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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Teen Services, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Using Technology to Help At-Risk Teens

Public libraries are, as ALA President Courtney Young said in a July 2014 Comcast Newsmaker interview, “digital learning centers.”  We are able to provide access to computers, wireless capabilities, and also a space to learn. Access to technology becomes even more important to our “at-risk” teens; the library becomes a safe spot to use these resources. The question becomes how do we help them use this technology and learn from it? Earlier this month, the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) published a report titled “Using Technology to Support At-Risk Students’ Learning.” This brief defines “at-risk” students as high schoolers with personal and academic factors that would could cause them to fail classes or drop out of school all together. They give three variables for success, real-life examples to why these variables work, and then recommend policies to help achieve these variables. While the article was geared towards schools, these variables are important to keep in mind as we work with the teens in our libraries.

When learning new digital skills, youth must be engaged in interactive projects, must do more discovery and creation than the standard “drill and kill,” and must have a blend of both teacher and technology (6). These variables are part of the larger, digital learning ecosystem which places the learner at the center. This ecosystem relies on the constant bi-directional dialogue as the learner engages with learning outcomes, technology, and the context of the situation (which includes the activity, the goals of the activity, and the community the learning is taking place in). As we use technology and support our teens, we should be in constant reflection mode, altering our future programs to best fit the needs of our teens. Feedback we receive can help us discover what we are doing well and what needs to still be worked on. How we shape our digital literacy programs are up to us; we know our community of teens better than anyone else in the library. If we highlight and support their interests, they are most likely to be engaged with the program and more likely to return the library and use our resources.

These variables overlap and are more powerful when used together. The authors cite that interactive learning allows “students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations” (7). As the teen engage, they are likely to discuss their findings with the people around them, which in turn strengthens both the learning and the existing community. As we work with our teens, we should push for creation versus just going through the steps, because this form of interactive learning this strengthens retention of skills and again, creates conversation. As we implement this programming, we can also be resources and a support team for our teens. It is important to stress that we don’t have to be the experts, and there might be times where we are all learning together. The moments of collective learning enhances our community and creates shared memories the teens won’t forget. Looking at the big picture, by keeping these variables in mind, we can empower our teens through access to technology they might not have regular access to.

To me, these variables seem obvious and are important to keep in mind as we think about creating programming that target digital literacy skills. This might also be because of the assistantship I am a part of at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. Our nine month grant from the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity focuses on eliminating the digital divide across the Urbana-Champaign community. I am working with two after-school programs and am developing curriculum to support digital literacy. As we think about this article and our own libraries, this can be our framing question: How can we support teens’ digital literacy with the resources our library has? These variables also push us to provide more than just access to our teens. While access is important, this article reminds us that thoughtful programming can engage our teens, help them become a stronger part of our library community, and grow as an informed global citizen. We can help them create content they can share with the world and empower them to use technology as a tool to better themselves. Over the following months, I’ll be creating digital literacy programs and will be keeping these variables from the SCOPE article in mind. I cannot wait to share my discoveries with you and hope some of what I learn and create can be used with the teens you serve.

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2. Learning from Teens: Thoughts for Teen Read Week

Teen Read Week is coming up October 12-18, and libraries are encouraged to use the theme “Turn Dreams into Reality” to share our knowledge, resources, services, and collections with teens in an effort to promote reading for fun. As professionals working with teens in the library, each of us curates our own personal collection—in folder and binders, dog-eared books and browser bookmarks, or just in our haphazardly cataloged heads—of resources that guide us in promoting reading. Yet as we inform our patrons about the epic books in our collection, the multiple formats in which they can check out our materials, and the research on the college success of avid readers, let’s not forget that some of our greatest resources are the very subjects of our resource-sharing: the teens themselves.

It’s an easy thing to forget since, as library professionals, we like to think of ourselves as the experts. In many things, we are. And in some, we aren’t. You know that book that won dozens of awards but you just can’t get any teens to pick up? How about the poorly-written piece of fluff that they can’t get enough of? In the end, we can only guess at what will go over well. Each person has his or her own individual taste, but more often than not, teens’ tastes will be more similar to one another’s than adults’ tastes will be to teens’.

Our goal during Teen Read Week is to promote reading for pleasure, and the only way to do that is to help connect teens with books they like. There may be a time and place for encouraging teens to read “healthier” books than the ones they want—that’s up for debate. But this week isn’t that time. If we want teens to learn that reading is fun, we need to think like teens. And while we can’t entirely re-wire our brains (and probably wouldn’t want to, having been through that angsty stage of life once already), many of us are lucky enough to spend enough time around teens that we have easy access to two simple techniques: observe and ask.

Most library staff are good at observing. Circulation stats are great for long-term trends. For the short-term, pay attention to reference questions and keep an eye on the “Just Returned” shelves. Displays and handouts can be useful, too. I once put up a “Take a Book, Leave a Book” display in which teens were encouraged to check out a book off the shelf and replace it with one of their favorite titles from the collection for someone else to discover. Or, leave some genre booklists near your YA stacks, and observe which go out the quickest.take a book 2

Asking is perhaps a less commonly used tool. Asking a teen what books she likes may seem less efficient than checking stats, but its impact is great in a different way. When we make a habit of asking teens their opinions, we show that their library is their own, and exists to meet their needs. We acknowledge that we, the “book experts,” respect and want to learn from their expertise. We begin a conversation that builds relationships, which lead to trust and a sense of community that allow us to better encourage the teens’ love of reading and the library. With further questioning, we can learn why a teen likes what she likes, and can use that knowledge to gain a deeper knowledge of teens’ reading preferences which will allow us to serve them better in a wider variety of situations. By encouraging them to talk about books, we help the teens learn to summarize and distill the core meaning or experience of a story. They practice explanatory and persuasive skills in telling us why the book was good.

Identify the best opportunities for conversing with teens about books in your job. For me, one opportunity is when walking from the Youth reference desk to the Teen Lounge to help a patron locate a title. Readers’ Advisory interactions are naturally a time to learn about someone’s reading tastes, especially if you ask why the patron enjoyed a certain title rather than coming up with readalikes based on your own criteria. Making a comment like “That’s a great book” or “That’s a very popular book” can sometimes spark a conversation. (Remember, you don’t always have to like the book. Saying something is popular or that you’ve talked to other teens who liked it is a great way to say something positive while getting around expressing your own opinion.)

If you are a collection developer, asking knowledgeable teens for their input on the collection encourages them to feel that they can make a difference in the library. When a teen asks me for manga suggestions, after helping him out I might say, “I am actually the person who decides which manga we buy for the library. Are there any we don’t have that you think we should?” I might ask the same question to someone I see reading manga in the Teen Lounge, if she seems willing and I get a good opening (I wouldn’t want to interrupt someone’s reading, of course). Most libraries have a suggestion process, but patrons might not know about it or might not take the initiative to use it, whereas they’d be happy to take a minute or two to respond to a direct question.

Keep in mind that some teens won’t want to talk, and if they don’t, don’t push it. The goal is to help them interact positively with books and the library, and if talking to library staff is not positive for the patron, then you are subverting your own goal.

We can learn a lot from professional literature, degree programs, conferences, and fellow library staff, but you can only learn about the unique characteristics of your own community by engaging with its members, and you can only learn what it is like to be a teen by talking to teens. Teens are often looking for opportunities to be seen as adults rather than children, and will appreciate your interest in their opinions. Meanwhile, you will be building a program that is truly centered on those you serve.

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3. Preparing students for Life After High School.

