Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

My Top 10 Posts, a Celebration of 10 years by Karen Jensen

There are 4,561 posts on this blog that have been written over the course of the past 10 years. That’s a little over an average of 1 a day for 10 years, which seems kind of cool. A lot of them, but not even half of them honestly, have been written by yours truly. Technically, my name is attached to over 3,000 of those posts but a lot of them are guest posts. Some of them, especially the Sunday Reflections posts, are deeply personal. In many more I talk about my favorite books, teen issues, library issues, and share my favorite programs. Today I’m going to take a walk down memory and share some of my favorite posts with you. 10 of them, to be precise.

2011 : Don’t Underestimate the Value of “Just Hanging Out”

The very first post on this blog appeared on July 16, 2011. It was basically a hey there, we’re just getting started post. I had no idea at the time that we would be here 10 years later. A lot of that first year involved a lot of very technical posts. But in the midst of all those programming statistics and marketing posts, I talked about the value of hanging out. It’s a philosophy I still believe very strongly in. I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things over my professional career, but never on this. We don’t always need big programs with big budgets, sometimes we need to give teens a time and a space to come hang out, be teens, and not be micromanaged by the adults in their lives.

2012 : A Letter to A. S. King

TLT began in 2011 and in 2012, I had the most profound reading experience of my life. It was around Mother’s Day and I had just read Ask the Passengers by A. S. King when I went for a walk and saw a little yellow flower. I began writing a letter to A. S. King in my head and it wouldn’t leave my noggin so I turned that letter into a blog post. That book continues to be the most transformative reading experience of my life and little yellow flowers still make me think of A. S. King. And as you know, Riley really loves the books of A. S. King as well and sharing that reading journey with her over the teen years was a profound gift.

2013 : What’s It Like to be a 14 Year Old Girl

In 2014, we kicked off the Sexual Violence in YA Lit project where we dedicated the year talking about sexual violence in the life of teens. That discussion was and is very personal to me because I am a survivor of teenage sexual violence. The groundwork for that project began back in 2013 when I started sharing my personal journey. I am also a person with an eating disorder. So I wrote this post to talk about what it is like to be a 14 year old girl. It was personal, yet sadly in many ways so very universal. And that’s why I blog here, to share hard truths, to advocate for teens, and to try and do my part to change the world for today’s teens, but also for past teen me.

2014 : Dear Media, Let Me Help You Write That Article on YA Literature

Riley, a teen, reading YA lit

In the early 2000s, a lot of people were writing about YA literature, many of whom obviously had not read a lot of YA literature. It was a frustrating thing to behold. So I got cranky and wrote this post pointing out a lot of the errors I saw in their literature and asking them to please please please, if they were going to write about YA literature, talk to some teens and perhaps some YA/Teen librarians. I have a couple of times been interviewed by the press about YA literature, but the truth is a large majority of people still seem to write about YA without reading a lot of YA. And if, in the year 2021, your article is still talking about Harry Potter and Twilight and The Hunger Games as your primary examples, I assure you, you’re doing it wrong.

2015 : Doing a Collection Diversity Audit

I’m going to be honest, this post in this year is a bit of a cheat because it was technically written in 2017. But the foundations of this post began in 2015 when I started doing my first collection diversity audit. At the time, I didn’t even know that was what I was doing. I just knew that I wanted to find out if I was ordering a diverse number of titles for my teens. I wanted to take what I knew from working in retail, inventory, and apply it to collection development so I could determine for myself if I was doing a good job or if I needed to do better. The reality was, of course, that I needed to do better. Over the next 2 years I would stumble my way into doing collection diversity audits, a topic that I speak on frequently. I believe that every person who buys books should do them to help hold themselves accountable. We all assume that we’re doing a good job, but the reality is that very few of us are.

2016 : If You Build It, Will They Come? The Story of a MakerSpace Miracle

The Teen making slime

2016 was an amazing year for me, professionally. I was back working at my first library and working with my beloved mentor. And I had just turned my teen space into a Teen MakerSpace. Also, my journey was on the cover of School Library Journal! As long as I live, the Teen MakerSpace will be one of my greatest personal and professional achievements. I loved everything about it and getting to interact with my teens in the ways that it provided. I have moved from that library and I miss it, but I will always hold such fond memories of the trials and triumphs of this journey with me.

2017 : Things I Never Learned in Library School: The Best Laid Plans Still Fail

Thing 2 in the midst of her Flash fandom

Early on, I began a series of posts called Things I Never Learned in Library School. I love this series because it is a good framework for talking about random professional topics and putting them together under a framework that makes sense. 2014 through 2016 were banner years for me professionally and personally: I wrote and published a professional book with Heather Booth, I was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker, I went back to my home library and started a Teen MakerSpace, and I wrote an article about it that got me the cover story in School Library Journal. But the reality is, that even in the midst of our biggest moments of success we can still experience failure and I think it’s always important to be honest. Many libraries were having a lot of success putting together library Cons and being a person who loves fandom, I wanted to as well. I came, I saw, I tried . . . and I failed. I have never successfully hosted a library con. It’s a pretty challenging thing to do and kudos to everyone has. You have my utmost respect. But I found a way to turn my failure into a new idea, and that’s important to. Not everything is right for our libraries. It’s okay to fail. What matters is what we learn from it and what we do next.

