Messiness as Progress: Reflections from the 2016 DML Conference.

Knock on wood, but I’m pretty sure that the universe won’t be able to top the craziness that was my 2012.  In the same month I:  became my library system’s first Youth Services Manager, was voted to serve as YALSA President, and had a baby.

Why do I mention that personal trifecta? Because quite soon thereafter, the year that I was President, The Future of Library Services for and with Teens report came out and challenged me profoundly. As we all now well know, it called for a “paradigm shift” in the way that we approach and implement teen services in libraries and I happened to have been in the unique position to think through those shifts on both a local and a national scale… while at the same time managing significant personal and professional capacity issues (as so many of us often do).

I mention all of this in a post intended to focus on this year’s Digital Media and Learning Conference because as I’ve worked to support future focused outcomes related to youth and libraries, I’ve spent a lot of time:

  • Trying to achieve perfect solutions for complex problems
  • Feeling like a weirdo for piecing together concepts, research, and tools from disparate sources
  • Worrying about the general mess that comes with change

As it turns out, I need to get over myself. It’s not just me, or even just libraries for that matter, that are struggling with these issues. At DML, I had conversations with or heard from computer scientists and afterschool club organizers, intermediaries and funders, researchers and teachers who are all feeling as messy as I have been. But as we talked and connected, that messiness felt good, exciting, and full of possibility. That messiness felt like we were all moving forward to help this country’s most diverse demographic of teens be successful in an ever evolving tech, career, and cultural landscape.  That messiness felt like progress.

I’ve often talked with youth and staff about the need to iterate ideas and to self-reflect, but this conference made me think about how I don’t often afford myself that same grace.  As one tweet from the conference suggested: “Follow #2016DML all day if you want to inspire your face off.” I’m inspired. Check out that feed and video content from this year’s conference and I think you will be too.

Reaching Teens through Passive Programs

Do you have trouble getting teens into your interactive programs for your teens during Teen Read Week? Are you still trying to understand your teen demographic? Teens are busy students, especially during their final high school years, but they can certainly still participate in other planned activities on their own time whenever they visit your library.  Here are a few suggestions for easy and simple passive activities that you can use during Teen Read Week to encourage teens to “Read for the Fun of It”:

  1. Post a sign encouraging teens to add their favorite book to your library book display.
  2. Offer 24 hour reading suggestions by creating an accessible jar of book titles that contain short excerpts. Teens can pick out a book to read by chance.
  3. Decorate a bulletin board with magnets of famous lines and phrases from books. Allow teens to make up a poem or story using those famous lines/words.
  4. Place a blank bookmark inside popular titles with a short message that encourages teens to write their own review of the book.  Place these books in a special area “Reviewed by teens” where teens can find them so that they can share their reviews.
  5. Create accessible polls (Jelly bean jar, or M & M jar, or use dots on a poster size paper with their favorite titles). Teens can vote for their favorite title.
  6. Have all the supplies for black out poetry and display examples and finished work.
  7. Design a new cover for your favorite book on a Post-It note or have teens completely redesign a book cover.

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Stuck in the Middle: Serving Tweens and Young Teens

It wasn’t all that long ago that adolescence was first recognized as a distinct stage of life. But anyone who works with teens can tell you that a twelve-year-old’s adolescence looks a lot different from an eighteen-year-old’s. Over the teen years, the brain undergoes dramatic growth and change. The Office of Head Start and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (part 1 and part 2) point out significant differences in the mental, physical, and emotional development of younger teens versus older ones. One way for libraries to meet this variety of needs, and perhaps to better serve our patrons, is to offer services for tweens and young teens that are separate from those for older teens.

Special services for pre-teens and young teens are a growing trend, and they come under many different names: tween services, middle school services, junior high services, in-betweens. School Library Journal recently created a monthly e-mail newsletter called Be Tween, for “those kids who are not little children anymore—but not quite young adults, either.” Members of a large library system in my state just started a tween services group for staff serving these patrons to network and share ideas. Continue reading

Do You Speak Game?

