Back to (After)School – Rethinking a School Book Club

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.

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How to Get Teens Fit and Happy Through Collaboration and Creativity

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.

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Speak up for Teens this August

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.

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YALSA @ ALA Annual 2016: Take the Next Step in Teen Services

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.

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Teens Succeed with Libraries Video Contest

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.

Insults, Laughter, Rhymes, and Good Times: Celebrating William Shakespeare

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

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.

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Anyone Can Do Science

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

Teen Creative Writing & Art Contest for Teen Tech Week

As part of Teen Tech Week, YALSA is teaming up with the Connected Learning Alliance, Deviant Art, the National Writing Project, and Wattpad for the Twist Fate challenge.

The challenge is to get young people (ages 13-17) telling stories about what happens when a hero becomes a villain, or a villain a hero (through writing, video, digital art, animation, etc.) and sharing them across the Deviant Art and Wattpad platforms. It’s happening March 6-April 6th, and to ramp up for it there will be a series of free webinars with guests including Mimi ito, Christina Cantrill, Candice Mack, Josh Wattles from DeviantArt, and Jing Jing Tan from Wattpad:

Connecting the Creative Sparks of Young Makers to Supportive Communities of Practice Feb. 11, 7pm EST

Storytelling and Making Redefined: Get to Know the Wattpad Community Feb. 18, 7pm EST

Meet the “Deviants”: Networked Artists and Makers of DeviantArt Feb. 25, 7pm EST

February Is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Valentine’s Day is big business; between the candy and flower sales and Hamilton-themed cards, V-Day spending nationwide may top $13 billion. Libraries cater to their patrons with Valentines-themed programs including concerts, crafts and even anti-Valentine’s parties.

Rarely seen in public is anything calling attention to dating’s darker side, though February is also Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. According to a 2013 CDC survey, 1 in 10 teens reported being physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend in the past 12 months; additionally 1 in 10 reported being kissed, touched, or physically forced into sexual intercourse against their will by someone they were dating.

During meetings and training, like the recent in-service at my library, staff may discuss how to handle many different difficult situations. Abusive romantic relationships should be a part of the discussion. What warning signs can library staff look out for?

Here are a few types of dating violence from loveisrespect.org:

  • Physical: scratching, punching, throwing things, pushing and pulling
  • Emotional/Verbal: put-downs, yelling, blaming, threatening
  • Sexual: unwanted touching, pressuring, sexual insults
  • Financial: preventing from going to work, on-the-job harassment, giving presents with strings attached
  • Digital: pressure to send explicit messages, stealing passwords
  • Stalking: showing up unannounced, sending unwanted messages

Here are a few behaviors that victims of dating violence may exhibit:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tobacco, drug and alcohol use
  • Antisocial behaviors
  • Thoughts about suicide

Teen staff can foster supportive library spaces, and make patrons aware that abuse is not tolerated. We can offer programs and materials on the differences between healthy and unhealthy dating relationships. If we witness abuse, we can report it to the police. If we encounter someone who may need help, we can refer them to local family services, as well as national hotlines such as RAINN.

For more information about Teen Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Rape check out the book list on The Hub.

 

YALSA Board @ Midwinter 2016: Preview & Governance Update

About 10 years ago, I met Gene Luen Yang at the very first ALA Annual Conference I ever attended in 2006 in New Orleans, at the end of my first year of library school.

As a Chinese-American and comics fangirl, my heart nearly stopped in shock and happiness when 6 months later, his ground-breaking work, American Born Chinese, was announced as the 2007 winner of the Michael L. Printz Award.

As this week leads up to ALA’s Midwinter Meeting, where I am so excited to see my colleagues, talk with YALSA members, participate in the Youth Media Awards announcement, and more, I find it thrilling and fitting that Gene Luen Yang was just announced as the 5th National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. (Which yet another example of how forward-thinking YALSA always is – we knew he was awesome years ago.)

For more insight on how best to serve teens today and into the future, check out the YALSA Wiki for dates and times of all YALSA events if you’ll be attending Midwinter!

If you aren’t able to be in Boston, follow Midwinter activities with the Midwinter hashtag, #alamw16.

The YALSA board will start off Midwinter on Friday with training session on best practices in association governance. All day Saturday, Board members will work with a consultant from the Whole Mind Strategy Group on organizational planning. The goal is to develop a focused and responsive plan which will help YALSA meet the needs of members and advance teen services in libraries across the country. Based on the outcomes of the organizational planning discussions, the consultant will help the Board draft a new, 3 year plan. The goal is to have that in place by March 1st.

While the planning discussion will take up all of the Board’s meeting time on Saturday, there are still other topics that the Board will be discussing at the business portion of their meeting on Sun. and Mon.

Those topics include:

Check out the full board agenda and documents online to get the details of what the board will be discussing. You can also read the accompanying blog posts on the YALSAblog.

If you have a comment, idea or question for the Board, the first 5 minutes of each of the board meetings is set aside for visitors to ask questions. Feel free to or chat with me or any of the board members at YALSA events at ALA Midwinter, too! You can also e-mail me with comments if you are not able to make it to a session to share your feedback.

Feel free to follow Executive Director Beth Yoke (@yalsa_director), myself (@tinylibrarian), and/or other YALSA Board members for live tweets of adopted actions and discussion highlights.

We’ll also be sharing post conference round-ups over the coming weeks so stay tuned!