A brief look at 'grams of interest to engage teens and librarians navigating this social media platform.

What have you made with your library?

This year's National Library Week campaign focuses on the library as a place of creativity, creation and community engagement. All week, librarians and library users are posting what is #librarymade on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Unsurprisingly, many libraries are using this year's theme as an opportunity to encourage the creation, not just reading, of poetry during National Poetry Month. Teen services are a natural treasure trove of unlimited #librarymade action. Whether you have a 3D printer and circuits projects, book clubs, button-making workshops...anything!, your teen services are absolutely #librarymade.

How have you taken advantage of National Library Week? Are you incorporating the #librarymade theme into your National Poetry Month activities? In what ways could the vision of #librarymade change, improve or revitalize long-running teen services programs? Please share in the comments below!

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The Teen Programming Guidelines discuss the physical spaces of hosting teen programs in their eighth guideline.  When YALSA released its Teen Space Guidelines in May 2012, I dove into the wealth of information that the guidelines provided.  My school was in a transition period where we gained an additional media center space that needed to be completely renovated.  Our original media center also needed some updating, so the Teen Space Guidelines was the perfect tool for me to use in approaching our spaces.

The first teen space guideline states, "Solicit teen feedback and input in the design and creation of the teen space." Librarians and media specialists should always take into consideration the community they serve.  I needed feedback on what our students wanted to see in our original space.  A simple Survey Monkey survey was all it took to gain valuable insight into layout, furniture, needs, and wants for our high school students.  With their advice, we were able to rearrange furnishings and incorporate a few new pieces to freshen up our original media center.  Students also suggested that we move our manga section closer to the circulation desk.  Manga books are cataloged in the 740s in the nonfiction collection.  In our media center, this happened to put them in a far corner of our space and hard to see from the circulation desk.  Not only are these super popular books that are checked out frequently, but they became hot commodities that were frequently stolen.  (We do not have a book security system.)  After moving these books closer to the circulation desk, students have easier access to them, and we do not lose near as many to theft.  This also allowed us to promote the books more easily, which is also one of the guidelines in Teen Space Guidelines.  Teen feedback can never be underestimated.

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In the Fall 2014 YALSA journal (vol 13, number 1), I published an article about creating outcome measurement tools collaboratively with staff and participants for a teen program (Measuring Outcomes for Teen Technology Program, p. 25). The program I discussed is the Teen Tech Squad, tech workshops for teens led by teens at Hennepin County Library.

When I began working with the teen librarians to identify outcomes and measurement tools, an important step was relying on the expertise of the teen librarians. I did not assume that I knew what teens were doing in the workshops or what skills they were gaining. I relied on the expertise of the teen librarians to identify these things. I worked with them to make sure that they understood what outcomes are and we collaboratively created the outcomes and survey questions. We also took the time to get teens opinions on the questions we asked so we knew our questions would be understandable and effective. I empowered staff to take the lead on implementing the evaluation and continue to offer my assistance as they discover what is working and what isn’t.

This approach to evaluation is called “developmental evaluation,” a concept developed by program evaluation consultant Michael Quinn Patton. Developmental evaluation differs from traditional evaluation in many ways. For example, one way is the role of the evaluator. Traditional evaluation positions the evaluator as an outsider from the program they are evaluating while developmental evaluation positions evaluation as a job duty of the program deliverers. Developmental evaluation is most suited to programs that are innovative and adaptable; that is, not static.

Why this is important is that I see a need for libraries to have an in-house evaluation expert. It may seem easier (although more expensive) to hire an outside firm to evaluate. What library staff miss out when they do this is learning how to evaluate on their own. Knowing how to evaluate means that you can work evaluation into the biggest and smallest projects at your library. It can help you design projects intentionally, evaluate them, and decide what should continue, what should change and what can come to an end.

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A brief look at 'grams of interest to engage teens and librarians navigating this social media platform.

In the past few days, not only have we had to flip our calendars, but the seasons have transitioned and spring has sprung! Are you in the process of switching over your book displays and bulletin boards? This week we're sharing some fun display ideas from libraries and librarians on Instagram. Focusing on "April showers" is popular as well as gardening, spring creatures, and spring cleaning. April displays also provide an opportunity to highlight monthly themes such as National Poetry Month, National Humor Month, and Autism Awareness Month.

