It is an unfortunate truth that we can’t make it to every conference we want to go to, even if it’s only a few hours away. Cost, travel, time away from work, family obligations, what have you keep us from going to conferences to see our colleagues, attend panels, and meet vendors for our libraries. But fear not! You’re not the only one #yalsalaeftbehind.

It doesn’t mean that you have to entirely miss out, either. Twitter is a great way to keep connected with other library staff in the field, and it’s no different when it comes to following panels at these conferences. You can still connect with the attendees and network online as they livetweet the panels that they’re attending. Most tweets will be tagged with #yalsa16 so they’ll be easy to find, and each session will have its own hashtag as well, to more easily filter through the results. We do love filtering, don’t we?

Even if you’re not attending but interested, make sure to look through a program list, to see what sessions would have interested you the most. Do you know anyone going? Will they be attending certain panels and take notes for you? Even if you don’t have that luxury, I have a handy list of hashtags for each session.

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Each summer I’m faced with the same dilemma: a huge number of community events at which I could do outreach but only one of myself! The problem becomes compounded by the fact that I can’t be both in and out of the library building at the same time. When school is out for the summer, I want to be available to youth and families who come to my branch searching for me. 

Summer Festival Outreach

Summer Festival Outreach

I’ve worked hard to build relationships with those youth, and I want them to feel personally welcomed as much as possible when they come to “their” library. However, as we know from YALSA’s Intended Impact Statement, it is critical that we “reach out to serve ALL teens in the community…whether or not they frequent the library space.”

It’s a micro version of what all libraries face: we recognize that we must provide excellent service and opportunities for learning both in and out of our buildings, but we often don’t have the number of staff needed to provide the same levels of service in and out of the buildings at the same time. The community branch youth services librarian can’t be simultaneously meeting with youth outside the building and working with youth at the branch. Our colleagues do a fantastic job of providing service to youth in our branches while we’re out in the community, but the very nature of working effectively with youth calls for consistency and trust. The YALSA vision calls for quality services like coaching and mentoring as well as tailoring to the community – wonderful and worthy goals that are difficult to achieve if individual youth services staff are in a staffing position where they can’t consistently work to build and maintain relationships with individual youth.

At the core of this dilemma is the bigger philosophical question: is the goal of outreach to get people to come to our library branches and use our services here, or is it to take library services out of the building into the community without the expectation that the patrons we’re reaching in that way will ever enter a library building? From a youth services perspective, if we attend community events to meet teens we’re not seeing at the branches with the end goal of attracting them to the branch, it makes sense that the person they see at the community event should, whenever possible, be the same person they see when they come to the branch.  Read More →

Every once in awhile the stars align and outreach opportunities present themselves with little effort on your part! But how does one create an intentional plan in a short amount of time when something like this comes up? This month I use my Personal Service Priority Plan to determine what types of outreach to pursue with the many Homeschooling families in my community.

By this point it’s (hopefully) clear that seeking to reach all youth in the community, regardless of how often they come into the physical library branch, is a priority for library staff. YALSA’s new Intended Impact Statement charges libraries to serve ALL teens in the community, and the YALSA Futures report encourages new ways of thinking about Outreach activities. What might Outreach look like if the group you want to reach doesn’t fit into neat definitions or similar socioeconomic situations? Read More →

How might a Personal Service Priority Plan affect the decisions we make when it comes to our collections? This month I discuss making intentional collection choices tied to a Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) within the limitations of my job scope (a.k.a. doing what I can without stepping on toes!)

I have a somewhat complicated relationship with the collection at my library branch. We have centralized Selection Services librarians who do the huge majority of picking and choosing which materials will be added to the collection. Sometimes I’m sent materials chosen by that department based on system needs and sometimes I choose from a pre-determined list they’ve created. Sure, I decide what stays on the shelf through the weeding process, and our Selection librarians are good about asking for input from branch librarians. But for the most part I don’t have much say in which titles my branch will offer. Except for in one area: uncatalogued paperbacks.

In recognition of the fact that barriers to the traditional materials check-out process exist for many patrons, our branches offer “uncataloged collections” of mostly high-interest paperbacks. These materials are not barcoded or included in our online catalog. They can be taken from our branches by anyone, without using a library card, and are returned on the honor system. Twice a year I get a budget of several hundred dollars to order whatever I think would go over well in my branch. And this is where my Personal Service Priority Plan comes into play. Read More →

So far I’ve used my Personal Service Priority Plan to identify a new partnership to pursue. However, just as important as knowing when to say “yes” is clearly identifying when to say “no”. This month I discuss how I used the plan to evaluate an offered one-off program and to politely decline.No

There’s lots of great advice out there about why we should say no if an existing or potential program doesn’t seem to be meeting the needs of our community (I love the suggestion to “stop doing things” in Maureen Hartman’s post Level Up Your Leadership: Stop Doing Things). So what does this look like in practice?

Last fall I was approached by an author interested in giving a reading from her new book during some evening or weekend at my library. Deciding whether to accept or decline offers from local writers can be tricky for me, because on the surface it seems an obvious choice: the public library promotes literacy and writing, and here’s someone who wants to talk to youth about writing for free – great! However, I still needed to run this through the Priority Plan “rubric”. Read More →

Last month I introduced a yearly Personal Service Priority Plan” for making decisions around Outreach, Programming, Strategic Audiences, and Collection. Already, I have had several opportunities to implement this strategy in specific situations. Here is what the flow of this decision-making process looked like regarding a potential community partner:

The “Mission and Core Values” section of The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action suggests, regarding Collaboration, that “Libraries leverage the resources/talents of all Partnerlibrary departments as well as non-library institutions and establish community partnerships around teens’ needs and interests.” As I decide which potential organizations with which to form partnerships, I can use that Core value as a basis for action, then use my own Personal Service Priority Plan to cull down the possibilities and choose an action plan based on the needs of my community.

