the publishing world and there has been a real push of late for publishing to include more diversity and for libraries to build more inclusive collections. And I hear the men saying, well we don’t get to have a voice any more. Which is still statistically not true. I do a diversity audit of my monthly book orders and I can categorically with facts and data prove that this is not true. And even with a very targeted attempt to build a more inclusive YA collection, a thorough audit of my YA collection also reveals that this is not true. Even with targeted, intentional purchasing, my collection is still over 70% white and over 93% straight.

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One of the questions I get asked repeatedly when I talk about my collection audit and the journey I have taken to build a more intentional and purposeful YA collection is about community push back. I have worked in two fairly conservative communities and have experienced book challenges in both. This is where it’s important that we have up to date collection development policies and make sure that we have trained our staff, and trained them well, to talk about the role of the public library and the value of inclusive collections to our patrons. And if we truly have built inclusive collections, then we should be able to say, “this book may not have been for you, but we have others in our collections that may fit your needs, let me help you find those.”

The truth is, building inclusive collections isn’t about excluding anyone, it’s about including everyone.

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

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

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Resources and Sources (Part 3)

Diversity Audit Outline 2017 with Sources

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

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So yesterday I began telling you about doing my diversity audit. I began in a place that many people wouldn’t suspect, by doing a local community needs and assessment evaluation. I thought if I wanted to understand why I was building a diverse/inclusive collection, I also wanted to understand who I was doing it for. Also, this was part of my process on researching target goals. The question I asked myself is this: what does an inclusive YA collection look like? And to do that I thought I needed to better understand what my local community and the world at large actually looks like. No guessing, no anecdotes, but facts.

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After looking at my local community demographics, I then researched what the U.S. population looks like, keeping in mind that U.S. Census data comes out every ten years and involves a lot of margin for error because respondents must use per-detetermined categories to respond and many people identify in more than one way. (Note: please see uploaded outline below for a more complete look at stats and diversity categories to investigate.)

2010 census data

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic

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Then I dived deep into what diversity in children’s publishing looks like (spoiler alert: it’s not good). I used resources like the Lee and Low Diversity Baseline Survey to get a better understanding of what diversity in children’s publishing looks like. A realistic diversity goal has to include an understanding of what is being published. We can’t buy diverse titles that don’t exist, which is why we must continue to ask the publishing world to work towards better inclusion at all levels of publishing.

Childrens Books Infographic 18 24 V3

“This year, the number jumped to 28% . . . ” – http://blog.leeandlow.com/2017/03/30/the-diversity-gap-in-childrens-book-publishing-2017/

Checklist: 8 Steps to Creating a Diverse Book Collection | Lee & Low

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Another worksheet example can be found here: http://sfpsmom.com/black-history-month-12-diversify-bookshelves/

With a better understanding of what the world looks like and some real investigation into my own personal biases and privilege (which is an ongoing process), I then began looking at my collection in depth. This was a painstaking process that involved a lot of research. I researched each title and author in my collection to the extent that was reasonably possible. Reasonably meaning given an appropriate use of my time, skills, and what information is available. For example, not all authors are publicly out and they deserve to make that decision for themselves, but it can affect a count of Own Voices GLBTQAI+ titles. Please note: you can make your headings and count whatever it is you wish to audit.

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My excel worksheet, created by importing a shelf list, looks like this

At one point my fellow TLTer Robin Willis came out for a week long visit and we went title by title through my shelf list discussing whether or not a title had a main or supporting character that was something other than white, male, cisgender. We had a lot of quality discussions about individual titles, authors and the idea of diversity and inclusion as a whole. And yes, public librarians do indeed end up taking weird vacations, so thank you Robin for taking your time to come spend with me and help me with this project.

robinmakerspacebag

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After doing the inventory several times and determining that I had the best knowledge that I could have, I then went and did the math that told me which percentage of my collection was diverse, Own Voices, GLBTQAI+ or featured a teen with a disability. I assumed I was doing a good job of building diverse, inclusive collections. It “felt” like I was doing a good job. I was trying to do a good job. Spoiler alert: I was not. Even when I was being intentional in building inclusive collections, I was not doing as well as I thought I was. For example, the percentage of titles featuring a teen with a disability were dismal at only 2.2%. However, after some targeted ordering, my GLBTQAI+ percentage went from around 3% up to 6.5%. This is part of why this type of collection audit is informative: I thought I was doing a good job of buying diverse titles, but an audit revealed that I wasn’t doing as good of a job as I thought I was and helped me make more informed and purposeful purchasing decisions. I thought I was doing a good job, I learned that I wasn’t, now I am doing better and have the data to back that statement up.

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As a tangential note, I will also admit that this in depth collection analysis has also led me on a quest to investigate subject headings in our catalog. For example, we had books with the heading of transvestite, transsexual and transgender, and since transgender is the term that teen readers will be most familiar with and is the currently preferred term, we added a subject heading of transgender (transgender people – fiction) to all titles. Similarly, we looked at titles like Tash Hearts Tolstoy to make sure that teens looking for asexual representation could find that title using our card catalog without having to ask an adult. Teens looking for GLBTQAI+ materials in particular don’t always want or feel comfortable asking an adult for help so we are working on making these titles accessible in multiple ways for teens who want to read but don’t necessarily want to ask for help in locating titles.