In addition to providing inspiration for new displays, spring can be a great time to spice up social media accounts with a new series or game. As our teens are heading outside for spring sports and activities, social media can be a great way to keep them engaged with the library when they're on the go. To encourage patrons to interact with the library on Instagram, some libraries post fun trivia questions using emojis, pieces of text or illustrations, or clues that highlight a specific area or collection of the library. Creating a unique hashtag for the community to share images of their reading and showing a side of librarianship not usually witnessed at the service desk (such as mugs used by staff or their favorite snacks), will help patrons learn more about staff members without being present in the library. There are also a number of popular hashtags that are widely used by libraries and patrons alike that are specific to days of the week such as #bookfacefriday in which the face on a book cover is photographed over one's own or #tbt to share an image for Throwback Thursday. Hover over the images below to see the hashtags libraries have created for weekly series posts.

Have an awesome spring display idea? Created your own hashtags for your library? Developed social media games for your patrons? We want to hear about it! Share with us in the comments section below.

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"Mrs. Thompson, why we only got two Bluford High books?"  "We need more manga."  "I like that Sharon Draper lady.  We got anymore of her books?"  These were just a few of the questions and statements directed at me about our high school media center's collection when I became a media specialist.  Through day-to-day direct observation and through results of a student survey, I quickly realized areas of our collection that were being underserved - manga and urban fiction.  There were groups of students who were all clamoring for the same few titles that we had of a certain genre or series and our "hold lists" were growing longer by the day.

Several reasons may attribute to underserved groups in a library program.  Community dynamics change.  Our small suburban school system has seen tremendous growth in the 18 years that I have been here - 400% growth.  That translates into a graduating class of 78 in 1998 to a graduating class of 478 in 2015.  In the same time period, our minority population grew from 5% to 30%.  Our media center's collection does not reflect this growth.  Another reason for underserved groups is the rapid growth in new styles of writing, like manga.  It can be difficult to know whether new styles of writing are going to be accepted by your patrons, and we hate to waste money on books that are just going to sit on the shelves.  We started out with three different manga series to test the waters.  The popularity of these titles exploded!  They rarely made it back onto the shelves as students would grab them from the "re-shelf" cart as soon as they were checked in.  They also became our most stolen titles!  (We do not currently have a book security system.)  There were titles that our students desperately wanted to read, so why wouldn't I listen to them to continue to foster their love of reading.

As a reader, I cannot stand to read things in a series out of order.  Many of my students are the same way.  Why did we only have some of the Bluford High series?  Why were #1, 4, 6-8 of Full Metal Alchemist missing?  Our database showed that we had owned, at one point, #1-15 of the manga series BlackCat, but several of the titles were now marked "Lost".  I set filling in the gaps of the asked about series as my first goal in strengthening our collection for our underserved patrons.  In the urban fiction section, we went from two Sharon Draper titles to all 10 of her young adult titles.  We were also able to fill in the missing Bluford High titles, which serve our urban fiction fans as well as our Hi/Lo students.  For the manga patrons, we filled in all of the holes in the series we already had and aimed to include four new series a year.

Another strategy for building our collection for these underserved populations was to get input from the students.  In adding more manga, we allowed the students who were most interested in these series to help us with the selection of new titles.  They perused catalogs and looked online for reviews and suitable content (as some manga is aimed at a more adult audience). My African-American girls, who were devouring the urban fiction, asked about adding the Drama High series.  They loved looking for new authors to tell me about as well.  With the addition of the new titles, plus the marketing of the items through displays, our circulation increased 67% in one year!  Allowing students to assist in making our collection stronger for them gave them a sense of ownership and pride in our media program.

YALSA's Teen Programming Guidelines states that librarians should "create programming that reflects the needs and identities of all teens in the community."  Many media centers and libraries run into the problem of having an underserved population, and it is the duty of the librarian to recognize the needs of all patrons and work to strengthen the weak areas.  Investigate your collection for missing titles and allow your teens input.  These practices can go a long way in reflecting the needs of the communities we serve.

Back in October 2014, I wrote about a report entitled: “America After 3 PM.” The Afterschool Alliance was writing about how students spend their time after school. In it, I raised the point of libraries as hubs for after-school activities, a free spot for teens to come if they don’t have the resources or access to other after-school programs. At the end of January, Alia Wong from Atlantic wrote an article called “The Activity Gap,” which discusses the access issues students from various socio-economic classes face with participating in after-school and extracurricular programs.

Wong begins the article by comparing two different students, Ethan and Nicole, whose family backgrounds contribute to two different lifestyles and life paths. While their names have been changed, these two students do exist and were case studies in a study published in Voices of Urban Education. This national study was conducted by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute of School Reform.

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Teens have an amazing variety of programs at their fingertips ranging from college prep, crafts, gaming, pop trivia, anime, and much more.  What if there was a way to combine many of these elements into one activity that is not only fun, but will have amazing health benefits as well? I bet you are thinking the same thing I am: dancing. Before I go any further, some of you may think I am crazy because there is no way teens would voluntarily dance in public, especially amongst their peers. Well, I am very excited to tell you that there is actually a way to get them to dance and have fun, but it requires us to lead by example. In other words, we got to shake our money makers so teens can see just how fun it really is.

