Gretchen came up with the idea of visiting Erin when we found out that our libraries (in southern Connecticut and southwestern Massachusetts respectively) are not terribly far from one another. We were looking for a cultural exchange: to see what was new and exciting in each other’s libraries and teen programs. It’s also just fun to meet Internet friends in real life. (Thanks for introducing us, YALSA and Twitter!) Here’s what we found.
I asked Erin if I could visit for one of her anime club meetings because my manga club is one of the most consistently well-attended programs I run, but I feel like I need more ideas and a better sense of how more established clubs work as mine finds its stride.
Erin’s library is beautiful both outside and inside, with tall ceilings, pleasant lighting, and wood accents everywhere. Their children’s room is downright magical.
After giving me a tour, Erin walked me through their summer reading club: participants log the number of hours they read, earning prizes for reaching different levels. They’re also automatically entered into weekly raffles for bigger prizes. I really liked how she has the raffle prizes on display in the teen area, and I liked that raffle winners selected the prize they wanted from everything that was on display, rather than having specific prizes given away on designated weeks. I also love that she’s giving away a couple of ARCs, billing them as “not even published yet!” That makes the prizes–and reading–more exciting and cool.
Erin’s summer reading program runs on Evanced’s Summer Reader, and she showed me how kids log their reading, how the service desk staff members help teens collect their prizes, and how she selects raffle winners using the software. Since my summer reading club is in its first year, I’m doing everything online by hand using forms on my library’s website and spreadsheets in Google Docs. It’s worked reasonably well, but it’s been more complicated and time-consuming than Erin’s program. I’m hoping to make the case to my administration for summer reading software next year, and being able to see it in action helped.
Teens had gathered outside the room before the anime club meeting, some even coming to the library an hour early just to hang out and read. Once everyone had arrived, Erin unfurled this big (like, the size of the conference table big) collaborative drawing the club had been working on. My manga club has a lot of aspiring artists in it, so I am definitely going to bring this idea back to them!
We watched the first episode of America’s Greatest Otaku and an episode or two of Black Butler, and then, for the last few minutes of the meeting, Erin announced it was Random Stuff on the Internet Time, where teens could show their favorite anime-related things, so long as they were library-appropriate. Lots of kids had anime music videos (AMVs) they wanted everyone to see. I like that her club isn’t just about passively watching: it’s also about finding cool things and sharing them with others.
I went to visit Gretchen’s library last week. She works in an older building, in a well-off suburban town. The older building requires a bit of wandering to find things, but I found that aspect of it charming. It reminded me of libraries I went to as a kid. It is a little more casual than my library and this seems to be allowing the YA area to host programs and spread out a bit. Graphic novels and manga are shelved separately, which I like because it directs the readers of each to their preferred section. My manga collection is more popular, and growing faster, than my western comics. As I continue to run out of room in this section, I wonder if separating them might create more space.
Gretchen keeps a small desk (a converted OPAC table) in the teen area where she can set up her laptop for reference, reader’s advisory, and just having a presence in the space. There are tables, a couch, and some study carrels in the space, but no public computers and not many outlets. These nifty ShelfWiz tags are used throughout the fiction section to display the names and order of books in a series.
Her summer reading club has participants count pages, which Gretchen tracks in Google Docs spreadsheets that she shares with each teen. The incentive prizes were really cool: a candy bar at 300 pages, a free book at 2400 pages, and a frozen yogurt gift card at 4800 pages. The local frozen yogurt place loves the library so much, they donated enough gift cards that they could be used as incentive prizes! For larger prizes, the teens earn raffle tickets for every 300 pages of reading, for liking the library’s teen page on Facebook, and for attending programs. At the end of the summer there will be drawings for a basket of manga and Pocky, an iPod/iPhone-compatible hoodie with built-in headphones, and a bunch of gift cards to local stores and eateries.
I sat in on a Teen Advisory Board Meeting. Attendance was low due to many of the regulars being away at various summer camps and vacations–the perils of August–but the teens that were there were engaged and very passionate about their library. I really liked the idea of handing out agendas for the meeting on small informal slips of paper as a way of keeping the meeting on task. I tried it yesterday with my Book Club, and while we did still spend half an hour talking about how much we love zombies, we also fit in time to look at some book reviews and talk about Teens’ Top Ten voting.
We were able to see what we have in common (our desks are both in tech services, of all places) and to commiserate over similar struggles (we’re feeling disheartened about writing posts for our libraries’ teen blogs because we’re not sure who’s reading or if anyone is reading at all). Most of all, though, it was exciting for both of us to come home with new ideas and inspiration.
There are things you get from library visits that don’t necessarily come across in listserv discussions or blog posts or even sessions at conferences. While there may be differences between libraries in demographics, floor plans, staffing, and administration that mean we can’t directly replicate something, we can always take inspiration from visits and adapt what we’ve seen.
We love talking with, or even better, visiting, other teen librarians. We are often alone in our libraries in terms of being staff focused on and dedicated to serving teens. It helps to create connections with other professionals who share the same values and who are often working with similar challenges.
We’ve also found it important to connect with colleagues who are close to our age. As older Millennials working with younger Millennials, we have the instant connection of shared interests with the teens we meet. As newer librarians, we have a lot of ideas, but not a lot of experience. Seeing someone else who is starting out tackling similar tasks is almost like watching yourself try something a different way. We can borrow each other’s first year experiences, commiserate in our failures, and be inspired by each other’s successes.
Is there another YA librarian near you with whom you can arrange a cultural exchange?