Every year, around this time,’  the librarians at Brookline High School send out a series of emails to members of the faculty.’  These tend to be informative updates and reminders of library programs, collections, and policies.’ ‘  Some messages target a subset of faculty while others are sent out to the full staff.’ ‘  In the past, we’ve been more reactive when communicating with faculty.’  Every year we’re scrambling to find the email we sent out last year.’  In our defense, we are a staff of two full time librarians and two .5 librarians, each with different duties and responsibilities.’  Often something comes up and we assume it’s being handled by a colleague.’  Not this year! ‘  This year I’ve taken on the task of collecting the various emails to be sent at the beginning of the year to faculty from the library.’  I’ve named the file “Beginning of the Year Emails”,’  and it’s my blog for today.

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Research is a term that can be scary to a lot of people. For teens it might bring on fears of having to complete a research paper for which the process might not be well understood and therefore isn’t easy to complete. For adults it might seem that reading research reports is a boring and perhaps even an incomprehensible task. But, even though research can send shivers up one’s spine, reading current research can be really useful in helping understand how to best support teens in a community.

A few days ago the Pew Research Center for People and the Press released a report on news consumption. While on the surface this report might not seem like it has a connection to teen librarians, reading the report one learns that it does. The information in the report can help librarians serving the age group understand where teens get their news. This information can lead to understanding how and what type of new sources the library should provide for teens. Read More →

I love my library’s website. It was designed by a very creative and skilled library school student back in 2003. A couple of years ago, one of my high school students reworked the entire back end, turning a (by then old-fashioned) table-based website into a modern CSS-built one. He managed to preserve its unique look and feel. But I must confess that it’s still hard to maintain – especially by someone (like me) who doesn’t do this sort of thing all the time. My html skills are pretty much confined to copying and pasting, which allows me to replicate elements I like but not to branch out or trouble-shoot. When something broke over the summer, I shamelessly hunted down my former student on Facebook and asked him if he would diagnose the problem (which he did, and most willingly!). The future is clear – one day soon I’ll have to migrate the site to Drupal, the open source content management system that is used at my school. I’ll have some in-house help, and the whole effort will be more scalable. I just hope that we can maintain the whimsical feel of the current site once we’ve made the switch.

So, what if you don’t have the kind of talented help I’ve had in building and maintaining a website?
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As much as I’d love to read every book in my collection, it’s not a particularly realistic goal–nor is reading every forthcoming young adult book. Like all teen librarians, I have to pick and choose, and I often rely heavily on other people’s reviews and recommendations when it comes to collection development.

I’ve been pretty pleased with the success of my fiction choices, but every once in a while I buy something that looks great to me, but never leaves the shelf.

So how do you find the instant hits?

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When I went to library school I didn’t know that being an advocate for teens and teen library services was going to be a part of my job. But, over the years, it’s become very clear that without librarians standing up and advocating for teens, it’s easy for people to forget why the age group is an important one that deserves quality service.

How did I learn to be an advocate? Honestly, I can’t say what the exact tools or events were. I can however relate some of what I’ve learned. Read More →

Just as in April accountants suddenly find themselves surrounded by friends with tax questions, when September rolls around it seems everyone wants to ask the librarians what we’ve been reading. Okay, so maybe it’s a year-round issue, just as doctors probably don’t have a busy season for identifying rashes at dinner parties, but I find that the questions pile up more than usual as teens head back to school. What’s a good book for a thirteen year old girl who likes sports? What should I get for my nephew just starting high school? What are the popular books these days? Suddenly you’re on the spot, expected to do collection development for teens (and adults) you’ve never met.

Personally, I find these conversations even more frustrating than an hour of back-and-forth with a teen who professes a distaste for reading. Asking a school librarian in suburban Massachusetts “What’s popular?” when your grandson lives in downtown Oakland is probably about as helpful as getting ski resort recommendations in Santa Fe. (There aren’t ski resorts there, right?) And while a teen’s other interests may intersect with her reading tastes, hearing that she loves volleyball isn’t quite as useful as knowing the kinds of books she’s enjoyed in the past.