2018 : Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Having a Child with Dyslexia

As early as Kindergarten, I suspected that Thing 2 had dyslexia. Tim and I had to fight hard to get her tested and every other step along the way to make sure she got the services she needs to be a reader. Upon reflection I realized that in all my years working in libraries and even working on my library degree, we talk very little about Dyslexia, and as people dedicated to getting kids reading that seems a bit odd. So now, even though I am by no means an expert on Dyslexia, I advocate hard for better understanding and more discussions of Dyslexia in libraries. 1 in 5 kids have Dyslexia, we need to talk about it. You can find out more at my Dyslexia Dashboard.

2019 : A Brief History of YA, an infographic

We talk a lot about teens, teen issues, programming and library issues at this blog, but behind it all is a love of books. Books are what makes a library a library and not a community center or recreation center. So we talk a lot about books here. What you may not know, is that creating RA tools is one of my passions. Posters, displays, etc – I love it all. In 2019, I made an infographic sharing the history of YA fiction. It’s one of my favorite creations.

2020 : Things I Never Learned in Library School, Librarianing in the Time of the Pandemic

In 2020, the world changed. And everything I knew about librarianship changed. Our libraries shut down, my kids did at school at home, and we wrestled with things I never could have imagined. Though 2020 has been hard, 2021 has truly been harder for me personally. I’m really proud of the work we have done here in the pandemic talking about the challenges to our field during all of this, like sharing virtual programming ideas and holding space for hard conversations. That’s why I started this blog and honestly, I’m so honored every day that I get to do this. It is so important to me, as a librarian, as a parent, as a person trying to survive this new world with the rest of you.

And finally . . .

The Animaniacs Guide to Being a (Faboo!) Young Adult Librarian

We’re going to skip a favorite post from 2021 because here we are, smack dab in the middle of it. Plus, I wanted to share one of my favorite all time posts of all time. Look, by nature, I am not a funny person. I am melancholy and deathly serious about all things. But this one time . . . I was funny! I have always been a fan of the Animaniacs and I wrote a post talking about YA librarianship in the context of the Animaniacs. So I’m going to end this 10 year wrap up with that post and hope that you will remember: One time, Karen was funny.

A TLT Infographic from 2016

As I have combed through the blog trying to think of my favorite posts, I have been reminded of so many posts that I had forgotten about. I am so proud and honored and humbled to have been able to share this journey with you for the last 10 years. If I’m being honest, the beginning of this year has been so hard that I talked about ending TLT. But this look back has reminded me that I have done some good things in this world. I haven’t changed it, but maybe in holding space for hard conversations and being honest as a person and a librarian, just maybe we’ve made it a little bit better.

If you would like to share your favorite posts, memories or words of encouragement with us, please leave a comment. And as always . . . thank you.

Take 5: Resources You Should Know

Today I am sharing with you a list of 5 resources that I’m finding helpful, inspiring, or just plain fun. From book lists to science mavens, these are some great resources that you’ll want to consult if they are new to you. Share some of your favorite resources with us in the comments.

Afoma Umesi Blog

This blog is a treasure trove of booklists for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. If you find yourself doing collection development or reader’s advisory, you’ll want to check this website out regularly. The lists are divided into fun categories like siblings and has a solid focus on diversity and inclusion. Afoma Umesi is a Black woman who has dedicated her life to reading and has a medical degree. I have found these lists to be invaluable and I appreciate the work she does to create them.

Raven the Science Maven

“Raven Baxter, also known as Raven the Science Maven, is an internationally acclaimed science communicator and molecular biologist who works to progress the state of science culture by creating spaces that are inclusive, educational, and real.” Raven is fun and educational, combining science with music and cultural awareness and relevance to help bring more kids into STEM education. You’ll definitely want to check out her videos and share them.

2021 YA Releases at Bookshop

Rec it Rachel has been putting together yearly YA release databases for a couple of years now. Each year the format changes just a bit, but this is the second year at Tumblr. You can also buy the books through Bookshop, which supports Indie Bookstores, who definitely need our help during the pandemic.


Here’s a website dedicated to highlighting middle grade and young adult authors that have debut novels in the year 2021. It can be hard for debut authors to get on the radar and this website will help you find them.

Goodreads list of YA Novels of 2021

I am not a personal user of Goodreads, but I do find their yearly roundup of new YA releases in list form to be quite helpful. They also provide a pretty comprehensive list broken down by each month. It’s a crowd sourced site so there are often errors, which people try to keep fixed, so it’s not a perfect resource but again, a useful one. The 2021 list already has more than 600 new YA books listed.

I hope that you find something new here, or a new way of looking at what we do. If you have a source to share, please drop us a comment.

A Great Big List of MG and YA Collection Development Resources

When I give presentations on doing Collection Diversity Audits, I get asked a lot about how I determine whether or not a book is counted as diverse. The process is always changing for me as I learn more and grow, and at this point I focus on Own Voices. The truth is, the answer to this question is that I continually engage in listening, learning, reading and growing. The work is never done and it must be intentional. I keep and continually add to an ongoing list of resources that help me do this work. Today I am sharing the bare bones of that list with you. It is by no means complete, and I’m sure that there are many more that I need to add. But it is a really good starting point.

