Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Cindy Crushes Programming: 5 Tips On How To Get Teens To Your Virtual Program, by Cindy Shutts

It is hard to get teens to come to virtual programs. I have been trying to find a way to make sure our patrons can find information about our program. How are you getting the word out about your programs?

Share your program on the local resident groups and mom groups on facebook.

Teens are unlikely to see the advertisement, but their parents or guardians  will. This allows them to sign up their teens. Make sure to include the sign up link when you make a post. All of our programs with Zoom registration is required just to make sure we can email the link to the patron ahead of time. We are trying to avoid Zoom bombing.

Make a Facebook Event

This is very useful because it reminds the patron about the programs in the patron mark they are interested in going to get a reminder before the program. Also include the registration link in the event because this is how you can get the Zoom link to them.

Sample of Craft in Library

If you are doing a craft remember to have a sample craft out so parents and teens can see. We do this with Take and Makes. If we have registration for a craft, we make sure to send them a link of our video so they can view it. Here is one of our craft videos from when my wonderful coworker Ariel Nelson and i did a foot scrub kit

Contact Teachers and School Media Specialists

The teachers we work with are amazing and often our biggest champions. They are the ones working so hard to get our teen through the pandemic. I have even more respect for them now then I did before. If I have a really great program I want the teens to know I will email the teachers and School Media Specialists ahead of time. I do not use this resource every time because I do not want to overwhelm them. I also joined a community resource group for the schools on Facebook. This is a way I can contact teachers and parents at the same time without having a big long email.

Inside Building Signage or Curbside Advertising

This is what we would do pre pandemic. We would post our teen programs with signs where teens or parents and guardians could see them and be interested. Now we have curbside pickup, we can add advertisements in their books or verbally tell them about the program.  We do not have many teens in the building which is how I used to advertise. Word of mouth was my number one way to get teens to come to programs. I used to have a huge after school crowd and now I am lucky if I see 4 teens in one day. I am glad the teens are being safe of course, but I do miss seeing them and hearing about their day. That is why I really like doing zoom programs because I can talk to them.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

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.

Using Snapchat to Engage Teens at the Library

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If you want to engage the teen patrons, go where the teens are. And the teens are on Snapchat.

I’ve had this vision in my head of the perfect library Snapchat account since my first job in a teen department. A teen would register for an event that sounded awesome. In the middle of school, sports, and SAT classes, she would completely forget about the event. She barely had time to sleep, never mind check the library website! She would, however, look through all her friends’ Snapchat stories last thing before bed and on the way to school in the morning. An event reminder, posted on the library’s Snapchat story the night before, would refresh her memory and she’d be there for the game day/crochet lesson/ light painting event that she had wanted to attend.

Snapchat has grown in popularity, particularly with the teenage crowd, since the app was created in 2011. According to the Pew Research Center’s Teen Relationship Survey, 41% of all teens ages 13-17 use Snapchat. The same survey found that Snapchat was one of the top three social media apps used by this age group.

While the teens are using social media, I couldn’t help but notice that few of them follow the library’s pages. I asked why: some weren’t aware the library had a Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Some felt the content wasn’t relevant to them.

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Although the Snapchat account has been marketed to our teen patrons, it isn’t limited to teen content. The Piscataway Public Library Foundation hosted a fundraiser at the local Chipotle, which was advertised across all our social media platforms including Snapchat. Collections for veterans and hurricane victims are posted. So, although the content isn’t exclusively teen-specific, we make every effort to keep it teen-relevant.

I aim for three posts of teen-relevant content a week, which is frequently enough for me to feel like the account is active, but not overloaded. The teens love searching the shelves for their own bookface ideas–an image in which they hold a book up to align with their face. They also love filter face–applying a filter to a book cover with a face on it. Asking for the teens to get involved with the posts has been met with enthusiasm. Since they are a key part of creating the content on the account, they feel ownership and pride over what is posted.

