Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Can we all just stop saying the Internet is free now?

Last week, Michael Rosenblum wrote a piece for the Huffington Post asking, “What’s a Library?”  A library, I maintain, is the beating heart of a thriving community.

In this piece, Rosenblum maintains that we no longer need libraries because everyone has access to the Internet, and the Internet is free: “Why, when I can order up pretty much anything I want online, any time I want. Admittedly, the library is free (thank you Benjamin Franklin for that concept), but the web is also free (at least so far), and instant and much much easier to reference and find stuff than in the stacks (though less romantic, in a literary sense).”  But here’s the thing, not everyone does have access to the Internet and the Internet is not free.

Free, but for equipment, access fees and paywalls – oh my!

In order to get on the Internet, you have to access to a device, whether it be a computer or a smart phone.  I know it is hard for people in comfortable living positions to remember, but there are plenty of people who can barely buy food, so they aren’t really buying the equipment to get on line.

And then, even if you have bought the equipment, you have to be able to pay a service provider a monthly fee.  There have been times in the past when I have not been able to pay this fee so even though I had a computer, which I used for writing resumes and computer games (which I checked out from the library), I didn’t have Internet access at home.  If you are having to choose between food and housing or the Internet, most people will choose food and housing.

And finally, it is a misnomer to say that the Internet is free.  The truth of the matter is, there are many parts of the Internet that are free, but there are many others that you have to pay some type of fee for.  Many online reference tools and databases charge high fees, which are sometimes covered by libraries to help provide access.  Some sites provide parts of their content for free and charge a fee for other parts.  Many newspapers, magazines, and other important resources have some type of pay wall.  In fact, even YouTube is now discussing having a paywall.  So no, the Internet is not free and not everyone has access to it.

The Internet is not the answer to everything

And I know some people find this hard to believe, but the Internet is not the answer to everything.  Anyone can produce content and put it online and it is vetted by no one.  This is what we like to call “authority”.  Just because it is on the Internet does not mean it is concise and accurate information, you have to learn how to examine the authority of the source and determine its relevancy and accuracy.  This is why we still need libraries, and librarians.  Part of what we do is try and help information seekers learn how to do this.

As for everything being on the Internet, also a falsehood.  In order for something to be on there, someone has to put it on there, and they usually have either a financial motivation or personal interest in doing so. I blog about being a librarian because I am interested in sharing my thoughts and experiences with my fellow librarians and my book reviews with anyone who is interested in reading books.  For every thought I blog about there are 1,000s more that I don’t, because creating web content takes time, resources and money.  So no, not everything is available online because there are many things that people haven’t yet put that time, resources and money into.

We like to think that the Internet is quick and easy to use, but the truth is that it can be time consuming to wade through the thousands of hits that are returned for our searches to find the answers we seek and from a reputable source.  Sometimes it is quicker to look in a book.

I keep hearing people ring the death knell for libraries, but it doesn’t reflect the reality of my life at work every day.  During the course of a day I like to walk through my library and count how many people are in the building.  We are a smaller, one room branch, one floor.  Probably the size of a bigger house.  There are times when I walk through and there are 80 to a 100 people in our building.  They come because they don’t have access to the Internet at home and they need to use our computers – or our wifi – to apply for jobs, print off work paystubs, type of papers, and more.  They are there doing research in our book stacks and checking out books to read.  They are there because they don’t have the money that they would need to purchase all these items for themselves and the library helps them bridge the gap.  The library is most people’s tool for education and career success.  It helps us think and learn and grow to be better citizens and people.

Rosenblum says: “Well, there you have it. Another 3,000 year old institution killed by the web.”  While it is true that libraries are changing, we are by no means dead.  And for many people struggling to make ends meet and to find ways to improve their lives, the library is their lifeline.