Anti Racist and Social Justice Reading Lists, A Collection of Resources (in random order)

Chicago Public Library/Ibram X. Kendi (adult books): https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/list/share/204842963/1357692923?page=1

Publisher’s Weekly (kids books): https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-book-news/article/83549-a-children-s-and-ya-anti-racist-reading-list.html

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2020/jun/03/do-the-work-an-anti-racist-reading-list-layla-f-saad

Center for Racial Justice in Education: https://centerracialjustice.org/resources/reading-lists/

Teen Librarian Toolbox (teen books on social justice and activism): http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/06/33269/

15 Books about Social Justice and Human Rights: https://www.rebekahgienapp.com/social-justice-picture-books/

We Are Teachers 24 Books That Teach Social Justice for Kids: https://www.weareteachers.com/books-about-social-justice/

40 Picture Books for Young Activists: http://www.allthewonders.com/books/forty-picture-books-for-young-activists/

Scholastic 25 Picture Books to Teach Kindness, Empathy and Justice: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/blog-posts/christy-crawford/2017/Picture-Books-to-Promote-Kindness-Empathy-and-Social-Justice/

We Need Diverse Books has an actual roundup of lists and discussion posts: https://diversebooks.org/resources-for-race-equity-and-inclusion/

Diverse and Own Voices Reading Lists for Youth, by age and format (not comprehensive)

Young Readers

SLJ Diverse Board Books: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=50-Board-Books-That-Show-IBPOC-Faces-diversity-baby

45 Favorite #OwnVoices Diverse Picture Books: https://imaginationsoup.net/diverse-ownvoices-picture-books/

Read Brightly Black Boy Joy Picture Books: https://www.readbrightly.com/picture-books-featuring-black-male-protagonists/

Read Brightly Black Girl Magic: https://www.readbrightly.com/picture-books-featuring-black-female-protagonists/

#OwnVoices Picture Books: https://imaginationsoup.net/diverse-ownvoices-picture-books/

Own Voices Beginning Chapter Books: https://imaginationsoup.net/ownvoices-beginning-chapter-books/

Middle Grade Readers

#OwnVoices Middle Grade Books: https://imaginationsoup.net/diverse-realistic-chapter-books-middle-school-ownvoices/

#OwnVoices Fiction for Grades 2-6: https://seattle.bibliocommons.com/list/share/220740577/650702937

Diverse Realistic Chapter Books for Middle School by #Own Voices: https://imaginationsoup.net/diverse-realistic-chapter-books-middle-school-ownvoices/

Diverse Books for Tweens and Teens by Own Voices Authors: https://www.readbrightly.com/diverse-books-tweens-teens-written-voices-authors/

8 #OwnVoices Middle Grade Books by LatinX Authors: https://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/8-fabulous-ownvoices-middle-grade-latinx-novels-giveaway/

Teen/YA Readers

Read Black Authors (MG and YA book lists): http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2020/06/because-black-lives-matter-read-black-authors/

45 Black YA Books to Read to Your TBR: https://afomaumesi.com/black-young-adult-novels/

16 YA Books by Black Authors You Can Pre-order Right Now: https://www.epicreads.com/blog/preorder-books-by-black-authors/#.Xt-kJSzjuw8.twitter

YA Black Girl Magic: https://www.epicreads.com/blog/black-girl-magic-books/?fbclid=IwAR0ft7qSt4YeMPtEN_jXWzewOQjdElvQFj0ZXY1_RBJ_Mg2C5fiePvJxrVc

Diverse Meet Cutes and Rom Coms: https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=meet-cutes-come-all-colors-YA-diversity-romance-POC&fbclid=IwAR0GmjLvKNt_p16R_12_ohYYmIRDmK1loDKox9pr-YjXzUip2mPQgr3LW68

YA with Black Authors 2020: https://www.buzzfeed.com/farrahpenn/young-adult-books-by-black-authors-2020?fbclid=IwAR2RiRZdAHwZ-x5dxNan2O5CuYSAL6ieppEg7Sz2aHOhCdxsWpGFPgFJ4ko

General Resources, to follow important conversations, read reviews, and diversify your reading

Lee and Low Books: https://www.leeandlow.com/

We Need Diverse Books: https://diversebooks.org/

The Brown Bookshelf: https://thebrownbookshelf.com/

Latinx in Kidlit: https://latinosinkidlit.com/

Disability in Kidlit (no longer updated, but a great resource for important discussions and reviews): http://disabilityinkidlit.com/

American Indians in Children’s Lit: https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/

LGBTQ Reads https://lgbtqreads.com/young-adult/

Social Justice Books: https://socialjusticebooks.org/booklists/new/

Diverse Bookfinder.org: https://diversebookfinder.org/

Teaching Tolerance: https://www.tolerance.org/

Read Woke Librarian: https://cicelythegreat.wordpress.com/

Project LIT: https://thebrownbookshelf.com/28days/day-28-jarred-amato-talks-project-lit/

Crazy Quilt Edi List of Diversity Resources (including book awards): https://crazyquiltedi.blog/diversity-resources/

Again, We Need Diverse Books has a really great list of resources on Where to Find Diverse Books: https://diversebooks.org/resources/where-to-find-diverse-books/

Blogs that focus on younger readers in general

Brightly: https://www.readbrightly.com/

JBrary: https://jbrary.com/

Celebrate Picture Books: https://celebratepicturebooks.com/

The Picture Book Review: https://thepicturebookreview.com/

Multicultural Children’s Book Day: https://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com

