Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Are you Nobody too? There’s a pair of us. (part 2)

On Tuesday I talked about why we as teen librarians need each other.  If you didn’t read that post, but are interested in this topic, I suggest you go back and read it now to place this post in context.  Now let’s talk about how to make these connections happen.  
There are usually a couple ways we know it’s time to look away from what we’re doing and make a connection.

Here’s one:

My dog demonstrates one way I know that it’s time to pay attention to something.
Can you feel that cold wet nose?

Here’s another:

(photo credit: danjaeger on Stock.Xchng)

We’re pretty used to moving when someone is in our face and demands our attention, or when someone is totally avoiding it.  That teen browsing in the corner who avoided eye contact – you’re going to go see if he knows where the new books are, right?  The giggling that you know is bound to end with someone accidentally-on-purpose falling off the chair – you’re all over that too.  These are the cues we have to know it’s time to engage with our patrons, our work, and other parts of our daily lives.  But engaging with one another tends to be motivated from a different place.  We get lonely.  We get bored.  We get desperate. We need ideas. Now.

We need connections to help ourselves, not to help someone else.

Of course, the flip side of this is that in helping ourselves, we are helping someone else too.

As people in a helping profession, it can be hard to approach a new relationship with the idea that we need help.  If that is part of what is holding you back, take the global view and see if you can’t get more motivated by the thought that a partnership will help someone else.

Start close to home.  Very close to home.

The easiest and most important place to find a partnership is in your own library.  Yes, you may be the only teen librarian, but think about the overlap that you have with Children’s or Adult services.  Perhaps you could recruit someone from each of those departments to create a Teen Services Committee, much like you might have a staff development or technology committee drawn from all areas of the library.  Teens are a service population that demands more than one person can provide in any community unless the teen librarian is staffing the desk every hour the library is open, and even if that’s the case, it doesn’t mean that the teen librarian should be the only one tasked with their service.  Frequently in my presentations about Readers’ Advisory, I point out that it would be a horrible breach of service for someone to tell an octogenarian, “Oh, the senior citizen librarian isn’t here today, but here’s her card,” or “Um, I don’t really work much with old people, let me go get Joe.”  Help create in your library a culture of teen friendliness by finding staff that are willing to have a monthly discussion with you about how your library can do things better for teens, how new policies are working out for them, which services from each person’s respective department are underutilized by teens, and how to promote them.  Chances are you’ll uncover a secret YA reader in there somewhere.

Start closer to your actual home.

Think about your commute – do you pass any libraries before you get to work?  Leave half an hour early for your 1:00 shift some day, stop in, and see if you can meet a teen librarian.  Take your business card, pull the “I was just in the neighborhood” line, and just see how it goes!  You can also pick up the phone and make a call.  And yes, you could send an email, but if you do, please please remember that you’re trying to forge a friendship and partnership here, not sell yourself to the Board or get your foot in the door as a booktalker at the school down the street.  Be friendly.  Plead a little.  Suggest a time to meet, then do it!

Shout it from the virtual mountaintops

How many libraries are near enough that you send patrons there to pick up items?  You should probably know if any of those libraries have a teen librarian, and it would be even better if you knew that person’s name.  You don’t need to be on a board or have a position in any kind of regional organization to call a meeting.  Send out a broadcast email to the teen librarians within a short drive, suggest a central location or offer your own meeting room, throw out a Doodle poll and get a meetup together.  It really can be that easy.  You don’t need an organization or a system or an acronym to be the one to get a bunch of librarians together, you just need a few chairs.  Your first meeting can be just that – meet one another, exchange contact information, go around the room and ask what everyone is reading, have some cookies and make a plan to meet again soon.  My guess though, is that more than a few people will have a question or an idea that will generate enough conversation to fill at least an hour.

Hello? Hellooooo?

Are you in a rural location, or is your region one with a dearth of teen librarians?  I urge you to try to find some face to face meetings, even if you can only do this quarterly or twice a year.  Reach out virtually to those librarians who are nearest you, or who share your interest.  Start a Google Hangout, have a Skype chat, or start or join a Twitter chat.  Over the last few years I’ve been doing a lot more craft programs than ever, so I created a Pinterest board to swap ideas.  As the followers and contributors list grew, I started a Facebook page for discussing how we’d use the pinned ideas.  The page has grown into a place that people have asked about popular nonfiction, brainstormed program names, gotten suggestions on handling behavior issues, and more.  Sure you could join either of these projects, but are there topics that really drive you?  Look around online and see who is doing exciting things.  Follow them on Twitter.  Subscribe to their blog.  Send them an email and see what they have to say about your idea or predicament.  Is there someone whose posts on a listserv really jive with how you see the library landscape?  Or maybe someone who seems completely different than you.  Send them a note.  Open a conversation.

The Self Assessment Quiz:
Are you signed up for the Yalsa-bk listserv?
Are you signed up for a state or regional listserv?
Do you follow librarians, publishers and authors on a social media site?
Do you go to professional conferences at least once a year on the state or national level?
Do you participate in a couple of webinars a year?
Are you engaged in any local/regional groups that meet reguarly, even if informally like meeting the teen services librarian in another library for lunch once a month?
If you have a concern about a teen issue, are on the fence about a book purchase, or have a teen librarian specific vent to get off your chest, do you have someone to call?