Free Events for Life After High SchoolFor me, my focus on helping teens transition from high school to adulthood began during the recession. I was working the help desk and there was a customer who was trying to complete the FAFSA on a paid website. I redirected them to FAFSA.ed.gov, but a few days later there was another customer who was doing a similar thing, only they had paid $80 for someone to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

It may be the beginning of the school year, but one of my focuses this year is partnering with other organizations to ensure that accurate information gets to students and recent grads about college and alternatives to college.

We’ve divided our focus in two parts. In the fall we focus on promoting the services the library offers to prospective college students, while hosting SAT/ACT Practice Tests, and Finding $ for College Nights at the library.

I’ve found that most parents and students aren’t even aware that the public library often has study guides, scholarship listings, and college ranking guides that they can use to help decide where they want to go to school. We worked with Sylvan, Princeton Review, and Kaplan who host the Practice Tests and other information sessions. Library staff handout a targeted flyer to students who show up for the events that promotes our collections and e-sources related to college.

For our Findfafsa[1]ing $ for College programs we started with resources from the Department of Education. They offer a Financial Aid Toolkit and training for anyone who works with students and wants to share accurate information about paying for college. We created a library program that highlights FAFSA and scholarships, and explains the various ways to pay for a college education. We partner with local community colleges, who send a Financial Aid Advisor to answer parents specific questions. It has been very successful.

Last year we made a decision that as a public library we wanted to also emphasize that there are other valuable career choices if college isn’t the right fit for you. This past spring we worked with Labor & Industries to highlight apprenticeship programs available in the community, and invited members of these fields to talk to students about these career paths.

While we can only offer limited workshops to help recent grads with important skills like interviewing, resume writing, and professional appearance, we have partnered with a local organization that focuses on helping 16-24 year olds with their first job. We are also working on creating a targeted flyer that highlights the library’s print and electronic resources that help recent graduates make the transition. Recently I requested Soft Skills for Workplace Success from the Department of Labor, in hopes we might be able to create a successful program for this spring.

YngAdultcover art CD approved 3-2008Lastly we have worked with credit unions and banks to offer financial literacy programs. Buying Your First Car has been a huge success, while Credit 101 has also been beneficial in our community. These programs are offered for free. Some branches have also used the free resources available from the Department of Treasury to help teens learn about being smart with their money.

Working with our Adult Services team has been invaluable as we develop and promote these programs. We also work with local schools to support their programs while filling in topics they aren’t able to teach their students.

What I’ve learned is that there are several free resources in our community and through various federal government programs. Working together as a team has made these programs easy to organize. They promote library services, while also supporting our communities. Initially our goal was to help teens see that the library has more to offer students than just databases that help them complete their research assignments for school. Now the library is a valuable link to help teens transition into adulthood, giving them information to make informed citizens and be better members of the local community.

I encourage you to see what resources are available near you and create partnerships with other departments in your library, local schools, and other organizations in your community.

My favorite part about all these programs has been going to fairs telling young adults about all the services we offer and seeing them get excited about basic things like checking out DVDs, Music CDs, and Books to entertain themselves while also getting support to gain independence and their first job.

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4. Preparing students for Life After High School.

Free Events for Life After High SchoolFor me, my focus on helping teens transition from high school to adulthood began during the recession. I was working the help desk and there was a customer who was trying to complete the FAFSA on a paid website. I redirected them to FAFSA.ed.gov, but a few days later there was another customer who was doing a similar thing, only they had paid $80 for someone to fill out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

It may be the beginning of the school year, but one of my focuses this year is partnering with other organizations to ensure that accurate information gets to students and recent grads about college and alternatives to college.

We’ve divided our focus in two parts. In the fall we focus on promoting the services the library offers to prospective college students, while hosting SAT/ACT Practice Tests, and Finding $ for College Nights at the library.

I’ve found that most parents and students aren’t even aware that the public library often has study guides, scholarship listings, and college ranking guides that they can use to help decide where they want to go to school. We worked with Sylvan, Princeton Review, and Kaplan who host the Practice Tests and other information sessions. Library staff handout a targeted flyer to students who show up for the events that promotes our collections and e-sources related to college.

For our Findfafsa[1]ing $ for College programs we started with resources from the Department of Education. They offer a Financial Aid Toolkit and training for anyone who works with students and wants to share accurate information about paying for college. We created a library program that highlights FAFSA and scholarships, and explains the various ways to pay for a college education. We partner with local community colleges, who send a Financial Aid Advisor to answer parents specific questions. It has been very successful.

Last year we made a decision that as a public library we wanted to also emphasize that there are other valuable career choices if college isn’t the right fit for you. This past spring we worked with Labor & Industries to highlight apprenticeship programs available in the community, and invited members of these fields to talk to students about these career paths.

While we can only offer limited workshops to help recent grads with important skills like interviewing, resume writing, and professional appearance, we have partnered with a local organization that focuses on helping 16-24 year olds with their first job. We are also working on creating a targeted flyer that highlights the library’s print and electronic resources that help recent graduates make the transition. Recently I requested Soft Skills for Workplace Success from the Department of Labor, in hopes we might be able to create a successful program for this spring.

YngAdultcover art CD approved 3-2008Lastly we have worked with credit unions and banks to offer financial literacy programs. Buying Your First Car has been a huge success, while Credit 101 has also been beneficial in our community. These programs are offered for free. Some branches have also used the free resources available from the Department of Treasury to help teens learn about being smart with their money.

Working with our Adult Services team has been invaluable as we develop and promote these programs. We also work with local schools to support their programs while filling in topics they aren’t able to teach their students.

What I’ve learned is that there are several free resources in our community and through various federal government programs. Working together as a team has made these programs easy to organize. They promote library services, while also supporting our communities. Initially our goal was to help teens see that the library has more to offer students than just databases that help them complete their research assignments for school. Now the library is a valuable link to help teens transition into adulthood, giving them information to make informed citizens and be better members of the local community.

I encourage you to see what resources are available near you and create partnerships with other departments in your library, local schools, and other organizations in your community.

My favorite part about all these programs has been going to fairs telling young adults about all the services we offer and seeing them get excited about basic things like checking out DVDs, Music CDs, and Books to entertain themselves while also getting support to gain independence and their first job.

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5. So You Want to Start a TAB?

At the library I have had a hard time connecting with teens because Youth Services is downstairs, but the YA section is upstairs. My office is located downstairs, where I spend much of my time. To combat this, I have placed a whiteboard/paper pad easel in the area where their books are. This seemed to help. When I asked what they wanted from the library, they said “Water Balloon Fight”. That totally happened as a BYOB (Bring Your Own Balloons). Providing sponges was cheaper and easier to clean up.

Another way to better connect with the teens is by starting a TAB. With our first meeting a success, I think I have made an impact on the teens.

Following basic guidelines for starting a TAB, I was sure to include key phrases when presenting this option. “Meeting with snacks” worked like a charm. Teens are always hungry. I’ve had a few come to my office bragging about how much they can eat. One teen boy says he can eat a whole pizza. Challenge accepted! A total of six teens met for the first meeting. With the promise of pizza next month, I’m sure more will make their way over to the library.

My library is renovating the entire Youth Services area (not including the YA area on the upper level). The area will include a kitchen! The TAB is excited to learn that we will be able to make food when it opens in October. They were more than willing to provide food ideas to the agenda. Some suggested pizza (of course), sushi, and cheesecake (I’ll have to find a quick bake recipe for that one).

Additionally, I’ve requested that the teens be able to volunteer 10 hours per month as a TAB member. This should help with implementing prep for programming, especially in regards to the kitchen. In the agenda, I included a “new ideas” section. One of the new TAB members is interested in teaching Cantonese at our library!! Bonus for her since it counts as volunteer hours.

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6. When 3rd Place is Good. Empowering Students in the Library.

