Visiting other libraries

As part of my so-called research & development plan for preparing to start a new teen department this summer, I traveled to Charlotte this past weekend to visit the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. I visited both Virtual Village and ImaginOn.–especially The Loft and Tech Central/Studio i.

There were a couple of reasons for visiting. One, of course, was to see all of the cool, cutting-edge things that PLCMC is doing for teens. The other was to take a look at basic, traditional teen services at their best. I was fortunate to be able to hang out with some super-friendly librarians and Loft staffers who were willing to answer my annoying questions about programming, the collection, staffing, you name it. I also got to play around with Teen Second Life, make a bracelet out of cut-up computer motherboards, and see hilarious teen-created animated films that had been shot in front of Studio i’s fantastic blue screen.

I collected all of the literature I could about PLCMC teen programs, including calendars and flyers. This is a great way to get a sense of what’s really happening in a library.

Back in my hotel room, I made a HUGE list of some of the things I’d learned. Here’s a sampling:

  • use laptops instead of desktops — eliminate wires whenever possible
  • make things portable — put them on wheels, have traveling kits
  • displays that teens can create — chalk boards? white boards? magnetic letters?
  • staff training — staff have to have time to play with stuff in order to learn how to use it
  • get expert to consult on software, etc. (for movie creation, animation, music making)
  • offer workshops and classes — freeware (picnik, Picassa, flickr, etc) and others
  • self-serve kiosks with information about how to use the library (maybe use touch-screen technology?)
  • use teen interns to manage computing areas
  • create myspace or facebook page with links to other online presences — flickr, youtube (figure out what social networking the kids in the community are using)

If you’re starting a new program, starting out as a new teen librarian, or looking for a shot in the arm, I highly recommend visiting another library. I was lucky to be able to go to Charlotte, but you can also check out local libraries that are doing a great job with teens. Everyone I met at PLCMC was so open about things they were happy they’d done, things they would have done differently, things they were still working on…and it got my mind racing.

I really appreciate the people of PLCMC’s hospitality and friendliness. If you’re reading this — thank you!