Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Take 5 Community Reads for YA

Thinking about doing a community-wide read for teens? You could create a list of companion books for teens inspired by an adult selection like the St. Joseph County Public Libraries did, you could select a book specifically for your teens, or you could encourage the whole community to dive into teen lit by selecting a YA market book for everyone to read. There are lots of options. Check out these five titles that have been used around the country to create conversations, build community, and involve books and programming around books in teens’ lives in a big way.

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

A contemporary realistic title with broad age appeal can open conversation to a wide audience on a variety of current issues that impact the daily lives of teens.

Selected by Goodnow Library, Sudbury, MA


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

A book with a strong fan base will make promoting the event a lot easier – readers who love the book will be your best advertisement.

Selected by Lenape Regional High School District, Shamong, NJ


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Pull in so-called “non readers” by thinking beyond novels. Graphic novels and nonfiction appeal on topic and delivery in a way that gives you a great jumping off point for conversations and programming.

Selected by Newton South High School, Newton, MA

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Look to nonfiction about current issues with an engaging delivery to involve high school aged teens and adults for conversations that impact all of us in modern society.

Selected by Fairfield, CT

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

A well loved classic that offers lots of programming potential and builds on the nostalgia factor. Reading it again as a teen might bring surprising realizations for those who skimmed over bits when they were younger.

Selected by Westmont Public Library, Westmont, IL


“Librarians are how libraries speak.” ~ The Bloggess

sundayreflectionsI’ve had a deep, abiding love for the writing of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, ever since she introduced the world to Beyonce, the giant metal chicken, and now it turns out she loves me too. And you. And you.  (It’s a few weeks old, but read it now if you haven’t yet.)

Makes your heart swell up, doesn’t it? See how my heart is so swollen up that it’s leaking out of my eyes? Yep.

We cheer the articles lauding the importance of libraries, and we scoff at those marveling at the discovery that librarians don’t all wear buns, and some prefer coding to card catalogs. But to read one like Jenny’s, where it becomes clear that it wasn’t just the library, but the librarians inside it, that made a difference, and to know that we’re still doing the work that makes that quietly dramatic change for our young patrons? Well, I take a different kind of joy in sharing that with my Facebook friends. It’s a sigh of relief that all of this that we do day after day? This matters.

As writing is the craft of the author, reader’s advisory is the craft of the librarian. Authors send their books out into the void, we catch them in and bring them back, and point them home.  The Bloggess is right:

 Librarians are how libraries speak.

We are not just the collectors and caretakers of our materials. We are the voice of the books we have on our shelves, speaking to potential readers when the books themselves can’t. When the books are quiet, or by first time authors, or just different enough that they’re not fitting tidily into the easily marketable genres, we are the voice of those books.

But librarians are the voice of more than what is on our shelves. As R. David Lankes says in this emotional call to action, (which I highly recommend everyone spend 20 minutes on this morning) The Community is Your Collection,

We have the amazing vocation of improving the societies that we are a part of. We are the stewards of our community’s aspirations and goals.”

The people we serve are the most important piece of our collection. How can we be their voice? We are the ears, the heart, the muscle, and the voice of our services, our space and our resources. We are these things not for the sake of what’s inside the building itself, but for the transformative power that they hold when connected correctly with the right people at the right time in the right way with the right support. We are the conduits and the catalysts. A library changed Jenny Lawson’s life when a librarian put those books in her hand, but not because the books were there. It was because the librarian was there, was listening, was able to make that connection, and do it in such a way that made a difference.

Where else in our community can we be?

What other magical connections can we make?

Whose voice will you be?