One reason I love my high school  library job is that I don’t have to tell people what to do all day.  Sure, I’m always checking passes, giving instructions and directions, or pointing the way to obtain the desired outcome.  But, when a teen walks through the doors of our school library the decision about what to do next is totally up to them.  It is so unlike walking into a classroom where the next 90 minutes are highly structured and choices are circumscribed.  The ability to provide an intellectually stimulating environment where teens get to make the choice of what to do next is empowering for our young people and deserves to be protected.

The high school library is one of the few places where students are given decision-making power.  Sure, it is the decision-making power over their own actions, but, that is where empowerment starts.  When they walk through that library door, decisions await.  Where to sit, computer or table?  Do they need to work, or socialize a bit?  Should they listen to music while they work independently, or work with a group of classmates? Do they want to work with a group of our coders on the 3D printer or lounge in a comfy chair and read a magazine?  Perhaps they stayed up late studying last night and just need to take a nap. The library is one of the few places on the high school campus where students can be self-directed.

The library is the third place for our teens.  Described by Ray Oldenburg as neither work (classroom) or home the third place is where community building and a sense of place are fostered and nourished.  I say it is also a place where youth empowerment occurs.  In our library, where teens have choices and can create their own culture we have helped to foster this third place.  It is the place where the 3C’s of the 21st Century learning paradigm come together: communication, collaboration and creativity.

In a time when school and district administrators, as well as city government, want to defund  libraries, eliminate staff and cut hours it is time for librarians to show that keeping libraries open and accessible is valuable. Just because many of our students research online and are collections are more digital than ever, school libraries remain that third place where students can become creators rather than just consumers.  School libraries and teen libraries are that place where kids can meet, create, and communicate.  In fact, it is one of the few places left for students to be able to do this and we owe it to them to keep our libraries open and staffed.


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7. Little Space, Big Potential: Teen Services in a Rural Library

Belgrade Community Library Teen Zone

Belgrade Community Library Teen Zone

In 2005, my community constructed a much needed 5,500 square foot library addition. The floor plan included space for materials, a community room, and storage, but it lacked something very important–an area for teens. Young adults browsed the collection, checked out items, then zipped right out the front door. As we turned our attention to youth programming, we realized the room was not helping our efforts. We wanted to encourage teens to linger, to come to the library because it was a safe, comfortable place. It was time for a Teen Zone.

With very little money and very little floor space, the library created a comfortable area that is frequently used by local middle and high school students to read, socialize, study, play computer games and craft. Here is how we did it:

      • Paint - Even with limited space, you can create a defined area using paint. Belgrade teens voted on a color for the Teen Zone, and the shade “legendary blue” (aquamarine) won by a landslide. We complimented the vibrant color with a gray accent wall and black chalk board paint. By letting the teens pick the primary color, the library created a striking, teen-friendly look. If you are worried about ending up with florescent green, I recommend picking three or four shades everyone can live with before opening up the vote.
      • Shelf placement – Originally, the teen shelves were placed back to back in one long row parallel to a wall of windows. Simply reorienting the shelves freed up a ton of room, allowed more natural light, and eliminated a hidden nook. Moving shelves is tedious, but you can make sure everything fits by tracing plans with masking tape on the floor before actually shifting.
      • Furniture – Comfy chairs can become the most expensive part of the project if you are not careful.  We searched the clearance list for durable, mobile furniture, and came up with modern looking wedges that match the feel of our space. The furniture is simple to clean, stack, and move around.  Mobility has been the most important feature. Because the space is small, we occasionally host activities like Wii and DIY tech projects in a different space. The wedges come with us.
Shelf labels

Shelf labels made with public domain comic books.

  • Art – Windows cover an entire wall in our teen area so hanging space is limited. We decided to focus on recrafting our directional signs to add more color and visual interest. Using public domain comic books, I created colorful, visually appealing shelf labels. They are easy to read and are fun to look at. For more temporary displays, we installed a cork board. We also invested in a metal Teen Zone sign to pull the whole area together.
  • And an unanticipated feature…floor coverings – Several months after creating the space, we purchased interlocking foam tiles in compatible colors and arranged them in a checker board pattern on the floor. Like many other libraries, we are exploring DIY and maker programs, and with hands-on discovery comes a bit of a mess. The tiles protect the carpet and minimize anxieties regarding spilled paint and sticky substances. They are also durable because they are made to go under exercise equipment.

For more ideas on how to create an effective teen space, take a look at YALSA’s Teen Space Guidelines. You don’t need a large budget to make many of the suggestions a reality.

Do you live in a rural area and have a teen zone? Did you create a teen space on a shoestring budget? Tell us about your space in the comments!

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8. Adventures in Korea

As I was sitting in the Philadelphia airport, waiting to fly home from Midwinter 2014, I checked my email to find something rather startling: an invitation to be the keynote speaker at a symposium on library services for children and teens sponsored by the National Library for Children and Young Adults (NLCY) in South Korea. According to the email, my book Young Adults Deserve the Best: YALSA’s Competencies in Action had been translated into Korean and distributed to libraries in Korea, and they wanted me to come to the symposium and share my “experience and expertise in youth library services”—all expenses paid! 10447068_10152495783799670_9027395117503616108_n (2)

The 8th International Symposium on Library Services for Children and Young Adults was held on June 19-20, in Byeonsan, South Korea. I left San Francisco on Monday morning, June 16, and arrived at Incheon Airport, near Seoul, on Tuesday afternoon, June 17, after a 12-hour flight and a 16-hour time difference. At Incheon, I was greeted by my hosts and we met up with two of the other international speakers, Carolynn Rankin from England and Wiebke Dalhoff from Germany, whose flights were arriving at about the same time. Later that day, we met the other international guests: Kate McDowell, from the University of Illinois iSchool; Sazali Pakpong and Huey Bin Heng, from Singapore; and Inci Önal, from Turkey. IMG_6498

For the first two days, we stayed in Seoul, where we visited the National Library of Korea as well as the National Library for Children and Young Adults. These libraries indicate that South Korea is deeply invested both in preserving the country’s cultural heritage and in using the most modern techniques possible to do so. Their digital library was quite impressive. The NLCY contained a wonderful display of artifacts from Korean children’s authors.2014-06-18 14.12.54

In addition to the tours, I had the opportunity to meet two print journalists, who interviewed me for the Segye Times and the Seoul Economic Daily. I was amused to find that Korean journalists had the same concerns American journalists: they wanted me to talk about whether smartphones were causing teens to read less! While in Seoul, we also had the opportunity to have some tourist experiences, including visiting the Gyeonbokgung Palace and Insadong, a market street. Plus we had some wonderful Korean food! Then we moved to Byeonsan, a three-hour drive south, to the seaside resort complex where the actual symposium was held. Each year, the Symposium is held in a different part of the country, to encourage local participation. The Symposium’s theme was “Reading Towards a Broader World.” In addition to the international speakers, all of whom presented in English, several Korean librarians presented sessions. Simultaneous translation was provided in both English and Korean. Topics included:

  • A program to train grandmothers to read to children
  • An historical overview of picture books
  • A program for providing books to “alienated” teens
  • An early literacy program in England
  • A program to provide literacy and literature apps on iPads for children in an underserved neighborhood
  • An online community of children and young adults in Singapore
  • Cooperative programs for reading development in Germany

2014-07-10 09.46.57 About 250 librarians attended the Symposium. For my keynote speech, I talked about YALSA’s Competencies for Librarians Serving Youth, but I focused on the first competency area, Leadership and Professionalism. In particular, I described the ways in which young adult librarians need to understand the needs of their managers in order to effect real change. Those of you who follow this blog will recognize that I took a similar approach last year in the series of posts I wrote on What Your Manager Wishes You Knew. In addition to the keynote, I was asked to prepare a session speech on one of the areas covered by the symposium’s theme. I chose the topic “Engaging Young Adults in Reading” and took the opportunity to highlight some successful reading programs for teens. For this presentation, I drew heavily from my YALSA colleagues. Among others, I shared the details of:

I was pleased to be able to share these examples of engaging teens in reading, especially since most of the other speakers focused more on topics related to children. Going to Korea was a wonderful experience. 2014-06-20 12.00.57The NLCY were outstanding hosts and meeting the other international presenters broadened my library network. It was fascinating to talk with library folk from around the world and discover the similarities and differences in our experiences. The Korean librarians were eager to learn from the best that the rest of the world has to offer. In 2015, the NLCY will host the 9th Annual Symposium. The call for papers will go out in late 2014 or early 2015, and I would encourage YALSA members to consider submitting proposals. IFLA usually posts the call for papers, and I will link to the information on the YALSA blog as well.