In this case, a literacy nonprofit that works with my local school has asked me to partner with them to support students in their program. Awesome! Great! Now: should I pursue this, and how should I approach it?

According to the Core values set forth in the “Futures” report, I should establish community partnerships around teens’ needs and interests. This organization works directly with youth up to age 14 who are reading below grade level. OK, so yes, I should consider this partnership.

nonprofitNow, what will our partnership look like? Here are the 2016 “Outreach” priorities I have set for myself:

  • Potential partner is clearly defined
  • We are aiming to serve/reach a similar or overlapping audience
  • Collaboration has measurable outcomes
  • Whenever I (or library staff) attend an event there are dedicated times to interact directly with youth/parents/families
  • Appropriate staff attends events based on needs of anticipated audience (determined through discussion with supervisors and regional resource sharing)

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I just attended my first ALA conference and it was awesome.

I have heard many things about what to expect. Wear comfortable shoes, they said. Bring business cards, they said. Most of the meetings will be closed door, they said. Some of the things they said were right (seriously…who wants to walk around for 8 hours in cute new shoes that pinch the sides of your feet!..), but nothing prepared me for the magic that is Midwinter.

Like most Midwinter neophytes, I didn’t know what to expect, so I arrived bright and bushy tailed to the hotel at 7:30am sharp. I could not check into my room, so I left my bags with the hotel staff, and ubered my way over to the Boston Convention and Conference Center. (For those of you who cabbed your way around Boston, I would highly suggest you invest in the free Uber app. Most of my rides around the city did not cost me more than $6, some as little as $3.)

I arrived at the Conference Center to find that the exhibits were still being put together, and that I was late to all of the lectures that started at 8am. In hindsight, I could have just sat in, but I didn’t know if I needed a ticket. Is it okay to walk in late? Would I embarrass myself in front of my peers? Would I be asked to leave? Instead of tackling these hard questions straight on I decided on the very safe, unintrusive, and foodie-pleasing decision to register, find a coffee shop, and read the Midwinter guide over a hot cup of Joe and a cheese danish.

The guide was very helpful. It was delightfully color coordinated, included start and end times of lectures, events, and meetings, and provided a legend that had information on whether events were ticketed, closed, or open to registrants. I highlighted everything that looked of interest to me – which was half the book, so I marked it up to a fairly unrecognizable degree. And then I discovered there is an app.

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I love mission statements. I really do! I get excited when I’m researching a new organization and I can find clearly stated strategic priorities or service areas. It allows me to immediately identify which organizations have similar or overlapping goals with my library and which organizations have a very different focus or scope.

So I’m not sure why it took me so long to think of creating a personal statement of service priorities for my own job.

To clarify: I’m not talking about a career objective document or a performance evaluation, and I don’t intend to re-invent the wheel. Rather, I’ve discovered that creating an intentional document highlighting my areas of focus during a set time frame makes it easier to quickly identify where I should be spending my time and energy.

As library staff we have an abundance of resources from which to draw when deciding where to aim our focus. Just a few examples include the The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action, the mission statement and stated service priorities of our own libraries, and community information like reports from the Housing Authority, local organizations who work with insecurely housed youth, and community demographic statistics. It can be overwhelming to take all of these sources into account for every decision we make.

This year I decided to try an experiment. I spent a week in December pouring over the resources I listed above as well as looking back over notes from staff meetings and notable information from local neighborhood blogs, and I developed a plan. I created a one page checklist which I titled my “Personal Service Priority Plan”. This document will be the foundation for every decision I make in 2016. It is tailored to the needs I see in the community surrounding my specific library. It will serve as a rubric to quickly evaluate what I will pursue in terms of Outreach, Programming, Strategic Audiences, and Collection.

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learn button creative commons licensed Flickr photo by 드림포유 As 2016 gets underway you might be thinking about opportunities for professional learning. YALSA’s “Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action” highlights the importance of continuous learning as a way to inform and improve practice and as a way to help others in your institution, and community, learn about the importance of the work you do with and for teens. As you start 2016 consider the following topics as areas you might focus on in your professional learning over the next year.

  • Design Thinking
    Using the process of design thinking to help teens develop knowledge in STEM, college and career readiness, and 21st century skills is something to add to your repertoire. Design thinking focuses on solving problems and coming up with solutions. In service for and with teens this kind of thinking should be embedded in everything you do. Read More →

imageI practically lived on coffee and doughnuts this past weekend at the YALSA Symposium in Portland. Not that I’m complaining; if you’re going to drink lots of coffee, Portland is the place to do it. I began my symposium experience with the Friday afternoon preconference Hip Hop Dance and Scratch: Facilitating Connected Learning in Libraries with the hope of gaining some programming ideas. I walked out three hours later with a newfound comfort-level using the program and, yes, concrete ideas for how to use it at my library. Having three hours allotted for experimenting, asking questions, and watching what other people created helped immensely.

At Teen Services without Borders, a panel of school and public librarians and an independent bookseller that discussed challenges and successful partnerships that cross library, departmental, and district lines. Boundaries can feel like brick walls when they prevent teens from accessing the library, and the panel members ultimately decided they needed to serve teens and not the rules, viewing themselves as part of the same community, not competitors. Tips they shared include: Give up your ego. Put kids first. Promote each other’s programs and services. Ask for help and keep trying until you find the right person. Finally, take a hard look at the rules – can any be broken?

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