Allison recently graduated with her MLS and is a new teen services librarian in Memphis, Tennessee.

An Interview with YALSA’s New Executive Director, Anita Mechler

Anita Mechler, YALSA Executive Director

Today YALSA welcomes a new Executive Director, Anita Mechler. YALSAblog interviewed her about her past experiences and what she’s looking forward to accomplishing with YALSA.

Tell us about your background and what led you to this position.

I have been active in a variety of causes throughout my life from human rights to legislative work from my high school days to now. I found a perfect fit for advocacy, helping people, and being able to “nerd” out on information sharing by pursuing my MLIS degree. The American Library Association’s ​Code of Ethics​ resonated strongly with me when I was going through graduate school and has continued to inform my professional work. I joined the library profession to provide the best services I could to help people pursue and live successful, fulfilling lives. The mission of YALSA perfectly aligns with my goals. Like educators and other library professionals, I have a passion for finding the best answer to a question, the most efficient solution to a problem, and logic and order to confusing situations.

With this position, I want to enact more positive change for a wide range of users who would benefit most from the services that YALSA, ALA, and other important organizations provide. There are plenty of negative forces at work in the world and I want my work and the organizations that represent young adults to do good work, bring about the most positive change, and to provide that one interaction for a young adult user that could change the course of their lives for the better. As an Executive Director, I will be able to enact policies, develop strategies, and advocate for legislation from the highest level of this division that will have the power to positively affect lives all over the United States.
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30 Days of Social Justice: Wrapping Up and Taking Action

The 30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice campaign is wrapping up, but that doesn’t mean your actions have to end. As I mentioned on December 1st, Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice suggests great ways to get involved in the cause and help spread awareness. Actions range from asking for little effort (but causing a big impact), to major changes we can help implement through our libraries.

If you haven’t tried anything yet, check out the site and do something quick, like:
follow writers and activists of color on social media
teach teens about racism, violence, privilege, and more
diversify your reading list

If you’re attending Midwinter, make room in your schedule for Racial Justice at Your Library hosted by Libraries4BlackLives.

Be sure to check the Hub to make sure you didn’t miss any posts in this collaboration!

30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice

December 1st kicks off 30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice, a collaboration between YALSAblog and the Hub. On the odd days of December, you’ll find social justice posts here on YALSAblog. On even days, make sure you check the Hub for more information and resources.

Let’s start the month by thinking critically. Think about your library’s population: Is it diverse? If you answered no, why don’t you think the population is diverse? Keep in mind that diversity is not always something you can see, like skin color, a hijab, or a wheelchair.

Beth Yoke, the executive director of YALSA, shared a great resource to help everyone think about their library population and what they can do to promote social justice for their patrons. This month, in the spirit of 30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice, you’re encouraged to visit Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice.

Read over the site, and try to accomplish the challenge posed:

“Commit to taking 3 actions in the next month, and share these with a trusted friend, colleague, or family member in order to increase your accountability to follow through on your commitment.  Can you take at least one action in the next two weeks in the Ally or Accomplice category?”

Email information about the actions you take and how it impacts your library’s teens to yalsablogmanager [at] We’ll share the submissions in a wrap-up post at the end of the month.

What I Learned from YALSA


I started a new job as a teen services librarian one month before I graduated with my MLS. I was thrilled to get a full-time position serving my ideal population – at a dream location, to boot! My MLS program was amazing, and I learned more than I expected to. I felt confident with my library skills as I started the job. But any librarian can tell you, everything isn’t book-smarts! (No library pun intended.)

The skills that have really helped me roll with the punches as I get comfortable in my new position were learned from YALSA. Blog posts about passive programming have helped inspire me to bring some easy-to-implement ideas to my library’s teen section, which are looked at favorably since I’m new and not asking for lots of programming money right away. And countless other posts, along with the wiki, have good ideas for programming that I’m adding to my list for when I do feel comfortable asking for money.

It’s also nice to know you’re not alone, that other librarians and library workers have the same problems you might face: “Finally the big day arrives, it’s program time and…not one teenager shows up. Now you’re standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by supplies, and alone with your formerly fabulous program idea.” [from Pop-Up Programming 2 by Becky Fyolek]. And I say “you might face” already knowing, just two months in, that you are going to be alone in that programming room, and it’s going to make you feel pretty pathetic.