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9. Reflections on the Future of Library Services for & with Teens Session at the ALA Annual Conference

The YALSA Future of Teens and Libraries taskforce led an interactive panel discussion at the ALA Annual Conference where we reflected on The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action report. The session was hosted and moderated by Adrienne Strock, taskforce Chair. Taskforce panelists included Sandra Hughes-Hassell, report co-author; Jack Martin, K-Fai Steele, and Margaret Sullivan. Special guest Traci Slater-Rigaud, Director of the National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Awards kicked off the session by encouraging libraries to get involved in the awards and noted the similarities in our work, particularly the focus on youth development.

As a way to collectively reflect on the report’s significance, the panel highlighted specific content from the report in the areas of demographic shifts, technology, and connected learning. The panel began by examining the demographic shifts presented in the report as well as observable shifts in our library communities. We discussed the importance of engaging non-dominant youth in library settings and debated the library’s role in learning and closing the growing achievement gap. We then considered the importance of technology as a tool, the way in which technology is changing how society interacts and learns, HOMAGO (hanging out, messing around, and geeking out) as a model for engagement, and the need for librarians to continue to keep up with technology as it relates to teen interests and needs. Lastly, we talked about the importance of connected learning, describing what it looks like, noting why it is so powerful and important in library spaces, and reflecting on how partnerships can leverage the strengths of connected learning for more powerful and meaningful growth opportunities for teens.

The main themes from the report that emerged in our conversation included the call for a paradigm shift in services to teens, the growing need for partnerships, and the importance of librarians embracing a facilitator, non-expert role in their work with teens. One specific aspect of the paradigm shift brought up by an attendee was shifting customer and staff expectations about noise. Panelists and audience participants shared excellent feedback that encouraged cultural shifts though catchy signage and designated noise times, educating staff and customers on new expectations while shifting their mindset about noise in the library, and getting staff and customers excited about the activities being introduced to teens by demoing them for staff and customers with opportunities for adults to partake in the fun and engaging learning opportunities.

Slides can be found on the taskforce’s ALA Connect page, and those unable to attend can still get involved!

  • If you haven’t already, check out the report!
  • Reflect, share, and talk to each other using #act4teens via Twitter, Tumblr, blogs, and your favorite social networks.
  • Dive into the actionable sections of the report. Start by following the recommendations (p. 25). Then dig into the questions and guide to local assessment and planning (p. 31) section.

Lastly, the taskforce would love to know what you think! Reflect by commenting on this post. Tell us what excites and frightens you about the report. Share what areas of the report you find the easiest and most challenging to implement locally. Let us know what tools and resources you would like YALSA to provide.

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10. Back to School: The Future of Library Service for and with Teens

Welcome to August and the first in a series of YALSAblog posts all about getting ready for the new school year.

forum logoI don’t think there is a better way to get started thinking about going back to school then to check-in with YALSAblog readers about how you are implementing the ideas in the Future of Library Service for and with Teens: A Call to Action report published by YALSA in January of this year.

Thinking about the fall and the programs and services we’ll work on with and for teens during the school year is a great time to learn about what others are doing that connect to the ideas in YALSA’s report. At the YALSAblog we’d love to hear what you have made happen that connect to what’s outlined in the report. For example:

  • Have you added or expanded or started connected learning opportunities for teens in your library? If you have questions about what connected learning is all about and what you might do with teens in that area check out the YALSAblog’s previous posts on that topic or pages 8-10 in the report.
  • In what ways are you giving teens opportunities to connect with mentors and coaches in order to help them learn about the topics in which they are most interested? See pages 21-23 in the report for more on this topic.
  • Are you finding new or expanded ways to integrate services that help teens to gain a variety of literacy skills from print literacy to media literacy to digital literacy? See pages 6-8 in the report for more on this topic.
  • Have you found a new way to think about the way you staff your teen services in order to better support the current and future needs of teens? See page 24 in the report for more on this topic.
  • Are there new ways you are thinking about the way that you provide space to teens? See pages 23-24 in the report for more on this topic.
  • Have you expanded or re-thought your ideas about collaborations and partnerships in order to move into the future of service for and with teens? See pages 13-14 and 23 in the report for more on this topic.

I bet lots of YALSAblog readers are doing great things that demonstrate the ideas in the YALSA “futures report.” And, I bet that there are library staff working with teens that wonder, “how do I get started implementing the ideas in the report?” There is no better time to start talking about the successes and challenges of bringing the future of library service to teens in your libraries than as you plan for the 2014/15 school year in your library. Let’s hear what you’ve been able to try out as a result of reading the report and/or what you are struggling with in terms of the report in the comments.

The discussion of the future starts now!

And, by the way, there are some great ways for you to keep up with what’s going on in the world of libraries and education as it relates to the future of services for and with teens. Try these Twitter hashtags to get started:

  • #act4teens – the tag started by YALSA for all ideas related to how libraries and others are supporting the needs of teens.
  • #connectedlearning – all about what connected learning is and how we can improve the lives of youth through connected learning experiences.

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11. Back to School: Making New Connections

With the end of summer reading and learning programs on the horizon, thoughts turn to the quickly approaching school year (perhaps with a well-earned vacation in between…).  For front-line public librarians, it’s a new year full of opportunities to make connections with area school library staff.  Perhaps you’ve tried this type of outreach in the past with minimal success; maybe there’s been a staffing change at a school where you’ve had a continuous presence but now you’re not sure how things will go.  If you’re lucky enough to have excellent relationships that will pick up right where you left off…well, leave us your advice in the comments!

This is not a time to be retreating, this is a time to sell your incredible and unique services and support for both students and teachers.  Stepping outside your comfort zone and making a tough cold call, email, or in-person visit can yield amazing results.  Here are some ideas on how you could get started:

  • Create a one-sheet that clearly and succinctly lays out what your services are (instruction/database presentations, book talks, lunchtime outreach, etc.).  Include this in a promotional packet with library swag and business cards, and then deliver to school libraries before school starts.
  • Browse online staff directories of area schools to identify teachers who might be most likely to take you up on services: traditionally this would be language arts and social studies teachers, but with the STEM/STEAM movement it’s time to expand our message to science and technology teachers.
  • Try a lunch time outreach pilot project in conjunction with school library staff.  Book clubs or a presence in the cafeteria with library information and swag bring attention to you and your public library, and also helps create relationships with students and school staff.
  • Check in with career and college preparation offices in your high schools to let them know about your resources and services for this population.  You could find out about hosting a booth at college and career fairs.

