Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes You are Not the One, and That’s Okay

One of my earliest and most terrifying encounters working with teens in the library came early on in my career, before I had taken a single class to help me understand the ins and outs of just what it was I was signing up for. A teen boy came in to the library one day, agitated and jumpy. There was a fierce intensity about him, a raw panic that made people stand back. I approached him and asked him if there was something I could help him with. It turned out he was positive he was possessed by a demon and looking for help. I’m not going to lie, it took me several seconds to even think about what I should do in this situation, it was a question I was in no way prepared for. I obviously didn’t really have what he needed, but I referred him to some local mental health places and a priest that I thought could probably help him and did the only thing I could – hoped that he would be okay. We actually talked for a bit that day and it was obvious that he wasn’t an immediate threat to anyone, but he did need help far beyond what I could give him in a single reference interview and in the pages of a book.

At this same library, a group of kids came in once and got me because they said one boy was beating up another boy right outside the library doors. I walked up to the doors and saw a very big guy beating up a very little guy. Right away I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do anything to stop it, so I ran inside and dialed 911. The next day, the bigger boy – the aggressor – came in to the library with several other kids, one of whom held a sledgehammer.  He walked up to the chair I was sitting in, putting one hand on each arm of the chair and pinning me in, and told me I better never call the cops on him again. A few weeks later he approached me at a gas station; the poor gas station attendant called the cops and came running out to make sure I was okay because it was obvious that this teenage boy was threatening me. He ended up being permanently banned from the library. That’s right, a teenager was permanently banned from the library under my watch and to be honest with you, I was perfectly okay with it.

Library administrators like numbers, but many of us working in youth and teen services know that there is more that matters than numbers. I can have a program where only five teens shows up and see how those five teens and I sat there doing those crafts and talked about amazing things and bonded. I can walk away from a program with only five teens and feel really great about the program, because I know that those teens had a moment where they bonded with and were affirmed by an adult and they will probably look back on that moment as a moment that matters. The five on a report handed to admin may look bad, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

I think this is in part because may of us who work with kids don’t just do so as a job, we do it as a kind of ministry. Many of us view being a youth services librarian as ministering to the individuals, to the community, to our world’s future. And we know because of things like the 40 Developmental Assets that this is true. Our work creates ways for a variety of those assets to be met and we are doing good things. And we also know that we have the opportunity to have those one on one moments with teens that can make a difference. Sometimes it is a one time thing, sometimes it turns into a an ongoing relationship between the librarian and a teen or group of teens. Other times, those interactions fail; the truth is that sometimes you are not the one and that is okay.

That boy who thought he was possessed by a demon – he needed someone to help him, but I was not that someone. I didn’t have the knowledge or skills necessary to help him. What was happening to him was way beyond here read this book or here is an adult that cares about you. He needed a mental health professional and I was not the one.

That boy who was permanently banned from the library – he too needed someone to reach out and make a difference to him, but I was not that someone. It got to the point where my safety became a higher concern to me than being the one to bond with him and maybe be the one to lead him to change. He needed someone that could approach him without fear and I was not the one.

We can’t be the one for many of the teens that walk into our libraries. Sometimes they need people with knowledge and skills in different areas of expertise than ours. Sometimes our personalities don’t click. Sometimes people just get lost in the shuffle because of the sheer number of teens that come in our library doors.This too is part of why it takes a village.

In our communities, there are other adults that care about teens and are working to meet their needs – get to know them. Network with them. No matter how awesome you are and what kinds of awesome programs and services you are offering, you can’t be the one for every single teen that walks in your library doors. And that’s okay. Your job is also to know the services and resources in your community that you can refer them to.

So when you have those moments when you are in fact not the one to connect with one of the teens that comes into your library, it’s okay. You are, in fact, only human. Do your best, provide great customer service, provides the services and programs you can realistically offer within the confines of your library space, staff time, and budget, and give yourself permission to be human. It’s not just that you aren’t “the one” for every teen that walks through your library’s door, because the truth is – you can’t be. The adult that made a difference in your life is much different than the adult that made a difference in someone else’s life, it’s not all on your shoulders. There are other shoulders out there to help bear the weight of the world. It’s okay to occasionally let your shoulders take a break from all the heavy lifting.

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.