A Mighty Girl: https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=11056

Imagination Soup: https://imaginationsoup.net/

A Fuse 8 Production: http://blogs.slj.com/afuse8production/

The Yarn: http://blogs.slj.com/theyarn/

Blogs that focus on Middle Grade readers in general

The Nerdy Book Club: https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/

Ms. Yingling Reads: http://msyinglingreads.blogspot.com/

MG Book Village: https://mgbookvillage.org/

Here Wee Read: http://hereweeread.com/

Mr. Schu Reads: http://mrschureads.blogspot.com/

CeCeLibrarian’s Book Blog: https://cecelibrarian.com/

Kid Lit Frenzy: http://www.kidlitfrenzy.com/

Books in the Middle: https://booksinthemiddle.wordpress.com/

Afoma Umesi: All My Beautiful Things https://afomaumesi.com/

Blogs that focus on YA/Teens in general

Publisher Blogs

Epic Reads (Harper): https://www.epicreads.com/

Fierce Reads (MacMilan): https://www.fiercereads.com/

I Read YA (Scholastic): https://www.ireadya.com/

Sourcebooks Fire: https://www.sourcebooks.com/young-adult.html

Get Underlined (Random House): https://www.getunderlined.com/

The Novl (Little, Brown): https://www.thenovl.com/

Riveted (Simon & Schuster): https://rivetedlit.com/

General Blogs

YA Books Central: https://www.yabookscentral.com/

YA Interrobang: https://yainterrobang.tumblr.com/

Teen Librarian Toolbox: http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/

Rec it Rachel: https://recitrachel.com/

Diversity in YA: http://www.diversityinya.com/

LGBTQ Reads by Dahlia: https://lgbtqreads.com/author/dailydahlia/

Reading While White: http://readingwhilewhite.blogspot.com/

Rich in Color: http://richincolor.com/

Book Riot: https://bookriot.com/

Professional Journals and Sources

School Library Journal: https://www.slj.com/

Booklist: https://www.booklistonline.com/

Kirkus: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/

Publisher’s Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/

Edelweiss: https://www.edelweiss.plus/#dashboard

VOYA: http://voyamagazine.com/

Early Word: http://www.earlyword.com/

Children’s Bookshelf: https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/index.html

Publishing Trends: http://www.publishingtrends.com/

Hasthags to Search and Follow










Blogs that also talk about books on occasion, mostly YA

Buzzfeed: https://www.buzzfeed.com/

The Mary Sue: https://www.themarysue.com/

Hypable: https://www.hypable.com/

Den of Geek: https://www.denofgeek.com/books/top-new-ya-books-2020/

Paste Magazine: https://www.pastemagazine.com/

PopSugar: https://www.popsugar.com/

Teen Vogue: https://www.teenvogue.com/

Resources for Examining Bias in Books

Teaching Tolerance Examining Stereotypes in Books: https://www.tolerance.org/classroom-resources/tolerance-lessons/examining-stereotypes-in-books

In Time Examining Children’s Books for Bias: https://intime.uni.edu/evaluating-childrens-books-bias

Resources from Lee and Low:

Guide for Selecting Anti-Bias Children’s Books from Social Justice Books, A Teaching for Change Project

A Guide to Selecting Multicultural Literature by Dr. Barbara D. Brown, African Studies Center, Boston University

A Checklist for Evaluating Diverse Children’s Media from The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop

Examining Children’s Books for Bias: http://www.racialequityvtnea.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Evaluating-Children%E2%80%99s-Books-for-Bias-Criteria-MAY-2018-3.pdf

10 Criteria for Choosing Diverse Texts in Your Classroom from the Writing Mindset

Classroom Libraries as Windows and Mirrors: Ensuring Diverse, Representative Books for Our Students 2018 ILA expert panel (Answer starts at minute 03:05)

Assessing Children’s Literature from the Anti-Defamation League

Diverse Classroom Libraries for K–6 Students from Reading Rockets

Lee and Low: https://blog.leeandlow.com/ (many of the above Resources for Examining Bias in Books is    from the Lee and Low blog page)

And older list of previous resources

What resources would you add to this list? I’m always looking for new ones. Please leave a comment as I would love to have a more comprehensive list.

What if paying library staff and teachers to read IS part of the anti-racist work we could, and should, be doing?

Background, Part 1: No, in fact, we don’t get paid to read

One of the things I most often hear when I tell people that I’m a librarian is this: I wish I got paid to read all day. Fun fact: As a librarian I have never, in fact, gotten paid to read. In fact, most of the libraries that I have worked at have expressly forbidden reading while on the clock and then demanded that library staff be well read because part of our jobs is helping patrons find books and doing good reader’s advisory. Funny how that works.

This dynamic means one of two things. One, you have library staff that don’t read because they would have to do so on their own time, which means that all of the book knowledge they have comes from whatever they read in school or casually on their own time. Spoiler alert, whatever they read in school was most likely predominantly written by a white male author and is part of the traditional cannon, whichever age group they were reading and studying. And two, if you do have well read library staff, that means that they are reading on their own time and the library or school is benefiting from the unpaid labor of their staff. Librarianship and education are two of the professions which benefit a lot from both the unpaid labor of their staff and staff spending their own money on materials to help enhance the program. Libraries and schools are wildly underfunded and many of these professionals end up using their own time and money for ongoing professional development and even basic daily supplies.

Background, Part 2: The Overwhelming Whiteness of Librarianship and Education

Graphic Source: The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship at The Feral Librarian

Librarianship is a predominantly white occupation. To be more specific, it is predominately a white female occupation. Upwards of 80% of librarians are just like me, a white woman in her 40s (Source: ALA). This is also true for education; over 80% of teachers in 2016 were white (Source: Department of Education). Someone asked recently on Twitter how old you were before you had a Black teacher and neither I, my husband or my two children have had a Black teacher. I went all the way through graduate school without ever having a Black teacher. And my husband and I went to primary school in Southern California, arguably one of the more diverse states in our country.