These ideas all sound great at the outset– but then what?  Patience and perseverance!  Follow up is going to be incredibly important– we don’t want to pester but we want to be sure that our message is heard.  Being aware of any school’s given reality is also important; perhaps they are going through an intense testing year or drastically changing their curriculum.  Both of these situations have impacted my own school outreach in the past, but hooray, it’s a brand new year!  It’s also great to reassure school library workers that we aren’t looking to take over their jobs or their libraries, we want to add value and create relationships that will help students succeed and give teachers additional support.

Further entries in this blog series will be sure to get your gears turning; back to school could become your favorite time of the year!

#backtoschool #libraryoutreach #librarypartnerships

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12. Back to School: The Skill of Listening

listen written on a brick wallFor many, back to school time is a time for learning new things. One thing I’m trying to learn more about and be better at is listening to what people in the community need and want from the library instead of simply going out and telling people what the library has to offer. For example, at a back to school professional development event library staff might be asked to present information on what they have to offer to teachers and students. Typically that might mean going in and saying, “Hi, we have these databases, they are great, use them.” Then we leave and hope that that helped inform teachers about how they can use the library’s resources.

But, really what we should be doing is first asking teachers and staff in schools what they are doing, what do they wish was available in the community, what do they and their students need? We who work with teens in libraries listen to what they tell us and then craft a response that is focused exactly on what we heard when we listened. It’s not focusing on, this is what I think you need, it’s focused on this is what you told me you need and I can directly help that need in this way.

This isn’t just something we need to be doing with teachers at back to school time. It’s also important to talk to community partners and listen to what they are telling you they are doing for and with teens. From that listening you can then find ways to connect what you have to offer – expertise, materials, connections to others in the community. Whatever it is, if you listen you’ll better be able to connect to an actual need, instead of a perceived one.

And, of course, this also relates to the work we do directly with teens. We need to truly listen to what they have to say about their lives and what they need. Instead of telling them what we can do for them or thinking that they need a particular program or service, it’s up to use to ask and listen.

I think one of the hard parts of this is that listening requires not just asking the questions but also analyzing what we hear without simply using preconceived ideas and notions in that analysis. To truly listen it’s important to take what people tell you – adults or teens, parents or teachers, friends or colleagues – and think that you might (and probably are) hear something totally unexpected. Then you need to take what you hear and use it to create something new and innovative or to retweak something that you’ve been doing a particular way for a short or long period of time.

This fall as teens are going back to school and being asked to listen in their classrooms, do the same thing yourself. Listen to what people in your community are telling you about what they need from the library. Then work to give them what they actually need, and not what you wish or hope or think they need. It will improve your service and help to make the library an integral part of the community that teens, and others, can’t live without.

To learn more about what’s going on in education and learning and responding to community needs try these Twitter hashtags:

#act4teens is a YALSA created hashtag that focuses on how to advocate and support teens in the community.

#commoncore is a great hashtag for hearing what people are saying about the common core and how it is being integrated into teaching and learning.

Also, don’t forget to follow hashtags for your local newspapers, schools, etc. as they are sure to give you lots of information about what’s going on and give you ideas for what you want to ask in order to hear what people need.

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13. Back to School: CIPA Policy Brief

This summer, ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy and Office for Intellectual Freedom released a policy brief marking a decade of school and public libraries limiting patrons’ access to online information due to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

Titled Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later, the report advocates an action plan to reduce the nationwide, negative impacts of CIPA. I found it well worth a read, and you will too if you wish to understand the progressive possibilities surrounding CIPA at your library and at libraries across America.


Since 2003, those schools and public libraries that accept federal funding to purchase internet access have been required by CIPA to use filtering software on all of their internet-enabled computers. This filtering software must block access to images classified as “obscene,” “child pornography,” or “harmful to minors.” Any adult wishing to access material blocked under the auspices of “harmful to minors” is backed in his/her quest for content by the First Amendment and CIPA, which requires that the material be unblocked by the school or library. The first two categories (“obscene” and “child pornography” images) are not similarly protected under the First Amendment, so schools and libraries are not required to unblock those materials.

In theory, CIPA is fairly unobjectionable: none of us want to provide materials harmful to minors, child pornography, or obscenity. In practice, however, schools and libraries have applied CIPA in a draconian fashion: over-filtering for fear of patrons finding objectionable materials and for fear of losing federal funding. Going above and beyond CIPA’s filtering guidelines has resulted in egregious bans on social media, gaming, and emerging sites; nursing exams and other health information being blocked; embarrassment and confusion for patrons; and a negative public perception of technology at the library.  Furthermore, as Fencing Out Knowledge states, over-filtering does a disservice to our 21st century learners, is contrary to ALA’s Bill of Rights, and disproportionately affects the economically disadvantaged.

Fortunately, the report includes four recommendations for ALA to take action on this CIPA-originating issue of over-filtering. The recommendations are:

  1. Increase awareness of the spectrum of filtering choices.
  2. Develop a toolkit for school leaders.
  3. Establish a digital repository of internet filtering studies.
  4. Conduct research to explore the educational use of social media platforms and assess the impact of filtering in schools.

While ALA tackles those items at a national level, in your own community you can advocate for young adults’ broad access to the internet by becoming familiar with CIPA’s requirements; educating yourself on the harms of over-filtering; and advocating for digital policies that best fit your school or library mission and your teenagers’ 21st century needs. Don’t wait for ALA to finish their action items! Start the new school year by coming to the table now. Read the report as soon as possible, and become a consistent, professional voice at your school or library’s Technology Committee.

Click here to read Fencing Out Knowledge: Impacts of the Children’s Internet Protection Act 10 Years Later.

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14. Back to School: Building the Resume

Many library’s are in a great position to help teens develop skills and experience they can add to their resume. Whether it be volunteering on a regular basis or honing graphic design or other useful technology proficiency, teens can gain that needed edge through the library for when they seek out other opportunities.

Last school year, I stumbled across a program at my local public school system that gives students school credit for being part of a library program such as volunteering! What a win-win situation for all! Read on for more details on how the program works.

The Academic Internship program is for high schoolers (though targeting 16-18 year olds) to receive work-based learning opportunities and earn school credit. Library programs that are ongoing such as tutoring, volunteering, creating a podcast program, reading to toddlers during storytime, etc. are some examples that would qualify teens for this opportunity. The credit appears on their transcript which in turn reflects their overall academic success.

Feel free to share if a similar program exists in your area. If it doesn’t already, a few suggestions to get started might be to seek out what kind of workforce development opportunities are in existence and bringing the library into the dialogue by sharing a portfolio of information about the programs you feel might qualify. Gathering anecdotes and outcomes from a program can show that it’s really making a difference in the lives of teens and helps connect them to their greater career goals and interests.

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15. Putting the M in STEM

I’ve had STEM on the brain a lot lately. (For those of you who haven’t yet become familiar with this acronym, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.) The library in which I work has fully embraced STEM programming, providing informal hands on science classes for students in Kindergarten through High School. I’m also privileged to be working on the YALSA STEM Task Force. At our library, we’ve done lots of traditional science experiments, held building clubs, and offered teens the chance to learn new technology. But in all this, I find myself asking, “Where’s the math?” I came up with an unexpected answer.

The single place I use math the most, other than basic household bills, is when I craft. That’s right – arts & crafts: here there be math. I am a self taught knitter, crocheter, quilter, sewer and more. I’ve even taught both adults and teens to knit and crochet in classes at my library. So I not only had to figure out a way this stuff made sense to me, but also how to translate it to others. From the simple math of measurements when sewing a garment, to more complex geometry with designing quilt patterns, I constantly am using the math I learned when in school.

I’ll be picking up my crochet hooks again in a few months for the sake of library programs. That also means that I just might be figuring out crazy crafter word problems. An example: I have a pattern that requires X length of yarn that is N in thickness. I actually have yarn that is M thickness and Y length per ball. How many balls of the yarn I have will I need to make the same item in the same size as my pattern? There’s so much going on here between using algebra to figure out unknowns & ratios of length to weight to determine if a yarn corresponds to a pattern.

