Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

How I Changed My Teen Advisory Board by Michelle Biwer

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Teen Volunteer Home Base

I identified a number of ways that my library’s teen volunteering program could be improved and give more of the responsibility back to the teens. With over 150 teen volunteers I was having a hard time recognizing teen volunteers who go above-and-beyond, keeping track of the number of active volunteers, and generally making sure volunteers felt valued and were informed of changes and procedures. I looked at how the library’s TAB could solve these problems and came up with a new structure for the group.

TAB Leadership

Teens submit applications before a new school year for a leadership position in TAB. They are required to have volunteered a certain number of hours at the library and encouraged to be an active TAB member. There are 5 positions (President, Vice President/Publicity Chair, Teen Programming Chair, Membership Chair, and Collections Chair). Each leadership position has a long term project and monthly responsibilities to work on at every TAB meeting.

Group Work

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Having a TAB leadership team that knows what projects need to be worked on during TAB and can supervise other teens is essential due to the 30+ attendance that I regularly receive at TAB meetings. Every TAB leader supervises a group of volunteers working on a project I’ve assigned that is related to their job. For example, those interested in teen programming will help plan or create an upcoming teen program with the Teen Programming Chair. Those who love YA will create a display in the teen area with the Collections Chair.  The Membership Chair just finished an amazing project–digitizing the volunteer sign-in process!

TAB is open to everyone

Any teen can attend TAB or become a volunteer, there is no mandatory commitment. All new teen library volunteers must attend one TAB meeting. Even if some teens choose not to regularly participate in TAB and teen programs, attending one meeting means they know what the teen department at the library can do for them and what opportunities are out there in terms of volunteering. The Membership Chair runs a volunteer orientation as one of the group projects during TAB.

These changes have allowed teens to really take charge of TAB and have made meetings more productive.

Minecraft After Hours & Letting Teens Lead… and Fall

Maybe it was because it was on Friday the 13th.
Maybe it was the heat, or all of the 5th grade classes I talked it up to.
Maybe it was those 4th graders who snuck in under the age limit.

Whatever it was, the Minecraft hangout and building contest that I hosted was both one of the biggest successes and most disappointing failures of my programming year so far. And that’s really been ok.

Here’s how it went down. Last fall I took a leap and started a Coding Club. In the months since, this group has grown tight knit and dedicated to both the idea of learning and playing with technology, and the library. As we discussed what else we wanted to do, Minecraft kept coming up.

What could we do with it?
Could the library have its own server?
Could we turn Coding Club into a Minecraft club?


I try to say yes as often as possible, but these were questions it was hard for me to answer. I’m not a gamer. The knowledge these kids have far exceeds mine in this realm, and as a part time librarian, I know that my limited time means limited abilities. But these teens had seemingly endless time and endless enthusiasm for both the game and getting it into our building. After mulling over the possibilities, one totally uncoached statement was the deciding factor for me. A member said, “Everyone likes playing Minecraft. But even though a bunch of us are in the same neighborhood, we’re playing with people all over the country, or world. That’s cool, but it just makes sense that we’d want to meet each other too. And the library seems like the natural place to do that. It’s where a bunch of kids can go in town and it’s ok for us to be there.”

Sold. I think they even said something about “community building.” Be still my librarian heart! So I gave them the go-ahead with the understanding that I would assist them with whatever they needed, but that I would only be able to be that — an assistant and facilitator. The planning and execution would be up to them.

What if we built our own server?
What if I donate my server to the library?
What if we just have a building contest?
Can we have fabulous prizes?
Can we have pop and Doritos?

Prizes, pop, and chips I could handle. The server questions were harder, but week after week the kids worked on their server, creating an environment in which a crowd of people could build. Moms took me aside and asked my opinion on letting their kids play online games. Moms told me they thought I was wonderful for giving their kids a place to fit in. Moms thanked me. Which was weird because I wasn’t really doing much. I was just opening our meeting room twice a month and listening for the most part.

Fast forward to last Friday night. Fabulous prizes in hand, snacks at the ready, we opened the library after hours and fifteen teens came in. That might not sound like a lot to some, but in a town where my SRP registration maxes out under 75 most years and I’m happy to get 5 kids at most programs, I was floored.

I welcomed the kids and introduced our illustrious Coding Club members, who went on to explain how the building contest would unfold, what the fabulous prizes were, the theme (design a symbol of what Minecraft means to you), and how to access the server.  At which point we realized that Minecraft was down. After a half hour snack break, everyone rushed back to their computers — it was back up! Game on!

And then we overloaded the server. 

