Teen Tech Week: Playing with Failure

The theme for this year’s Teen Tech Week is “Libraries are for Creating,” and an important aspect of creativity is failure and the ability to embrace trying something new to see what happens. Programs based around improv games and experimenting with recording video can give teen and youth patrons an opportunity for low-risk creation. Continue reading

Teen Tech Week: Four Steampunk Ideas

Teen Tech Week is finally here! “Libraries are for Creating” is a good theme for to introducing teens to Steampunk. Steampunk is not “punk” at all; the science fiction author, K.W. Jeter made up the word in the 1980’s. Think of it as science fiction meets Victorian Age. Jeter coined the word to describe some of his works, such as Morlock Night and Infernal Devices. It is not only a genre of literature, but also a style of clothes, video games, movies, and more. Steam-powered technology was prominent in Victorian times, when there was no electricity. Steampunk is a fun and creative way to get teens excited about reading and get them thinking outside the box. Not only does Steampunk inspire reading, but it also fosters creativity and encourages recycling. Continue reading

Technology on the Inside: Inside the Juvenile Justice System

The Boston Public Library (BPL) has had a partnership with the Department of Youth Services (DYS) since 2010. DYS is the state agency that serves teens who are incarcerated and there are two locations in the Metro Boston region that houses up to 90 young men in seven different units. DYS doesn’t have a formal library and for the past seven years each month two BPL Teen Librarians visit each of the units and provides library services by providing books-those books are booktalked to engage the teens and teens may also make specific requests. Each month approximately 70 books from BPL are checked out along with upwards of 30 of those that are specific requests. January 2018 marks the expansion of this program and brings technology into DYS provided by the public library as a pilot program. There are significant limitations for teens in DYS especially with technology and this type of program isn’t routine in most juvenile detention settings.

Twelve Kindles were purchased with up to 40 popular titles downloaded on each. The titles are recreational and popular in nature and many of the titles are only available in hardcover. Two units were designated as sites for this pilot year. Every other month one Teen Librarian goes to the two units and meets with the teens and talks about the books, some methods of accessing books and teaches tips in digital literacy with the Kindles. The teens have access to the Kindles in their classrooms every day and as this is a pilot program input from them is crucial as are new titles to add on the Kindles. The program has an MOU (memorandum of understanding) and responsibilities are expected from both organization such as keeping statistics of usage, surveying the teens usability and likability of the titles and the Kindles themselves. The hope is after the pilot year the program can expand into other units as well as expanding the program itself to incorporate the existing applications on the Kindles like Kahn Academy into exposing teens to these applications.

The existing BPL lending program gives teens a freedom of choice with their ability to choose the books they want to read, this program gives them even more of a choice by having multiple titles on one device that the teens can access as well as informally teaching them digital literacy. Programs like this with technology aren’t something that a lot of public libraries are doing with juvenile justice systems in the United States.

This is a pilot program and as such will be evaluated to see the success of the program. One of the expectations of the program is sharing out about the program, input from the Boston Public Library Teen Librarians, teens that utilize the program and staff at Department of Youth Services. Stay tuned for more YALSA Blog posts on this innovative program.

Socializing to Social Justice: WTF—Woke Teen Forum—at the Hartford Public Library

An interview with Gabbie Barnes by Izabel Gronski

This post is part of the YALSA Presidential Theme: Youth Activism through Community Engagement

The YALSA Presidential Advisory Taskforce was recently brainstorming librarians that were out there in the trenches, working hard to support youth activism through community engagement. Immediately, I thought back to a presentation at the 2016 YALSA Symposium by Gabbie Barnes and Tricia George from Hartford, CT. Their presentation was called From Socializing to Social Justice: Connecting teens to community through social narratives. They tackle youth activism head on in numerous ways, but the Woke Teen Forum in particular was truly inspiring. Their passion for teens and youth activism was evident throughout their presentation and interviewing Gabbie Barnes over a year after their presentation shows that their programs are still going strong. Tap into their passion and find some inspiration for ways to promote youth activism at your library.

Izabel: Tell us about the youth activism programs that you have started at YOUmedia Hartford.

Gabbie: YOUmedia Hartford at the Hartford Public Library is a digital learning and makerspace for teens ages 13-19. We are only open to teens during our service hours, which makes our operations work a little bit different than traditional libraries without dedicated teen spaces. We also average upwards of 85 youth per day, which, as you can imagine, makes 1:1 connections slightly more challenging. To engage as many youth as possible, we use multiple entry points for program development. As a result, youth activism at the library happens in many different ways.

  1. We have structured programs, called “intensives”—these require youth to participate on a regular basis and invest in a desire learning outcome. Those include:
  • Woke Teens Forum (which spawned the youth-led Unconference)
  • YOUmedia Advisory Council
  • Strong Girls Camp
  • Short-term internships for youth to build proposals around issues they’re passionate about.

2) We have unstructured expressive outlets, which are drop-in and require limited commitment on the part of the youth other than showing up. Those include:

  • open mic nights
  • community conversations around controversial and “sticky” subjects
  • artistic workshops focused on messages of liberation.