The origami revelation: 1 program fail; 3 reminders

The other day I hosted a very regrettable program. In addition to my role as a teen librarian I also host a regular craft night for adults. It’s a nice way to extend my service population, and to be perfectly honest, I like seeing how an adult group handles a project before I hand it to teens. And thank goodness I tried this darn fabric origami thing out with adults first.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. It met all of my criteria for craft programs: inexpensive, can be completed in an hour or so, no special tools or skills required, easy to replicate, attractive. The idea is that you stiffen fabric with diluted wood glue, then cut the fabric to a square, and fold it up like you would any sheet of origami paper.

But here’s the thing: I thought all of the difficulty was in the prep that I did at home: figuring out the glue to water ratio, figuring out how to dry it quickly without destroying my dryer, figuring out how to iron it smooth without destroying my iron (failed at that one), figuring out how to cut a couple dozen pieces square… Frankly, it was a hassle I won’t be attempting again. The library members who came to my program would only have to fold the gorgeous fabric into a decorative lily or a useful box. Simple for them, right? After all the hard work I put in on the front end?

Well, no.

1. It’s not about me

All of that prep work had nothing to do with them! In my annoyance and preoccupation with the messy preparation I’d neglected to stop and look carefully enough at how my patrons would approach the project. Yes, I’d prepared step by step models and printed out instructions, but I overlooked the doing of the project in the preparation for the project. Origami is tricky. Some people practice for hours – days – years before perfecting a design. To expect people who had never done it before to do it with a difficult material and use a pattern not designed for beginners was way more than was reasonable. The doing of the program, for each person in that room other than me began when they set foot in the room. Not days before while buying the fabric, stiffening it, drying it, and cutting it. When we come to the desk, to the program, to the RA interaction, our preparation is merely prologue. It makes a difference for our patrons, but it doesn’t matter to them. The prep is our job. Not theirs.

2. It’s not about the project.

That evening as the group gathered, I tried to cut some problems off at the pass by fessing up and telling them that of all the programs I had helped them with, this was the trickiest. I showed them my steps and results and warned them of pitfalls, and assured them that I was here to help. And you know what? It was tricky for them too. They struggled too. And as each of them left, I don’t think anyone left with a product they really liked.

3. It’s about community

But in spite of that, they all had a good time. They laughed, poked gentle fun at each other, encouraged and gave tips, and actually thanked me. A couple times. I even got an email after the fact! And I realized that what they leave with each month is not a craft. It’s a sense of belonging, an hour or two of socializing, laughter and a break from their regular lives. It’s community. And we are part of it.

In our library service, let’s remember that the right answer is just one of the things we give our patrons. And I might argue that it’s frequent of far less importance than the other things they gain.

Top 5 Take-aways from ILEAD-USA

This year I’m jumping out of my comfort zone of YA fiction and crafty programs and have joined a team that was accepted to the ILEAD USA program in Illinois.  Over the course of the year, our team will design and implement a program using technology to improve service to our patrons and more deeply connect with our communities.  My team, the Techno-Whats, will be exploring simple robotics for children and teens, and structuring staff training so that more people in service to kids and teens will feel comfortable and supported in trying these new STEM programs.

Find out More about ILead

But what I learned at our first in person session is that ILEAD is so much more than technology! Here are my top 5 take-aways from what several have aptly termed “library sleepaway camp” that I think everyone can benefit from.

1. The process is more important than the product.

We were reminded repeatedly that trying is more important than not trying, and the final product will not be as useful or meaningful to the library world in general as going through the process of learning something new. Robotics is something I have so little knowledge of, I was reassured that becoming an expert will not make this a success, but learning something new and working with a team will.  The phrase used frequently throughout the week was Fail Forward. When you learn something new, even if you learn what to never do again, your perceived failure is not really a failure.

2. Where imaginations play, learning happens.

Don’t you love this? This quote from Michael Steven’s presentation gets to the heart of both libraries, and our project. Creating a space within our walls and programs where teens can be imaginative and explore without undue restrictions — where they can play — they have the distinct opportunity to learn something new. They might learn about robotics, or poetry, or how to be a better friend, and they might just learn about themselves.  Where imaginations play, learning happens.

