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Sometimes it can be frustrating to hear great, innovative ideas that don’t sound like they’d ever be possible with your budget. Or maybe you’re tired of hearing about great “new” tools you’ve been using since you were in grad school. Maybe you even read some of the posts in this series and thought, Yawn. Been there, done that. What’s innovative to another librarian might not be for you–it might be scary, or passe, or just not right for your library.
So why not try something that’s new for you?
When we talk about innovation, I think too often we feel a lot of pressure to be truly on the cutting edge, whether it’s using the absolute newest technology or finding the next Printz winner. And let’s be honest: that can be exhausting. I don’t mean to discourage taking risks–please do!–but I also want us to give ourselves permission to applaud the little innovations in our daily lives.
Is your library embracing bookstore shelving? Way to go! Are you diving in to co-teaching a class? Fantastic! Encouraging a spontaneous dance party in the stacks? That is great, and also please invite me next time.
In the comments, what’s one new thing you’re trying?
Collaboration. Everyone probably wants to do it in order to provide excellent services to teens. You might have the chance to collaborate regularly with teachers, parents, teens, colleagues, bookstore owners, authors, police and fire personnel, and others who work in community agencies and departments. These are people it’s probably fairly easy to connect with and whom you may have fairly easy access to. But, are they the right people to work with in order to be innovative in services?
I’d like to suggest that they may not be. In order to be innovative the collaborations we pursue and get involved in have go be as innovative as the programs and services we want to sponsor. It becomes comfortable to collaborate with people you know and have a history with. But that means it also becomes easy to miss opportunities for doing something new, reaching teens you might not regularly interact with, and gaining new insights and ideas.
What stops someone from pursuing collaboration opportunities with someone new? A few things.
- A fear of making a “cold call” and talking to someone new. If you have a project in the works and realize there is someone in the community that would be a perfect collaborator, but have never worked with that person, it could be difficult to get in touch and say “let’s work together.” If that’s the case then do a little research. Is there someone you know who has a relationship already with that person? If so, have him or her make the first connection for you. Make sure that this intermediary knows a bit about the project you are working on and how you think this new potential collaborator can be involved. That means you need to be very clear yourself about the role of this new collaborator. Know how his or her expertise can fit in to what you are planning and highlight that to your “connector” and to your potential collaborator when you have your own conversation with him or her. If you don’t have someone who can connect you, don’t let that stop you. Still get in touch with the person and sell your idea and their value to it.
A lack of history which can mean a lack of trust. One of the key things that makes a collaboration work is trust amongst those involved. Without that trust you can’t be sure everyone is working towards the same goal and that the work will be done in the way that’s required. If you are thinking about collaborating with someone new give yourself time to get to know that person. Work on a smallish project to start so you can get to know each other. Don’t make rash judgements. Give the process of getting to know one other and gaining trust a little time. That way you can build a history which can lead to bigger and better collaborations.
A limited knowledge of the community. Maybe you are new to your library community. Or maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to meet a lot of people from outside the library and education world where you work. Well then, make sure you do just that. Go to meetings and events sponsored by other agencies, organizations, and businesses. Get to know others and let them get to know you. Talk up what you do for and with teens and why you do what you do. Scope people out, get business cards, and keep notes about the work others do so you can make the right collaborative connections at the right time.
Expanding your collaborative world can take time and energy. It might require that you think outside your comfort zone and outside your traditional collaborative box. However, If you are innovative in your collaboration you will open up opportunities that you might never have known were possible and those opportunities will lead to innovations t
I admit that this is more of a call for you all to innovate than it is me giving you ideas. I’ve been thinking lately about how today’s popstars, especially Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, and Jessie J, are all about having distinct, out-of-this-world style and attitude to go along with their music. Instead of the concept albums of the 1960s and 1970s, today’s pop culture likes its concept artists. Gwen Stefani mixed ska and angst with Jean Harlow, Katy Perry fetishizes and infantilizes herself, and the UK’s Marina & the Diamonds is unabashedly seeking popstar superstardom, and her aesthetic is all about how she’s “obsessed/with the mess/that’s America.” You can argue whether or not these artists are good or bad, whether they’re obvious or esoteric, whether they’re legitimate or faking it–I know I do–but you can’t deny that they are memorable and fascinating.
So what does that have to do with youth services? Lots, I’m sure. Thinking about popstars and performance/concept art can lend itself to all kinds of interesting book displays and programs. You may even end up inspiring a new generation of quirky songstresses and 21st century Bowies.
- First, check your catalog for CDs by any musician you would consider a “performance artist” or “concept artist.” You can also check at the end of this post for some suggestions. Next, create a display where you connect these albums to biographies that may be in your adult nonfiction section, novels about teen musicians, and other nonfiction titles relating to the artist’s aesthetic, from vintage fashion to abstract art. If you don’t feel you know enough about this topic, this is a great opportunity to bring in your teen advisory board or an awesome library student intern.
- Sponsor a night of music video deconstruction–only you’ll have to call it something better if you want anyone to come. If you have a teen advisory board, they should be the ones to facilitate the evening. Queue up the most interesting videos by the most out-there musicians, print out copies of song lyrics, and invite the teens to play producers, critics, and artists. When I taught music videos to a group of high schoolers, I took a variety of approaches: 1) play the song first, ask what they imagine the video to look like and the song to mean, and then show the video; 2) play the video with no sound, ask for feedback, and then play again with sound and looking at the lyrics; 3) read the lyrics, talk about the meaning of the lyrics and the potential video, and then watch and listen. All of these offer the chance to get creative juices flowing, conversation happening, and criticism going. If your teens are up for it, ask them to pair each song/video with their own words or images about what it means to them, or get them to lead a discussion on why they think the artists make such choices. End the night with an open mic.