We also work with a lot of community partners. I’m lucky to be friends with organizers in the community who want to engage youth, specifically. There is a vetting process for who does and does not work with our youth, but ultimately we create space for folks to work with the teens at the library if it’s mutually beneficial. Right now, we have an organizer who does one-on-ones with youth to find out what they’re passionate about and then organically offers gathering times to meet other teens who are similarly passionate. The end goal is a campaign, but the groundwork is starting with each conversation.

There is also a lot of grassroots work happening that I don’t know about–relationships being formed, meetings being had, and events being planned.

I: What inspired you to start the Woke Teen Forum, specifically?

G: We were in one of the most verbally abusive political campaign years of my adult life. The teens were always buzzing about it, and it felt like every day there was some new, horrible thing that they needed to unpack when they came to the library. As someone who stitched together a lot of what I know about systemic oppression in this country through self-guided learning, I felt like I could build a crash course for young people. My goal was to provide an entry point into what is—by design—a much more complex and complicated web than many of us realize. We talked about the intersections of race with housing, education, incarceration, voting, gender, food, and drug reform.

I: What is the most challenging part of pursuing these programs?

G: Scheduling. Even the most engaged teens struggled to make it to every meeting. Young folks are stretched so thin trying to build their resumes for college, be involved in their communities, and still maintain very active social lives. Finding a schedule that worked for everyone was just impossible. To boot, many of the teens I speak to wish that the library was open during their more “alert hours” which for many is in the middle of the night, but it made me ask myself just how effective we can be when we’re competing with after-school extracurriculars, sports, homework? In a perfect world, the public library would be open 24-hours to accommodate all of the schedules in our communities.

I: What was the reaction from your library administration?

G: We’re lucky to have an administration that is supportive of our ideas and believes that we were hired because we embed ourselves in what our community wants. I was most concerned about the acronym, but that was an easier sell than I expected.

I: And your teens?

G: Teens were on board from the beginning. They helped me determine what the topics were going to be; I didn’t want to build something for them without their input. After we finished the curriculum, two of the teens ended up organizing a youth-led design-thinking conference on educational equity. It was one of the most inspiring and awe-inducing moments of my career.

I: How about the community at large?

G: The community was so supportive. I had a few folks from various community organizations reach out to see if I wanted them to host one of the sessions related to their organization’s mission or personal area of expertise. Ultimately, I ended up leading all of the workshops, because of scheduling, but I’m going to try to make partnerships happen in WTF 2.0!

Youth are already doing activism work whether you know it or not. Rather than try to make something for them, figure out how to support what they’re already doing. Have conversations, create space, offer resources, make connections.


I: If you could share one piece of advice for librarians seeking to promote youth activism at their library, what would it be?

G: Youth are already doing activism work whether you know it or not. Rather than try to make something for them, figure out how to support what they’re already doing. Have conversations, create space, offer resources, make connections. Leverage your “power” as an adult to provide opportunities for youth to have a seat at the table in spaces they otherwise would not be included.


Activism is grounded in history, pain, and hard work. Many people have been doing this work long before it became a library buzzword, and many will continue to do the work long after it fizzles out.


I: Do you have any final words for our readers?

G: I fear that when we talk about activism and social justice in libraries that we’re buzzing in the way that we did with 3D printing and maker spaces—or whatever the next hot trend is. Activism is grounded in history, pain, and hard work. Many people have been doing this work long before it became a library buzzword, and many will continue to do the work long after it fizzles out.

Of course, too, I have to shout out my library elders: Spencer Shaw for promoting multiculturalism in libraries and their services and paving the way for black librarians in Hartford; Audre Lorde for being a womanist, anti-racist advocate, writer, and best of all, librarian; Margaret Edwards for advocating for youth and teens in the public library; EJ Josey for founding the Black Caucus of the American Library Association, and Ruth Brown for standing up for racial equality at the expense of her career.


Gabbie Barnes is a Black, multicultural-dreamer living, working, surviving, and thriving in the Hartbeat: Hartford, CT. She is an auntie, soul sister, daughter, cat mother, mentor, librarian, consultant, mentee, and cinefile. She offers spiritual advising, tarot readings, and essential oil advice. Gabbie received her MLIS during a short, 4-year stint exploring life as a Pacific Northwesterner. She has institutional experience in academic, special, and public libraries. Find her on LinkedIn @hartfordlibraryninja or send her an email gbarnes@hplct.org.

Izabel Gronski is the young adult librarian at the Oak Lawn Public Library. She has experience founding and leading multicultural student groups at Northwestern University, including the International Students Association and the Polish American Student Alliance. She is passionate about expanding teens’ horizons by offering intercultural experiences and opportunities for community engagement. Follow her on twitter @izag or send her an email at igronski@olpl.org.

Teen Activist Board: Shifting the “A” in TAB

By: Megan Burton

This post is part of the YALSA Presidential Theme: Youth Activism through Community Engagement

No one expected a conversation about national news to spark a call to action in a small town library’s Teen Advisory Board (TAB). It all began in June 2016 in the days following a tragic event that took place three-thousand miles away. Despite the physical distance, the violence felt close to home.