From that point on, it just never worked right. We hadn’t planned on that many people playing. My teen had been certain that the server he was building had enough RAM. I trusted his assessment. As I watched him feverishly work to figure out the problem, testing it one way, and then another, I tried to placate the rest of the kids, encouraging them to go back for another snack or just hang out until everything was up and running. He looked me in the eye, and with all of the emotion a 12 year old (yes! he is only 12!) boy can pack in one pitiful look, he was pleading for help. And there wasn’t a whole lot I could do.

It was humbling and I felt horrible. But we kept working through it. We declared the building competition postponed, shared the server address for people to use from home, and decided to give them one week to construct their ideal symbol of Minecraft, at which point I’ll email them all a survey and ask them to vote.  Everyone seemed to leave happy, or at least happy enough in the case of my intrepid Coding Club teen.

On the one hand, it felt like a great failure that the program didn’t go how we planned and we ran into so many technical problems. But at the same time – what success! Great numbers, teen leadership and problem solving, a community began developing, a plan was made to continue the work started, and several people expressed interest in a repeat program.

But oh, my poor 12 year old, right? Maybe not. I pulled out my 40 Developmental Assets list, and started mentally checking them off. Other adult relationships? Supportive neighborhood? I was doing that. Community values youth; youth as a resource, service to others? Wow, this is going better than I thought! Planning and decision making, responsibility, involvement in youth programs… high expectations. And there it was. I had high expectations. It was crystal clear that I did. And he had high expectations of himself, he planned ahead, made executive decisions, and took responsibility for this youth program. This was a success, no doubt about it.

This year I’m taking part in ILEAD-USA, a months long leadership and technology workshop funded by a grant from the State of Illinois. One of the first things I learned there was the concept of Failing Forward. In this way of thinking, a perceived failure is not the end point; it’s the beginning of a new avenue of learning and growing. It’s hard to embrace. Just writing about it here was difficult – no one likes to admit that they’ve done something that turned out 180 degrees from where you planned for it to go. But we both learned so much from this experience. Not just about Minecraft, but about ourselves, each other, trust, perseverance, finding fun.. and RAM.

-Heather

Not a Punch Line, Not Something Everyone Should Go Through: Sexual Assault and What We Can Do In the Library to Help Our Teens


If you are a teen librarian, a teen specialist, a youth librarian, or someone who works with teens, you need to be aware of sexual assault and what is going on in the schools and communities we work in, and not just when particularly harsh cases make headlines. Steubenville was atrocious, and things like this go on everywhere- and don’t get reported. We have a culture where we blame the victim: their clothes turned me on, if you got with the right person you could be straight, I can *&^% the gay out of you, girls with their skirts up can run faster than guys with their pants down, they liked it then said no.  


Sexual Assault (up to and including rape) is about POWER, not sensuality or sex, although it gets extremely easy to confuse the two when the popular media continues to stream sexual images into the culture 24/7 while expecting everyone to think pure and act pure. When a popular movie uses rape whistles as a punch line, things are wrong.  If it doesn’t feel right for any individual participating in it, it’s wrong. That’s what needs to get out to the teens we work with, and like it or not, we may be their only source of information. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about teens you work with about situations like this one on one, then bring in professionals who can- arrange seminars, workshops, etc. Not everyone feels comfortable talking to their teens, or has a personal relationship with their teens.


And not everyone knows the definitions, either. Sexual assault is not just rape. Inappropriate touching, groping, forced kissing, any type of unwanted contact that can be considered sexual is sexual assault. Male, female, trans, bi, not sure of what gender, not claiming a binary gender, gay straight, anyone on the Rainbow or not claiming anything: it can happen to anyone, by anyone. You can be assaulted by those older than you, those younger, those in positions of power, those you are married to, those you are engaged to, related to, or complete strangers to.


The stats (from RAINN):



  • 1 out of every 6 American women and 1 out of 33 men have been the victim of a rape or attempted rape.
  • 44% of all sexual assault victims are 18 and under. 
  • 7% of girls in grades 5-8 and 12% in grades 9-12 say they have been sexually abused (those who will admit to it).
  • 3% of boys in grades 5-8 and 5% in grades 9-12 say they have been sexually abused (those who will admit to it).


So teens in your library are being sexually assaulted. 10% of your middle grades and 17% of your high schoolers.  They just either may not be aware of the actual term of it, may just think it’s bullying/harassment, or think there is nothing they can do about it. Or it may be something more.

So what can you do?