3. Accessible design helps everyone.

Sina Bahram used a familiar example from everyday life to explain how everyone benefits when our programs and services are designed in a way to be accessible to people with diverse needs. Curb cuts, those sloping bits of sidewalk leading toward crosswalks, may have been implemented to help those in wheelchairs, but it’s folks pushing strollers or pulling rolling luggage that use them the most. We all benefit when opportunities and information are offered in as accessible a way as possible. How can we bring accessibility into our web and library design, beyond what our institutions are required to do?

4. It’s not about technology, it’s about people.

This might seem an argument against expanding tech offerings and programs in libraries, but in reality it’s the opposite. We’re not in the book business or the tech business, we’re in the people and community business, and we have such great opportunities to connect with and serve our people and our communities through technology. As we consider trying or disregarding new tech, we need to ask ourselves — are we doing this to serve then tech, or the people? As a sidenote, this lesson was further reinforced to me, and dovetails nicely with point three above, in this Ted Talk about bionics. The speaker, who sports two bionic legs and was part of the team that designed a leg for a dancer who was injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, said something beautiful. After suffering a double amputation after a climbing accident, he reasoned that “a human being can never be broken. Technology is broken. Technology is inadequate.” When we use technology to serve people, we are using it right.

5. We may be in sharky water, but we are the sharks.

I’m pretty sure Beck Tench’s talk changed my life. What a great birthday present that was. In it, as she walked us through her suggestions for being an agent of change in your organization. (The formula is small change x time = big change.) The first deeply resonant moment in her talk for me was pointing out that trying new and different things seems scary and hard because of all of the “sharks in the water”… but that those sharks are quite often our own fears and insecurities.  It’s a wonderfully gentle and and brave and affirming talk – I encourage everyone to watch it.
I’m planning to keep all five of these life lessons in my back pocket for a long time. Hopefully they’re useful to others as well!

Sunday Reflections: Nameless Wonder

Do you remember a librarian from your teen years? I do.  One had kind of mousy brown hair and wore patchwork vests, and led a group of us in a radio play in which I did the sound effects.  It was the first group of kids my age I spent time with after moving to a new town.

Then there was the librarian at my high school who, while I was working on a personal social justice project, helped me get the full text of a bill that was working its way through the legislature.  She had it faxed to the school for me in this pre-Internet era.

Another was a bearded fellow who helped me navigate the clunky databases I needed early on in college, and later was a quiet presence, waiting to offer a hand, as I worked on the computers with an elementary school girl I was tutoring.

I don’t remember any of their names.

While I don’t remember their names, what I do remember of them has certainly served me well.

The first gave me a place in a group when I was new to town, painfully shy, and knew no one.

The second showed me the power of information and libraries as a place of democracy, and went above and beyond to get more than the answer to the question I asked – she got the information I really needed.

The third I remember mostly for his kindness and repeated, though never pushy, offers of help, suggesting simple adjustments that worked wonders despite my stubborn insistence that I would do it myself.

While being someone’s favorite librarian is nice, what we do is more important and longer lasting than who we are.  

In teen librarianship, we talk a lot about community building, relationship building, being the person that teens can turn to in times of need.  While not all of us have been the person to step in and find a crisis line, been supportive witnesses to a teen’s coming out, seen an insecure ten year old grow to a confident eighteen year old, most of us have been that person who found a teen a book she couldn’t wait for, or fixed a weird margin problem ten minutes before close so that a senior could print his last paper of the semester, or called out some homophobic language we overheard in the teen area.  And this can be just as important and transformative for our patrons – even if they don’t know our names.

Don’t discount the work you do, just because you don’t share inside jokes with a TAB.  Don’t underestimate your importance just because you aren’t invited to graduation parties.  Don’t sell yourself short if the only way they know your name is if they look at your name tag.

