YouthTruth, a national nonprofit, that “harnesses student perceptions to help educators accelerate improvements in their K-12 schools and classrooms,” recently conducted a survey about school culture that answers the question: “How do students feel about the culture of their schools?” YouthTruth surveyed 80,000 students, grades five through 12 from 2013 – 2016; this was an anonymous survey across 24 states in a partnership with public schools. The results of the survey brought four major elements to light, but library staff can also use these results to make their library spaces more culturally positive.
The first alarming fact is that only one in every three students would say their school is culturally positive. Only 30 percent of high school students believe their school is culturally positive, while 37 percent of middle school students believe this. There are many ways the library can make their spaces culturally positive, especially if your library is located in a diverse community. Library staff can provide information, displays, book lists, and programs about cultures. Periodically, my branch offers a program to teen and adult customers called Discover Another Culture. For this, a volunteer from a specific country comes in to share about their culture. In November, the library held a program about Japan; library customers not only learned about Japan, but learned how to make origami too. There are a wealth of possibilities the library can utilize to make their spaces culturally positive to help fill in the gap that some schools are lacking.
The second fact found may not be alarming to too many. It states that students know they are less respectful to adults than adults are to them. From my experience, I would agree with this fact. Local high school teacher, Catherine Baker states:
“[Teens] think we are there to work for them, so it’s our job to be respectful and as helpful as we can possibly be to them. It’s our job to get them to pass, not the other way around.”
Currently, there are many social issues that are happening not only in the United States, but across the globe. In this time, teens may look through school, or outside their school, for ways that they can help those in need during these trying times. One great way for teens to do this is to start a campaign, and one organization that has many fun, interesting campaigns is the Harry Potter Alliance.
The Harry Potter Alliance is a non-profit group that works on campaigns to bring social change and donations to those in need. Their motto is that “The Harry Potter Alliance turns fans into heroes,” and their campaigns allow their participants to live up to this idea. The vision of the group is to make a “creative and collaborative culture that solves the world’s problems.”
There are many different chapters to join or start. There are chapters that are affiliated with schools, communities, libraries, etc. There are chapters all over the world, working together to help those in needs. Being a part of the HPA is a great way to get teens active in their community. Starting a library chapter is a great way for teens to work together to make social changes, and give back to their community. It is also a great way for teens to meet other teens in their community, and is a positive outside school activity.
Teen Services Coordinator, Jennifer Velasquez, took a different approach when the San Antonio Public Library Teen Library @ Central wanted to redesigning the library. By talking about what teens wanted to do in the library, versus furniture and colors, staff was able to truly understand what teens need and want in their library. Velasquez mentions that it is not only important to understand what needs want and need in a library, but why the use the library.
Based on focus groups with teen participants, teens expressed that they wanted quiet spaces, active spaces, and social places. Today’s libraries are now incorporating much of these aspects, and are important to remember when designing a new teen library or space. Velasquez’ model for the perfect teen library includes three spaces: participation, contemplation, and engagement. A participation space allows for “group work and activities.” A contemplation space allows for independent work, which would include, homework, studying, reading, etc. Lastly, an engagement space allows for comfortable seating for socializing, displays, technology–a fun, and safe place for teens to socialize. Although space can be limited in some libraries, and not all these spaces can be coordinated, many of these spaces can be made into programs.
Our school reading specialist and I decided to revisit our middle school student book club. We took a year off from it for several reasons, not the least of which was lack of interest by students and us. It had been run like a traditional book club, everyone reads the same book and meets twice a month after school to discuss the book. Our problem was that our after school clubs meet for an hour and a half, and that time was too long to just discuss a book and choose the next one. We tried having everyone read a book by the same author to give more choice. We found a similar, disinterested reaction. Our students were happy to talk about the book for about half an hour, but wanted the rest of the time for social chat. We tried coming up with some related crafts to fill the time. Everyone painted one of the standard ceiling tiles with a reading theme or based on a book. This was a hit and made for a colorful library ceiling, but that only covered two meetings. We tried to make the book club available 24/7 through an Edmodo group to develop stronger relationships with our students, and get everyone to share what they were reading.The students found it to be just an extension of what some of their classes were already doing – it was too much like school. Our attendance dropped off, resulting in no book club for the last school year. We needed to regroup and rethink what a book club looks like for middle school students.
In the meantime, the library has had some spontaneous, pop-up or “lunch bunch” book clubs. Groups of four to six students create their own book club by reading the same book and meeting during lunch to read and discuss it. These clubs may read only one book and disband or choose to read several throughout the school year. Lunch bunches are not formal and are student led. Usually, student visitors will notice a lunch bunch eating and meeting in the library and then form their own with their friends. We just monitor to make sure the noise level is appropriate and suggest books when the club is stuck for ideas. It is very hands off for adult participation. A way to inspire students to create their own lunch bunch is to create a display of books that have multiple copies for a lunch bunch club. We hope our lunch bunches will meet again this year.