  • Start Discussions: create programs and workshops to start a dialog that might actually give a teen a chance to speak out or get the help that they need
  • Create Displays: create book displays that are inclusive of not only rape but all types of sexual assault, and highlight the different types. include helplines and shelters where teens (and adults) can go to get help.
  • Train your Staff: let your staff know about what things they can do if you ever do have a teen come up and say they need help, including knowing if you are a mandatory reporter for abuse in your state.  You might find you need to do this through meetings or by just talking- lots of times libraries do not have regular staff meetings or they’re not scheduled often enough to address timely issues.
  • Open the Door: get to know your teens and how they think, and know when things are troubling them. I know that when I don’t see one of my “regulars” that something may be wrong, or if they’re not acting like they normally do that things may be dicey, and I’ve built up enough trust and a good relationship with them that if I go to them they know that I’m not being nosy  it’s out of concern. We care about our kids, so if you see something is wrong, SAY something. You may be the only one who does, and that may be the one thing that changes a bad situation for the better.


Take 5: 5 Titles that grapple with this topic
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
 
Have other ways to help out your teens and your community? Share in the comments.

If Not You, Then Whom? Taking a Stand For What You Believe In

By now you might have heard of the debate going on about Chick-Fil-A, Chick-Fil-A’s President’s Dan Cathy’s statement about the company’s statement that they support the “biblical definition of the family unit” which does not include same-sex couples.  The company actively gives money to anti-gay organizations.  YA author Jackson A. Pearce has a couple of wonderful YouTube discussions on it ( http://youtu.be/JprRWKQys7A and http://youtu.be/ABY27P12eWQ ), and I’m sure there are more floating around. 

You can download and share this poster at
http://www.box.net/shared/a1hfi23pue
WHY DOES IT MATTER?  Because marginalization of any group of people is wrong.  PERIOD.


We live in an imperfect world that has prejudices.  There is ageism (look at movie theaters that refuse to let teens in after 9 p.m. unless they are accompanied by an adult), racism (my teens will get looked down on at places because they’re Mexican-American, even though they were born in America), sexism (even though I know more about cars than my husband, he will instantly get respect in a repair shop while I get treated like an airhead).  
Yes, we in the United States of America are a nation under God.  Practice your religion however you like.  The problem is when you decide that your beliefs trump mine. 
The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Now, Chick-Fil-A and its President can say and do whatever they want.  That’s freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of exercise of that religion.  Where the problem lays is when the anti-gay groups have decided that the acts of GLBTQ go against *their* beliefs, so it should go against *everyone’s* beliefs.  When they attempt to restrict others’ actions, they interfere with the free exercise of others’ beliefs.  I’m not hurting anyone with my beliefs, nor am I trying to say that anyone cannot practice their version of Christianity, or Buddhism, or Hindu, or whatever.  But when you say that my version of Christianity (or Buddhism, or Hindu, or Judiasm, or whatever) is invalid because it doesn’t fit with your worldview, then we have a problem.
This is exactly the type of thinking that was rampant during the pre-Civil Rights movement, when African Americans where the second class citizens and Jewish synagogues were bombed.  Religion was used to support the beliefs that African Americans were less than Caucasians, that Judaism was less than Christianity.  Today it’s GLBTQ who are fighting for their rights to be how they were made.  
FACTS:  GLBTQ teens are bullied and harassed for being who they are- they are mentally and emotionally abused, physically beaten, and all because the adults and peers in their area allow it.  If it were anyone in a different minority taking this type of abuse, people wouldn’t stand for it.  GLBTQ teens have the highest number of suicides.  They are 3 times as likely to feel unsafe at school, and 90% of them have been harassed at least once because of their sexuality. 
Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and accounts for 12.2% of the deaths every year in that age group. (2009 CDC, “10 Leading Causes of Death by Age Group – United States, 2009”) (From Trevor Project website)
TALKING IN NUMBERS:  No matter which side you stand on, there are ways to take a stand.  Teens have enormous potential, and can do more than you might think.  According to the 2010 Census, over 40 million, or 14% of the US population were teens 10-19 years.  FOURTEEN PERCENT.  Only 54% of those who could voted in the last presidential election.  Teens have over $200 BILLION in spending power.  And you ARE the future voters.  So while you may not think you can make a difference, you can. 
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT:  There are a variety of different ways you can make a difference. 
  • Start a petition, either physical or virtual on change.org and then get the word out. 
  • Do research on companies that you frequent, and learn where the profits go- are they doing things with their money that you support?  If so, keep on supporting them.  If not, find other businesses to patronize.
  • Find a volunteer organization that supports your world view, and give your time.
  • Find like-minded teens and have a fund raiser for your favorite charity or volunteer organization.
It’s up to you.  If you don’t take a stand, whether with your time, your money or your energy, you are floating downstream and can just accept what’s going on.  But just remember, it is only a matter of time before you are the one that the focus is on- what happens when no one speaks up for you? – TLT contributor Chritie Gibrich
If you are a GLBTQ teen, and are thinking about suicide, PLEASE, don’t.  Call the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386
Previous Posts:

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

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

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

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

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

Cut Through the Static, Get Feedback

You have heard me say it time and time again but my mantra is simple: you can’t serve teens unless you care about them, know them, and value them.  And if you are really good at your job, you will empower them and help give them a voice. (Think 40 Developmental Assets!)  One of the best ways to do that is to get their input.  You can do this through Teen Advisory Boards, no doubt.  But I believe there is tremendous value in doing a large scale, once a year survey to get large scale feedback.

Move teens from thinking of it as “the library” to “my library


The truth is, TAB attract a certain type of teen and they tend to be limited in scope because you have to limit their numbers for them to function effectively.  With TABs, you don’t always get the input of your outliers.  So at the end of every summer or the beginning of the school year, I like to put together a large scale survey.

Your goals as a teen librarian: Help your teens find their voice, empower them

I get that a survey is not a perfect tool.  But the truth is any tool is better than no tool.  And in your best case scenario, you use a variety of tools.  So ideally you would have a TAB, engage your teens on a daily basis, do mini-surveys on your social media sites, etc.  But don’t underestimate the value of a large scale survey.

Some of the benefits of a survey include:

  • It gives you large scale feedback from a wider sample of your target demographic
  • It gives you good feedback to make decisions and discuss the decisions in terms that make sense to administrators.  Remember, numbers matter to admin.
  • It gives you feedback to share with your community and community agencies that work with teens.
  • It gives you valuable teen quotes to share in all your various PR forums.
  • It gives your teens a voice and empowers them.

So, how do you do a survey?

1.  Outline the type of feedback that you need to be successful at your job: collection development, programming types, hours, days, etc., TSRC prizes and format and more.

2.  Formulate a template (one is provided below).  Make sure on your format that you have a way to get both statistical data and verbal feedback.  Ask open ended questions as well as your basic rate this types of questions.

3.  After you put your survey together, find a way that works well for your system to distribute it.  If you have a good relationship with your schools, you can ask the schools to help distribute it.  Put them in your teen area and share them through your various online resources.

4.  Give yourself a good time window to get surveys back – but put a finite end date on it.

5.  Remember that anonymity helps ensure that you get more honest feedback.  Although I will be honest, I have also provided incentives for filling them out and it resulted in a higher return rate.  Depending on the budget of your system, you can hand out $5.00 food gift certificates to teens who return their completed surveys to the circulation desk and let them put it directly into an envelope to help make sure their are no faces associated with comments.

6.  Compile your data and run with it.

Sample Survey 

Teen Summer Reading Club

Did you participate in the 2012 Teen Summer Reading Club?     Yes     No

If yes, what is your overall grade for the club?   (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

How do you prefer to keep track of your reading?

Number of Books Read                Amount of Time Spent Reading     Other ____________

What types of activities would you like to see included in future Teen Summer Reading Clubs?

What did you think of the prizes?         (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What types of prizes would you like to see in the future?

Comments about the Teen Summer Reading Club:

Teen Programs

Did you attend any of the teen programs in the last year?     Yes     No

If yes, what did you think of the programs?         (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What type of library programs are you interested in?

Crafts   Trivia   Games   Speakers   Book Discussion    None     Other ________________

Suggestions for future programs:

What is the best day of the week for you to attend programs?    

Monday     Tuesday     Wednesday     Thursday     Friday

What is the best time of day for you to attend programs?

3-4 PM     4-5 PM     5-6 PM     6-7 PM     7-8 PM

How do you hear about our programs?

Website     Newspaper     School     Friends     In Library     Other  _________________

Teen Contests

Did you participate in any of the teen contests in the last year?     Yes     No

If yes, what did you think of the contests?  (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What was your favorite contest from the past year (and why)?

Suggestions for future contests:

The Teen Area

What is your overall grade for the teen area?     (Excellent)  A     B     C     D     F (Poor)

What parts of the teen collection do you use?

Nonfiction                   Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

General Fiction           Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Graphic Novels           Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Inspirational Fiction    Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Audio Books               Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

Teen Magazines           Never     Monthly     Weekly     Other _______________

What are your favorite genres? (Circle all that apply)

Realistic Fiction     Historical Fiction     Science Fiction     Inspirational Fiction     Horror

Mysteries     Humorous Fiction     Fantasy     TV/Movie Tie-ins     Graphic Novels     Nonfiction