School was out for the summer. The sun was bright well into the evening and the added time off brought more teens to the library. We opened the room at 5pm and the 25 or so teens began to socialize before the program began. But the tone was different than a usual Wednesday Teen night. They were quiet.

We started our meeting with the welcome circle—a way to build community and prioritize youth voice. By summer 2016, we had spent a year co-creating these practices and norms. The teens themselves had crafted this protocol to be inclusive and give time for everyone to share their name, preferred gender pronoun (PGP), and age as part of their introduction. They also created a question of the week that we all would answer.  They set a tone of equity and an expectation of respect. After our introduction time, I opened the discussion by acknowledging a mass shooting had occurred in Orlando at the Pulse Nightclub and, without identifying them, I explained that a there were a few people in the group who wanted to discuss the tragedy. With caution, I urged them to think about this event in a personal way, to reflect on the fact that our physical distance to traumatic events does not keep us from feeling real empathy for those directly affected by trauma. And last, I encouraged them to actively listen.
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Connect & Collaborate to Create Teen Learning Experiences

The fourth competency area in YALSA’s Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff is Learning Experiences. With all the other responsibilities of our library jobs, it’s a tall order to “use a broad collection of effective teaching strategies, tools, and accommodations to meet individual teen needs, build on cultural strengths, address learning differences, and enhance learning.” So how does a librarian find new ways to make learning fun and relevant for teens? Recently, I spoke with Cathy Castelli, school library media specialist at Atlantic Technical College and High School (ATC) in Coconut Creek, Florida, about strategies that she uses to continually excite and engage her students in meaningful learning experiences

As any fan of Saturday Night Live can tell you, a “Celebrity Guest Host” adds new excitement to a show’s routine. And since Ms. Castelli is an aspiring YA novelist, she has been able to connect and collaborate with several local YA authors, who make “guest appearances” at the school to teach creative writing workshops. Students listen with rapt attention, write and share enthusiastically when authors such as Stacey Ramey (The Sister Pact, The Secrets We Bury), Gabby Triana (Summer of Yesterday, Wake the Hollow), Steven Dos Santos (The Culling trilogy), and Melody Maysonet (A Work of Art) speak about their career paths, discuss their novels, and inspire creativity with stimulating writing exercises. Teens are learning how to express themselves while discovering the joys of reading and writing.
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I Love My Librarian Award Spotlight: Laurie Doan

Hand-scripted text reads I Love My Librarian Award 2017.

Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Laurie Doan, a 2017 recipient of the ALA I Love My Librarian Award. She currently serves as a Young Adult Librarian at the Tredyffrin Public Library in Wayne, Pennsylvania. One of only ten librarians to earn this year’s recognition, she was nominated for her extraordinary work in fostering educational opportunities for the teens in her community, and for encouraging a wide variety of creative pursuits. Among the countless projects she supports, an alternative theater program within the library has been wildly successful with teens and adults alike. We discussed this and other aspects of her work when we spoke earlier this month.
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Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Future Ready with the Library

yalsa teen services competencies coverIn January 2017, YALSA’s first cohort as a part of the IMLS-funded Future Ready with the Library project got to work. Cohort members a part of this project (the 2nd is just starting and the 3rd will begin in November 2018) are working with community members and middle school youth and families to design, develop, and implement college and/or career readiness services for middle school youth. There are several parts of the work library staff participating in the Future Ready project are gaining skills related to and demonstrating the Teen Services Competencies for Library. Staff. For example:

  • Cohort members are gaining community engagement skills through projects that require them to learn about the work going on in their communities, identify gaps when it comes to middle school youth, and setting up listening meetings (in which the staff listen to a potential partner instead of telling what the library can do).
  • Learning how to have good conversations with young teens is key to project success. For example, members of the first cohort talked about the kinds of questions that are best to ask of middle schoolers in order to learn about their lives and interests. The question isn’t, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Instead positive interactions start with questions like, “what do you like to do in your spare time?” or “What something fun you did in the past week?” Continue reading

Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Take a Learning Break with YALSA Snack Breaks

cover of the YALSA Teen Services CompetenciesAs you read the Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff you may think to yourself, there are some things that I want to learn. Or, there are some areas that I want to get better at. One way to get started with that learning is with YALSA’s Snack Breaks. These videos, published monthly, are between 3 and 15 minutes long (well there might be a couple that are a bit longer) and cover a range of topics related to the new Competencies. Check out the Snack Break on Restorative Approaches to Behavior Management in Libraries.

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Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: The Future of the Past

YALSA’s new Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff continues to set out a vision for the skills and knowledge library staff need in order to successfully support teens. In this 55 minute video (a recorded version of a presentation at the YALSA National Forum on Transforming Teen Services Through CE) Mega. Subramaniam , Rachel McDonald, Jennifer Ilardi, and Shannon Lake discuss many of the skills set out in the Competencies. These include: Cultural Competence and Responsiveness, Continuous Learning, Outcomes and Assessment, Community Engagement, Teen Growth and Development, and Interactions with Teens.

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