We don’t all know each other – you won’t be butting in – you belong in this conversation as much as anyone.

I had a casual conversation several years ago with someone running for YALSA Board.  She asked if YALSA seemed cliquey.  “Without a doubt!” I answered.  But in hindsight, I don’t think I was right.  It just seemed like everyone knew each other, and they didn’t know me, and despite my ease at conversing with whichever stranger comes to the desk about whatever topic they bring up on a daily basis, making actual connections with people that are going to last longer than three minutes is hard for me.  At my core, though I no longer balk at the idea of speaking in public, talking to strangers, or blabbing on the Internet, like many in our field, I am a shy person.  Are you one too?

So there’s a pair of us.  Advertise!  

Once  you find someone else you can talk with about teen library issues, don’t stop.  Bring others into the conversation.  Now you’re the one who’s helping forge connections.  See how that works?  Cool, huh?  Continue to reach out.  Use the different circles you are a part of to broaden your search and scope.

Following my own advice

This topic grew out of a a conversation I had with a librarian at a nearby library.  I had an idea for a joint book club, focusing on the students at the nearby high school, whose students are drawn from four local communities with libraries.  It only made sense to me that the librarians in these nearby towns should know each other and the school librarian, if not to run my harebrained bookclub scheme, at least so we would know who to refer teens to if they needed to use a neighboring library.  So I sent an email, and happily everyone wanted to meet.  After our first meeting to discuss the bookclub, as we were walking to the parking lot, three of us stopped at a bench, chatted for close to an hour, and found that the challenges we face as solo teen librarians in our locations are not unique.  We found that each had helpful solutions that we could bring back to our own libraries.  We found common ground and friendship.  We’re meeting tomorrow, and have invited several librarians from other nearby towns to join us too.  I can’t wait.  Extra bonus: our joint book club has become successful too.

My presence on this blog is another example of reaching out.  I needed help on a writing project – the kind of help that Karen seemed perfect to provide.  I reached out to her, knowing her only through this blog and YALSA-BK conversations.  We chatted on the phone, decided to work together on that project, and now I get to talk with all of you too.

I encourage you to use the comment section to share your successes at collaboration and connection with others in the teen librarianship or teen advocacy community.  What works for you?  How did you get started?  Any tips or suggestions?  Do you have some thoughts or ideas that you’d like to bounce off of someone?  We’re all in this together, so let’s talk.

A note from Karen: Networking is good.  And it doesn’t just have to be with librarians.  You can also network with the organizations in your area who work with teens to learn more about local programs and services, share local insights, share success stories, and train each others in areas of expertise.  There is tremendous value in knowing the people from your local Boys and girls Club as well as your fellow teen librarians.  I wrote about it in VOYA:http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2011/10/asset-builders-coalition-support.html.  I have also participated in regional teen book review groups that met quarterly and shared book reviews. I highly recommend it.  Online is nice, but it is nice to get out of the building and share a cuppa with your peers.  Rotate libraries so you see what other libraries are doing with their space and graphics and then you can steal their ideas.  I mean borrow.  You can borrow their ideas. Silly me.

Running a Local/Regional Group:

  • Determine your focus: book reviews, programming, all areas
  • Pick a regular meeting time to avoid confusion: The second Monday of each month, every 3rd month
  • Have a coordinator: This person will collect email addresses and create a distribution list, create an agenda, and send out reminders prior to the meeting and recap notes following the meeting
  • Rotation is Key: Rotate libraries so that the same people aren’t always driving, you are visiting new library to get new ideas, and you are sharing the burden of set-up, providing food, and clean up.
  • Have food: Everyone likes food, not just teens.
  • Keep it light and informal, but set some ground rules: confidentiality, no gossip, honest but positively focused


  1. yes Yes and YES! Because of ya'll, I called our public librarian near the high school and we are going to tag-team booktalking in January! Made me realize I need those connections, especially with public libraries. Keep on keeping on ya'll!!

  2. I love working with the school librarians in my county, but unfortunately they seldom want to. I actually get hostility from our local high school librarian. It isn't a turf war! I just want to collaborate!

  3. Thanks, Naomi. The way you put your reviews and trailers out there is another great example of sharing and opening collaboration.

  4. That's frustrating, Mandy! What about getting together just to swap good book suggestions? No pressure to do future projects, no worries of “poaching patrons”… But wow, hostility is pretty uncalled for.

  5. We're reaching out all over the place, but especially the local high school. I get great responses when I suggest an idea, but then when I follow up… nothing! Very frustrating, but your article has encouraged me to keep plugging!


  1. […] Now more than ever it’s nice to have relationships with fellow librarians who I can complain to because they alone understand. Whether it be the problems of trying to deal with last minute snags on the day of a performance or what happens when that one family comes 15 minutes after the program has started and you are very sorry but you can not let them in because the room capacity has been reached, it’s nice to have that friend that you can meet for lunch or send the what do I do now text to get a moment of support. For more check out networking part 1 and part 2. […]

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