- You probably know of some individual patrons or of teen groups already meeting in the library who are interested in music, art, and writing. Put them together! What’s interesting about these artists is that they seem to have a whole team of people, as well as a library of influences and inspirations, behind them. So get your teens to do the same! Using your fiction and nonfiction collection and their imaginations, get them to create one or many performance artist concepts–someone who dresses only in hoop skirts, who dyes her hair purple, and sings about calculus? A male-female duo who cross-dresses and makes sure only to sing songs written in sonnet form? Possibilities are endless, and this can easily be a theoretical activity that anyone can participate (just leave materials on a table in your teen room, and decorate a bulletin board or wall to put up people’s ideas) or a large-scale, longer project that culminates in an end-of-summer concert.
- Less vocal (terrible pun, sorry
Blog: YALSA - Young Adult Library Services Association
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Can we finally put the argument to rest? E-readers are not killing reading, nor are they killing books. As research shows, people who own e-readers not only read more than people who don’t, but they read both e-books and print books. Not to mention, there are plenty of populations, from prison inmates to seniors, who will need print books for a long time coming. Neither one is going away.
That’s not to say that they’re the same, though. Far from it. In my experience, e-readers attract different types of readers than print books, and they’re also engaging more people who were previously non-readers. Anybody who thinks that’s not great, well… There are also scads of e-reading apps available for phones, tablets, and computers, so e-content is available to more than just people with Nooks and Kindles. People use e-readers for a variety of reasons, from pleasure reading to research, so it’s good to consider how many bases you can cover. The Pew Research Center released a report on reading, readers, and e-readers recently, and ALA of course responded. While Pew’s data is encouraging (among other statistics released, the study found that people who use e-readers read more books per year than people who only read in print), ALA pointed out that the stats of who reads at all, and who reads in what format, are also related to education and income level. So what can you do about it?
First, take a look at your e-book collection and see what types of materials are most widely represented. In my anecdotal experience, I’ve found that bestselling memoirs and adult fiction are easy to find in e-book format, as well as genre fiction like westerns and romance. Pew’s study also indicated that people are drawn to print and e-books for different reasons, based on the types of materials they can find. This is your chance to offer innovative e-materials, as well as to fill some gaps that your print collection just can’t do. If your library offers Kindles or other devices for checkout, and not just the e-materials, see if you can designate one of them as the YA e-reader, and fill it up with some teen-friendly stuff that will attract readers and non-readers alike. If you don’t have library-owned devices, you can always offer these suggestions on a flyer for your patrons who own personal devices.
Download literary and other magazines that are published for online audiences, in PDF format. For me, this is why I bought my Kindle in the first place–my grad school reading heavily leans toward the downloaded journal articles, and I didn’t want to clutter my hard drive or break my eyeballs reading it all on my computer. You might try things like Sucker Literary Magazine, a new magazine of YA fiction available on PDF and Kindle form, the Fairy Tale Review, which publishes fiction and poetry based on or inspired by fairy tales (their first issue is free and in PDF form, and the rest can be bought on an issue-by-issue basis), or Anthology, a collection of writing from a longstanding literary magazine by and for teens, Cicada
Load your e-reader with some free or inexpensive word and logic games. Both Nook and Kindle have a variety available. For a cost, both major retailers, as well as educational software companies, offer specialized dictionaries and other apps for academic subjects, too.
Have a strong immigrant, refugee, or bilingual population in your library? E-readers offer you the chance to bulk up your collection in other languages for a lower price than many print books. Amazon’s Kindle store has a huge selection of Spanish-language e-books (though it will transfer you to its Spanish version of the website, so make sure you can read it
When this month’s theme was announced I got to thinking of some of the innovations that have entered into my world since I was a child. I should state here that I am defining innovation according to its “invention” and “evolution” roots. I wanted to think about what new systems/ideas/products have been brought into librarianship that have made me wonder how we could have ever done without.
Like poor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, what have I grown accustomed to? So, I’ve been thinking about this for a while and here are a few of my favorite innovations without which I am sure my job and my life would be far more challenging and far less enjoyable.
(Mind you, this is in no particular order.)
1. Wireless printing: I am writing this post from the comfort of my living room sofa. If I want to proofread a hard copy of this, I am able to tell my computer to print and the document will print out in my office. Even better, my printer can be anywhere in my office and is not tethered to wires around my computer. It’s rather freeing really. Somehow the whole concept of this wireless freedom, which has shown itself in many office environs thanks to networking, did not become fully real to me until I was untethered both at work and home.
2. Online card catalogs: Sometimes I think I am a closet catalouger. I can often get sidetracked by a small catalouging project by the discovery that certain subject headings are inconsistent. At a time when many of us are shifting the way we view our shelving, we have to give some credit to the flexibility online cataloguing provides. It is now VERY easy to make global systematic changes to records. Granted, I’ve rarely found a catalog that was really end-user friendly (and some are disastrous on several fronts), so there’s still much innovating to be done in this arena, we cannot take for granted the benefit these systems have given us, especially in terms of personalizing our library collections.
3. Stylus pens: Yes, I know to grow accustomed to the stylus, I must also grow used to the device, but for me, the iPad tripled in usability once I could use my own handwriting and hand-drawing on the device. The stylus allowed me to do just that, and also gave my forefinger a much wanted break. I have a favorite stylus, but will take other stand bys in a pinch. With the stylus, I am now able to take notes on a favorite note-taking app during a meeting and then send these notes back to myself (and others) via email, Evernote, iCloud or what have you.