Take 5: DIY on Tumblr

Tumblr is an awesome place to hang out.  It’s visual, fun, and easy to use. And believe it or not, it is a great place to find DIY outlines.  Just last week author Tahereh Mafi shared a tutorial on how to make these glorious Shatter Me inspired shoes.  I myself have shared several DIY tutorial on the TLT Tumblr.  So today we’re going to talk DIY and Tumblr.

DIY on Tumblr usually takes 2 distinct forms. Sometimes, like Tahereh has done on her blog, that entire tutorial is right there in the Tumbl post.  Other times, the Tumblr is simply used to reblog and curate DIY activities, similar to what many people do with Pinterest. Libraries, particularly libraries that have Makerspace themes, should consider starting a DIY specific Tumblr blog as an information resource for teens in their local communities.  In fact, you could even get teens to help you put together tutorials of library craft programs for the Tumblblog.

Five DIY Themed Tumblrs:

Buzzfeed DIY

Buzzfeed is pretty epic all on its own, but they do have a DIY Tumbl blog.  It can cover anything and everything.  My favorite is when they have lists of DIY around a particular theme – say a holiday or just the theme of books – and they link to something like 25 DIY posts on that topic.  Great for program inspiration or planning.

Daisy Pickers

Daisy Pickers shares original and shared tutorials for a variety of craft ideas, many of which have a country chic feel to them.  There are tutorials for making things like craft floss tassels, half log bookends, and tin can stilts.

DIY Hoard

Like Buzzfeed DIY, DIY Hoard is an awesome and eclectic look at DIY around the Internet.  There are a lot of full tutorials right there on the Tumblr (easy to reblog and share).   

True Blue Me & You

True Blue Me & You has a variety of craft/DIY tutorials on their Tumblblog.   For example, they show you how to make these stacked rings, which are epically cool. On the right side bar you’ll see that this person also has a Tumbl blog on Kids Crafts, Halloween Crafts, and Christmas and Holiday Crafts.

Why Not Just DIY

So, interesting note here.  Cussing is pretty rampant on Tumblr.  In fact, there are a lot of Tumblr that are named “Fuckyeah whatever the topic is”.  You can have a Tumblr address and still have a different Tumblr heading.  So this Tumbl blog’s address is Why Not Just DIY (probably what the originally named it), and when you go to the Tumbl blog the title is Make Your Own Shit.  So, there are cool craft resources here, but you probably want to be aware of the title when sharing with teens – especially younger teens – on your library’s professional page.  Having said all that, I really like their tutorial on how to turn paper lanterns into glitter lamps.  Very cool.

How to Do DIY on Tumblr

So in addition to sharing these cool DIY resources from Tumblr, I wanted to point out that Tumblr is a great way to be incorporating more tech and social media into your teen services.  I highly recommend having a DIY themed specific Tumblr blog for your teen services.  As I mentioned in the open, when you do a craft program, you can even get the teens present at your program to help you make a DIY tutorial for your Tumblr blog.  Take lots of step by step pictures (and you can take them over the shoulder if you are worried about privacy issues), outline the steps, and put up your post as you would make a craft instruction sheet.  I would also include a bibliography of some craft books on the topic that can be found in your library.

If your library has a Makerspace or a craft heavy emphasis on programming, this is a great way to highlight what you are doing to the community and be a resource.  Making – arts, crafts – are important I believe because they inspire creative thinking and problem solving, and innovation can not happen without these.  Creativity also is a great way to get teens involved in self-expression and to boost their sense of accomplishment and self worth.  Craft programs also are a great way to have some active programming – as opposed to passive programming, where teens sit and listen to someone speak – while still meeting their social needs because craft programs are ripe for sitting and gabbing while crafting.  In short, maker programs create a library environment that is very 40 developmental assets friendly.

Geek is the New Black: Low Tech Gaming in the Library

Karen talked earlier about the benefits of electronic gaming in the library; I’m not going to repeat her points- just go HERE.

However, there is a LOT to be said for low tech gaming as well. While some news outlets seem to think that today’s youth can’t be bothered with these types of games, I call bull. Otherwise, why do I have a line for the games at my library, and a ton of tweens and teens asking me to play games with them?