There is a lot to unpack and discuss regarding the barriers to entry into these professions and the inequities that make them continue to be so largely predominantly white, and those conversations are happening. They are important conversations and it is very important that every aspect of librarianship and education diversify and become more equitable. I encourage my fellow white librarians to read more on the overwhelming whiteness of librarianship, why it matters, and how we can and should help to deconstruct that.

Background, Part 3: The Canon

Those of us in librarianship and education, the people who are buying, reading, teaching and promoting books, often rely on the books we know and feel most comfortable with. The Canon, as it is often called, is and has historically been written predominantly by white males. There are, of course, exceptions, but those are few and far between. Most of what we learned in our own education was built on a foundation of white texts. Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare, The Great Gatsby, John Steinbeck, to name just a few.

And even if you got your degree in the last 10 years from an accredited college or university and studied youth literature, you still probably read primarily books written by white authors because as the statistics tell us, white authors continue to dominate what’s published (Source: CCBC, Lee and Low). This means that a majority of our reading of foundational texts has centered whiteness. For more on this topic, check out the discussions on Decolonizing our Libraries/Bookshelf and Disrupt Texts. These are both initiatives that ask us all to look at what we’re reading and hold ourselves accountable for reading and teaching more diverse texts. You’ll also want to listen and follow the discussions surrounding #OwnVoices.

The Argument

Library and education staff need to be continually reading to keep themselves updated on newer works and to decenter the white experience which has traditionally been emphasized in education. Because this is a vital part of both of these jobs, libraries and schools should pay staff for time spent reading because it is, in fact, vital professional development.

Right now, libraries and schools everywhere are sharing lists of anti-racist reading. But what good are those lists if our own employees don’t even have the space or the time to do the reading? Yes, we could all choose to do the reading on our own time. And many of us will. But requiring staff to provide us with unpaid labor is an unethical practice. It also means that far too many of our staff aren’t, in fact, doing the work because they can’t, or won’t, for various reasons.

Let me be clear on this: In a profession that demands that people be well read in order to either stock library shelves or do good reader’s advisory or to choose and teach meaningful works of literature to kids and adults, we should always have been paying our staff to read. But in this time where we are talking more and more about the importance of reading and knowing diverse literature and doing anti-racist work, we should be paying our staff to do the work to help us better serve our patrons and better educate our communities. We have always needed to be reading and to be reading diversely, but we should definitely do this in meaningful and intentional ways moving forward if we want to cultivate a better read staff and to better take care of our patrons/students.

Please note, I’m not just talking about having staff read anti-racist nonfiction, which we should also be paying staff to do. But paying staff to read board books, pictures books, easy readers, middle grade, YA and adult fiction by BIPOC. That’s the work. Knowing our collections is a very important part of the work so that we can select, share, promote, teach and recommend diverse books to our patrons and in our classrooms.

We can and should have arguments about how one would make sure that if we pay staff to read we can make sure they are reading diversely. There are various ways you could implement this. And this is another benefit of paying staff to read, since you are paying staff to read you can, in fact, implement ways to make sure they are reading diversely. This could mean having staff track reading and auditing their reading. Or it could involve assigning various books. It could mean putting staff into accountability groups. What that can and should look like can and should vary, and that’s not the focus of this post. Here, I simply want to say this: paying staff to read new and updated books is part of professional development and if we implement it in meaningful ways it can be an important part of doing just a small fraction of the anti-racist work we should be doing in our professions. It won’t solve all of the issues, but it’s an important part of the work we need to be doing.

We should have always been doing it, so let’s not make any excuses for ourselves or our professions moving forward. Let’s do the work – and pay our staff for their time doing it.

Novels in Verse for Teens by author Lisa Krok

Librarian Lisa Krok sometimes writes posts for us here at TLT. Today, she is here to talk with us about her new professional book that is now available.

I wrote this book for teachers and librarians as a professional guide to aide them in reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through verse novels. During my two years serving on YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers committee, I found that one of the biggest reasons that teens may be reluctant or striving readers is because they have not yet found books that reflect their life experiences. I used Rudine Sims Bishop’s Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors (1990) as my personal guideline. I searched throughout the year to find books for this list that teens from all different types of backgrounds could identify with.  Teens in marginalized demographics across varying races and religions, identifying as LGBTQ+, sexual assault survivors, facing mental illness, disabilities, foster care, and more deserve to see themselves reflected in books, too. Another big reason novels in verse work well for reluctant readers has to do with the physicality of the book. With more white space, fewer words per page and font that varies in size, style, or format, they can be more appealing to teens who may be intimidated by too many words on the page. Teens who previously wouldn’t even think of reading an inch-thick book discover they can read bigger books. This in turn can help build confidence and increase their motivation to read even more.

Another important feature of novels is verse is voice. Generally, verse novels present a first- person narrative, which invites the reader into the life of the protagonist. The short lines of verse can be rhythmic, almost asking the reader to “hear” the speaker. This lends itself to addressing topics that can be deep or emotionally intense. The white space on the pages of novels in verse can be thought of as a silence to be filled in by the reader’s imagination. A favorite quote of mine, which I included in my book is from former Poet Laureate Rita Dove.  “Verse novels offer the weight of each word, the weight of the sentence, the weight of the line, the weight of white space, heightened attention to sound, and deep allegiance to silence.” Deep allegiance to silence…just take that in for a moment.

