Mover and Shaker Sarah Sogigian

I caught up with Sarah Sogigian, Trainer/Consultant for Youth Services for the Metrowest MA Regional Library System, via email between two conferences.
Here’s what our Mover and Shaker had to say:

How do you maintain your “never ending positive attitude”?

I’m a positive person in life, always have been. I’m inspired by new ideas and projects, and hearing what others are doing in the field. I’m always excited about something and try to get others around me excited too. I have been fortunate to have found happiness in my job and the people I work with…it’s not to hard to be positive working with the librarians I get to interact with everyday! As a teen librarian, I could not have asked for a better group of kids to work with. I was constantly inspired by them and that made me want to provide great service. It’s been a few years, but I’m still close to the teens I worked with in the public library.

How did your previous jobs prepare you to become a “teen queen”?

The best experience wasn’t a job, but my own teen years, which I hated; I couldn’t wait for high school to be over. Drawing on my own experiences as a teen, and then seeing how teens today were treated not just at the library, but in stores, at the mall, on the street, helped me understand their needs.. It seemed to me no matter where teens went, no one wanted them around.

As a librarian, I tried to change this by offering not only a collection of materials and programming, but a forum for teens to create and plan their own events, space, and purchases. I made myself available to them, engaged them in conversations about their hobbies, was visible where they were, like on Facebook. As a consultant, I continue this way of thinking in my classes. I want others to know that working with teens is unlike working with children (where, often, they are happy being given a program or selection of books) or adults (who often have forums to speak up). Teens often get lost in the mix—they want someone to care about what they care about, whether it be schoolwork, music, games, or friends.

What was your position when you interned at Disney?

I was a Guest Services Cast Member at the Wide World of Sports Complex. I worked the turnstiles, gave tours of the 220 acre complex, ushered events like the ESPY Awards, assisted ESPN with logistics for taped events, sold tickets to sports games, and greeted guests when they came to visit. Additionally, as a college intern, I took classes at Disney University, participated in independent studies, and was able to take advantage of exclusive cast member events like the Holiday Party at the Magic Kingdom and advanced openings of attractions.

What is the biggest difference you’ve seen/experienced as a consultant?

I’ve been a consultant for a relatively short time and I am amazed at the amount of online participation happening in our libraries! From blogs to Twitter, Facebook and Linked In, libraries are getting online and staying there. One of the major initiatives started just over 3 years ago…Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to offer an online summer reading program to every regional member, thanks to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners. When I started, we had about 40 libraries online statewide; now there are over 300! And in the past, librarians were satisfied learning about a topic when it was presented to them; now, they actively seek me out to ask questions about a new technology or device. I’ve been answering a lot of questions about the iPad, which just was released yesterday!

How do you come up with your programs and initiatives? How do you encourage staff participation?

Programs and workshops are created with our members in mind. What are they dealing with on a daily basis? What new topics and trends should they know about? I also look at what’s going on in the publishing and tech worlds. What are the new trends? What do they mean for libraries?

Staff participation is a hard one, with staff coverage on desks, travel budgets getting take away, and simply having less time to do more. But if they really want to learn about a topic, or have the opportunity to do some creative professional development, they will come, even if it is on their own time. My job as a trainer is to not only teach them the topic, but to get them excited about it too!

Do you travel nationwide to share your teen trainings?

Currently, my teen trainings are offered to libraries in Massachusetts, but I’m definitely interested in taking my classes on the road!

Are there other librarians you follow for advice on dealing with teens?

Oh yes! I look to Maureen Ambrosino, my colleague in the Central MA Region for ideas all the time…sometimes just having a random conversation with her sparks the best programming ideas! I follow Linda Braun on Twitter and have had numerous conversations with her about teen services. Robin Brenner has been an amazing friend and colleague, generously sharing her knowledge and contacts in the comics/anima/manga world. And a special shout out to Beth Gallaway and her Pain in the Brain workshop, the first one I ever took on working with teens. If you ever have the opportunity, take this class! I also read numerous blogs and Twitter feeds with authors and librarians. I especially like Bookshelves of Doom and Awful Library Books. I follow, among others, Cory Doctorow, Anthony Horowitz, Gail Carriger, and Paul Feig on Twitter.

What are you listening to/watching now?

Too much to name it all, but here is a short list. Lost has been at the top of my list since day one. Gossip Girl-I heart Chuck. True Blood, The Big Bang Theory, Chuck, and Bones all make my to-watch list. I also love anything on PBS and BBC America. My music tastes tend to run less mainstream, but I am enjoying the rise of Lady Gaga. Miranda Lambert is another person on my iPod. But my current and forever favorite is Jamie Cullum… give his cover of Rihanna’s Don’t Stop the Music a listen.

Do you have any advice for library staff that may be struggling with teen services?

The most important thing is to respect teens, and this can and should be done in a number of ways. Have teens follow the same rules as every other age group in the library, and don’t create special rules just for them. Give them a space, collection, and programming that meets their needs. Even if it’s not their own room, they need their own space to themselves, preferably not in the back or just outside of the children’s area. Staff not working directly with teens should be respectful of their right to be there. And when there is trouble, take a step back, breathe, and ask yourself “Is this really a big deal, or am I just annoyed?” 95% of the time, it’s not that big a deal. I’d rather clean up a spilled soda than a poopy diaper any day. And don’t be afraid to ask for help…from other staff, your director, teachers, consultants, police, etc. Work with the teens, and you’d be amazed at the results.

How do you follow your Popular Culture in Libraries Discussion group?

The Pop Culture in Libraries Discussion Group was created as part of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), a division of ALA. My involvement in the group has gone amazingly fast! A couple of years ago, while I was doing some research for my Pop Culture in Libraries workshop, I discovered the group and joined the list. A few months later, the discussion group leader was retiring and needed a new person to coordinate the group. I said I’d be interested in helping out, and for 2 years I co-lead the group with a colleague. In turn, I’m now the discussion group leader. I plan semi annual meetings at ALA Midwinter and Annual, and every meeting has really been an eye opener. To hear about the differences from all kinds of libraries, the challenges that academic libraries vs. schools vs. publics has been truly rewarding. And it’s very nice to know that I am not the only one obsessed, er, ummm…intrigued with pop culture and its role in today’s libraries.

-Lori Guenthner