4. Google docs: Since my graduate school days, I’ve been using Google docs, but it wasn’t until this year that I learned to love it. When collaborating with others who are not in the same place as you, Google docs can really save the day. And save time. And save us all from confusing moments of misinformation. Perhaps I give Google docs too much credit, but any tool that allows users to contribute in real time and maintains records of changes…that seems like a good thing. I imagine other programs have similar sharing capabilities, but currently Google docs is the one for me.
Over the past couple of weeks as a part of the 30 Days of Innovation series I’ve written about the importance of embracing failure and the need to breed a culture of innovation in libraries. Last week I had some people ask me what happens when you understand the value of failure and innovative culture in the workplace, but your colleagues and administration do not? People wonder how they can feel safe in failure and get the innovative juices going when those around them aren’t supportive. Some ideas:
- Ask Yourself Why: Why are your colleagues and/or administrators against innovative practices? Is it because they are scared of looking bad to others? Do they not know how to articulate the ideas of innovation so that they are understood by elected officials and other town administrators? Have they never really had a chance to understand what it takes to be innovative? Do they think that innovation means throwing out everything, even what works really well, and starting from scratch? Ask yourself where the barriers to innovation are and then find ways to break through them. For example, If fear is an issue then come up with low-risk innovative opportunities to get things going so that colleagues and administrators can gain a track record of innovative success. Then build from there.
- Be an Innovation Advocate: In order to serve teens successfully in libraries we need to be constantly trying new things and advocating for the value of innovation. Since you should be advocating regularly as a part of your teen services job, then make sure to add talking points, stories, and examples that advocate for innovation in teen library services. Explain why a program or service is important to teens and also why you needed to innovate (and why the innovation was successful) in order to provide that program or service. Don’t just explain the what of the innovation get into the why it was required too.
- Read Together: In some libraries staff all read the same book and talk about it. Suggest that you do just that in your library and read a book like Where Good Ideas Come From by Steven Johnson or The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton M. Christensen. Volunteer to facilitate the discussion and help to make the conversation a positive one by coming prepared to talk about the ways the ideas discussed in the selected title are possible to achieve within your library.
- Be a Role Model: While it is definitely hard to do it alone, someone has to start. That means if you are ready to innovate and use innovative practices in your library then do what you can to lead the way in order to demonstrate how it’s possible to achieve innovation success in your library. Let others watch what you are doing without saying too much. Just do it. You’ll set an example that will help others feel more able to take your lead and try and support innovation themselves.
- Be a Mentor: As people in your library start to see you succeed in innovation and want to try their own hand at being innovative, help them in their efforts. Let them know what you have learned about being innovative and support them as they learn what does and doesn’t work. Make sure to help them understand that if the idea doesn’t go off as planned, and perhaps is a failure, that that’s OK.
It is never easy to go it alone and be the first to try new ideas. That&
Each year, YALSA sponsors preconference workshops and programs for the ALA Annual Conference. Through May 31, we’re seeking your proposals for a conference presentation at next year’s event in Chicago, June 27 to July 2. As you can see from our request for proposal, next year we are emphasizing creative conference proposals, highlighting best practices and innovations in five priority areas:
- Young Adult Literature/Readers’ Advisory
- Advocacy & Activism
- Programming & Outreach
- Research & Best Practices
- Teen Spaces (physical & virtual)
- Youth Participation
What innovations have you brought in these five areas? What inspiration have you found in our 30 Days series that could apply to them? YALSA is as creative and innovative as its members, which is to say very creative and highly innovative. So fill out our Annual 2013 request for proposal and tell your peers about everything you’ve accomplished at your library!
Etsy, as you might know, is a flourishing online marketplace for independent artists, designers, and antiquers to sell and trade their wares. There are thousands of items in a ton of categories, from zines to custom-made wedding gowns to homemade soap and vintage lunchboxes. It’s not all great–they don’t have a parody site, Regretsy (NSFW), for nothing–but there are some gems. Here are some items available on Etsy that might spruce up your teen section, serve as a great prize for a reading contest, or just suit your own librarian style. And what’s better? Start a conversation with your craftiest patrons about what they’d do with an Etsy storefront, or use your library Pinterest account to pin all of your favorite (or most laughable) Etsy products.
Librarians Dewey It Better badge:
There’s a little bit of pin-up girl in all of us. This patch by user BadgesbyQuake will let you shout that out to anyone who sees your…tote bag?
Okay, so this isn’t really for the library, but it’s such an adorable idea I couldn’t resist! This is an excellent theme idea by user lilmoptop for a fellow librarian’s baby shower or wedding–or, frankly, any occasion, because who isn’t always building their personal library?
Vintage Children’s Book Mobile:
If you’re looking to spruce up your children’s or teens’ section with something other than the latest READ poster, this mobile by user theshophouse, made up of intricately folded pages from a vintage book, seems like just the thing.
Art Doll Miniatures:
Gah! These handmade dolls by user UneekDollDesigns of famous historical figures and book characters are to die for! If you can spring for a few, you can set them out for themed months or put your own craft hat on and throw them in a diorama you make. With so many options, from Madeleine l’Engle to Walt Whitman, you’ll probably want to buy quite a few more than your wallet will let you.
More author goodness! With these handmade magnets by user TurtleDoves, plus maybe some magnetic paint if your director will let you redecorate your section, you can start a “fridge.” Next step: magnetic poetry slams.
Shakespeare and Company print:
Inspire your teens to drink coffee, wear black, and write poetry with this print of Paris’ famed bookstore by user robert
Though teen services are usually defined as serving patrons in the 12-18 age range, in practice, teen librarians serve a broader range of patrons than merely 12-18 year olds—from 10 year olds with mature tastes and reading abilities, to college students uninterested in transitioning to adult fiction, to grandparents pulled to teen books by the young adults in their lives and the quality of the materials.