A Long Day’s Night: Hosting an After Hours Program (A Day in the Life of a Library 2013)

I am an everything librarian.  My official title is Senior Librarian, but I am the manager, the adult and teen and tween librarian, the partial youth librarian (I have a part time youth librarian), and the circulation supervisor.  I am also crazy about teen programming, and think that it’s extremely important.  So much so, that once a month I have a very long Wednesday.  
Typically on Wednesdays I work 9-7 with an hour unpaid break, but once a month I hold a program called Teen After Hours.  My library (and all the libraries in my system) closes at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, and for a select number of teens, I have the library open from 6 – 9 p.m.  We have our library’s PS3, Wii, and XBOX 360 set up to projectors or a TV stand for free play, the library’s computers open for use, the stacks available for browsing, and tables available for card dueling.  I am typically full to capacity at these programs, with teens asking after it’s started to be let in.  We’re the only library in my system that does this, and I’m the only one staffing the program, so reluctantly I have to turn them away, but I always remind them that the signs were there, and the next one will be the second Wednesday of next month.  It’s hugely popular- I have tweens counting down the months until their 13th birthday, which is the threshold to gain admittance to any teen program.
Needless to say, it makes for a very long Wednesday.


We (my full time aide and I, as we’re the only library staff on Wednesday, unless someone needs to make up hours) have an hour to do everything to open the library.  We do the money processing, process the book drop, open the public computers, check the system for holds, and do whatever else needs to be done to make the day run smoothly.  I also take the time to organize my thoughts and figure out my goals for the day.  Today’s agenda:  process the new materials that came through the run the last two days, start weeding the graphic novels and teen sections as we’re sorely in need of space, and shift those sections if possible.

New materials to be processed today

While we have tech and outside vendors to handle normal processing, there are location specific things that have to be done to each item.  I mark each item off my database so I know that they’re here, tag new books for display, and assign numbers for each new DVD for our filing system.  We can’t keep the DVDs in the case on the floor, so each DVD has a number and is filed behind the information desk. The case itself goes onto the floor and the patron brings the empty case up for check-out.  Everything then needs to be scanned into the system, and the record changed accordingly so that a note appears with the DVD number.  It seems tedious, but helps everyone keep track the DVDs.
After processing the new materials and placing the new books on display, I got to start weeding.  Our graphic novels are extremely popular, but some series just aren’t circulating, and need to leave to make room for newer series.  The area I have for graphic novels stretches into the teen section, and by weeding the graphic novels, and condensing their area somewhat, I can expand the teen area one set of shelves.  Before lunch, I was able to weed the graphic novels, pulling the lowest circulating series and single issues, as well as those that were worn out beyond repair.  Marking those in the system and boxing them up for the inter-system run, new materials and weeding took up my morning.
After I came back from lunch, I was on the reference desk while my aide took her break.  I assisted in job searches, answered emails, found IRS forms, created passes for the teen program this evening, updated materials for our system summer reading program, troubleshooted the public computers, and found materials for patrons referred from other locations.  All while working solo.
When my aide returned, I attacked the teen section and weeded books that had the lowest circulation for the past 5 years, and were in poor condition, and processed them.  One of my “new adults” (former teens) had come to the center for the day, and I was able to persuade him to help shift the graphic novels and teen books around with me.
Volunteer in new teen area.  We expanded to add a fourth bookshelf.

By the time we got this completed, and I got all the books marked to be withdrawn in the system and boxed up for the run, the schools are starting to be released and it’s the start of our busy time.  We are close to two different schools (middle and elementary), and in a shared building with a recreation center, so the majority of our patronage are under 18.  Between 3:30 and 6, my aide and I found biographies, study aides, assisted in all areas of homework, translated school notes for parents, found more IRS forms, gave out passes, handed out coloring sheets to kids looking for things to do, and gave out numerous numbers for the computer terminals.
Patronage in library near closing