The low tech games (and to be specific I’m talking board and card games) that we have are all donated in one way or another, and are used CONSTANTLY. They fulfill a host of the 40 developmental assets, not to mention get them involved with each other and off a screen. They involve reading, comprehension, math, vocabulary, memory and strategy, all of which help to build on what we want for our tweens and teens.

Not enough? Then check out this TED talk by Stuart Brown:


National Gaming Day @ Your Library is November 16th
So what to do with board games? Well, you can have an open gaming day (I call them Low Tech Gaming Days) and have two or three games set up on tables around the room, and let participants play whatever they want to play. I usually have a movie playing as well so that those who want to be in the room but who don’t want to play can have something to do.

Or, have a day set aside for a specific game. Set up a Monopoly day, or contact the local Chess Club or the American Go foundation and see if they can come out and teach a class or three on the basics of those games. 

Talk to your local comic shop about when they have their set dates for the Yu-Gi-Oh and Pokemon tournament plays, and then set up “free play” days for those in your area that are interested on days/times that won’t conflict with your comic shop (you don’t want to draw from their customer base). All you need are clean tables, some six-sided (normal) dice, scratch paper, pencils, and a staff person in the room willing to listen. Make it clear there’s no trading cards or playing for cards- that’s all for fun.

What games work in a library setting? Well, what do you have? Currently, these are my top games of interest:



Apples to Apples




Which ones work for you? Share in the comments.
More on Board Games:

The Cassandra Project, or youth involvement from the ground floor (a guest post by Patrick Jones)

Today, I am very honored to present a guest post by YA Librarian GURU Patrick Jones, the author of many teen books and what has long been the ya librarian bible, Connecting Young Adults and Libraries.  As a librarian in Ohio, I once attended library training presented by Patrick Jones as a result of an OLC Grant.  Drew Carey had won money and donated it to Ohio Library Foundation, he was a huge supporter. Cleveland rocks and all that.
It started back in 1986, in my first young adult librarian job at the Springfield (MA) City Library.   We’d decided to expand the magazine offerings beyond Boys Life. Since I was new to the YA field and could find  no professional articles about YA magazines I put together a survey asking teens which magazines they wanted in the library.  While this was passive youth involvement, the seed was born.   From that time up through my last YA job in 2001 – where as a consultant I helped Hennepin County Library put together Teens Online, the YA advisory group for the redesigned webpage – this idea of youth involvement was a core philosophy I advocated and practiced.   

When I started writing for teens, it seemed like a good model to use.  While my first novel Things Change didn’t use any teen input, my following five novels all involved teens – mostly those I’d met during school visits – reading the manuscript before it was sent to my editor at Walker Bloomsbury.  In 2006, I began a semi-formal relationship with two teachers at a nearby high school where they would organize a group of teens to read, comment, and eat pizza.  

For The Tear Collector in 2009, I took youth involvement to the next level by featuring a poem “I Hurt ”written by a teen (for which she was credited and paid) in the book itself.  

And then came the Grumpy Dragon.

SpringLea Ellorien Henry – editor / publisher – of Grumpy Dragon Books approached me about working together on a project (aka the porn book).  While that title didn’t seem right for the Grumpy Dragon brand, we discussed doing another Tear Collector title, more in line with Grumpy Dragon’s paranormal focus.  We hadn’t decided to work together until one cold January day when SpringLea called with an idea, a youth involvement idea.

The previous summer SpringLea had taught creative writing to a group of teens and many of them expressed interest in learning more about the editing process.  If only they had a practical way to do that…..
So, we created the Cassandra Project (Cassandra is the narrator and protagonist in the Tear Collector world) where I would work with a group of teens to create a book.  As they commented on my first draft, I made huge changes and saw great opportunities based on their raw yet reasoned reader reaction. At first, the relationship was through technology – a Skype visit and Facebook interaction – but a face to face was needed. 

One August day in 2011 I flew to Colorado and spent the day working through the book in a way I’d never done with any editor, from my library professional books to my young adult fiction.  Their involvement demanded more credit than a few words in the acknowledgements so they dubbed themselves the Elsinore Quills (the book – Cassandra’s Turn – weighs heavy with Hamlet references and themes) and earned co-authorship credit.