In serving this broad age range with teen materials, I find that I need to have different cultural glasses at the ready during readers’ advisory. After all, the patron whose adolescent experience is being molded right now, page by page, is different from the patron who fondly recollects reading a particular book the summer when she first fell in love.
Here is some information we teen librarians can use during readers’ advisory to guide adults to new teen titles similar to those they loved in their adolescence.
Graduated 2000—Born 1982—Today 30 years old
- A “45″ is a gun, not a record with a large hole in the center.
- The year they were born, AIDS was found to have killed 164 people; finding a cure for the new disease was designated a “top priority” for government-sponsored research.
- They have never referred to Russia and China as “the Reds.”
- There has always been a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
- They feel more danger from having sex and being in school, than from possible nuclear war.
- They have always bought telephones, rather than rent them from AT&T.
- There have always been ATM machines.
- The year they were born, the New York Times announced that the “boom in video games,” a fad, had come to an end.
- They have never used a bottle of “White Out.”
- “Spam” and “cookies” are not necessarily foods.
Popular YA books in 2000†: Little separates the books on the children’s bestseller list from the books on the youth bestseller lists. All of the books on both of the lists fall into either the sci-fi or fantasy genres, and the Harry Potter phenomenon is at full steam. When romance is a part of these titles, it is not a primary selling point.
Suggestions for YA books today: For fantastic world-creation and mild or secondary romantic content, I would recommend Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, Michael Grant’s Gone series, the books of Scott Westerfeld, and “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater.
Graduated 2005—Born 1987—Today 25 years old
- Heart-lung transplants have always been possible.
- Pixar has always existed.
- Aretha Franklin has always been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- “Baby M” may be a classmate, and contracts with surrogate mothers have always been legal.
- Snowboarding has always been a popular winter pastime.
- They learned to count with Lotus 1-2-3.
- Car stereos have always rivaled home component systems.
- Voice mail has always been available.
- They may have fallen asleep playing with their Gameboys in the crib.
- They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.
Popular YA books
As I write this, I’m more or less barricaded by book carts at my desk. The culprit? A reorganization project in the literature section, started by my term three student intern. Term four began on Monday, which means if I want the project finished, I’m actually going to have to do some work myself. The goal of the project? To reorganize much of the 800s so that students can easily walk to the stacks and find both works by a particular author or poet and criticism on that same author or poet, all in the same place.
There’s been much debate on my state organization’s listserv about “neighborhood” shelving (sometimes also called “bookstore” organization) versus Dewey or Library of Congress. Staunch DDC and LOC defenders insist we must prepare teens for academic libraries and teach them how to use catalogs efficiently. Where’s the authority control in a neighborhood system? Who determines the genres? What about books that might arguably “belong” in more than one place? What happens to a new librarian who inherits inscrutable rules and neighborhoods?
And, more importantly, who cares?
When I was in college, my favorite professor used to recommend to his students that we search Amazon first when we were exploring topics. Do a search on Amazon first, he’d say, to find out what’s out there, then look for individual titles on the university’s library catalog. He insisted that Amazon was better at subject searching, and he was right. And not to brag or anything, but we’re talking about one of the most prestigious library systems in the world.
Much like wandering into a catalog that isn’t searching the way a user is thinking, walking into stacks that aren’t organized intuitively–no matter how much helpful the signage–can be extremely frustrating. I upgraded my automation system this year and I think the catalog is greatly improved–much more visual, easy to customize, an actual OPAC option rather than a strictly in-house catalog–but students still have to navigate to the catalog (which usually means logging into one of the library computers, a task sadly on par in length and excitement with watching paint dry).
And that’s not what they want to do.
They want to either walk right into the stacks and find what they’re looking for, or ask me “Where are the…?” and get a simple answer. Tsk, tsk! Bad, lazy students! Must learn boolean operators! Must be trained to search by author or subject! Must understand how cutters work to find a book on the shelf!
Why, when virtually every other search model–from Google to Netflix to the layout of most commercial stores–is designed to cater to the way a user wants to search (and even improve its own algorithms or methods to better answer user queries), do libraries keep insisting that users should learn our language? Why is our organization better than the one our teens imagine?
To be clear, I’m not going to stop doing catalog instruction, or teaching my students search strategies for everything from Google to our (often arcane) databases. I want them to be savvy searchers. My job is to help them be efficient and innovative information consumers. But I also want to teach them that what they want matters, that they shape the world around them by the way they interact with it, that companies and colleges and online services are all competing to understand them better.
So I’m going to work on my barricade of book carts, and keep adding green dots to the spines of science fiction and fantasy titles, and work on displays and signage that are better descriptors and signposts for the shelves beneath them. Because I want my students to know the library is their library, not just mine.
I work in an academic library. We find that the most effective way to encourage students to use the library is to go into their classroom and have bibliographic instruction. As we demonstrate how to access our library virtually from the classroom, we try to expand our students’ perception of the libraries. A library is not a physical brick and mortar building but a resource available all day long from anywhere. Although these sessions are certainly effective, we only go into the classrooms twice a semester. We are beginning to try new ideas to try to replicate the benefits of our classroom instruction to demonstrate that library and librarians are not contained within the walls of our building. To do this we are changing the idea of where and how reference assistance happens.
The reference desk is antiquated. We no longer sit with the student at the reference desk, looking at the computer together. Now we join our students at their desks and work with them. As the student works on a computer, I do a simultaneous or similar search using my iPhone. Students really love the idea that I can move around and show them how to do effective searching without being tied to a desk. When we both search different terms at the same time, we also work together to come up with the best search terms and strategies. (I would love to do this on an iPad/tablet, but I have not figured out a way to convince my boss to pay for it. Perhaps someone else will write a post on innovative ways to get projects funded!)