You serve your teens by ordering diverse books that they can find at their leisure, without pressure.  You serve them with welcoming gestures like relaxing and sharing a genuine smile when you see them walk in the door.  You serve them by making eye contact with them and directing your follow up questions to them instead of their parents as they stand together at the reference desk.  You serve them every day by demonstrating the most important tenants of our work: democratic, nonjudgmental access to information and the places where the information lives.  You serve them by treating them like the people that they are: people worthy of your respect and efforts.

So wear your name tag, keep extending invitations to your programs, build relationships, connect with your community, and remember that your name is not the most important thing that they will learn about you.


A Sherlock Holmes Themed Community Reading Event, a guest post by Anna Behm

My library is abuzz with all things Sherlock Holmes, but it has nothing (well, almost nothing) to do with the premiere of the third season of Sherlock. We just launched our first independent community reading event, Westmont Reads, and The Hound of the Baskervilles is our chosen book. And while it might be too soon to evaluate the overall successes and failures of the program, I’m pretty excited about what the team at Westmont has created so far. These are a few of of my particular favorites:

The entire library staff is involved and on board. We’re a medium­sized suburban library with eleven full time staff members and twenty­one part timers. We wanted the whole staff involved in Westmont Reads, so the first thing we did was open the book selection up to a vote. Once The Hound became the clear choice, all staff were encouraged to join a committee ­ programming, outreach, or marketing. Not only do we have a large pool of talent to draw from, but getting all staff involved has given everyone a stake in the success of the program.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wukf8vo6us0]

A staff created video trailer for the program builds interest.

We created something unique for our patrons. The Hound of the Baskervilles is in the public domain and available for free as an ebook from sites like Project Gutenberg (and easy to load onto a flash drive and give to patrons), and inexpensive as a paperback. We decided to give away copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles for free. A local artist who happens to work in the circulation department (again, drawing from that pool of talent) designed a custom dust jacket for the book. She also lent her talents to the design of the Westmont Reads website, posters, bookmarks, and swag (I’m talking some of the COOLEST one ­inch buttons on the planet).

The library uses Facebook to interact and conduct trivia events. Showing the prize right in the post is a great way to build interest!

We planned tons of activities and events for all ages. Programming was by far the most popular staff committee, and it shows. From lectures and book discussions for our adult patrons, to mystery game nights and The Hound themed LEGO adventures for families, to special storytimes and tea parties for children, and forensics training and special volunteer opportunities for teens ­ there’s a little bit of something for everyone going on at the Westmont Library this winter. Many of the events have not taken place yet (Westmont Reads runs through February), but I’m impressed by the range of activities the staff has come up with. Staff even planned a Westmont Reads event for themselves ­ dressing up as their favorite character from the book on Halloween.

The community is involved in a variety of ways. The outreach committee solicited a variety of partnerships with local businesses and organizations. Many businesses agreed to hang posters promoting Westmont Reads. Some locations let us drop off copies of The Hound for their customers. Other businesses acted as destinations in our community scavenger hunt. We also fostered a relationship with the local humane society ­ they agreed to come to the library to give a talk about rescue dogs, and the library set up a donation bin so that patrons could help provide them with much needed supplies. The local community theatre group is even getting in on the fun ­ they are scheduled to perform a Sherlock Holmes radio play at the library after hours in two weeks.

Aligning Westmont Reads with the new season of Sherlock was just a coincidence (though if

anyone were to ask, I’d be tempted to say that yes, we really are that hip­ and­ with ­it at the WPL). Personally I am a big fan of the BBC series, and am thrilled to have an excuse to incorporate it into Westmont Reads. It’s certainly a testament to Arthur Conan Doyle and his work that Sherlock Holmes remains such an engaging presence in popular culture. I am more than happy to ride those coattails, and enjoy everything Sherlock Holmes, for a few weeks more. 

Anna Behm is the Adult Services Coordinator at the Westmont Public Library in Westmont, Illinois.