In March of 2014, Albany Public Library was awarded a YALSA Teen Tech Week grant, supporting a music production program we were excited to try.  We called it Build-A-Song, and the idea was to help teens create an original song from scratch, in just five days.  Thanks to the YALSA grant, and with additional assistance from our local Guitar Center, we put together a mobile recording setup that included a Mac Mini with GarageBand and ProTools Express, PreSonus USB Audio Interface, two microphones with a stand and vocal pop filter, studio monitor speakers, headphones, and a MIDI keyboard. We already owned several guitars that we used for free music instruction programs, as well as several percussion instruments; with these and the software instruments available, we had all the ingredients for a full band.  To actually build the song, we dedicated one day to each of the following: drums and bass, guitars and keyboards, electronic effects, vocals, and finally mixing and mastering.  We also put out lyric prompts and a submission jar, and invited teens to write anything from a word to a couplet or even full song.  These would provide material and inspiration when it came time to record vocals.  We decided to record in the middle of our busy youth services room, valuing participation over pristine recording conditions.

Buildasong buildjar

We started the first day by showing teens the basics of the recording software.  We decided to use GarageBand because of its easier learning curve and since we have several iPads for teen use that have it installed.  Teens chose a tempo, and then collectively selected a pre-recorded beat to work from -- this was the only component of the final song not composed or played by teens.  Next, they used the MIDI keyboard to trigger various drum and percussion sounds and create their own beats.  The bassline came next, which was created by lowering the pitch of an electric guitar two octaves .  Though they were encouraged to do so, none of the teens wanted to try playing the guitar themselves, so one of the youth services librarians became their hands and played notes and ultimately a full bass riff dictated by teens.

girls singingThe next day found some teens willing to try playing guitar, despite having no previous experience doing so.  They especially enjoyed changing the effects and hearing themselves sound like rock stars, and were remarkably adept at finding notes and rhythms that complimented the parts of the song already recorded.  This remained true when we moved to the keyboard, which a large number of teens and children played.  Something surprising was that although it could be made to sound like any other instrument, most preferred more natural piano and organ sounds.  Another wonderful surprise was that teens began playing together, with one on keyboard and one on guitar.  It was moving and amazing to see two people who had only just met playing instruments they had never played before, improvising along with a song they were creating out of nothing and sounding GOOD.  A wonderful spirit of collaborative play arose, with others in the room joining in on maracas and xylophones, and one teen breaking out a clarinet she had brought from home - and rocking it!

The following day, we turned up the weird.  We used a Makey Makey to hook up fruits, vegetables and more to the computer, turning a banana and a hole punch into musical instruments.  Here, the sound effect choices were more inspired.  Teens turned a strawberry into a snare drum, a hammer into a trumpet, even connected the Makey Makey to themselves and high-fived each other to add cymbal crashes.  It was very cool to see the expressions of wonder as teens used and witnessed this wizardry in action!

boy singingThe next day we recorded vocals, and the song started taking shape.  To start, we took out the lyric prompts from the submission jar for people to read and record.  We also supplied more blank forms and plenty of pens and paper.  But the biggest draw was simply putting out a mic on a stand with headphones.  We had lots of freestyle
rs, several who read others’ lyrics or wrote their own, and one girl who sat down and wrote a complete original song!  Several teens chose to sing together in pairs or groups, and a few times small crowds arose with people clapping and singing together.  Hooks and choruses were spontaneously created and developed, which became key parts of the song.  The joy and excitement was contagious as burgeoning music producers got to see their parts come together in a real live song.

The final day was intended for mixing and mastering, but we ended up having so many teens wanting to add vocal and instrumental parts that we had little time for post-production.  Some mixing did get done, but most was completed later by a staff member.  Once the song was finalized, a slideshow was created which was then posted on the library’s YouTube page.