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This work is ongoing for me. As I mentioned above, it helps inform my monthly book ordering. Now when I do a book order, I do a sort of mini audit of each book order to make sure that I am doing the work of building an inclusive collection each and every order. I will also do occasional targeted audits, like this summer when I went through each and every letter of the GLBTQAI+ umbrella and made sure I had quality titles that represented each letter. A yearly or every few years audit combined with monthly book order audits and targeted audits makes my collection development more intentional. It’s not enough to think I’m doing the work, I now do the work. And having concrete facts and figures in front of me helps me to stop assuming while confronting my purchasing biases head on. And since I just took over this collection 3 years ago (new library), it has helped me better know and understand this collection as well as what is offered, making for some amazing RA to be honest. It also helped me fill in title holes and re-order missing or lost books that I think every collection should have.

The benefits of doing a diversity collection audit are plentiful and I highly recommend it, with a few caveats. First, it’s important that we remember that not all representation is good representation. There are a lot of tropes, stereotypes, and controversial titles out there that you should be aware of. You’ll also want to take the time to make yourself more familiar with Own Voices authors and titles. Remember that even when we talk about diversity, we should have diverse titles within that diverse representation. For example, not all GLBTQAI+ titles should be coming out stories, and not all coming out stories are the same. And, finally, we should remember and value the importance of intersectionality: most people identify as more than one thing, and that should be represented in our literature as well. For example, a black woman may identify as having a disability and being bisexual, because we are all complex human beings who are more than one thing and all more than our labels. Those stories deserve to be told and read.

With all that said, here is an in depth outline of this project: Diversity Audit Outline 2017 with Sources

Complete YA Collection Diversity Audit Series

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

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

Doing a YA Collection Diversity Audit: Resources and Sources (Part 3)

Edited to Add: Someone asked about measuring intersectionality. You could simply add a column heading for intersectionality and any book that has more than one tally mark in a column would also have a tally mark for intersectionality. Then you would do the math and have an idea of how many intersectional titles are in your collection.

Also, after you do your original collection audit, you can then just do an audit of all the titles added since the date of your last audit and combine the information. If you do book order audits, that information could also be added to your original audit to keep your figures current.

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

Tomorrow as part of the Library Journal/School Library Journal training on diversity Diversity and Cultural Competency Training: Collections & RA (which you should do), I will be doing a presentation on doing a diversity audit. I will outline what a diversity audit is, how to do one, and what I learned doing mine. I will be sharing parts of that presentation with you here tomorrow.

As part of doing a diversity audit, I tried to develop an understanding of what a diverse/inclusive book collection might look like: I tried to develop target goals. This task was harder to conceptualize than I imagined; we all talk about the need for diverse YA collections but there isn’t a lot of discussion about what, exactly, that should look like in concrete terms. So as part of my research process I decided to do some community needs and assessment research. Who are the teens I’m serving is a foundational question. I wanted to know who my teens were in concrete terms so that I could make sure that every teen in my community who walked into my library could find a book that represented them. If part of building good collections is windows and mirrors, then I wanted to make sure that I had some solid information for the mirrors part.

communityprofile3

We can all tell you, informally and anecdotally, a lot about the local communities we serve. But I wanted to take the deep dive into facts and figures to make sure what I thought I knew about the local community I served was in fact a realistic picture of that very community. So I did research, and a lot of it. And then I put it all together in a notebook (because you know I love me some notebooks) that I could consult and update and refer back to time and time again.

The information I looked for was curated into a table of contents that looks like this:

communityprofile2

1. Basic Demographics

Comprehensive Population Profile

Political Leanings

Religious Affiliation

2. Housing Information – including owning vs. renting, single vs. multiple family dwellings, etc.

3. Overall Economy – including incomes and unemployment

4. Education

5. Entertainment and Recreation – which outlines local resources that are good for networking

6. The State of Our Youth – here I looked specifically at the youth in my local community, including things like foster care, mental health, CPS stats and more

7. Crime Statistics

8. Overall Health

9. Physical Environment

Breakdown of the County

Key Community Facilities and Resources

10. Environmental Issues

11. Transportation – this includes a look at things like vehicle ownership, average lengths of commutes, and more

12. Community Strengths

13. Community Needs/Challenges

14. Additional Resources

communityprofile1

In the Additional Resources category I printed off and curated a large volume of the same types of studies from other area agencies. For example, the health department had a pretty thorough investigation into these same types of questions and it was an invaluable resource, so I printed it off and put it in my notebook. The county itself has a county profile online. The Ohio Department of Youth Services had a statistical report of juvenile crime, so in it went. Other information included the basic U.S. Census data profile and the county sheriff’s office safety statistics.

I want to call special attention to the Knox County United Way Community Assessment because it was an incredibly useful tool and it provided a lot of the organization for my own outline.

All together, this information helped me to develop a more complete picture of the teens that I am serving at my library. Now instead of telling you anecdotally that I serve a primarily white community, I can tell you that I serve a community that is 96.7% white. Instead of telling you that a lot of my teens are economically challenged, I can tell you that 57.5% qualify for free and reduced lunch.

So this was the first part of really diving into the diversity audit, having a really comprehensive understanding of the local community in which I am serving. The next part is developing a better understanding of my collection to make sure I’m not just providing mirrors, but windows and doors and access to a richer, more realistic, more inclusive world view. Tomorrow, I will share with you the rest of my process.

About Windows and Mirrors

Windows and Mirrors: Why We Need Diverse Books

FAQ | We Need Diverse Books

Building on Windows and Mirrors – Children’s Literature Assembly

Complete YA Collection Diversity Audit Series

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

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