As far as really not feeling alone, YALSA resources like Teen Programming HQ, Badges for Learning, and assorted electronic discussion lists have been amazing. Any time I feel stumped, I turn to one resource or another and find a solution – or at least a welcoming community I can ask.

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Career Prep for Teens with Disabilities


Employment for teens with disabilities is notoriously low, with 16.6% of teens with disabilities ages 16-19 having jobs. On the other hand, 29.9% of teens with no disabilities are employed (“Youth Employment Rate”). Libraries can help local teens land jobs—for the summer or beyond—by hosting career preparation workshops. These workshops should be open to, and helpful for, teens with disabilities and without, but some of the advice is exclusively for teens with disabilities.


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I just wrote a curriculum of STEM programs for a rural library to hold for special education high school students. I was initially intimidated by the concept because I am a liberal arts major, a creative writing fellow, a librarian for the love of books. Thankfully I found tons of research and ideas for STEM programs online, especially on the YALSA wiki.

The program ideas I came up with on my own, on the other hand, seemed more…artsy. Given my background, that’s not a huge surprise, but I felt defeated when I’d come up with what I thought was a great idea just to realize it’s too artsy.

That’s when I discovered STEAM. The programs I wrote are strictly STEM, and I respect that and stuck to it. But there is a debate about STEM vs. STEAM, and as someone who has only become familiar with these concepts in the last couple of years, I’m fascinated.  

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How Community Engagement Influenced My Final Exam

This semester I’m completing my final exam for my Masters in Library Science. It’s a stressful time (as we all know), but it’s also really exciting. It’s exciting because part of my exam asks me to look over my work in the program and pick three projects to highlight. Off the top of my head, it was hard to identify my best projects, but once I started looking over my coursework, they jumped out at me…And most of the projects I wanted to showcase involved community engagement. This surprised me because I always thought I worked best alone. I thought I preferred working on my own schedule, with my own ideas. That might have been true in my more solitary undergrad English degree, but librarianship just seems better when you work together.


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A group in my Information and Communication Technology class developed a staff intranet together. This is a project that would have been very difficult to do alone, as each of us had different skills—one was good at thinking of what elements were needed and why, one was good at graphic design and web layout, and one was good at doing behind-the-scenes work like composing intranet training and relating everything to ALA competencies.

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CLOUD901 – a Digital Learning Lab Exclusively for Teens

CLOUD901 is a digital learning lab that opened September 16, 2015 in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, Tennessee. At 8,300 square feet over two floors, it is one of the largest learning labs in the country—and it’s all for teens. To enter the lab, you must be a library card holder between the ages of 13-18 (or be an adult on a scheduled tour). The space is amazing—I never thought I’d willingly be in high school again… but CLOUD901 would make it worth it.

I interviewed Janae Pitts-Murdock, Teen Services Coordinator, to see how the lab was shaping up after being open for four months. I wanted to find out what spaces were most popular, what programs were being taken advantage of, and what problems were cropping up.

CLOUD901 images
Clockwise from left: CLOUD901 entrance, Video Production Lab, Audio Production Lab, Dream Catcher Space. Images from Memphis Public Library and Information Center

On any given afternoon, most teens can be found in the Gaming Zone, Collaboration Zone, or the Play Cafe.

  • The Gaming Zone is exactly what it sounds like—a video game area where teens can play a variety of games on different consoles. Instead of fighting over what game to play or whose turn it is, Pitts-Murdock says that teens are more likely to organize a tournament. Instead of being isolated in their video games, teens talk about their favorite games and other common interests.
  • The Collaboration Zone is a meeting space where teens can literally write on the walls. Pitts-Murdock says this is “where the activists gather”—teen organizations like BRIDGES USA and a local LGBTQ group host meetings there.
  • The Play Cafe is unique because it’s the only place in the library where food and drinks are allowed. Because of all the expensive equipment in CLOUD901, staff didn’t want teens sneaking snacks and getting crumbs in keyboards and spills on audio equipment. The Play Cafe has become a community gathering place within CLOUD901.