So how does this all fit together with STEM & the library? Well, most of us do crafts at some time or another. While they may not all be as intricate as my example above, we still have to use measurements (how much stuff do we need), proportions (how much will each person use), and budgeting (how much will this event cost per person) before we implement the activity. My suggestion is that we talk to our participants about the math that goes on behind the scenes. I don’t think we’d gain anything by creating a formal math lesson out of a craft class. However, I do think we can make teens more aware of how math works in every part of their world if we mention in passing that, “It took longer than I expected to get this week’s craft ready. I had to cut 48 paper squares exactly 4 ½ inches square because I needed each final square to be 4 inches after accounting for the necessary ¼ inch to fold on each side,” or “I had to order supplies for this activity before I had a final count of people attending. Since I have a budget of $2 per participant, we won’t be able to use the extra supplies today, but will save them for another activity.” Let our patrons know that math doesn’t just live in their classrooms (or in the 510s!) but is all around them. The more math becomes an integrated part of everyday activities, the more we do to support the formal learning of our patrons.

Do you already have library programming that would support math education? Can you create some? Please share in the comments.

Here are a few sites I found that might be helpful:
Math Crafts
Yarn Calculator
Quiltbug Fabric Calculator
Measure Yourself for Fitting Clothing

Posted on behalf of Julia Driscoll, Member of the YALSA STEM Task Force

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16. Justifying Teen Programs

For some of us, it’s an uphill battle advocating for the teens in our libraries. Budgets are never quite large enough, there’s never enough time to do everything, so if any group gets the short end of the stick, it’s our teens. We all know how important it is to have teen programming and teen spaces and an excellent teen collection, but it can be difficult getting the higher-ups to see it our way. You might find, as I have, that you need to justify your teen programs beyond getting teens in the door.

No one really questions the benefits of Storytime for the kids. It’s fairly obvious how it fits in with the library’s mission. A teen Halloween party, on the other hand, might be subject to more scrutiny. Recently, I found out that the Halloween party I’d been planning for our teens didn’t pass muster in its current state. It wasn’t enough to try something to increase our program attendance. Our circ starts are awesome, but we have an unfortunate floor plan for our teens, so they don’t really have a place of their own to hang out. They get their books and go, which has made it a lot harder in creating relationships and encouraging them to come to programs. There was no way I was giving up on this party. Instead of a Halloween party, it’s now a Favorite Character party, where you must come dressed as your favorite book character (and act the part, if you’re really good).  The activities we’ll have will tie in to our collection, like YA horror trivia, and we’ll be more book-focused than Halloween-focused.

The key to justifying a program or a service for teens is two-parted. First, tie it to your library’s mission. Say that your mission statement includes words like informational and enriching your community. There you go. Teens are part of the community and the Favorite Character party will enrich their lives by widening their exposure to the YA collection and allowing them to use their creativity to enhance what they’ve read to a tangible form while testing their knowledge and sparking their interest to seek more information about the horror genre.

Second, beyond the direct result of such a program, look for other possible objectives. For example, providing a program for teens not only accomplishes the objectives of the program, but also gives teens a feeling of being welcome in the library. Teens who feel welcome in the library may be more interested in volunteer opportunities at the library. Teens who volunteer can take over tasks, such as shelving or shelf reading, from staff members, who are then free to complete other tasks. This in turn can lead to improved customer service because staff members will be able to spend more time with patrons and will be less stressed about helping someone with a particularly difficult or time-consuming problem because they will know that they have the time to devote to the problem.

It would be great if we could have teen programs just because they’re fun and it’s what our teens want, but a lot of us are under constraints that are out of our hands. Being prepared to justify your programs might mean that you’ll need to broaden your focus to find the positive outcomes.

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17. Getting Teens Civically Engaged (even if The Daily Show isn’t setting up camp in your library)

Do you know if you work in one of the nineteen states that allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections and caucuses if they will be 18 by election day? Might be something to consider if you’re thinking about getting teens more civically involved with 65 days left until the next Presidential election. Even if you’re not one of the nineteen, it’s still a great opportunity to engage teens. If they’re not old enough to vote themselves, they can always encourage their parents or caregivers to vote.

I do admit, the election is a bit on my mind now in ways that it might not be for others. The city in which I work, in fact the block my branch is on and well, frankly the library building itself is playing a role in the upcoming Democratic National Convention. My library building is hosting The Daily Show and a block away is where the current President of the United States will give his acceptance speech.

In both Charlotte, NC where the DNC is being held and Tampa, FL where the Republican National Convention was held, teens and youth organizations are taking so many opportunities to be involved and let their voices be heard in this political landscape. Youth Radio, for example, takes a closer look at Paul Ryan as a Generation X’er on the ticket. Even if your city is not hosting a convention this year, there’s a lot that can be done to encourage teens as advocates in the political arena. Here are a few examples of what we’ve done and that might work or have worked for you:

Encourage civic literacy through developing reading lists. While this might sound like a very traditional response from a library, it’s still important. In my experience we carefully developed several lists that included a variety of political beliefs and shared them with local youth serving organizations such as Generation Nation, to help promote the library and literacy.

Encourage civic engagement through content creation. This summer, Jimmeka Anderson, a co-worker of mine, and I, developed the Teen Fashion apprentice program. Teens attended workshops to build skills around designing and upcycling clothing, entered an outfit they made into a fashion show, and then apprenticed with our partner organization, The Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. How this relates to being civically engaged? Aside from fine tuning their job development skills, hearing their stories of the thought process that went behind designing their outfits to fit the theme, would have you convinced that yes, clothes are political too. They represent everything from the color of the landscape to inspiration from rappers and actors. The teens that won the apprenticeship have their clothes displayed at the library. Hopefully it will be an invitation and conversation for visitors to understand the many opportunities libraries have for teens.

Content creation can also mean digital. In this case, a video. My library partnered with several youth serving organizations in the community to share teen voices on camera about what the organization they affiliate with; whether the library or other group, means to them. This project is still in progress and wasn’t quite ready for the convention, but video is always a great medium in which teens can have their own voices heard not to mention develop editing and other technological skills to perfect telling their story.

In looking at the bigger picture of getting teens involved civically beyond your own library is having them participate in YALSA’s District Days. There’s been great information on the blog here about how to get involved, how to get the library involved, and what better way than to get teens involved but ask them to be an advocate for the library.

Stay tuned. . .and feel free to share how you are engaging your teens in relation to the upcoming election.

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18. September Eureka Moments

Even if you don’t work in a school media center, I’m guessing your life still tends to run on an academic schedule when you work with teens. So welcome to the new school year! Here’s what I think might be interesting, useful, or intriguing to you and your patrons this month.