Novels in verse also provide counter-stories to singular narratives that are often told by books considered to be classics or canon. Scholars Sandra Hughes-Hassell, Dr. Kim Parker, and Tricia Ebarvia are all cited in my book for their work on the value of avoiding the single narrative through counter-stories. Counter-stories can help fight bias and hate by seeing and valuing teens who may otherwise feel erased by the dominant culture. I also recommend viewing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”.  Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story” TED Talk . Counter-stories can also help build empathy by seeing another side of the story.

 So, what is in the book? I have created the layout in a way that I think is most useful for teachers and librarians. The first section is research-based information about why and how novels in verse can be used to reach all teens, especially those in marginalized communities or those who are reluctant/striving readers. Part two is a large readers advisory section hosting 53 verse novels. Each book listed includes the following: a cover image (when permissions were available), bibliographic information, grade level advisories, content tags, a brief summary, and poetry activities for teens to further engage them with the literature. Each activity is accompanied by curriculum connections (CCSS and AASL standards) to make lesson planning easier for teachers and librarians. A wide variety of poetry activities are presented throughout the book, with each exercise correlating somehow to the featured novel in verse. A glossary of poetic devices and a standard author/title index are provided. The really special part is the content tag index, which corresponds to the tags listed in the reader’s advisory section. This enables librarians and teachers to quickly find books to pair with the experiences and interests of specific students.

Available now from ABC-CLIO/Libraries Unlimited

Verse novel authors Nikki Grimes, Padma Venkatraman, and Margarita Engle have given the book rave reviews, as has professor/poetry guru/author Sylvia Vardell. I hope you will explore their incredible work, which is included in my book along with many other amazing novels in verse.

Buy from Barnes & Noble

Buy from Amazon

Add it on Goodreads

Request it at your Indies.

Meet the Author

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned about Team Building I Learned from a Teen Theater Production

The Teen was recently involved in an all student led local theater UIL production. What this means is that at her high school 5 students put together UIL type One Act plays and competed against their peers. The production was entirely student led from start to finish, although adults were the judges. The students had to submit a vision board to have their play selected for the competition. They then cast, blocked, and directed the entire play, including doing their stage sets, music and lighting, and more. It was an amazing event to witness, especially when you consider that this was being done entirely by 15, 16, 17 and 18 year-olds.

My daughter was cast as Catherine, the lead in a play called Proof. Proof is about a young woman struggling with grief, depression and a family history of mental illness. It is also about the ways we view women in STEM fields. You see, Catherine’s father was a mathematical genius and after his death a world changing mathematical proof is found. Everyone assumes her father did the proof, but Catherine is the author, except no one believes she is capable of the work. It’s a moving and thoughtful play with a small cast, only 4 people ever take the stage.

To make this play happen, these teens rehearsed almost every day for about 6 weeks. And along the way the student director did a lot of intentional activities to help build a tight, cohesive team. These kids did PowerPoint presentations breaking down their characters. They explored costuming together. They rehearsed and then they rehearsed some more. They worked hard to make sure they understood the play itself, the characters, and every moment that was happening on the stage.

Forbes: Why Team Building is the Most Important Investment You’ll Make

But their team building went beyond just analyzing the play and included things to build up, encourage and uplift one another as people and actors. At the beginning of the play production, each team member – and the team involved tech crew as well as the actors – wrapped a piece of string around each other’s ankles while giving them a compliment. This is called a compliment web. The teens all wore these strings around their ankles for the entire 6 weeks that they were working on the project. The strings served as a reminder that they were part of something meaningful and that the people they were working with believed in them. The Teen now has the string in a memory box as it means a lot to her.

The Definitive Guide to Team Building

They also did things like compliment walks, where before rehearsals they would each compliment members of their teams. They did fun runs, where they would practice the play but in a fun way. Like everyone had to do the their dialogue with a twangy accent or with a funny walk. They’re still practicing their lines and blocking, but it’s fun and breaks up the monotony of a straight run through.

The morning of the actual competition that cast and crew met together at a local restaurant for breakfast. They didn’t go over last minute notes or rehearse their lines, they just talked to one another as human beings who were bonded over this shared project that meant a lot to them.

As a mom and a librarian who has been both an employee and a manager, I was really impressed to see how these teens seem to understand the necessity for and importance of team building. I’ve working in libraries who failed miserably at this concept and could have learned a lot from these teens. And it made a difference, I feel like these kids will have this shared, positive experience for a lifetime. It’s also interesting to note that all 4 of the cast members got awards for their performance, including The Teen who won best actress, and the play as a whole took the first place prize for this event. I can’t help but think that the team building that went on behind the scenes is just as important to their success as the rehearsals that went into this production.

And I’m not here to suggest that these are the only ways to do team building. For one, in a paid employee environment, it is wrong and in many states illegal to ask staff to do any unpaid work for their job. So team building in a professional work environment should be done on the clock, which doesn’t mean it has to be in the building or sterile. But as we go into 2020, I think we should all be thinking more about how to build our teams, how to improve morale, and how to make our work places a place where our staff feel cared for, motivated, and successful.

Here’s what I learned about Team Building from these teens:

  1. It is intentional
  2. It balances constructive feedback with compliments and affirmations
  3. It allows for fun and positive experiences
  4. It encourages a deeper understanding of not just the how but the why; the meaning and significance of a project is explored
  5. It promotes positive feelings among the team for each other and the project they are working on

Sometimes, adults can learn a lot from teens.

Facilitating Racial Healing Circles, a recap of recent ALA training by Lisa Krok

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn about facilitating racial healing circles. This was a part of the training provided by ALA’s Great Stories Club program on Growing Up Brave in the Margins. The series is a part of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT) efforts to bring about sustainable, transformational change, and address both contemporary and historic effects of racism in the nation and in communities. The books selected for the Great Stories Club (GSC) feature characters and plots that explore questions of identity, race, equity, history, social justice, and institutional change.