Now that school is out, it’s time to discuss with our teens about the value of healthy habits and lifestyles. When we talk about healthy habits, we need to think beyond physical fitness and focus on all aspects of healthy living which includes the mind, body, and soul. With the new YALSA Organizational Plan in place, we now have a framework to take these concepts to our teens and ask them what they would like to see in the library and how we (staff and patrons) can successfully develop these ideas.
One important that libraries need to consider is to implement, or increase, programs and/or services to help teens develop a positive sense of well-being in order to navigate this chaotic world. As the organization plan brilliantly states “Today’s adolescents’ face an expanding array of social issues that place them at physical and psychological risk, and libraries can help. Libraries can contribute to solving and alleviating the issues and problems that negatively impact teens, and can put more teens on the path to a successful and fulfilling life.” Although this concept is not new to us, the big question is how do we develop solid services that will get teens into the library? The best place to start is to consult our core group of teens who either volunteer, are part of our advisory groups, and teens who do, and do not, participate in library programs.
When we ask teens about what they would like to see in the library it’s important to provide options. In other words, we need to break down what we mean by a “positive sense of well-being” which is basically what can the library do to promote healthy lifestyles in regards to the mind, body, and soul. Whether it’s about offering meditation workshops, reading buddy programs, gaming programs, dance classes, arts and crafts workshop, and/or buying books and audiovisual materials for self-improvement, we want to encourage teens to tell us what would bring them to the library. If we don’t have a core group of teens who visit the library, pose this question during outreaches or via social media. As teen library staff, we must take advantage of every opportunity we can to communicate with teens even if it’s not library-related. Lastly, if teens still can’t decide on what they would like to do, bring in your community partners to talk more about the importance of good eating habits, mental health, and civic engagement. When teens have a better understanding of what it is we are trying to do, let’s bring in professionals to guide the decision-making process. When the teens have given us the feedback we need, we can move forward with these services as they are relevant and distinct to our teen communities.
District Days offer the perfect opportunity for legislative advocacy. District Days are a period of time in which Congress is out of session and members of Congress are back in their hometowns. This year, District Days begin on August 1st and end on September 5th. This would be an excellent time for library staff to show elected officials how important libraries are and even get them to visit your library. Members of Congress are always busy in Washington and don’t get many opportunities to visit their local library and really see and understand all the services that libraries provide. It is important that they know this so that they can promote legislation that is beneficial to libraries and teens. If legislators actually see and experience all that libraries do they will be more likely to take action on behalf of libraries and teens. District Days offer library staff and teen patrons the chance to inform members of Congress of their constituents’ needs and help educate them on an issue that they might not know too much about. It can also help forge a relationship with elected officials that would be instrumental in bringing the needs of libraries to the minds of members of Congress, helping them make legislative changes that can only aid teens and libraries.
Over the past few years, I have noticed that there has been a movement in YALSA to shift teen services in libraries. This shift has taken teen library staff from being mere program providers to being opportunity connectors and learning leaders. With the rise of connected learning, libraries are quickly moving into the forefront of informal learning and teen empowerment. Library staff have become vital elements in the empowerment of teens through relevant, outcome-based programming that develops the 21st century teen. This notable change in direction has made me extremely passionate about services for and with teens, and I noticed this theme in every session I attended this year in Orlando. Library staff all over the country are stepping up their programming in favor of interest-based learning and exploration that effectively engages today’s teens.
One of the first sessions I attended was a presentation on Raspberry Pi by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. I had visited their booth in the exhibit hall and wanted to learn more about their products and how to incorporate them into my programs. Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your tv or computer monitor and uses a keyboard and mouse. It’s a high-performance device that allows the user to explore computing, coding, and more. I was amazed at how such a small device has put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. In addition to computer education, Raspberry Pi has an unlimited number of uses; everything from turning it into a personal wifi hotspot to creating advanced maker projects like a wearable camera or developing a multi-room music player. Recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has partnered with British ESA Astronaut, Tim Peake, to send two Raspberry Pis (dubbed the Astro Pi) into the International Space Station. Both devices were augmented and coded in part by school-age students to measure the environment inside the station, detect how it’s moving through space, and pick up the Earth’s magnetic field. Each Astro Pi is also equipped with a different kind of camera; one has an infrared camera and the other has a standard visible spectrum camera. I had absolutely no idea that a Raspberry Pi had this much potential for STEM and cross-curriculum learning, or that the same Raspberry Pi’s that were sent into space are the same as the ones you can purchase online. Not only is the potential for engaging STEM learning abundant, but The Raspberry Pi foundation makes its learning resources available for free on their website. You can download their magazine, MagPi, check out their books that will help you navigate a Raspberry Pi, or begin tinkering with a Pi by downloading the desktop interface, Raspbian. With all of this potential for making and learning packed into a compact, affordable package, Raspberry Pi’s are the next step in your library’s makerspace.