girl using softwareBuild-A-Song was a very successful program for us, and a good fit for our patrons and mission.  We have several other music and video production programs as well as hands-on creative programming for kids, teens, and adults.  We are about to launch our Albany Made Creative Lab, which will expand our ‘maker’ programming by adding 3D printing, vinyl cutting, and a range of multimedia tools including the Build-A-Song recording setup.  The Build-A-Song program was so popular that we have now run it twice, tweaking and improving it along the way.  Key lessons learned were to be flexible and let teens lead, incentivize participation, and edit continually rather than save it all for last.  The second time, we also invited teens to photograph and film the process, and with staff help they created a stop-motion music video for Build-A-Song 2.  Expanding the experience this way created wider interest and increased the ways for teens to participate.  It has also inspired continued creativity: we finished the second video a month ago, and still have kids and teens talking about it and asking to create music and videos.  It is wonderful being able to say yes to this!  After the initial purchase, running this program costs us nothing but our time - and pays endless dividends in teen learning, enjoyment, and sense of accomplishment.

To hear both Build-A-Songs and watch their videos, please visit Albany Public Library’s YouTube page:

Further reading

Here’s an interview with one of our teen participants for the Educator Innovator blog:

And here is an interview we conducted for the YALSA Teen Tech Week website:


Tor Loney is a Youth Services Librarian at Albany Public Library, concentrating on teen engagement.  He is especially interested in creative arts and emerging technologies, and is involved in filmmaking, music production, guitar instruction, and electronics programming for kids and teens.  He previously worked as an Information Literacy Librarian and Instructor at the University at Albany, where he received his Masters' of Science in Information Science.

The fall season is a favorite season for many-warm sweaters, fall leaves, pumpkins and apple cider. Autumn is also a time to reflect on the year's bounty and to say thank you. November brings Election Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving-three days we can extend a special thanks to our troops and veterans and to acknowledge the children and teens also affected by military life.

In my rural community, many young people are impacted by military deployment. The statistics show that many of the teens in your town may be as well. According to the Department of Defense, 1.8 million children and teens in the United States have family members who are currently serving in the military, and 85% of those teens attend public schools and most likely use public libraries (National Military Family Association).

Even if a teen doesn't have a parent in active service, he or she may have a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or cousin serving. Studies have shown that "rates of anxiety among military children - as well as emotional and behavioral difficulties - are higher than the national averages" (NMFA), but families cope better with deployment when they receive community support. The best way to help teens manage the stress of deployment is to acknowledge their experience by showing that you know who they are and that you are available to talk (NMFA). Read More →

A brief look at 'grams of interest to engage teens and librarians navigating this social media platform. From cupcakes to duct tape and candy sushi to spin art, this week we're looking at how libraries advertise for teen programs, show off what participants made, and recruit new members for TAB and TAG groups. Does your library have an Instagram account specifically your teen population or TAB group? Who decides what gets posted on there?

Secondly, we mustache you... are you doing anything special for MOvember? If yes, please don't shave it for later! We want to see your crafts, displays, and decorations in the comments section below.

Have you come across a related Instagram post this week, or has your library posted something similar? Have a topic you'd like to see in the next installment of Instagram of the Week? Share it in the comments section of this post.

Read More →

A brief look at ‘grams of interest to engage teens and librarians' navigating' this social media platform. This week we're looking at ways' libraries' can use Instagram to market services. As librarians, we know that we provide our communities with so more than books, but how can we show patrons everything we have to offer? From audio books to online materials and wireless printing to smiling faces at the Information Desk, here's a few ways to get that information out there. The key to this week's installment is reading the captions -- there are many different approaches libraries can take.

Have you come across a related Instagram post this week, or has your library posted something similar? Have a topic you'd like to see in the next installment of Instagram of the Week? Share it in the comments section of this post.

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From Open Clip Art

From Open Clip Art

The Afterschool Alliance just published a study regarding after school programs in the United States. This is the third study of its kind, following in the results from the 2004 and 2009 studies. The group wants to document where and how children spend their time between 3 and 6 PM. The previous studies, along with this one, show that there is a demand for after school programs.'  However, more programming is needed to help reach the approximately 11.3 million children who are unsupervised after school.

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A brief look at ‘grams of interest to engage teens and librarians' navigating' this social media platform. This week we're all about those book displays! Are your displays getting patrons in the fall spirit, providing inspiration for costumes and pumpkin carvings, or taking' the opportunity to spotlight horror novels? What's the coolest non-holiday display you've put together? Share with us in the comments section. We liked these ones a latte.