I had deliberately NOT written the ending so we could brainstorm it together in person.  We discussed each plotline, talked about static versus changing characters, examined motives and opportunities, and decided which ends to leave loose and which to wrap up.   By the flight home the next day, I’d taken their notes and outlined the three final chapters.   Within a few weeks, I completed the final chapters and incorporated (almost) all of their.  The Quills had another chance to review the manuscript while the Grumpy Dragon editorial team worked on it as well.

We together decided the book needed a prologue so one of the Quills did a first draft.  Another teen from Michigan also wrote part of the book (It was a strange conversation – What are you doing today Cyndey?  Nothing, why?  You want to make $50?  How?  Write me a suicide note. Okay). One member of the Quills wrote about her experience for VOYA’s Notes from the Teenage Underground.  Together we presented at the Teen Literature Conference in Denver, and I will use interviews for a presentation at the Children’s & Young Adult Literature Conference at The Loft in Minneapolis in May 2013.

When I was moving out of teen librarianship I began to think more about the idea of the outcomes of our work:  not about increasing circulation, but about building assets, in part through youth involvement. This project yielded the outcomes we want in youth involvement work. Because these teens were brutal and bold and beautiful in their approach I got a much different book than had I written it without their input.  They got be part of the publishing process: not just writing a review, not just speaking at BBYA, and not just examining ARCs but on the ground floor of a published book.

It is win win when youth are involved.

More about Youth Involvement at TLT:
Draw It: Teen Summer Reading Club art contest
Putting the “Teen” in your Teen Space
Teens Got Talent: Empowering teens and creating buy in
Teen volunteers
Youth Empowerment: social campaigns aimed towards getting teens involved

Where Everybody Knows Your Name…. Thinking about Want Teens Need

I’ve been a fan of Connected Learning for a while- I really like their streaming learning environment, and their topics.  The one for March 21 was on HOMAGO spaces (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) which is an awesome concept (read our previous post called Don’t Underestimate the Value of Hanging Out), and takes what I do at my teen after hours and teen nights one step further by adding in a learning aspect, one that I’m going to try out this fall. I’m already doing the HO and MA parts, it’s the GO part that might take a little time (although to hear my Yu-Gi-Oh teens or one of my readers talk about their favorite book, we geek like crazy). If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

connectedlearningtv on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

What got me thinking, however,  was when they said “youth spaces should be like “Cheers” where everybody knows their name.” Now, I grew up on Cheers, and remember watching it with my dad and Shelly Long was the girl that Ted Danson wanted and Woody Harrelson was not Haymitch but the weird dorky assistant.  Teens may not know Cheers, but they want to be known, even if they don’t say it out loud.
We hear in the news about what so many teens are going through: drugs, suicide attempts, depression, bullying (really, it’s abuse), and you never know when saying Hi and asking about their day might at least make a spark in their lives. Going the little bit to put faces with names and know little aspects of their lives aside from what they’re reading doesn’t take that much effort, but it can make a world of difference for a teen.
It goes back to customer service, plain and simple. I avoid places where I’m not treated properly: nasty tables or bad table service at a restaurant or fast food place, I’m not going back. Sticky floors, shelves stocked willy-nilly, horrible cashier- not going back. Treated like an outcast, not even looked at- not going back. It’s the same with libraries. We need to remember that even though we are teen specialists, we need to be aware of *how* we are treating them, and that they need that extra attention just as much as the sobbing 5 year old who tripped and got a boo-boo. They just may not be saying it.

Crafting: It’s not just about the duct tape

If you do craft programs at your library, you know it’s a great way to bring people in and bump up your attendance statistics.  But crafting and libraries are an ideal match for many less selfish reasons as well.  As National Craft Month comes to a close, let’s reflect on what crafts can bring to the lives of our teens and our relationships with them, and how this aligns with the mission of libraries.

Crafting builds community

“Let’s build something together” “You can build it; we can help” It’s no coincidence that slogans advertising building and creation often invoke a community effort.  Creating something is not a solitary pursuit any more than reading is.  We may do it alone, but even so, we do it within the framework of an entire community of support and shared interest.  Look at the prevalence of craft blogs and the wide network of followers these blogs attract.  Look at the popularity of knitting groups.  Look back to the traditions of quilting bees, barn raisings, and community gardens.  People want to come together to make things because making things together ties us to each other, to a place, to the process, to the product.