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Once a week I record book talk videos. Either I do the videos, where I highlight a YA or Middle Grade book in a one-minute video (approx. six Snapchat clips), or I ask the teens to make one. Due to waiver issues, the teens’ faces are rarely included. Instead, their voice is featured over the cover of a book they recommend. They say one or two sentences about why they like the book. I might ask a question, also done by voiceover.

Book Talk on The Wave by Todd Strasser

Piscataway Public Library launched our Snapchat at the end of August, and things have really taken off. The app makes it easy to monitor how many people our posts are reaching. The account has about forty followers, and each story is getting anywhere from twenty five to thirty five views. We can also monitor how many users screenshot a post, which lets us know if they are interested in that particular book or event.

The launch of the Snapchat coincided with a big change to the teen space of both library branches.  Instead of a social space for loosely supervised hangouts, the teen space would transform into STAR Homework Club every day for three hours after school. Some of our regulars weren’t sure how they felt about having their hangout space turn into a homework club, but reception has been positive. The STAR rules and new activities were posted on Snapchat a few times a week in the final weeks of August, to remind the teens of the new expectations we had for their behavior in the space.

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This October, the library is doing a “Snap-venger Hunt.” Teens will be encouraged to attend events and participate in the STAR Homework Club by Snapchatting themselves in the library. They will be pushed to think of their own creative picture ideas, to join study break activities, and to participate in Teen Read Week to earn points. Each task is worth a certain number of points.  When they reach twenty points, teens will be given a small prize and entered into a drawing for a larger prize.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

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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.

Middle School Monday: Teens, Body Image and Wonder Woman

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A couple of weeks ago, my teenage daughter came to me, lifted up her shirt and told me she was thin. And I had what may arguably be one of my worst parenting moments. I looked her straight in the eye and said, “I’m not, so what.”

As the mom to a middle school girl, I remember very well how I developed an eating disorder in middle school. I am now an adult woman the age of 44 and I continue to struggle with body image issues, a healthy relationship with food, and how to help my daughters not have my issues. Parenting and librarianing to teens can be hard y’all.

Which brings me to Wonder Woman.

I have been looking forward to the Wonder Woman movie for years as it languished in production, changed directors, etc. And I didn’t really realize it was coming out so soon until The Mary Sue shared an article about how they weren’t really marketing the movie, and they’re not. While I couldn’t avoid a Guardians of the Galaxy commercial or tie-in, I had no idea that Wonder Woman’s release was fast approaching (June 2nd).

Fans Want to Know Where All the ‘Wonder Woman’ Marketing Is

As the mom to two girls, I have made it my mission to financially support female centric entertainment because there just isn’t enough of it and we know that in the world of entertainment, box office receipts and viewer ratings are what speaks to the gatekeepers. So we go see the movies (if we financially can when they come out).

This Was Not the Wonder Woman Marketing We Were

But then I learned that they were doing some marketing tie-in with the Wonder Woman – with a health diet bar called Think Thin. That’s right, we finally get a solo female superhero movie and the dangerous marketing tie in they choose is Think Thin. I can not even begin to tell you about the disgust I feel in the pit of my stomach. This is dangerous messaging to send to the tweens and teens who are anxiously awaiting their first chance to see a female led superhero movie. It reinforces every negative body image message these young people receive, and they receive a lot.

And now as a mother and a woman, I am forced into a deep ethical quandary: do I go see the movie to support women in film and risk endorsing this message or do I take an ethical stand of opposition and risk having the studios say see, we tried a female superhero movie and it didn’t work? As a woman, I resent that the studio have put me in this position. As a mother, I resent that they are once again telling my daughters that “thin” is the ideal. As an eating disorder survivor, I can not emphasize to you enough the harm that this does.

Make no mistake, I have boycotted film and television before and I share with my daughters the reasons we are doing so. For example, though The Teen wanted to go see Passengers I explained to her what my concerns about the movie were and we decided not to support it financially.

But I really don’t know what to do about Wonder Woman. And I resent that I am put in the situation of having to try and figure out whether I want to support a female superhero movie or whether I need to boycott it to make a statement about how we harm women with our messaging about body types.