Taking the library to other parts of the campus or town. Academic libraries are trying this all the time by setting up mobile areas in the cafeteria, writing centers, coffee shops or campus centers to bring the library to the students. Sitting in the cafeteria with a computer, a librarian can still do the critical work of helping students access good information. Perhaps by seeing the librarian in different place, the students might conceive of the library as not just a place but a resource.
Staying connected to the library. I try to always carry a handheld device whenever I’m representing the library. Whether it is a community meeting, an academic affairs meeting, or any other outreach, I use my phone to access the library to show faculty and students how accessible our resources are.
How do you bring your services outside the library and meet your teens where they are?
Ever since I joined the school library world, I’ve been amazed at the ways in which seemingly similar professions (book publishers, booksellers, authors, English teachers, for example) know little about one another and maintain rather separate professional development lives.
In a past life, I occasionally attended the Association for Writers and Writing Programs annual conference (AWP). When I revisited this conference in my librarian role, I found stark differences. Where we celebrated new YA author panels, AWP had panels with authors defending their choice to publish in this area. Even vendors displayed a different side of themselves when surrounded by these literary academics. Then when I went to the Book Expo America (BEA) the following year I noticed that small publishing houses that had huge booths at AWP were hidden in remote aisles far from the glitz of larger houses. At ALA, a completely different view of topics, panels and vendors revealed themselves. The shifts intrigued me, and it got me to thinking…am I discovering all I can when sticking with my own profession’s resources?
Every month when VOYA, School Library Journal, YALS and Knowledge Quest come to my door, I eagerly scour their pages to discover new ideas and consider new areas of librarianship. But aside from ALA’s magazine, I rarely check in with those journals for Academic or Public librarians. Surely those could be of use to me too. While I’m at it, perhaps I should investigate professional journals for technology instructors, English teachers, college professors, salespersons. What new ideas and insights into trends and needs relevant to my teens am I missing by sticking with my librarian-focused texts?
Occasionally I’ve read issues of Publishers Weekly and the Chronicle of Higher Education, but it’s time to challenge all of us to read outside our professional box. Sure, we are librarians and need to read those journals in our specific fields, but for new ideas and successes to occur in our own fields, we need to look elsewhere too. We are in a field known for helping people find access to the resources they need to accomplish whatever their task may be. But we don’t always follow our own advice.
So ask yourself: Are you serving your own professional development with the same care and thoroughness you would provide another patron? If your answer is “Yes,” then tell us what non-teen library resources you turn to regularly so we can learn too. It’s time for all of us to add works from other professions into our professional development.
When I was growing up failure was not an option. It’s not that my parents told me that. It was just a general mindset in the world. People didn’t think that mistakes were something that promoted growth and learning. Trying something and not succeeding just wasn’t done. If someone or something failed it wasn’t talked about, or if it was, it was discussed in hushed tones as if something truly terrible had happened.
Today we are fortunate to live in a world in which mistakes and even failure are OK options. Failure is even looked at as a way to learn and to be able to take an idea or initiative and make it even better. This is a great opportunity for librarians working with teens. We want to accept that failure is OK and be willing to try something new with and for teens even if not sure that it will be 100% successful.
Why is this good?
Why is an acceptance of failure and mistakes something good? Consider when you get a new idea and are really excited about it. If you focus on making that idea perfect and not launching it until you are certain it will go off without a hitch, what happens? You might never get it to that perfect place. Or, it might take so long that by the time you are ready to launch it the idea might not be useful or of interest to teens anymore. But, if you are willing to try things out when in the formation and planning stages, with an acceptance that it might not work right away, then you can actually test out your ideas, get feedback from others, and get them into the community before they fade away, you get bored with them, or are simply out-of date.
This also means that you have to be willing to evaluate all of the work that you do and truly look at what worked and didn’t work with an eye to making change. If you try out a new program or service that you launched before it was perfect, do all that you can to figure out what the positives and negatives of that program are and change things. Don’t simply say, “Oh well, it didn’t work, we’ll move on to the next thing.” Maybe the idea was a good one but it just needed some tweaking to make it more successful. Then, do that tweaking and try again.
Failure in innovation also means you have to listen to what others have to say. Don’t take critiques of a new idea personally. Be honest about what you are thinking about doing, ask for feedback, and if something doesn’t work just as you hoped ask for ideas on how it could have gone better or been more successful. Don’t be embarrassed by what didn’t work. Be proud that you tried something new and were willing to take a chance. Show off your pride by talking about your failures and asking for advice.
I know that it can be hard to admit failures and mistakes and that it might seem like if you do that then administration and colleagues will look at you as unsuccessful in your work. There is no doubt that there is a challenge in balancing acknowledgement of failure with promoting your successes in order to demonstrate how you are helping teens to succeed and grow-up successfully. That means make sure that when you do have a success, talk that up too. Let people know that you and the teens had a great program, or that you were asked to present at a conference, or that a teen came and told you how much of a difference the library made in his or her life. Your work isn’t going to be only about failure.
Transform error into insight
What do the following tweets have in common?
Okay, they’re all tweets by me, obviously, but there’s something else: all three are tweets that were favorited by one of my students.
I’ve written before about teens at my school defying prevailing wisdom that teens don’t tweet, about my initial freakout when I discovered students were following me and my ultimate decision to keep tweeting publicly. Since then, things have really exploded: more than a quarter of my 546 followers are current or former students.