So how do you handle being ambushed by reader’s advisory questions?
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I have a coworker who goes out of her way to stock up on school supplies each fall (when they are’ on sale for Back to School)’ and then she resales them for the same price she paid, using a bit of our display area.’ ‘ My first thoughts: Okay, that’s wierd. What a hassle!’  Why bother?

But now that school is back in session, I’m seeing the genius of her idea.’  We are’ located in a poor’ urban neighborhood.’  There’ is not a nearby’ dollar store and many of our patrons get around using inadequate public transit.’ ‘ Perhaps for these reasons or perhaps simply because it’s fun, students are stocking up on padlocks, notebooks, colored pencils and more.’  There is even the option to buy binders to submit’ reports in.’  ‘ 

On’ the surface, selling school supplies is’ totally beyond the normal function of a public library but in reality it’s just making a simple effort to help students start the school year off on the right foot. Any other public libraries get creative about supporting students succeed at school?

(with apologies to Charles Dickens)

It was the worst of times… it was the best of times…

Just over three years ago, I was awakened by a phone call that no librarian wants to hear: the library’s on fire.’  This wasn’t just a minor “use the fire extinguisher” fire, it was a 10-hour conflagration that left nothing uncharred.’  So, definitely the worst of times.

However, when life hands you limes, you make margaritas, right?’  The reality was (as it is for so many of us) that the building wasn’t really student-friendly, and the collection was a little on the old/needs to be heavily weeded side.’  The fire meant that we had the opportunity to do a lot of shopping, and a lot of building.

When you have a disaster, be it flood, fire, earthquake or tornado, there are many places to look for help.’  FEMA, for one (if you’re in a disaster area, not a one-off like our fire).’  Public schools can apply for a Dollar General Stores grant.’  If this isn’t an area-wide disaster, your friends, neighbors and the rest of the community will rally with donations (be careful: a professor retiring after a life in academia may not have the best materials for a collection focusing on young adults!).’ ‘ ‘  Few of us think of disaster preparation as a part of our jobs, yet it is so necessary.’  Take it from me: do not be caught unprepared.’  In June 2009, I was asked to present at an ALA Pre-Conference on just this topic.’  If this presentation or I can help, just let me know!

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While it is important to learn from librarians about how to be successful in library work, taking time to find out how other professions handle technology, innovation, customer service, staff management, etc. can be a very useful way to re-think what we do and how we do it. I’ve found that by reading about the challenges and successes and tips and tricks of those in other fields, I’ve been able to expand how I think about what happens in libraries. As a result I think more creatively and strategically about library work and work with teens.

Some resources to check out in order to learn from those outside of libraries: Read More →

I am cocooned in guilt. I feel guilty when I leave my toddler to come back to school for Open House or the school play. I feel guilty when I forego the homecoming football game in favor of spending time with my family. I want to be more active in professional organization, but worry that I won’t be able to fulfill my commitments.

School librarians are, of course, not the only ones dealing with the balance of life and work. Nor is it simply parents who struggle to find balance. We all have friends, hobbies, and professional commitments outside of our day to day work in our libraries. For example, a recent NPR piece pointed out that Millenials are particularly adamant about maintaining work-life balance having seen their parents work and work only to have it taken away by the recent economic situation. As teen librarians, we have the added stress of trying to help our patrons who may be struggling through weighty issues.

Clearly, we are all feeling the push and pull. Yet the typical advice given often won’t work for librarians. The NPR story touted the benefits of telecommuting, something difficult for librarians whose jobs are typically tied to a place. Or how about the suggestion “Learn how to say no”? We are a profession that prides itself on always saying yes.

So as I go back to work, I wonder how to maintain balance, to continue to do my best possible work all day, and still have some emotional, intellectual, and physical energy left for my family, my friends, and my writing at the end of the day.

I’ve done some poking around, and found a great set of articles at LISCareers.com that cover the stresses of our jobs, working with new children, and the stress of not work. Reading that others are going through the same thing as me is helpful, and I’d welcome more concrete suggestions. I don’t imagine that anyone has it all figured out, but please share any tips – or your own struggles – in the comments.