By the time we closed, we were packed with youth and parents working on assignments and youth from the after school camp, with everyone doing all sorts of activities.  Not to mention, my teens waiting impatiently for everyone to leave so that After Hours could start.
At 6:15, we finally had everyone out and could start After Hours.  The teens set up the PS3 on one projector, the XBOX 360 on another, and the Wii on the TV.  After the mandatory group pictures, the lights were turned out and the gaming commenced.  Homework was even done in the second hour when it was realized that assignments were due tomorrow.  Madden 08, Marvel vs. Capcom, NBA 12, and DC vs Mortal Kombat ruled the evening on the gaming systems.  Final count ended at 14 teens, and one adult (That Guy, who usually brings dinner and stays for the evening, was too exhausted to stay after running dinner and went home).
Pictures during After Hours

We ended at 8:50, with the lights snapping on and the teens picking up and packing up everything.  I make sure that before they leave the library is in opening condition- nothing on the floors or tables, everything put away- otherwise, we don’t have another one.
By 9:10, I am out the door, and on my way home.  A little over 11 hours of work but everything done I wanted to accomplish, and 14 teenagers spending time with someone who they know cares, with many more asking when the next one is as I leave the parking lot.  Definitely a day worthwhile.

For more on our 2013 advocacy project, A Year in the Life of a Library 2013, go here.

The Life of a Library 2013, in pictures

A pictoral look at what is happening in libraries right now.

A Day In the Life of a Library: Lock-In Preparation

A lock-in can be extremely rewarding for teens and libraries if done the proper way.  You, the teen services specialist, need buy in not only from your teens (which is relatively easy- I mean, if you don’t have teens clamoring to stay all night in the library, email me, we need to talk), but also within your community (meaning the parents/guardians and other patrons) and your administration (not only your boss, but your director, the Friends of the Library, and the Library Board).  Getting that buy-in may not always be easy, but if you have a secure plan in place, I find it’s a sure-fire way to start.

I have always tied mine in with a reading program (summer or winter) in order to have the teens EARN the privileged to stay the night.  I know that other libraries may not do this (I know others have special lock-ins for TAG groups, for instance) but I work (and have worked) in areas where teens need that extra push to read- they need a goal to work for, and the prizes that we’re able to give may not be the encouragement that they need.  Having adults that care enough to spend the night with them, and crazy enough to plan fun and interesting activities, shows that there is someone out there that wants them to succeed enough to devote the time and energy to them.  And it is a LOT of time and energy, so much that I don’t think anyone really realizes it from the outside. I know that a lot of my teens don’t. On lock-in days alone, I am physically AT my building starting at 5 p.m., and do not leave before 8:30 a.m. the next morning (15 1/2 hours).  In addition, on lock-in days, I am gathering donations from sponsors and collecting last minute necessities and prepping for the day.  Easily, I work (and I mean WORK) 20 hours on a lock-in day.

A typical lock-in day will go like this:

    11 a.m.-1 p.m.
    Placing calls and finalizing details.  This can involve arranging last minute delivery of donated food from local vendors like pizza, or arranging to pick-up T-shirts for the lock-in.  I’m also going over my check-list of places I need to go to and things I need to pick-up, as well as packing for the day.  I’ll stop back by my house between 4-5 p.m., and then I won’t be back until 9 a.m. the next morning, so I need to have everything in bins ready to grab and go. 
    1-4 p.m.
    Driving and gathering donations from various vendors around town.  This can be anything from pre-packaged pastries for breakfast, to freebies and trinkets from the Dollar Store, to juice and Kool-Aide donated from the local grocery stores.

    4-5 p.m.
    Packing up any supplies and materials at my house for transport to the library: PS3 and Wii games and controllers, board games, plates, napkins, and other donations that have been given by parents or other members of the community.

    5-7 p.m.

    Arrive at building, and set up library and large meeting rooms for lock-in.  Check off teen and chaperone names as they come in, and remind them that they need to be in the large meeting room at 7 for lock-down.  Have teens help set up tables and chairs for dinner, and gaming systems in the library.

    7-8 p.m.
    Building check with other staff to make sure building is clear, call any parents of teens that are AWOL.  Dinner.