Now, I should mention that not all Twitter ventures in my school have been entirely successful. This fall, administrators decided to move daily announcements from their traditional morning reading over the intercom to social media. The school unveiled its official Facebook page and Twitter feed, and one of our assistant principals started condensing announcements into 140 character versions. We even enlisted student models with laptops and phones to produce a slick print marketing campaign.
And then the whole thing flopped.
At this point our AP still tweets, but the announcements are back on the intercom. Why? Students recoiled at the idea of an authority figure being able to read their tweets if they followed the official feed. (Which I still find a little odd, because they could easily set their profiles to private, and many students with public profiles still follow me and a handful of other teachers in the building.)
So why are my tweets more successful? I’m sure some of it has to do with my utter lack of authority–students don’t see me as someone who’s out to bust them for what they say. (I don’t think the administration is, either; they have better things to do than sift through Twitter feeds all day. But I also don’t follow students back, so I only see their tweets if they’re directly mentioning me with an @ reply.)
No doubt some of the appeal is that I do actively try to be funny. Turning something frustrating from my day into a joke helps me take control of the situation, and it’s better than stewing about it for hours. And when my students retweet or favorite a pithy remark about finding gross things hidden in the library or keyboards stripped of their keys, maybe their followers will think twice (or at least once) about making someone else clean up after them.
Ultimately, though, I’m most excited about Twitter as a tool to connect with my students when other methods fail. During standardized testing the library was closed for three days in a row, our bell schedule was disrupted and we couldn’t make any announcements over the intercom. So when a copy of Hunger Games was returned, at first I didn’t know how to get it to the student who was next in line. Ordinarily I have the main office page students during passing periods, but it was early in the morning and I wasn’t sure when we’d be able to make announcements again. So, on a lark, I tweeted the student, who I knew was following me, to let him know that I’d leave the book in the main office.
It seems that almost every library-related news article I read talks about the de-funding of libraries or how amazing it is the Library X is doing so much with so little. The 2011 State of America’s Libraries report from ALA and Library Journal’s 2012 Library Budget Survey confirm that budgets are still trending down. It can feel impossible to be innovative when you are barely able to cover costs for summer reading programs.
I don’t know about you, but occasionally I must force myself out of a pity party that generally starts with the thought, “If I had more money/time/help, I could do so much for my patrons.” In order to combat this leeching, downward spiral, here are some ideas to beat the blues and come up with your next innovative idea.
Take a walk, look at an art book, visit a library branch other than your own, connect with an old friend from library school, do anything that makes you feel reenergized about your work.
Write it Down
Make a list of all the things you would do if you had money/time/help, then decide what is really relevant for your community. This often helps me put things I want into perspective. Sure, I would love to have a huge Hunger Games program resulting in a canned food drive for food shelters in the area, but that really wouldn’t work at all for my transient, military-dependent teens. However, sometime writing it down helps me transform my too-big idea into one that is just right.
Change your View
Take stock of your teen space and see if it is still working for the people you serve. Are the stacks crowded? Is the art stale? Do you ever see an actual teen lounge on that beanbag chair? A little rearranging might be all that is needed to jumpstart your creativity.
As we learned in 30 Days of Innovation #7, true innovation often happens after a failure. Perhaps a little tweaking is all that is in order to make that past failure into a raging success.
Though it can be overwhelming to feel like you must constantly be innovative, I encourage you to find a balance that works for you and your patrons. I challenge you to shift your focus from what you don’t have to what you can create with what you do have.
As a part of redesigning the teen space at my library we were looking for a way to partition off some space without building an actual wall. We thought about moving bookshelves, we daydreamed about sound proof glass, but nothing seemed feasible. Until my director came up with an idea: what about movable partitions that you can hang things on? Where would they go? Wherever we wanted. We could reserve the right to change our minds whenever we liked. What would we hang on them? Colored paper? Teen programming information? We settled on sketchbooks, figuring that would make it easy for content to change.
At first patrons weren’t sure what to do with them, but after I got some of my regular teens to start drawing on them, they began to catch on. Later, I added a sign that says:
“Teens! Want to draw?
1. Grab a sketchbook
2. Draw a picture
3. Hang it back up
Need some art supplies? Borrow some at the Circulation Desk.
<3, your librarian, Erin”
After that the art really started to take off. Mostly manga style, often just in plain pencil, but sometimes in bright colors, the teens have been making these blank pages their own. Now almost every day I come in to find new art.
The Art Wall, as we’ve come to call it, is part passive program, part art installation, part wall, and always eye-catching. Seeing art from their peers and being invited to contribute their own really draws teens in and helps them to feel a sense of ownership of their space.
You don’t need a whole wall to incorporate teen art into your space. Start small by displaying some pieces from teens you know. Create a gallery on a window, or as part of a book display or teen info bulletin board. Leave a communal sketchbook on a table, prop one up on an easel, or find a creative way to hang one where teens will see it. None of your regulars like to draw? No problem. Invite them to display a poem, or make a collage. Having teen participate in the decor of their space is the important bit–the particulars are up to you.
Imagine this: You work in a library in which anything goes. Money is no object. Space is no object. Staffing is no object. Going out into the community is no object. And so on. If you worked in that library what would your wildest and craziest ideas for serving teens be?
- Have libraries all over the community but not in a traditional library facility? For example, a library in the pizza place where teens go every day after school and every weekend? A library in the clothing store where teens go to see the latest fashions? A library in the park where teens hang out?
- Make sure that every teen in the community – no matter what their book reading preference – was a library user in some way?
- Give every teen a tablet of some kind with free Internet access so they could download books and apps, play games, do homework, talk with friends, participate in social media from everywhere anytime?
- Create a large wide-open physical library space for teens where they could collaborate on projects, hangout with friends, eat and have pizza delivered, watch movies, play games, and read and do homework?