In order to qualify to be a part of the program, librarians/teachers/community partners need to complete a comprehensive grant application, detailing their proposal of how GSC will be used with their teens to tackle the goals stated above. Those who are awarded these grants (about 35 nationwide this session) are awarded four sets of eleven books each. For this session, the books are pictured below:

There are six choices to choose from, so participants select four out of the six, to best meet the needs of their teens. One copy goes to the leader of the book club, and the remaining ten copies are given to the teen participants. Additionally, the grant provides $1200 for extra copies of books and programming to accompany the selected texts. Grant applicants are encouraged to use the programming funds for racial healing practitioners. Grantees are provided with travel and lodging expenses to attend the multi-day training in Chicago.

Before we even went to Chicago for the training, each of us was asked to complete the supplied webinars on microaggressions and racial healing circle methodologies. We also engaged in online quizzes to assess implicit bias. These are free sets of tests provided by Harvard University. It was fascinating to see how our ideas about our own implicit biases were confirmed or not by these quizzes.

Implicit Bias: Take a Test https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Before beginning any type of talking circles, group agreements must be made. All participants are empowered to contribute to the creation of this agreement. Some common agreements are things like:

  • Approach people with an open mind
  • Demonstrate active listening
  • Be comfortable with brief silence
  • Lean into discomfort
  • Speak your truth
  • Sharing is by volunteers only, no forced sharing
  • Maintain confidentiality

The agreement can then be posted for group reference.

The Latin root of “facilitator” is facilis, which means easy.. The facilitator’s job is to make things easier for the rest of the group. Some ways they manage the discussions are:

  • Help the group create ground rules
  • Not representing self as an expert on the issue
  • Create opportunities for everyone to participate
  • Does not offer their own opinion
  • Bring in points of view that haven’t been talked about
  • Value group processes and the ways they work together
  • Support democratic process

Key facilitator skills are reflecting, clarifying, and summarizing during the discussion. Also be aware of non-verbal signs, which may vary amongst cultures. Neutrality is aspirational, but no one is 100% neutral. Challenges during the discussion may require redirecting or referring to the group agreement. If misinformation is presented, ask follow-up questions and find sources for information. In the event of tension or conflict, try the following:

  • “I” statements
  • Take a break
  • Address the tension in the room (keeping ground rules in mind)

Another tool that I shared with the group is the pocket guide from Teaching Tolerance.org. These foldable pocket-sized guides provide ways to speak up when witnessing racism or other offensive words and/or actions. They focus on the strategies of interrupting, questioning, educating, and echoing. They focus on addressing specific words and actions, not the person. These free pocket guides can be downloaded from:

Tolerance Speak Up Pocket Card https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/speak_up_pocket_card_2up.pdf

 I was impressed with the training overall, which included facilitators from ALA, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and -Everyday Democracy.  We were provided with book specific discussion questions for driving narrative change, and activities and tools to use for racial healing circles. We participated in the circles several times throughout the course of the training, taking on the roles of both the participants and the facilitators.

More to come as this project unfolds throughout the next six months…stay tuned!

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, forthcoming from ABC-CLIO in February 2020. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is on the BFYA committee . Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Teen Services 101: What Keeps Teens Coming Back to the Public Library?

Today we’re going to wrap up our Teen Services 101 series by assuming that you’ve done the research, created your space, hosted the programs and done the work. With all of that in mind, what will keep the teens that walk into your library coming back? Because that’s what we want, for our teens to keep coming back to the library.

They have to find something they need, want or value

If teens coming into your library and don’t find anything of interest to them, they’re not coming back. And since not all teens are the same, that means we have to have a variety of things available. This takes an investment of space, time, resources, staff and money. Some of the things that teens are looking for include: books, information, access to the Internet, a safe space to be social, and/or fun programming. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

They have to feel valued and respected by the library and its staff

And by staff I mean all staff. From the moment a teen walks through the door to the moment they leave, teens need to be treated well by staff. It’s not enough to have a dedicated teen librarian who respects and values teens. In fact, if at the end of the day when that teen goes to check out they have a bad interaction at the circulation desk, all of our work as teen librarians can be undone. This is why it is important that we work with all staff to break down bias, provide customer service basics training, and work to build positive opinions about teens in the library.

At one of the libraries I used to work at there was a staff member who loathed and detested teens and she made a point every day of positioning herself by the back entrance at exactly the moment when teens would be coming into the library after school and giving them the stink eye. They called her the “dragon lady”. It was a lot of work undoing all the damage she had done when I started working there. It was also a lot of work trying to dismantle her biases against teens to try and get her to stop this behavior.

At the end of the day, library administration should be setting high standards for customer service to ALL library patrons and should be training staff to meet those standards and holding them accountable if they don’t. Everything done behind the scenes is undone if we don’t treat patrons well and every dollar invested is wasted if we aren’t providing good customer service.

See: What Does Customer Service to Teens in the Library Look Like

They have to have a positive experience

At the end of the day, it is total experience that matters. Teens, like any other library patron, want to have positive experiences. And like everyone else, they are more likely to remember, talk about and share the negative experiences. We used to say that for every negative interaction a patron has they will share it with 10 people, but that has dramatically changed because of the impact of social media. One negative experience can be shared online with hundreds of people in an instant. The only control we have over what’s said about us online is to do our part to make sure our teens are having positive experiences so that they have something positive to say about our libraries and staff.