    8-9 p.m.
    Group games.  We have done Clue, Werewolf, Building Capture the Flag, Muggle Quidditch, Apples to Apples, Killer Bunnies- anything that can be done as a group that will get some energy burned off.
    9-10 p.m.: Free time.  Teens can be anywhere in the building except the off limits zones.  I will be wandering halls, checking on teens, and making sure things are going smoothly.

    10-11 p.m.
    Gym time.  We have a tradition of chaperone vs. teen volleyball games, then dodgeball, basketball, or anything else we desire.

    11-12 midnight
    Free time.

    12 midnight- 2 a.m.
    Group movie time.  Anyone not asleep in the safe rooms (separate for boys and girls, and I check) is required to come to the library to watch the group movie.  This year it will be Flash Gordon.

    2 – 3 a.m.

    Free time.

    3 – 4 a.m.
    Group games.  Anyone not asleep in the safe rooms is required to join us in the large meeting room for group games.  These are usually based around a theme- this year it will be 80’s games like Twister, musical chairs to 80’s bands, and Team Operation.

    4-7 a.m.
    Free time.  This is the most important time to be wandering around.  Anyone found asleep who is not in the safe room is fair game for marking, and I get LOTS of pictures.  We’ve found them under desks, in corners, everywhere.  And one teen always gets marked, no matter what he does.

    7-8 a.m.
    Group wake-up, clean up, and breakfast.  One of the main rules I have with any teen program is that we set up and we clean up, and a lock-in is no exception.  We have to leave the BUILDING in opening order, so we have to clean up any messes that have been made, and when I mean WE, I mean the teens.  Kool-Aid on the floor, go find the mop.  Pizza crusts didn’t make in the garbage, go clean it up.  Everything is clean before the donated breakfast (usually donuts or other pastries) is served.

    8 a.m.
    Teens are released.  Those that are within walking distance can walk home, and those that need rides can call, or leave with parents. Hopefully all parents are waiting by 8 to pick up everyone, but I have had some be as late as 9.

    8:30 a.m.
    I am hopefully leaving the building after doing a final walk-through, loading up my car, and locking up everything before the building opens in 30 minutes.  The library staff will show at 9, the building itself will open at 9, but the library won’t open until 10.  If any teens have not been picked up, I stay until 9 when the building is opened, and then they are on their own.

    Yet, the fact that I have 12 at-risk teens who read 35 hours over their winter break, and the fact that my summer lock-in grows every year, shows that I’m doing something right.  These same teens are the ones who’s reading scores were failing and are now passing or higher.  While I cannot concretely tie it to involvement in the library, the reading program, and the lock-ins, I have to be doing something right.  They’re coming to the library, and they are reading.  They’re sharing their favorite authors with me, and I’ll catch two or three of them reading new books during free time. Every year, my roster of volunteer chaperones gets larger- they are my former teens wanting to make a difference.  So, something is right.

    The Year in the Life of a Library: 2013 advocacy project

    Inspired by this post earlier this week, Teen Librarian Toolbox has come up with a plan for our 2013 advocacy project.  Last year, with #the2012project, we collected pictures to show everyone that teens still use and love their libraries.  Our goal was to show teens using the library.  This year, we want to walk you through some typical days at the library and help you understand why libraries still matter.  We will put together a series of posts, with the help of librarians all around the world, helping you see what life is like in the library in 2013.

    Some of the posts will include:
    A Monday in the life of a library
    A Tuesday in the life of a library
    A Wedensday in the life of a library
    A Thursday in the life of a library
    A Friday in the life of a library
    A Saturday in the life of a library
    A Sunday in the life of a library
    A day in the life of a library storytime
    A day in the life of a library program
    A day in the life of a library volunteer
    A day in the life of a library summer reading club
    And more

    You Can Get Involved!

    If you are a librarian and would like to share a day in the life of your library, contact me at kjensenmls@yahoo.com.  We would like to see a ton of guest posts by librarians so we get a good cross section of the various types of libraries, librarians and communities out there.