- Have the most up-to-date technology possible available to every teen in the community without filters of any kind?
- Go to every meeting of community groups that have some connection to teens and/or education and become highly involved in all those that you might collaborate with?
- Regularly speak to elected officials and community members about youth development, developmental assets, and the ways in which the library helps teens to achieve these?
- Have the physical library teen space, no matter where it is, open 24/7 so that teens can have the access they need to resources, experts, etc. at any time of day, or night?
- Be able to make changes to library programs and services on a nimble and flexible basis? No waiting for making sure something is perfect before it launches. No waiting to get approvals. Beta testing of projects is the norm.
- Make sure that every library staff member and member of the community always gives teens the respect they deserve?
In order to be innovative it’s important to think about the wildest and craziest possibilities so to get to what has true potential. I think that sometimes in libraries we get so caught up in the day-to-day that we forget to simply go crazy and think about what we would really like to see happen in order to give teens excellent service. Sure, there might be barriers. But who cares when you are being purposely crazy as a brainstorming technique? Maybe when you are thinking outside of the box you’ll all of a sudden have an epiphany and realize that something you think is impossible is possible–you just have to tweak the concept a little bit. Or, maybe if you talk to others about your crazy ideas someone might say, “You know what, that’s not so crazy really. We could do that if we just…..”
So, go crazy. In the comments section of this post take a minute to write what are your wildest and craziest ideas in order to provide really great service to teens in the 21st century. Or, if you’ve had a crazy idea and thought it would never fly, but did, write that too. If you read someone’s crazy idea and think of a way to make it work, post that. Lets all go crazy together and innovate for library teen services at the same time.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user David Dennis Photos.com
Have you looked at your library’s mobile website lately? Is it a little clunky but mostly functional, like mine? Is it just a squishy version of your full site? Does it work on all mobile platforms?
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not thrilled with the mobile version of my site, but then again I’m not thrilled with the full version of my site–it’s just a WordPress blog that I keep tweaking to suit my needs. It’s a huge step up from the site I inherited when I started here, though, which was really just a collection of links on a school website that looked like it was stuck in a mid-nineties time loop (as so many educational sites, unfortunately, do; ours has thankfully gotten a facelift since then).
I don’t have much control over my mobile site right now because I don’t host my own site or do much of my own coding–I use a WordPress template, although I do a lot with widgets and pages–but I do take a look at our site on my phone from time to time to see if WordPress has made any changes to the mobile version, and make sure mobile visitors still have access to the features they need. And what do they need?
I think a lot of librarians worry about mobile sites that don’t include all the features of their full website, but mobile users aren’t always looking for the same functionality that they want when viewing a site on a larger tablet, laptop or desktop. (Just look at apps for websites like Yelp! or IMDB.) This is where it’s important to know what your teens need when they’re trying to view your website from mobile devices. Do they want to browse your catalog? Do they need access to your databases? Are they looking for a calendar of programs and events, or do they just want to know how late the library is open on Thursdays?
One shortcoming of my mobile site right now is that it doesn’t include the sidebar, where a link to the OPAC ordinarily lives. Atriuum just launched a pretty great new mobile version of the catalog (although the Scan Item option at the bottom dead-ends to an error page right now–and I had such high hopes for inventory!), but it doesn’t do my teens any good if they can’t find it from the library homepage.
Take a look at your library’s mobile version. Can you search for books? What about e-books? Can you make requests or write reviews? Can you access a database? Could you find hours of operation or contact information for the library? Does the color scheme singe your eyeballs?
If you have a mobile site that you really love, leave us the link in comments!
Last week as a part of the YALSAblog innovation series I posted about failure and how being ready and open to failing is a key ingredient in innovation. Once that post was published, in the comments, and via email and Twitter, I had lots of conversations with colleagues and friends about how one might be open to failure for themselves in the workplace, but if they didn’t feel supported in the possibility of failing in the profession or their work institution, then moving forward with failure as an option was pretty impossible. People I communicated with were particularly concerned about the tone of online discussions over the past couple of weeks. This tone makes those I talked with hesitant about presenting their innovative ideas. Who wants to open themselves up to failure when the profession (and colleagues) is going to call them out on it publicly, and sometimes in not the most supportive manner?
These conversations I had over the last week got me thinking more about how as a profession we need to breed a culture in which innovation can take place and where people feel safe in making mistakes and even in failing. I often talk with librarians about making teens feel safe in the library environment. And by safe I don’t mean safe from violence, I mean safe from bullies and from behaviors that center around putting one person down in order to make someone else feel better about themselves. In libraries in order for innovation to happen we need to make sure that staff feel safe from bullies, embarrassment, and plain old negativity. These are some ideas I have for making that happen:
- If someone comes to you with a new idea or a revision of an old idea, don’t simply say, “That will never work” or “We’ve tried that before and it won’t work.” Talk about the idea, why the person coming to you with it wants to try it, and what the barriers and challenges to success might be. Have an open-mind and realize that something that you don’t think will work can be successful under the tutelage of someone else.
- Don’t take things personally. If someone comes up with a new idea that changes something that you’ve been working on don’t feel like you have been hurt or that you’ve done something wrong. If the idea is a good one take yourself out of it and help to create something great for teens using what someone else came up with.
- Don’t be jealous. In every profession I’ve seen that people with new ideas are often held back because of a fear that the new innovative idea will make someone else look bad. Instead of worrying about how you look (or that people won’t even notice you) focus on how the new idea might actually make the lives of teens in the community better.
- Spend time each day or week or month talking with colleagues about innovative ideas. Perhaps at your library you can have a monthly crazy new ideas day in which whatever anyone says, no matter how out of the box, is taken as an opportunity to improve service. This can help people to get their creative juices going and regularly come up with innovative ideas-some of which might work and some which might not.