Crafting is learning

If you’ve ever had a craft FAIL, you know full well that crafting is not just an activity, but a process.  You try, you fail, you try, you improve, you try, you succeed.  Crafting in libraries can show teens that in an increasingly outcome oriented society, it’s the trying that counts and that trying is where the fun begins.  Contemporary libraries that are thriving are doing so by being places people come to grow and learn and succeed.  Whether this happens through using test prep databases or attending resume workshops or participating in book discussions or making digital videos and computer programs or hand puppets and duct tape wallets, libraries are providing paths to success.  Paths to success – not just one – because like our patrons and our collections, our programs need to be diverse, striving to meet the many needs of our diverse patrons.  Bringing teens together to create in the library legitimizes this activity, just like maintaining a video game, graphic novel, paperback romance, or foreign language collection legitimizes those pursuits.  It demonstrates that being creative and making things is worthwhile, and that we want to share in their discovery and creative process.


Crafting is real

When we connect crafts to novels, like making a Mockingjay pin out of polymer clay, or a Steampunk inspired journal, or use gold balloons to make Golden Snitch stress balls, we extend the fictional worlds teens love to inhabit into our real world in a tangible way.  For those teens for whom fiction holds little appeal, using hands to create real, useful, practical items may be a more logical choice.  Crafting using repurposed or found items is a creative way to inexpensively meet otherwise expensive needs, and involves the trappings and cast-offs from our real world in new and pleasing ways.  Libraries offer workshops on gardening, organizing, home cooking, and investing – why not consider craft workshops for teens as the adolescent version of these home economics themed programs?  Additionally, the need to develop and enhance fine motor skills doesn’t end when storytime ends, and crafts are one way to continue to encourage this developmental task in a fun way.


Crafting is fun

True, this is subjective.  But consider the number of programs we have, just “because it will be fun”?  LOTS!  And we have these “just for fun” programs because we know they come packaged with numerous other benefits: high attendance, yes, but they’re fun for a reason too.  They cater to interests and strengths that patrons have.  They provide a social outlet and connection for like-minded people.  They connect to materials in our collection.  They remind people that the library understands that fun is important, that learning can be fun, and that when they come to the library, we want them to enjoy themselves.


Crafting is lifelong learning

Our library hosts a knitting club.  Every other week, a group of women gathers and shares cookies and their progress and projects.  They encourage each other.  They knit for each other.  They teach each other.  Some just began knitting, but many learned in their childhood and have been honing their skills on and off ever since.  I often practice potential craft projects with my preschool aged children at home, then present them to adults, and then adapt them for an teen audience.  Crafting crosses generational lines.  One of the regulars at my adult craft group confided to me that she loves it when a craft is one that her teenaged daughter likes too because it’s one of the only things she wants to do with her mom anymore.  The storytime kids parade out of the library with faces full of sunshine and arms full of projects.  The adult crafters show off their creations as table centerpieces at holiday meals.  Making something tangible is satisfying.  Why deny teens that same satisfaction?  

Crafting is also creativity, problem solving, innovation and more.  Crafting is asset building, skills building, and confidence building.  Crafting is a great thing for our libraries.So craft away.


A Night of Firsts

Last night I was invited by Dr. Joni Bodart to speak to her MLS students.  Since she teaches on the West Coast (I miss you place where I grew up), I had to drop in via my computer.  It was a night of firsts for me.

The first thing you should know is that it was such an honor to be asked by Dr. Bodart.  She is a giant in the field, and has always been a huge inspiration.  I did my final MLS project on Booktalking.  As you know, she has written a variety of booktalking books – which I referred to in my research.  So, being asked by her, yeah pretty cool.

Outside of a few conference speaking engagements, it was the first time I had ever talked to MLS students.  It turns out, I have a lot to say.  I spoke about the need for advocacy at all levels.  If you work with teens, you know that often you have to advocate for teen services right there in your own building.  You’re fighting for funds, staffing, space.  That’s not always true of course, thankfully many libraries have understood and embraced the need for teen services.  But even those that do, they often weren’t originally set up for it in terms of space and teens need a space – a space for ya books, to get together in the library.  So yeah, I did talk about advocacy.  Some of my favorite pieces that I have ever written is about advocating in the library and the way that you can put the building blocks into place to get staff interacting with teens in positive ways.  Here are a couple of those pieces:

What does customer services to teens look like?
Marketing teen services to non teen services staff (advocacy)
The “Be”-Attitudes of communicating with staff (advocacy)
This is my favorite advocacy piece: Libraries are the beating heart (of our communities)

It was also a technology first for me.  As you know, a few weeks ago we had a Google Hangout session with the fabulous author A. S. King and our contest winner Bryson McCrone (more on this next week actually).  One of the things I mentioned in my discussion last night was the need for teen librarians to stay up to date on technology, so it was fitting that I learned a new tech tool while doing it – Blackboard Collaborate.  I get bonus points for two new types of tech in one month, right?  Blackboard Collaborate was really kind of awesome, but simple to use.  Because tech can be tricky – and quite fickle – this was the part I was most worried about.  Thankfully, all the tech cooperated and, once I figured out how to use it, it went pretty smoothly.  When using Blackboard Collaborate there is a chat window on the lower left hand screen that makes the experience interactive.  I am not going to lie, I found that little chat window both awesome and distracting; I liked the way it made the experience interactive, but since I appear to be easily distracted it pulled me away from my thoughts a few times.  I am sure it is easier to incorporate with more experience.

After I spoke I was invited to stay and listen as Teen Librarian JoAnn Rees from Sunnyvale Public Library presented a talk on graphic novels and manga.  You’ve heard me say it before, but gns/manga are my Achilles heel as a teen services librarian.  I did what any smart person would do – I stayed.  JoAnn gave an amazing talk on graphic novels and it was interesting to hear how passionate and knowledgeable she was about the format.  I’ll have to e-mail her and ask her if it is okay to share the Top 10 lists that she shared with the class with you.

So this is the part of the post where I pretend that you asked me, “So what did you talk about Karen?” Well, I’m glad you asked, even if it was only in my head.  Joni asked me to talk about why I was a librarian, things I thought you needed to work with teens, and some of the things they don’t teach you are library school.

Why am I a YA Librarian? Because I think it is meaningful work that I am called to do.

What do you need to be a successful YA Librarian?

We had a really good discussion about boundaries and protecting yourself from what I called “Elmo accusations”.  Some librarians have a different point of view, but as much as I love my teens (and I genuinely do), I don’t friend them with my personal FB account, I don’t text them via my personal phone, and I don’t email them via my personal email address.  When we communicate I do so via library channels.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have meaningful conversations, because we often do.  But you hear in the news way to often of boundaries being crossed and accusations being made with adults and teens and I want to protect myself – and the integrity of my library and all the hard work I have done – by making sure that there are appropriate boundaries in place.

But what about those things they don’t teach you in library school?  If you read here often you know that is an ongoing discussions Christie, Heather, Stephanie and I have.  There are some things you can teach, like creativity.  But I think you can develop creativity.  Other things I think we need to spend more time talking about is the day to day situations that we are facing: dealing with staff (many of whom may not share your passion for libraries or teens), dealing with the real life situations of your teens, and working with community leaders (and members of your community) where you have to speak in a language that is different than library speak.  Nonlibrarians don’t really speak in library speak.  I’ll get back to this point in a minute.

Our teens are at the heart of what we do.  It is them that we are serving, mentoring and nurturing.  Yes, nurturing.  To work with teens, you really do need to 1) care about them, 2) understand them (keep reading on adolescent development, and 3) spend some time in their world (cruise teen oriented pop culture sites, watch some of the shows they watch, find out what music they are listening to).  Businesses that succeed do so because they spend a lot of time researching their target audience and meeting their needs.  Librarians must do the same.
Things I Never Learned in Library School part 1, part 2
So, back to the dangling point I made earlier about communicating with your communities.  Let’s talk the 40 Developmental Assets.
The 40 Developmental Assets are an important tool because they help us plan and evaluate what we are doing in our youth services departments.  When planning programs and services, I know that if they help a teen meet a developmental asset than it has value.  Likewise, when communicating the value of my teen services it serves the same purpose. 
Let’s examine a standard marketing practice, shall we?  The yearly director’s report.
I can put out a report that says items in my teen collection circulated 5, 142 times and this is what the members and my community think: Compared to what?  I don’t know, is that good or bad?  What does that mean?
Or, I can say: Through a variety of programs and services the Karen Jensen Public Library helped teens in the Karen Jensen Community reach 27 of the 40 developmental assets including providing them with opportunities to have leadership roles and giving teens a voice through our teen advisory board, providing teens with opportunities to serve their community through our teen volunteer program, and supporting a teen’s commitment to learning by providing quality library collections, opportunities to engage in literature based programming and discussions, and homework support materials.
By using the 40 Developmental Assets as a planning, evaluation and communication tool, you help underline the value of libraries in your community.  See also, Asset Builders Coalition support materials.
So there you have it, my first experience as a “teacher” to library school students – but with a lot less “ums”.  Maybe one day after I get those “ums” under control I can be a teacher, it was pretty cool.