The music programs are the most popular, which is appropriate for a city known for its music culture. CLOUD901 staff and local musicians offer a series of workshops that lead teens through the process of writing, recording, producing, and mixing songs. Teens can use the equipment by themselves, but there’s often a lot of collaboration. Pitts-Murdock says teens almost seem to use the Audio Production Lab as “group counseling for each other—sharing lyrics about life experiences.”

In general there is so much to do in CLOUD901 that every patron finds their niche. Since Memphis is such a high poverty and high crime area, Pitts-Murdock initially worried that there would be more problems in the teen learning lab. Instead, patrons have a safe space because they’re given freedom and responsibility. “Teens rise to the level of responsibility that you give them,” Pitts-Murdock said proudly.

There is also a mobile CLOUD901 that goes to other branches to reach the teens who can’t make it to the Central Library. This isn’t like a technological bookmobile where teens come inside; it’s equipment that is taken into the library to construct a pop-up learning lab. It includes computer monitors, hip and comfortable furniture, a 3D printer, and equipment for music production, like a microphone, laptop, and headphones. CLOUD901 took a lot of fundraising and grant money, and while what’s offered in the mobile version wasn’t cheap, it might be a little easier for other libraries to assemble something similar: Taking makerspaces to a new level, developing 21st century skills that teens can use for creative expression as well as to get a leg up on college- and career-interests.

See more about what CLOUD901 has to offer on the Memphis Public Library and Information Center website. See cool behind-the-scenes photos and videos of CLOUD901 in action on Instagram (@knowledgedefenders) and Facebook.

My 10 Favorite YALSAblog Posts of the Year

DIY1I’m excited to compile my favorite YALSAblog posts of the year because I referenced these posts in my classes. I’m a library science student in an online program, so I often cite these articles in relevant discussions to hear my classmates’ feedback. I only have two semesters left, so I’m stuck in that middle ground of being immersed in classwork while already fretting about what REAL library work will be like. These posts have helped me with a lot of that, so I send major thanks to the authors!

Empowering Teens

Teens, Help Yourself by Jami Schwarzwalder

  • How to help teens find information they need without staff assistance.

30 Days of Teen Programming: Preparing Teens for Life Through Creative Programming by Deborah Takahashi

  • Using programming to enable teens to help others, cook, defend themselves, and more!


Programming: How Tos, and Overcoming Challenges

Back to School: Afterschool DIY by Donna Block

  • Provide supplies for teens, but let them craft at their own pace, doing what they’d like, instead of having a set structure.

Pop-Up Programming by Becky Fyolek

  • Plan everything for your program except a date, and pull out the supplies when teens are around and want something to do.

30 Days of Teen Programming: Organic Teen-Led Programming by Jen Scott Wills

  • Let teens use the library for whatever they’re interested in, and create programming around them.

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Book Clubs During School Hours for Students with Disabilities

While trying to get an overview of library services offered in my area, I spoke with a high school librarian who brought up an idea that seemed revolutionary to me. The librarian had previously been a special education teacher, so she purposely made her library services welcoming to this population.

Note: This particular high school still has a “Special Education” program. Most schools are inclusive, so students attend classes together, and those who have learning disabilities or special needs may have a tutor for certain subjects, or attend other learning activities to get extra help.

Because of her background, the librarian reached out to the current English teachers to form a book club for students with disabilities. She wanted to hold a weekly book club in the library during English class. Holding programs during school hours can be difficult, because there is already so much to do during a school day. But it increases participation, since many students ride the bus or have other after-school obligations, and often can’t stay late.

For the book club, students chose a book from three the librarian suggested—no required school reading, but instead books that were of an appropriate age level, deemed “fun” reads. She read aloud one chapter a week, and they were responsible for reading the next two chapters on their own, to discuss at the beginning of the next week’s meeting.

The librarian used the rest of the period to relate the book to skills that would help the students in English class. Sometimes they would have informal quizzes to help with reading comprehension. Students also learned how to pick a thesis and write a short critical essay, which the teacher accepted at the end of the semester for bonus points.

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