The reality is, even the most dedicated and amazing teen librarian or teen services team can’t do this alone. You need administration buy in and support, you need every staff member to support your work by treating teen patrons with good customer service, and you need the infrastructure to help make it all happen. That’s a big part of the job, advocating for teens and teen services and helping to put these elements into place so that teens have a space and a reason to come into the library, and then to keep coming back for more. And the number one thing you need to make all this happen is the knowledge, passion and dedication to help make it happen. It all starts with you, the teen librarian, but it doesn’t end there.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

The Challenges and Rewards of Serving Teens Today

What Do We Know About Teen Programming

So You Want to Do Teen Programming, but What About the Books?

Teen Services 101: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed?

I frequently get asked to speak or provide staff training. Sometimes I just get email asking for help from staff who are just going into teen services. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is this: I’m just getting started with teen services, what do I need to succeed? Over time, as I have refined my answer, I think successful teen services touches on 8 specific points to some degree or another. Keep in mind, not all libraries are the same so what works at one location may not work at another. But these are, I believe, some basic elements that everyone doing teen services should look into and consider when deciding that their library wants to do teen services and do it well.

Several YA/Teen Librarians and a handful of Teens help make TLT happen
  1. Foundations
    • Administration buy in/support; if you don’t have it, you need to engage in internal advocacy to cultivate it
    • A clearly outlined budget that includes a teen space, collections, programming, staff & marketing
    • Policies and procedures (the who, what, when, where & why of it all)
    • Goals and objectives (measurable, evaluate on an ongoing basis)
  2. Staff
    • Clearly designated staff who WANT to be doing teen services
    • Comprehensive staff training that touches on adolescent development, your library’s policies and procedures, marketing, and more. You’ll want to make sure your staff understands that when dealing with teens there are firm limits about interpersonal relationships that must be maintained to protect staff and the library while creating meaningful mentoring connections with teens.
    • Ongoing professional development, but what we know about teens and the issues that affect them (and their interests) are always changing
    • Accountability tools in place; make sure you have ways to nurture your employees and help the ones who are not a good fit to move into other department.
  3. Teens
    • Understanding of basic adolescent development, challenges
    • Understanding of basic teen issues (what do we know about the current generation of teens and how does it influence our practices?)
    • Know, understand & incorporate the 40 Developmental Assets
    • Cultivate ways of fostering teen involvement and feedback, both formal and informal
  4. Collections
    • Purchasing, organizing and providing access
    • Weeding
    • Merchandising
    • Reader’s Advisory
    • Collection Audits
  5. Space
    • Distinct and separate from both children and adults, even if it’s just a few shelves
    • Examine best practices for design tips
    • Keep clean, updated and inviting
  6. Services
    • Basic customer service training for ALL staff because all staff with serve and make an impression on teens
    • Service plan/outline (see above in foundations)
    • Evaluate and incorporate online services
    • Evaluating current offerings, continual evaluations for best practices
  7. Programming
    • Investigate known best practices
    • Determine workable programs for each location dependent on size, staff, and budget but incorporating best practices.
    • Incorporate traditional and self-directed programming offerings where feasible; more variety equals more teens served
    • Ongoing evaluation by location
  8. Marketing
    • Train, empower and maintain staff to do publicity/PR for teen services
    • Outreach (school visits, local events, small programs in outside spaces where possible)
    • Investigate using social media to reach teens
    • Remember implicit and explicit messaging; everything we do sends a message to teens about how we value them and whether or not we really want them in our libraries

The good news is that you can find a lot of this information right here at Teen Librarian Toolbox. If you look under the top TLT menu you can find a lot of the how and why under the Professional tab. We talk about teen development and issues under the Teen Issues tab. There are over 100 tried, tested and true teen programs offered under the Programs tab (and even more if you click on the Teen Programming tag). In the past year we have moved more to tags as opposed to indexing, so you’ll want to explore the various tags on TLT.

This outline is just a foundational building block, a sort of Teen Services 101. In part because the details are always changing as we learn more, learn from each other, share best practices and grow. I’ve been working with teens for 26 years now and the basics have been consistent, the outline above has worked for me. But the details, now those are always changing.

What would you add to the outline above? Let us know in the comments.

Additional Resources:

YALSA Teen Services Competencies


Strategies for Successful Teen Services

What I Wish I’d Known About Building Teen Services from Scratch

Teen Librarian Toolbox


Teen Services Underground


School Library Journal


Conversation Snapshots: Let’s Talk YA Lit Titles & YA Programming Success


YA Lit Suggestions

Although I do a lot of blogging here, sometimes good conversations happen on Twitter. Last Sunday, I wrote a post about updating YA titles that are discussed in media discussions and then I asked people on Twitter to recommend books for those updated discussions. Follow the tweet and you will see some of the recommended titles.

There were several recommendations for Scythe by Neal Shusterman, One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus and They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera. All great recommendations.

I keep thinking about how odd it is in retrospect that all these articles that talk about older YA don’t mention two of the first really popular – like word of mouth and all the teens come in asking for them popular titles: Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. What titles – old or new – do you think need to be included in the conversation? Please let us know in the comments.

Teen Programming Success!

The second question I asked this past week was about popular YA/Teen programming. What, I asked, is the most popular program you have ever hosted past or present? You’ll get lots of great programming ideas by reading through this thread. Many have them have been and continue to be popular for me and some of them are completely new ideas that I am looking forward to trying out.

Have some other teen programming success stories that you would like to share? Drop us a comment.