Get active, change the world: Social campaigns for teens (Teens Can Make a Difference)

If you spend any time looking at the 40 Developmental Assets (which you should), you’ll note that several of them touch on the idea that teens want (and need) to have a sense of purpose and feeling of control over their lives and futures; they need to know that they can have a positive influence on the world in which they are living.  But if today’s current spate of dystopian fiction is any indication, we are living in a world with an increasingly bleak looking future.  I think the popularity of dystopian fiction reflects some of the hopelessness and despair that is par for the course in the teen years, but it is also a distinct reflection of the economic despair and concern that influences our current climate.  Having given you that ultra cheery look at the current zeitgeist, let me tell you that there are people out there every day working to make positive changes in our world – and offering teens the opportunity to do the same.  Today I share with you several campaigns that you can share with your teens and help them get involved in being a positive force in the world – and helping them meet the 40 Developmental Assets in their lives.  Remember, more positive assets equals more positive teens.  Our job is to get the information to them, the rest is up to them.

Teenage Depression  * Bullying  *  Dating Violence  *  Human Trafficking  * Being a Guy  *  Being a Girl  * Saving the Earth  * and More . . .

Their mission statement: To Write Love on Her Arms is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire and also to invest directly into treatment and recovery.
The message of the It Gets Better Project is simple: everyone deserves to be loved for who they are and it does get better.  They ask everyone to take this pledge: Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I’ll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I’ll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other bullied teens by letting them know that it gets better.
The Big Help is an initiative of the Nickelodeon chanel that encourages tweens and teens to get involved in local projects to help their communities.  The audience definitely skews younger tween, but the way it is designed encourages local action, which is great.

Donate My Dress is an initiative sponsored by Seventeen Magazine that encourages teens to donate their special occassion dresses to others in need.  The 2012 spokesperson is Victoria Justice.
Do Something is all about encouraging teens to, well – do something positive for their world.  This is what it says under their Who We Are page: e love teens. They are creative, active, wired…and frustrated that our world is so messed up. DoSomething.org harnesses that awesome energy and unleashes it on causes teens care about. Almost every week, we launch a new national campaign. The call to action is always something that has a real impact and doesn’t require money, an adult, or a car. With a goal of 5 million active members by 2015, DoSomething.org is one of the largest organizations in the US for teens and social change.

I am a huge advocate of teen volunteers, and many libraries have been using teen volunteers for years in the form of Teen Advisory Groups (TAGs).  But not all libraries have the staffing or funds to successfully incorporate TAGs into their programs.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage teen volunteering by providing teens access to volunteer information.  Volunteen Nation is here to help.  Volunteen Nation encourages organizations to add volunteer opportunities to their programming and they also help teens find volunteer opportunities through their website.
With the explosion of technology comes the explosion of cyberbullying, find information and take the pledge to step in and speak up here.

As part of their ongoing campaign to promote tolerance, Tolerance.org sponsors Mix It Up at Lunch Day in November (this year it is November 13th).  On this day teens are encouraged to sit with new people at lunch.  I have gone to schools on this day with displays and just went and interacted with the teens at lunch.  Most teens like to sit in the same place with the same people, but it can really open up dialogue.
T4PE is a social network by teens, for teens to learn more about conservation efforts and to share information about local projects.
From their about page:
PROJECT GIRL combines art, media literacy, and youth led activism.
PROJECT GIRL is a ground-breaking girl-led, arts-based initiative created to enable girls to become better informed critical consumers of mass media advertising and entertainment. In other words, to become more media literate.
PROJECT GIRL’s unique approach uses art as the means to educate, inspire, and create social change. . The Project Girl gives girls the structure to be the producers of their own culture, not just passive receivers of a culture that is trying to sell them something.
Stay Teen provides information on sex, dating and birth control.
Love is Respect talks about the positive things that love is, and highlights the negative things that it is not – including sexting and abuse. There is some good discussion under the Is This Abuse? tab.
Break the Cycle is also committed to helping to end dating violence and promoting healthy relationships.