At the White Oak Library District, I helped work on my library’s district wide strategic plan. The one place I knew we were failing our patrons was with families who were learning English as a second language. We always talk about ways to better serve our patrons in this aspect but never really got around to doing anything. Once the plan was released we finally started making an effort.  Seeing the families coming in for conversation clubs, I noticed the children and teens were always left behind. The teen services staff quickly realized the teens needed something of their own, as a way to learn and to help their family members learn. We thought about how language is learned and realized that playing games increases language comprehension skills.  Games add an extra component of fun to learning, making it active learning. We plan to buy Scrabble, Bananagrams, Upwords, Scrabble Slam, Scattergories, Catch Phrase, Taboo, Balderdash, Jenga, Apples to Apples, Anomia and Superfight!. These games will become a circulating collection that families can borrow. We hope it will help them bond, learn, and play together.

It is always hard to find a way to tell our library users about all the services we have for them. We plan to launch the collection during Teen Read Week and have a special game night kick-off program at all three of the branches called “Do you Speak Game?” The purpose of game night is to introduce our patrons to the game collection and use it as an opportunity to teach patrons how to play the games.

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Rural Virginia Celebrates Teen Read Week 2016

p1050105-1-2My school librarian and I are still kicking around a ideas for our school’s Teen Read Week celebration October 9 – 15. This year’s “Read for the Fun of It” theme focuses on multilingual youth. In our rural corner of the world, where only three students are English language learners, we feel this year’s theme is especially important. A great number of connections, activities, and displays are piquing our interest as we plan for a week of celebrating cultural diversity and reading for pleasure.


Our school system’s acceptable use policy changed this year, and students now have access to their electronic devices during school hours. Book spine poetry, a bookface showdown, and a where do you read? contest are all in consideration. We want to focus on drawing students to the library using the phone and social media power couple that is so influential to tweens and teens. We are also really digging a play on Silent Library, especially something like this around the world version which connects perfectly with this year’s theme.

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Equity in Out-of-School Stem Learning: A Reflection

STEM learning is a growing part of student’s lives now because of all the fast technology advances. There are many great ways for students to participate in STEM activities while in school, but what can “out-of-school” educators, such as librarians, offer these same students? This is the questions that a group, sponsored by the Research+Practice Collaboratory, wanted to answer. Their main question was: “How can professional learning for out-of-school staff be organized to promote equity in STEM learning?” Through this discussion, four big ideas emerged to support this.

First, “seeing, hearing, and honoring” need to be at hand with all educators, whether in school or, out of school. This means, staff working with teens, and other youths, need to listen to what customers want. The best way to design a program is to listen to what your customers want from you.

Teen volunteers work with teen customers on sharing new technology.

Teen volunteers work with teen customers on sharing new technology.

For instance, recently I had a young man reach out to me because he wanted to start a STEM Club at my library branch. Although I was timid at first, due to time and money, we decided to go ahead. The positives of having a teen led STEM Club is, they have more ideas of what they want to do, and are very knowledgeable about all different types of STEM programs and projects. When our department started having teen led programs earlier in the summer, we had great success because the teen volunteers were excited to present their ideas, and teens in the community were excited to see what their peers were doing. Seeing, hearing, and honoring has really helped my department in a big way.

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Apply now for YALSA’s 2017 Summer Learning Resources and Teen Summer Intern Grants

The applications for YALSA’s 2017 Summer Learning Resources and Teen Summer Intern grants is now open.

Through generous funding from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, two grants are available: the Summer Learning Resources Grant and the Teen Summer Intern Program Grant. The purpose of the grants is to help libraries combat the summer slide, as described in YALSA’s position paper, “Adopting a Summer Learning Approach to Increase Impact.”

Twenty summer learning resources grants, worth $1,000 each, will be awarded to libraries in need and will allow them to provide resources and services to teens who are English language learners, struggling in school and/or who are from socio-economically challenged communities. Twenty teen summer intern program grants, also worth $1,000 each, will be awarded to libraries to support the implementation of summer learning programs while also providing teens a chance to build hands-on job skills.

