NJ Makers Day: A Teen Librarian’s Perspective

Instead of Teen Tech Week, my library is participating in NJ Makers Day. It’s a statewide initiative brought about by a grant three years ago, and now it’s a nonprofit dedicated to the spirit of making in New Jersey. It’s approaching fast on March 25, and my library is just about prepared for it. I just recently finished my MLIS at Rutgers, and this is my first full-time library position at Tenafly in New Jersey. I had been involved with Makers Day before as a part timer, so I wanted to involve my new library as well, a first for the town. Along with the children’s librarian here, I’m planning a full day of events for teens, kids, and adults alongside 299 other locations across the state. It’s the biggest NJ Makers Day yet, and I felt it was important to introduce the community to the idea that the library can be involved in making and STEM education.

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A Call to Action for Graphic Novels

The New York Times shocked its readership when it announced that it was losing some of its bestsellers lists, including the graphic novels bestsellers list. It’s a devastating loss for librarians and graphic novelists alike. There has been a public outcry among graphic novelists, although there has been division even amongst the voices speaking out. Newer bestselling authors like Raina Telgemeier lay out the reasons why it disappoints her, while Neil Gaiman proudly proclaims that he never needed a separate list when Sandman first came out.

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Storify of #yalsa16

There were many, many tweets that I could have included in this Storify, but these have helpful information, tweets of librarians bonding at #yalsa16, and pictures of a little Hermione Funko Pop that could have honestly had her own Storify because she seemed to meet every author in attendance. I encourage you to still scroll through the hashtags on Twitter, because I might not have caught something that you were interested in, but I mean this simply as a resource to collect the tweets about 2016 YALSA Symposium, and hope that it’s useful for anyone who did not get to attend.

#YALSAleftbehind

It is an unfortunate truth that we can’t make it to every conference we want to go to, even if it’s only a few hours away. Cost, travel, time away from work, family obligations, what have you keep us from going to conferences to see our colleagues, attend panels, and meet vendors for our libraries. But fear not! You’re not the only one #yalsalaeftbehind.

It doesn’t mean that you have to entirely miss out, either. Twitter is a great way to keep connected with other library staff in the field, and it’s no different when it comes to following panels at these conferences. You can still connect with the attendees and network online as they livetweet the panels that they’re attending. Most tweets will be tagged with #yalsa16 so they’ll be easy to find, and each session will have its own hashtag as well, to more easily filter through the results. We do love filtering, don’t we?

Even if you’re not attending but interested, make sure to look through a program list, to see what sessions would have interested you the most. Do you know anyone going? Will they be attending certain panels and take notes for you? Even if you don’t have that luxury, I have a handy list of hashtags for each session.

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Outreach at a New Library

It seemed like my programming was finally taking off. Sure, I still had only one regular participant in the Comics Club, but I had a solid core group for my Teen Advisory Board, and they ran an excellent end of summer puppet show for younger children. And then I accepted a new, full time position because my old library couldn’t offer me that. It was hard enough telling my director, but I was even more worried about telling the teens.

And then I thought, “oh my god, I’m going to have to do this all over again, at a library that has never had a dedicated teen librarian before.” The library staff seems used to teens, but more resigned to having them here than excited about it, and they’ve warned me that it’s hard to get these teens into the library — “they’re just too overscheduled!” Well, I’ve heard that one before. And if I’ve done it once, I can do it again.

Look Around for Professional Development/Networking Opportunities

I almost passed on the chance to attend a programming brainstorming event held by the consortium’s youth and teen services committee because it didn’t look like they would focus on teens as much as storytime and other children’s events, but I’m glad that I did go. The programs that I heard about inspired a whole new set of programs for my new library, even though my director really planned for me to start slow. It only goes to show that you can never pass up the opportunity to meet some of your new colleagues, those who are in the trenches with you after school.

I also went back to the most important resource, YALSA’s website. I knew that it would have some good basics to get me started, and this post offers a great look at the resources that YALSA offers.

Do outreach!

One way in which I was fortunate was that I started my job as school was starting. It was the first time the public library had been invited to Back to School night, but it was a great way to reach out to parents of teenagers who might be interested in my programs. Normally this goes against the way librarians advertise to teens, but in my new community, parents are extremely focused on school and community service, and I was able to effectively market my programs because I catered to that. Just by having fliers at the back to school night, I already have a signup for my Pokewalk in the park next door scheduled for October.

It’s also important to get out from the back room when you can. I don’t often (I say, in my second week), get to be at the reference desk after school when the teens are coming in but when I am out here, I can see how dedicated the students are. As I wrote this, I had a table full of teens preparing an advertisement for a GSA for the town’s middle school, and when one asked me a question I was able to introduce myself and offer up space for them if they ever need it at the library.

My director wanted me to start slow, but I never like being idle. I have a lot to learn as I adjust to a new community, but I’ve had some practice and I want to hit the ground running. I hope to be able to create a welcoming teen space here, and show others how to adjust to a new community.

Allure of Younger Programs

When we think of creating programming for teens, our first thoughts are probably what are teens into? A Teen Advisory Board can be helpful in deciding which programs they might be interested in. Casually bring up all ages events at TAB meetings, and whether a teen wants to volunteer to help run it or show up for the event itself, it boosts attendance and their enjoyment of library activities.

It can be hard to separate what I think is awesome from what my teens might, so I even had to question whether they would be into Pokemon Go. (Clearly, it’s taken off with all age groups, but that’s a whole other blog post.) So when it comes to creating programming specifically for teens, maybe we restrict ourselves too much. I know that YALSA members want to provide targeted programming for teenagers but it is important not to ignore the fact that sometimes teenagers really want to participate in programs aimed at younger readers.

It’s a delicate balance to strike in order to invite teens into all-ages programming. First, you need to make them feel welcome there, instead of making them feel like the kid who never outgrew Chuck E. Cheese. The children at an all-ages event also need to feel comfortable with having older teenagers around. I’ll repeat that it’s important to have specific, targeted programming for teens, but also it’s important to make them feel included in general library events.

Recently at my library there was a petting zoo as part of our Summer Reading Program, and it was conceived for younger children, the normal age group for an activity like this. I was surprised at how many teenagers, caregivers (and library staff) were excited for the petting zoo. One of my Teen Advisory Board members brought friends, while another volunteered, and they were more than thrilled to pick up the bunnies and the chicken, and pet the pig that had come along as well.

srpl petting zoo

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