  • If your teens are interested in what’s new in the going green movement, have them look more globally to see what’s going on. In coastal Ecuador, young people from farming families are heading up efforts to save, cultivate, and redistribute heirloom seeds to revitalize the environment and help farmers prosper. Part of an organization called FOCCAHL, 20-year-old Cesar Guale Vasquez travels throughout nearby areas collecting seeds from farmers and also hosts swapping events so that farmers can trade seeds with each other in order to have more vibrant and diverse crops. Now take that for inspiration and add to it your own library’s resources on climate change, farming, and nutrition and plan an interesting program that combines science with activism and see what your advisory board wants to do with it. Many libraries now are creating their own seed libraries, and whether they’re for wildflowers or corn, they can be a great way to bring communities together, get young people to work with older people, and freshen up your local environment while doing your small part to keep the world cleaner and greener.
    Matthews, J. (2012). Ecuador’s seed savior. World Ark, May 2012: 10-15.
  • At the beginning of the school year, many teens are interested in refining or experimenting with their personal style. There is generally no shortage of mainstream fashion and beauty advice in the magazines and books you have in your collection already, but there might be a population you’re missing, and they’re getting bigger and more vocal. While the natural hair trend has been growing for years, the recent O Magazine cover presenting Oprah Winfrey with her hair relaxer-free has sparked a lot of talk. The social news web is blowing up with discussions of hegemony (the prevalence of hair relaxers in the African American community has been linked to unrealistic standards of white beauty), harassment (nearly everyone with natural curls, regardless of race, has experienced strangers touching their hair without asking first), and self image (who decides what’s beautiful, and is it more important to do what you think is pretty on you or to make a political statement with your hair?). Take a look at the reports of the Oprah cover at Sociological Images and Jezebel (it’s worth taking a look at the comments, too, but they’re probably NSFW and can get heated), and then consider hosting a discussion club or making a display of books on beauty. If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest Naturally Curly, one of the premiere websites (with social components, news, and shopping) for natural hair of all textures.
  • STEM, STEM, STEM. Everybody wants students to engage with science, technology, engineering and math. Federal money is pumped into it. Grants support it. But do teens and tweens care for it? In a study of middle school students, researchers analyzed both boys’ and girls’ wishful identification with scientists on television shows to see what factors influenced positive feelings (possibly indicating an interest in pursuing a science career or hobby). They found that boys were more likely to identify with male scientists and girls with female scientists, which is unsurprising. What was more interesting is that the genre of the television show affected the positive feelings. Scientist characters on dramas were more likely to elicit wishful identification than those on cartoons or educational programs. What can you do with this information? Plenty. For your next film screening, try a drama or documentary that presents scientists in a good light, like Cool It, And the Band Played On, or Einstein and Eddington. If you want to take a crack at those who think that being good at science or math makes you a loser, connect STEM with the things teens already love, like working out, YouTube, and the Web by taking a look at the 35 fittest people in tech, videos by Vi Hart, who turns mathematical concepts and history into snarky audiovisual narratives, or how-tos at Lifehacker.
    Steinke, J., et al. (2011). Gender Differences in Adolescents’ Wishful Identification With Scientist Characters on Television. Science Communication, 34(2): 163-199.
  • Whether you’re in library school or you’ve been working for years, you might find Hack Library School’s new starter kit series interesting, especially their post on services to children. Anyone want to volunteer to write the starter kit for youth services? On a related note, Teen Librarian Toolbox has a post on what to do about all that stuff they don’t teach you in library school (I’m taking notes).
  • If you’ve been trying to find a way to collaborate with nearby schools, see if you can get an advisory group to have a meeting with local teachers (it might be a good idea to make sure that the teachers are not teachers of the teens in your group so as to encourage openness and honesty) and start a dialogue. The topic? Standardized tests. Students may feel like teachers are against them, while teachers probably feel as if it’s administrators who are forcing them to be uncreative. So how do you get all sides to understand each other when schools are still tied to federal standards? For background information, try the journal Rethinking Schools‘ spring 2012 issue, which featured a special section on standardized tests. After a good discussion, maybe everyone can take fun “standardized tests” on personality types, books, or any other fun topics. Then see if students, teachers, and you can work together and form some sort of coalition that bridges the gaps between inside- and outside-of-school education, engagement, and issues. Start a collaborative blog. Take turns hosting book clubs at different places that feel like home to the different stakeholders in your group. What might be an interesting year-long project is to get everyone in the group to develop their ultimate standardized test to replace the ones they’re taking or proctoring in school. What skills do teachers and students think are most important to have before leaving the K-12 system? What topics do people in the real world need to know? Is it better to test knowledge orally? With essays? With student-led, student-designed creative projects? With their perspectives and your skills with information seeking, along with your vast collections, you should be able to create a really interesting partnership. And if you need more inspiration, check out these roundups of education blogs by both students and teachers, both here and here.

What are your plans for this upcoming academic year? As always, your questions, comments and suggestions are welcomed and encouraged!

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19. Amplified! Speaking the Language of Management

YALSA President Shannon Peterson and I have been talking about her presidential theme of Amplified: Speaking Up for Teens and Libraries, and we were discussing the effort to build strong ties between YALSA and our members and library administrators. In May and June, I wrote a six-part series for this blog on how to work with library managers and administrators. Those posts were based partly on a survey that YALSA conducted of members who identified as supervisors and managers. One of the things we asked was what were some of the buzz words, lingo, and hot topics that made managers prick up their ears and listen. So here are some of those terms and ways you might incorporate them into your conversations with your managers:

ROI. This is manager-speak for “return on investment.” It’s really pretty straightforward. Managers want to know that if the library invests time, money, personnel, and equipment on a service, program, or collection, there will be some return on that investment. What kind of return? Maybe you can demonstrate that the effort you invested in putting on a dynamite program resulted in increased circulation in a particular area or from a particular demographic. Maybe adding a service, like homework help, resulted in reaching a previously under-served segment of the community. The more you can collect data (track circulation before and after the program; keep count of the number of new cards that were issued to participants in a new program or service, etc.), the easier it will be for you to show your managers how much return you got from your investment.

Sustainability. This is a big one for managers. They want to know that any new (or existing) program, service, or collection is sustainable. Doing a program or creating a collection with one-time funds, like a grant or gift, is fine as far as it goes, but what happens next year and the year after? If you start a grant-funded homework center, for example, how are you going to pay for it in future years? Will you have to continue to seek grants or raise funds every year, or will it become part of the library’s budget? If it becomes part of the budget, will something else have to go? Who will be responsible for deciding? Sustainability requires long-term thinking.

Community Engagement, Community Health, Fostering Community. Managers have to see the library as part of the larger community. Your library director may sit on various community-wide committees or boards, or work closely with other city or county department heads. It is important to them that the library be seen as part of the community, not as something off to the side. This is especially true if the library is in effect competing for funds with these other departments. So the more your programs and services can demonstrate that the library is engaging the community and helping to create and sustain a healthy, enlivened community, the better. When you report on your teen volunteer program, for example, don’t just say how many teens volunteered for how many hours; talk about how the program helps teens be engaged in their community, and take pride and ownership in it.

Workforce Development; College and Career Readiness. These topics are related to community engagement. The library is excellently placed to be part of the greater local effort to ensure that community members are able to be productive members of society. Just be sure that your manager knows how your programs are helping teens get jobs, get into college, and prepare for careers. Highlight the skills your teen volunteers are learning. Promote any programs you do for SAT prep or college application writing. Be sure your director is aware when teen volunteers move on to become paid library workers.

Output Measures. Output measures tell how the library is being used: circulation, visits, reference questions, program attendance—as opposed to input measures, which tell you what you have to work with: collection size, budget, cardholders, etc. Output measures are often of great interest to library boards and administrators, so the more output measures you can supply to your director, the better. Some of these are simple counts; others can be calculated, like circulation per capita. So, for example, if you know how many teens are in your service area, and how many teen items are circulated (or how many items are checked out by teens), you can calculate teen circulation per capita. If you can show that this number is growing, as a result of your programs or collection decisions, this will get the attention of the people who make the decisions in your library.

Value-Added. This is pretty much what it sounds like: the “extras” of your services, programs, and collections, the things that go beyond expectations and make a positive contribution to the library and the community. Maybe you can show that your program not only entertained the teens, but brought in new users, and also recruited new volunteers for the library or other organization in the community: that’s value-add!