Before I go any further, I would like to discuss some rather disturbing facts. According to the American Heart Association:

“About one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011. With good reason, childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also states:

“The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.”

Clearly, obesity is on the rise and it is something that we should address in our programs and services. For example, are we sponsoring programs, or partnering with organizations, to prevent drug and alcohol abuse? If we are, are we addressing obesity as well? If not, it’s time that we do because teens are living in a world where body shaming and weight-related bullying is rampant. Furthermore, teens literally live in a digital age where video games are much more popular than physical exercise.  If we care encouraging teens to exercise their minds with books, why can’t we encourage them to exercise their bodies as well?

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In this second blog post on creating inclusive libraries, we examine the need to identify and remove barriers, and have an expanded definition of ‘the library as a safe space’.

Identifying and Removing Barriers

Paramount to our goal of creating inclusive libraries is removing barriers that prevent diverse youth from feeling welcome. In her research, Kafi Kumasi (2012) found that many youth of color feel like outsiders in library spaces, describing the school library as the sole “property” of the librarian. Kumasi argues that “these feelings of disconnect and exclusion should be attended to by school librarians, if they want to make all of their students feel welcome.”

Physical barriers can be easy to spot and can include, for example, detectors and late fees. Consider the unwelcoming message that detectors—particularly those with a ‘push’ gate—can send about libraries, especially for teens who may regularly be followed in department stores. We must recognize that these kinds of microaggressions are daily experiences for many youth, especially male youth of color, and must be mindful not to replicate them in our libraries. We must also realize that late fees represent a financial burden for some teens and their families causing teens to forego visiting the library, and ask ourselves, what other strategies might we use? Finally, our libraries must be physically and intellectually accessible for teens with disabilities (and, of course, stocked with literature that reflects their lived experiences). Project ENABLE provides free training to help librarians create more inclusive libraries that address the needs of youth with disabilities.

Other barriers are more difficult to unpack, but include library policies or procedures that inhibit teens from visiting or participating. For public libraries, this could manifest as an address requirement for receiving a library card. Teens experiencing homelessness would be unable to fulfill this requirement and thus be denied access to essential public library resources including computer time and material checkouts. For school libraries, perhaps a strict atmosphere of ‘shhh-ing’ is excluding teens from joining in library activities. Janice Hale (2001) reminds us, for example, that African American youth “participate in a culture that is highly dynamic. They thrive in settings that use multimedia and multimodal teaching strategies. And they favor instruction that is variable, energetic, vigorous, and captivating.” Do our libraries support this?

Barriers can also exist in programming. Are we scheduling programs at times that allow teen participation? Are we taking into consideration the public transportation schedules? Are we offering programs at locations in the community, rather than expecting teens to always come to the library? Are we coordinating our teen programs with our programs for children so that teens who are responsible for taking care of siblings can attend? Breaking Barriers: Libraries and Socially Excluded Communities explores ideas related to this topic specific to public libraries.

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The growing conversation surrounding the need for diversity in teen literature is wonderful—it is essential, it is long overdue, but it is only a starting point. Wait, what? Yes, a starting point. If we are not using those diverse collections in our library promotions, programming, and reader’s advisory with all students, we are diluting their influence. Furthermore, if diverse collections are housed in libraries that are not inclusive and welcoming to all youth, then we are negating the power of those collections.

“Diversity is not ‘praiseworthy’: it is reality.” Malinda Lo’s recent statement  can serve to remind librarians that focusing on diversity is not an extra facet of our job. It is central to what we do. Consider these facts:

  • In the 2014-2015 school year, youth of color were projected to make up the majority of students attending American public schools (not just urban public schools, but ALL public schools)
  • Approximately 9.1% of students attending America’s schools are English Language Learners
  • Approximately 10% of the general youth population in the United States identifies as LGBTQ+
  • One in 45 youth experience homelessness in America each year [references for all of these statistics can be found here]

YALSA’s The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action details even further the significant shift in the demographics of teens. To paraphrase Ernest Morrell (2015), our multicultural America is in our libraries no matter where we are.

Library collections obviously need to reflect the diversity of our nation. But that is just the beginning. Public and school libraries must be inclusive. Inclusive libraries are staffed by librarians who are culturally competent, use their diverse collections with all teens, identify and remove barriers, and have an expanded definition of ‘the library as a safe space’. In this two-part blog post, we will briefly examine these components. Our goal is broaden the conversation about the needs of diverse youth beyond diverse literature, and to highlight the need for librarians to engage in discussions about equity and inclusivity.

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