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Teen Read Week: A Time to Come Together

Teen Read Week at our school, Findlay High in Findlay, Ohio, has become a time when the library opens wide its doors and invites in a huge variety of people to come share themselves with the school. Last year this included culinary students one day and a menagerie of animals another day. This year we are bringing together the international students from a local university together with our high school students to explore language and culture in a variety of ways in our library.

The networking that comes about from coordinating these events is fantastic. I made contact with the Japanese Outreach Initiative Coordinator at the university. This contact has opened up the opportunity to involve Japanese exchange students to our programming events. The more the merrier! The JOI Coordinator also asked if we would be interested in having a Korean student do a bit of programming, and we were thrilled to welcome her, as well. Once we connect with the student organizations when they return to campus, we will include students from India, Saudi Arabia, and Nepal, as well.

As a high school with 82% of students identifying as White, in a city where 91% of the population in the 2010 census identified as white, there is not a lot of opportunity for students to talk to and learn from people who grew up in other countries and speak different languages. This experience will be good for our students, and I hope it will be enriching for our staff, as well.

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Teen Read Week: An Immersive Experience

This year I am extremely honored and thankful to be a YALSA Teen Read Week grant recipient. I took my time this year deciding what I would do for Teen Read Week. My past Teen Read Weeks had been small in scale. Last year I had teens write a short book review and enter it for a raffle prize (a set of books related to last year’s theme). What could I do this year to really encourage a wide variety of teens to participate, and get excited about reading? I decided to combine a reading program for the month with a fun incentive: Read 1 book for the month of October, get an invitation to our International Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre!!

This year’s theme is “Read for the fun of it”, encouraging multicultural reading and involvement. For the month of October, teens can sign up to be part of our online reading program where the goal is simple: Read 1 book for the month! I wanted an achievable goal, to encourage teens of all reading interests and levels to take part. Upon registering, they will receive a bookmark with suggested multicultural YA books. They won’t be required to read these books, as I really want all teens to be able to participate.  I also wanted a non-reading related incentive, to encourage teens who wouldn’t normally read to do so, thus the murder mystery! I will probably give everyone an Applebee’s Ice Cream Coupon for finishing their book too, for those who aren’t into mysteries. I decided to extend Teen Read Week to a month long celebration, as many teens would find 1 week a daunting time constraint to read a book.  Finally, I will be adding a Teen Foreign Language collection, as part of the grant, to encourage ESL students to become involved as well. I will be working with the school literacy coaches to spread the word and encourage as many students as I can to participate.

Once we have our ‘guests’ invited, it’s time to put on the show! Upon completion of 1 book read, teens will receive the highly coveted and illustrious invitation to the event of the year- An Assassin in Our Midst: An International Interactive Murder Mystery. Thanks to the grant, we will be able to serve a variety of foods from different cultures for our dinner. Guests will be given programs with their team number, a list of the suspects, space to write notes, and a tear out for their team’s murderer guess. Suspects will be played by members of the Teen Advisory Board, with whom I will have at least 2 practices ahead of time. The TAB members will receive character descriptions, and then they will improvise based on who their character is. Each team will get to speak with and question all of the suspects to determine who was involved in the assassination of an important diplomatic figure. Intrigue, fun, and suspense are sure to ensue!

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Back to (After)School – Desperately Seeking Teens for TAB

With school back in session, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and recruit new blood for our Teen Advisory Boards (TAB). If you already have a good group as it is, it’s still a great idea to recruit new members as their perspective would be incredibly valuable as every teen brings new and interesting ideas. Although some of us may be reluctant to have a large TAB, the sky is the limit when it comes to the size of TAB because the more passionate teens we get, the more spectacular results we will get!

As we recruit new members, it’s super important to get the incoming freshmen on TAB. Freshmen literally have a full four years before they graduate, which means they are more inclined to stick with TAB as they  have a bit more flexibility and availability compared to upper classman who are swamped with AP classes, extracurricular activities, and applying for college.  By taking an interest in lower classman, not only will they find a sense of purpose, they will feel like they a part of something that won’t require tryouts or anything intimidating. However, before we start recruiting like crazy, it’s a good idea to review our applications, guidelines, and procedures just so we can outline what we expect from TAB members.

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