International Day of the Girl is a movement…
to speak out against gender bias and advocate for girls’ rights everywhere.
Human Traffikcing is a form of modern day slavery that is bigger than we realize.  Teens on Trafficking gives teens facts and tools to help end it.
This is another resource aimed at ending human trafficking and sex crimes against children.
Here ya author John Green and is Bro join with teens to fight suck using their brains.

I know that there are more, so please share your favorites in the comments.  The more we have, the more likely we are to meet our teens informational needs. Thank you.

Top 10: Gaming in the Library

The first Saturday in November is now reserved for International Games Day, and I happen to love it.  I know it may tweak some librarians (IT’S NOT READING!!!!) but gaming is literacy if you know what to look for, and it’s an important tool in the 40 Developmental Aspects for Teens (and for younger kids as well).  I’ve had teens that wouldn’t talk to each other work together on video games and puzzles, and those that weren’t joiners crow after winning a difficult round of Monopoly.  So, for International Games Day, I’ve compiled a list of my Top Ten, both in books and games.  (and Happy Birthday to Karen!!)

For The Win by Cory Doctorow.  Struggling to make a living in the video game world, teens from across the world combine to fight the battle not only in the video game world but in real life….

Monopoly.  My tweens and teens love ANY version of Monopoly that I can get my hands on, and a game will go on for 5-6 hours.  We play by house rules:  any money from taxes goes into Free Parking, and they can make alliances, trade properties, etc.  Your house rules may be a bit different, but teens definitely get into the game.

Super Smash Bros Brawl by Nintendo.  It’s been on a variety of the Nintendo platforms, and currently is available on the Wii, and kids of all ages love playing it.  I have really good success having tournaments, and I know that for Game Day libraries across the country have set up cross-country battles.  I always think it’s funny because I’m pretty good at it, and my teens will get someone unsuspecting to play, and I’ll be the Princess, and go to town with an umbrella or an onion.

Unidentified by Rae Mariz.  When Katey’s attempt at self-thought brings her the attention of the sponsors, will it be her big break, or selling out to the corporations in control?

Zombie Fluxx by Looney Labs.  The rules and goals are ever changing, so you have to read VERY carefully and pay attention in order to win this very challenging game.  And watch out for Larry!

Little Big Planet 1 & 2.  My kids really like going through the different levels available, and those that play solo have discovered the challenges of designing their own courses, and then having their friends play through.  We’ve even had a teen night where one set will be designing their course, and then the second half will play through and they’ll vote on the best level.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  When gamer Wade stumbles onto a clue that may take him to the end of the puzzle and the fortune, his world is turned upside down.  Can he solve the riddles before the game gets to him?

Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot by Playroom Entertainment.  The most RANDOM game in the free world, and the best because there is not a clear winner until the end.  You go through killing everyone else’s bunnies, and buying up themed carrots, then at the end, there is one SPECIFIC carrot that is the winner.  TA DA!  CHAOS (and the teenage years) personified.

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe by Midway Games and DC Comics.  My teens love having tournaments, and I make sure I have the key fighting combinations printed out and lying around so that those who aren’t playing can study them ahead of time.  When we have after hours gaming, often times they’ll go through story mode on different difficulties, unlocking the characters for later.
Halo by Bungie and Microsoft Studios.  This actually counts for gaming and books, because teens who love the games DEVOUR the books that I have in the library, and not just the graphic novel adaptations, either.  They’ve gone through the full science fiction story lines by Greg Bear and Karen Traviss over and over, and are always asking when we’re getting more in.  And they’re always up for tournament play.  We’re lucky in that I have a computer lab next to my little library, and so I can load up the Halo Trial (which does not need permission slips as it’s not rated anything more than teen), and run a tournament in our lab without bothering other patrons.  The only cost to me is time, and a few small prizes.
You can download the poster at http://www.box.com/s/duxk17uo59eveyip5ut1
So what are your favorite gaming books or games that you’ve done in your library?  Share in the comments below!