    Throughout the year, please share in the comments some of your patron interactions, program highlights, reference questions, and more.  Our goal is to help people see that

    If you use and support your library, share in the comments how your library has helped you and made a difference in your community.

    Let’s end the debate by showing everyone how libraries are used, the difference they make in communities, and reminding all of the important things done inside a library.

    This advocacy project was also inspired by The Day in the Life of a Children’s Librarian posts at The Show Me Librarian (Amy Koester) and by various state library Snapshot campaigns.

    A Day in the Life of a Library in Pictures
    After Hours

    The Life of a Library in 2013

    The Prediction Heard Round the World

    The other day author DC McGannon shared with me a link regarding his 13 predictions for 2013. Check out number 4:

    4. Libraries are going to get hit hard.
    I really, really, really hope I’m wrong on this one, and I’m going to do everything possible on my part to keep it from happening. However, with the ding-a-lingy stuff going on in politics and everything that entails and affects, I see libraries suffering even more. Financial support, programs, staffing, and probably just about every area a library needs to thrive.
    I’ve had several conversations with librarians who say it’s already happening.

    The truth is, it has been happening for a while now. Each year libraries seem to be facing increasingly smaller budgets in a time when our patrons need us more than ever.

    A Day in the Life of a Library

    Here are some of the things that I will do in just ONE DAY at my library:
    Help a patron put together a job resume, including finding the books with examples and helping patrons get started on computer resume templates.

    Sign up somewhere around 20 patrons who are looking for or applying for jobs on our computers because they don’t have computers at home and almost all jobs now ask you to apply online.

    Help students of all ages finds books for research papers and assigned reading assignments. Later, they will also get on our computers to type up their assignments.

    Help parents find picture books on various topics to instill a love of reading, promote early literacy, and help them teach their children about manners, sharing, etc.

    Help people learn more about medical diagnoses they just received in a 10 minute appointment at their doctor’s office, help the newly pregnant learn what to expect when they are expecting and what they may want to name their baby, and find materials for those that are grieving to help them through their loss.

    I will help people discover new recipes, plan their spring garden, learn how to fix their car, and so much more.

    Plus, people throughout the community will log onto our library’s website to use our information databases. They will use our community room for Scout meetings, diabetes education training, and more.  Libraries are about more than just books, we are resources.

    They will watch movies they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, read books they wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and use our resources to better themselves and make positive contributions to the world we live in.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Libraries are the Beating Heart (of our communities)

    The Underprivileged and the Digital Gap

    So when I hear people ask if libraries still matter, I can’t help but think they haven’t stepped into a library lately. The truth is, the privileged – those with iPads and iPhones and laptops and e-readers and wifi access at home – forget that there are a huge percentage of people who still go to bed hungry at night (1 out of 5) and can’t afford those things. They can’t afford the tools they need to succeed in the world today.

    The other morning while driving to work I was listening to my local NPR station (a sure sign that I am officially an adult) and they were interviewing the head of children’s programming at PBS. She made an excellent point: PBS was initially created to help bridge the education gap for all people, including preschoolers. But today, that education gap includes technology literacy, the ability to use the various technological devises that populate our world. Many preschoolers are entering public school at an incredible disadvantage because they don’t understand what the information world is and how to navigate it. They enter school at a disadvantage and it is almost impossible for them to ever catch up, especially if they don’t have access to the tech they need. However, most public libraries provide this access.

    But here we are today, still hanging onto a fiscal cliff, in a post bust world, still debating whether or not we need libraries or if libraries are a waste.  Through one side of our mouth we yell, “get a job and become a contributing member of society” while out of the other side of our mouth we cut access to the very tools people need to do exactly that.  That’s what libraries are, a tool that supports democracy, that supports education, and that provides the means for people to become better -better people, better citizens, better innovators and problems solvers and thinkers and feelers.  Libraries make the world a better place by helping the people in it be better people.  So shouldn’t we demand better libraries and find a way to support them?