In honor of Teen Read Week which kicked off yesterday, October 12 and runs through October 18, we're highlighting a few 'grams of programs in the works and a few ideas from last year.

Have you come across a related Instagram post this week, or has your library posted something similar? Have a topic you'd like to see in the next installment of Instagram of the Week? Share it in the comments section of this post.

Read More →

Cultural programming is one of my favorite tasks, not only do I get to learn more about other cultures but I also get to share that knowledge with the teens at my branch. It's an opportunity for my teens to learn about the world around them and often themselves and their own backgrounds. I serve a large population of Hispanic teens and families and have found that, while teens have heard of celebrations or customs, they often only recognize them and know very little about why they are celebrated.'  While we host Hispanic cultural programs all year long, the months of September and October are typically jam packed. We use this time to talk about cultural traditions and to prepare for one of our favorite traditional celebrations, Dia De Los Muertos.

Our events kicked off this year with a children's program on decorating sugar skulls. With the help of our teen volunteers, children briefly learned about the sugar skulls and were able to decorate and take home a skull of their own. This served as an introduction to Dia De Los Muertos for our teens, who will spend each week in October preparing items and decorations to use in our Dia De Los Muertos display. I use each week to discuss the items we are making and how they are used in the celebrations. This year will be the first year I ask for the teen volunteers to help present what they learned for public teen programs. During the week leading up to Dia De Los Muertos, we will use everything we've made to put together an altar display for the branch allowing patrons to contribute all week long.

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“…as far as I can tell, a young adult novel is a regular novel that people actually read.” – Stephen Colbert

A PBS articleteenreadweek over the weekend looked at the growing popularity of young adult fiction with adults. To any librarian with YA experience, this news comes as no surprise. We all know that the amazing quality of good YA literature has broad appeal. There are times when I feel like I am getting away with something because the nature of my work involves promoting this genre. You might get this feeling, too.

Speaking of work, Teen Read Week is nearly upon us! The' AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Collaboration' (SPLC Committee for short) presents this Top Ten list of ways you can promote Teen Read Week. Please note that none of these ideas are uniquely ours, but rather are great ideas we have come across over the years:

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A brief look at ‘grams of interest to engage teens and librarians' navigating' this social media platform. From #librarianproblems to fun programs and new books to book messes, librarians are sharing really neat ideas through their accounts. Following library hashtags won't just provide inspiration, but can also highlight different ways to showcase your library to the public. Is that just a photo of your desk or is it a behind the scenes look at the Youth Services office? Can that photo you just posted of your craft sample be turned into an advertisement for the program? You see new books to cover, they see a heads up on new books to check out! Which library hashtags do you follow most frequently?

This week we're also looking at posts for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) and the upcoming Star Wars Reads Day III (October 11).

Have you come across a related Instagram post this week, or has your library posted something similar? Have a topic you'd like to see in the next installment of Instagram of the Week? Share it in the comments section of this post.

Read More →

3D Systems, in collaboration with YALSA, is committed to expanding young people's access to 21st century tools like 3D design, 3D scanning and 3D printing.'  The MakerLab Club is a brand new community of thousands of U.S. libraries and museums committed to advancing 3D digital literacy via dedicated equipment, staff training and increased public access.

3D Systems will provide new 3D printers to qualified libraries and museums across the country.'  Recipients will be selected via an application process and are expected to join the MakerLab Club as well as provide access to 3D printing and design programs and services for their communities.'  Libraries can apply via an online application now until November 17th, 2014. Printers will be allocated on a competitive basis.

Membership in the MakerLab Club is available to libraries committed to creating or expanding makerlabs and/or making activities and to providing community access to 3D printers and digital design.

Libraries can receive up to four Cube 3D printers, as well as regular access to workshop curricula and content via webinars. Libraries will also receive exclusive equipment discounts and opportunities to win free hardware and software. In addition to resources and training library staff can join and participate in communities of practice in order to exchange ideas and best practices.

Learn more about making in libraries via the resources on YALSA's wiki, including a free webinar and downloadable toolkit.'  And be sure to mark your calendar for March 8 - 14, 2015 when we celebrate Teen Tech Week with the theme "Libraries are for Making ____________."

For more information about the printers, please contact Neal Orringer at