- Be careful about your use of social media. Remember that what you post about an idea being discussed in your own library, or that has been implemented by someone else’s library, was at one point a new idea. Perhaps that idea will work in unexpected positive ways, perhaps it will prove to be a failure. Social media isn’t the place to discourage someone from their new idea. If you want to write about something innovative that you don’t agree with try to keep it from getting perso
We are creative people, we do a lot of creative things in our work, and we are subject to the kinds of fear and burnout that can come with being creative. How do you fight burnout? Take inspiration wherever you can get it.
I find a lot of inspiration in other people acknowledging the struggles and triumphs of creativity. One person who inspires me is Ze Frank, who I believe I once referred to as the father of modern video blogging. He had a successful Internet show, The Show with Ze Frank in 2006 and he is now, with the help of Kickstarter, returning to the Internet to start up a new show.
Ze says if you have an idea, you should just do it. Don’t worry about the skills or resources you might lack, just go for it. Because if you wait too long to get your idea out into the world, it becomes brain crack, an obsession with the perfect version of the idea that just gets more and more impossible to achieve. So fight brain crack, take the leap, put your ideas in motion, and don’t be afraid to fail.
His latest video, an Invocation for Beginnings is about just that.
Disclaimer: There is a bit of swearing in this video. (As there is often a bit of swearing in the creative process). I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily NSFW, but I also wouldn’t watch this on a public desk with the volume all the way up.
So often I’ll hear my colleagues say something to the affect that YALSA put out information such as programming ideas for Teen Read Week or Teen Tech Week that we should consult to see how it might work at our own library. While they’re absolutely right, and that’s the point of YALSA putting out information (so that it’ll be used by other libraries) in the first place. But sometimes I think they forget that they’re YALSA too (as members) and can share their own ideas and thoughts with each other as well.
I’m using YALSA as one example of an organization that is innovative. It could be your own library that maybe you feel you need to have a title other than what you do to be able to have an idea recognized as innovative.
Chances are most people work their way through several positions whether it’s through the library or YALSA, getting to know people and sharing ideas along the way. You don’t need the title of Librarian or Manager or whatever it might be to be heard.
Maybe you’re not invited to all the meetings where it could move your idea faster, but there’s usually more than one way to share information or contribute to an organization. Like YALSA, everything from posting on this blog to writing an article for YALS, being a committee member or chair, posting programming ideas on the wiki are just some of the ways to contribute. At my library, one of the ways tasks are organized for Teen Services across the system is through various people taking leadership roles to help organize and run the event. This structure can help put innovation to use through rotating responsibilities and giving everyone a chance at seeing something grow and make an impact.
While being a leader isn’t the same as being innovative, there are some books on the topic of how anyone can make a positive difference: You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference by Sanborn (2006) or The Titleless Leader: How to Get Things Done When You’re Not in Charge by Russell (2012).
Because of my job I get to travel around to conferences and meetings and talk with librarians all over the place. Wherever I am I spend a lot of time discussing advocacy and the importance of helping members of a community understand the value of teen services. We frequently talk about the image that people have of librarians and how that image is often not based in reality. We also discuss how hard it is to change how people see librarians and libraries.
During these trips and in these conversations, it often feels a bit strange because I’ll be talking to someone about library and librarian image and that person will be wearing a book t-shirt with a cute saying, or book earrings or necklace (or both), or a book themed-watch, or….. you get the idea. I don’t believe I can say during these conversations, “Have you ever thought about the image you portray by wearing book related clothing and accessories?” Even though I really really really want to.
I know it’s fun to have these pieces of clothing and accessories. Sure, it’s entertaining to see them at conferences. But in the outside world when we are working with community members and need to be seen as professionals who are knowledgable about teens, the world they live in, and the way to help connect them to an array of “stuff” (from people to materials to each other to librarians), the book-themed clothing and accessories just has to go. I’d say when at work, whether hanging out with teens or at a meeting with the town council, even wearing just one piece of jewelry that has a book theme is not going to help you gain the respect you deserve.
Think about it: if we want people of all ages in the community to stop thinking of libraries as a place just for physical materials, then we have to stop promoting the library that way. If we want community members to see librarians as well-educated in all things teen and as people who have a strong understanding of education, youth development, and so on, then we have to stop dressing up in book-wear. Cute, book-related attire is not the way to get the message across, to anyone and everyone, that the library is a place that supports teens in their acquisition of skills of all kinds and is a strong and important educational link in the community
For those who know me and are asking, “Would she say the same thing about cute technology-based clothing and jewelry?” the answer is “Yes, I would.” Anything that focuses on one aspect of what a library staff member is passionate about, whether it be a social media t-shirt or a book necklace is a bad idea. Just think about who that clothing or accessory connects to in the community. It likely only connects to one portion of who you serve – teens or adults. If wearing book-themed attire is common in your library, what does that say to teens who are not book focused?
Making sure that community members take libraries and librarians seriously is a key aspect of the job of all library staff members. It requires being able to talk about what teens get out of what we do for and with them. It requires an understanding of youth development, education, literacy, and more. It requires holding back on tendencies to show your passion through clothing and accessories. It requires knowing what not to wear.
Innovation in the clothing of those working with teens doesn’t mean dressing like a teen and it doesn’t mean wearing cute theme-based pieces. Instead, it means getting outside of the library and book box in your dress and thinking about how you present the value of teen services to community members through your wardrobe. It may seem crazy to call this innovative, but if you’ve seen as many library-themed outfits as I have you know that it certainly is. Take the plunge and be professionally innovative in your wardrobe. It will be good for you, and for the teens that you serve.