YALSA is looking for creative video entries of up to 60 seconds in length that compellingly demonstrate to the general public how teens make use of 21st century libraries, programs and staff in order to succeed in school and prepare for college, careers and life. Winners will be announced no later than June 1, 2016. The top three entries will receive a box of books, audiobooks and graphic novels worth a minimum of $200. Examples of content may include, but are not limited to showing how teens use libraries to do things like get good grades, explore careers, pursue hobbies, plan for college, build digital skills, create stuff, connect with others, serve the community, become engaged citizens, etc. This is a great opportunity for teens to show off their film making skills! Get the details via this online entry form. This contest is being administered by YALSA’s Advocacy Resources Taskforce.
Image from the Manhattan Shakespeare Project
To be or not to be…that is the question… especially when it comes to implementing teen programming all about Shakespeare. As youth services library workers, we know that William Shakespeare is one of the greatest playwrights of all time. It’s only natural for libraries to celebrate his birthday by providing attractive displays and programming for the month of April. Given the amount of amount of distraction and noise via the internet, teens aren’t exactly running into the library to check out King Lear. Although the reasons for teens not getting excited about Shakespeare vary greatly, we can easily introduce Shakespeare to our teens through Pop Culture, Art, and Digital Resources.
According to the YALSA’s The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action (2014)1:
The library profession has come to understand literacy as much more than a cognitive ability to read and write, but as a social act that involves basic modes of participating in the world.44 This fundamental shift means that school and public librarians no longer view literacy merely as a technical competency that can be added to people as though they were machines, but rather as a social practice that varies from one context to another and is part of cultural knowledge and behavior.
When I was teen, I remember how Hamlet infuriated me. At the time, I had no idea why I would need Hamlet ever. As an adult, I am grateful for that experience because Shakespeare didn’t write Hamlet to annoy teenagers: he wrote it to help the world understand the human condition when the soul is tortured by grief and selfishness. My hope is that teens are still reading Shakespeare in school, but, due to issues such as standardized testing, lack of funds, and no access to these materials, libraries can easily lend a helping hand. I mean, he is responsible for over 1600 words of the English language, but teens may never know this unless they attend a Shakespeare 101 class. As youth services library workers, we have the ability to not only introduce to teens the life, world, and art of William Shakespeare, we also have the skills to take a creative and modern approach to his works to help teens develop as critical thinkers and passionate human beings. Here are a couple of ideas that can help teens better appreciate the Bard a little more.
Looking at the March 8 Astronomy Picture of the Day, Solar Eclipse Shoes in the Classroom, in preparation for this blog post brought back a vivid memory that I hadn’t thought about in years. Like the students in the photograph, I witnessed a partial solar eclipse in high school. We poked pinholes in sheets of paper to watch the sun’s projection change shape against a second sheet of paper without burning our eyes. Spots of sunlight filtering through the tree leaves shrunk to half circles, then banana slivers as the light took on a golden hue that was uncharacteristic for the middle of the day.
Any time I feel anxiety over science programming, it’s helpful to remember how easy it can be. It doesn’t need to involve something as amazing as an eclipse. It doesn’t even need to be “programming,” it could simply mean asking teens, “Hey look at this cool/weird/mysterious thing, any guesses what it is?” Over the past year, the teens that visit my library have been entertained by a chunk of evaporating dry ice, helium-filled balloons, Pop Rocks, and vegetable oil + water + food coloring + alka-seltzer tablets in a bottle.
Earth, as viewed from the Cassini spacecraft as it passed near Saturn. Neil deGgrasse Tyson displayed the image during his 2015 tour.
Astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, one of my science heroes, gives advice to children who want to know what they can do to help the earth. Explore things, he tells them, do fun things even when it might annoy your parents. His advice to adults is to get out of their way. Kids are naturally curious about the world, and adults have a responsibility to not suppress that curiosity. Bill Nye, another science hero, encourages people of all ages to ask questions about the world around them (with the disclaimer to be aware of social interactions while doing so).
Library staff generally take pride in answering patrons’ questions, and I think many of us feel anxiety over questions we don’t know how to answer. Instead of feeling anxious, we can encourage patrons’ natural curiosity by inviting them to make their own hypotheses, and introducing them to resources where they might find the answers. Continue reading