    The Struggle of a Modern Day Library

    When the economy took a nosedive in 2008, it affected everyone. It affected libraries. The library I worked at at the time went through 2 lay-offs and cut service hours. The library that I work at now cut service hours and is replacing all full-time staff with part-time staff. That’s right, I am an MLS librarian with 19 years experience and I work part-time, with no benefits. One could argue that I technically work full-time with part-time pay. But I am not alone in this.

    At the same time, materials and services budgets are cut while prices go up. That means we have less money to buy new materials – new books – and they cost more. So where five years ago we could get 5 books for a hundred dollars, today we can get 3 to 4. And we have less hundreds of dollars to work with.

    At the same time, new formats create new demands on already stretched budgets. I’m talking to you e-books. Now, I am not going to lie, I have an e-reader (a gift from a friend) and I really do love it. The struggle for libraries is that we have a small subset of patrons with e-readers demanding e-books, which means that we now have to buy a different version of the same popular titles out of the same size budget. This means we get less diversity in titles and more duplication of popular titles in multiple formats. And it’s not just with books, this happens when Blu Ray takes off and we now must provide DVDs and Blue Rays of various movie titles. The point is, we have a demand in increase that can’t be met on current budgets.

    And then there is our very lifeblood – technology. Technology just does not sit still, and this is a huge financial burden for libraries who are often the only access point for a huge portion of its citizens. We need computers that run the latest versions of the latest software, and quickly. We often have lines for people waiting to get on our computers and sluggish computers prevent patrons from successfully completing their tasks. But as you know, updating tech is pricey.

    Every year, because of declining funding, libraries are cutting staffing, cutting budgets, cutting hours.  This means that we are cutting access to the very information and resources this country’s citizens need to turn this all around. Ironic, isn’t it?

    So, what can you do to support your library?

    Speak out and join the advocacy project.

    Be a Contributor
    If you can, donate to your local library. Your first instinct is to go through your shelves and donate all your DVDs and books that you no longer need, but that isn’t always the best way to help. Often times, we get donations of books we already have, or of older titles that have very limited interest. You don’t want it any more, so it’s a safe bet that few other people do. But we can always use additional funds to provide quality collections, programming, and services.  Contact your local library to ask about making donations.

    Be Involved
    If you have a talent you can share in a program, contact your local library about doing a free program. Please keep in mind that your library has experience in what will and what won’t work in the community and don’t be too upset if they say your program idea isn’t right for them at the moment.  Putting together programming publicity and providing staff time can be a huge expense, and sometimes they just don’t have it to spare at the moment.  But then again, sometimes, magic can happen.  It never hurts to ask.

    Be a Friend
    Many libraries have a local Friends of the Library group that helps support the library – join them. Last year, my Friends group gave me a small grant to help build up my teen fiction collection. I spent the year buying newer titles that I couldn’t have afforded otherwise, and circulation increased, which means that more books are being read. I think we can all agree that more reading is good. So, join the Friends.

    Be Proud and Loud
    Another important thing you can do is to talk loudly and often about why you support your library. Share positive library experiences on all your social media sites. Write letters to the local paper. Write letters to your representatives at all levels. If we are silent, everyone thinks that nobody cares so therefore libraries must be irrelevant. But we know that they are not, so we must make sure that others know it too. Word of mouth is the most important type of advocacy that a library can have. You know how you love to talk about your favorite movie or tv show? Do the same for your local library, and for the cause of libraries in general.

    The Final Word

    Every day librarians are working to make the world a better place and to touch each individual life that walks through our door by giving them access to the tools they need to succeed. We would love your help. And DC, I really really hope you are wrong.

    More Advocacy Tools:
    Libraries are the Beating Heart (of our communities) An advocacy piece with great infographics to use in promoting libraries.
    Are Libraries a Waste?
    Advocacy 101