Organizational Culture. Every organization has its own culture, meaning its own values, vision, norms, systems, even language. Making sure that what you do fits into that organizational culture is a good way to be heard in the organization. Of course, sometimes we think our organizational culture needs to change: to be more positive about teens, for instance. It’s all right to strive to change organizational culture, but it is wise to do it gradually and, as much as possible, within the norms of the organization. And if you can show that something you want to do fits in with the vision and strategic plan of your library, you are more likely to be successful.

These are just a few terms that came up. You have probably heard others—maybe you have even wondered what they mean, or how you can fit into your manager’s view of the library. If you have questions, comments, or other examples to share, please do so in the comments. We all benefit when we understand one another!

Sarah Flowers

YALSA Past President

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20. YA Programming Behind the Scenes: Spy Games

Across all age groups, spies seem to be universally loved, so we split this program into two sessions, one for kids and one for teens. Some adults did stop by and were encouraged to try the different stations as well.

This program was highly inspired by Rachel Moani’s Spy Training Academy program at Lacey Timberland Library.

713 Spy Games

For the program, we created Spy Games cards so everyone could assume an identity and check off every station they completed. All of the spy games are actually Secret Service code names for presidential family members or presidential nominee family members.


We broke the event into four missions.

1) Invisible Ink: Everyone wrote a message in invisible ink. Some recipes can be found here and here. We started everyone with this so the paper would have time to dry. It, however, did not provide the punch a first mission should have.

2) Catapult Construction and Launch: Participants constructed a simple catapult using popsicle sticks, rubber bands, glue dots, and a water bottle cap. The surprising element of this construction was that many boys found winding the rubber bands around the popsicle sticks a challenge. Apparently ponytail assembly has given many teenage girls an advantage on catapult construction. Ideas for construction can be found here and here.

Participants then needed to use their catapult to launch a pom pom into a frisbee to move on to the next mission.


3) Balloon Minefield: This was the favorite mission for the teens. Everyone got three chances to make it through the minefield. They were timed for each try and received penalties for every balloon that broke and any balloons that escaped the minefield. The person with the fastest time won rearview vision sunglasses.

balloonminefield balloonminefieldinaction

4) Laser Field: Everyone had three attempts to move through the laser field. They received penalties for every time they touched the “laser” rafia. no teen made it through the laser field without touching the lasers so this was a mission teens would not have been able to complete without the penalties clause (at least not with our course). The person with the fastest time won rearview vision sunglasses for this mission as well.


Spy Games was highly enjoyed by all who participated with most taking extra turns. We will likely repeat this program in the future, although we will probably link it to a movie release a la Spy Kids. We also promoted our spy books at the event to tie the event into our collection.

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21. Rethinking What We Do: College Transitions

In our second week of school, we had our first 2013 graduate return from college to visit.

She had popped in on her way from work — she is working a morning shift at fast food and taking 15 semester hours at the community college — and as she looked around our temporary space, she wanted to know when the new school library would become open. “And will it be public?” she said, “I remember they said the library would be public…”

The construction is barely underway, so I told her it would be a while. While the planned space would be available for the community, I wasn’t certain if the library collection would be.

Photo, Tom Saint

Photo, Tom Saint

The problem with the library at the community college, she asserted, was there wasn’t anything good to read. “It’s all encyclopedias,” she said.

As I looked at this book-loving girl, a girl who dressed as Effie Trinket for costume day during homecoming week, who was thrilled to tell me that she has the sixth Mortal Instruments book preordered, and I realized I didn’t prepare her for the community college library.

We school librarians tend to worry so much about hoping out students can craft (or generate) the perfect citation, and on inculcating skills like database retrieval and website evaluation that they will need for their college coursework, that we sometimes forget that leisure reading will be along a continuum as well. For students thrust from a library supporting adolescent literacy to a college library organized around the curriculum, those distinctions must seem a rude awakening.

Part of this is my own fault. Beginning my second school year here, I’m still new to the school and the community. I knew more about the resources in the local colleges where I was before, but I have yet to forge that relationship at my new school.

I need a better idea of what the community college does hold, and a contact there with whom I can put our graduating students in touch.

I need a way to wean our graduates off our collections and reader’s advisory, moving them to the really top-notch local public library.

And I need to maintain our digital presence for recommendations, recommendations that might be just as applicable for graduates as current students.

And, actually, I don’t think our school is in a bad situation for transitioning students. Our retired school librarian works at the public library, which is geographically close to the school.

I regret that I let our former student get away without something to read, realizing after the fact that I could have made her a community patron record…but I dropped off The Fifth Wave at her  drive-through later, to keep her reading in the meantime.

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22. Teen Services in a Rural Library

Picture of Teen Zone

Belgrade Community Library Teen Zone in rural Montana.

Working in a rural library often means a small space, a small budget, and a small staff. Despite all the hurdles to overcome, teen library services are very important in rural communities where other facilities for teens may not exist. In my community, the need for productive teen activities has popped up in both community and library needs assessments. With just over 10,000 people in our service area, the library is one of the few places in the community open to young adults outside of school hours. We have an important role to play in providing a safe and enriching space for teens, but this can seem like a daunting task when your official job description ranges from baby story time to technical services.

I work directly with teens every day, but my job involves a wide range of other tasks. Like many other rural librarians, I sometimes start my work day singing with toddlers and finish it with offering assistance to older adults on the computer, but teens deserve to have services tailored just for them, even in the smallest public library.  YALSA’s Public Library Evaluation Tool provides examples of basic to distinguished public library practices as they pertain to teens. One element of this tool that stands out to me is “equitable funding and staffing levels.” Step back for a moment and think about whether or not your institution is providing equitable resources and time toward teen services. Between fixing the printer, collection development, and desk schedules, we must find the time to offer quality services and programs to teens.

So with all the demands on our time, how do rural librarians make it work? You can maximize the potential of your space, time, and budget by carefully evaluating how your work will best serve YOUR teens. While many of the ideas out there on the web from sources like the YALSA Blog or the Teen Librarian’s Toolbox will convert easily to a rural environment, it is important to think about what is a good match for your community, specifically.  There is no reason (or time) to devote limited resources on an idea destined to flop. Sometimes it’s hard to guess what will be a hit among local young people, so your best bet is to ask the teens directly. This could be in the form of a TAG or survey. If you don’t have a TAG, bounce some of your ideas off regular library visitors, or if you are trying to reach a new group of young people, put a feeler out to the school librarians or other youth serving organizations to see what is needed by their teens.

Teen Volunteer

Teen volunteer creates a decoration for the summer reading program.

In addition to vetting your ideas, take a look at the community calendar.  Recently, the Belgrade High School hosted a Day of Caring event where teens went out into the community to volunteer. While many teens spent time picking up garbage at the park or visiting older adults at the Senior Center, I asked if there were any artistic teens interested in spending the morning volunteering at the library.  Several enthusiastic teens came over and decorated the library for the summer reading program. One of the students mentioned that she enjoyed using one of her talents to help the community rather than doing something else with her volunteer time (see the picture at right).  What do you have going on in your community? Do you have an annual festival frequented by teens? Can you create a tie in program?

Also spend some time thinking about what goals you are accomplishing by offering particular services. Clearly defining your strategy will help you maximize impact even if you only have time to offer one or two teen programs a month. If you haven’t yet, make sure to read through the 40 Developmental Assets from the Search Institute. Are your programs relevant to teens’ social and emotional development? Maybe you can add an element to an existing program to offer more exposure to creative activities or to foster interest in service to the community. Linking your programs to the building blocks of adolescent development will also help demonstrate the value of the library to administrators and the community.

There are many things to think about in terms of youth services in a small community. You can look forward to more posts from me in the coming months that will explore rural, teen librarianship.

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23. New Diversity in the Library: Polyamory

A recent ruling by the U.S. District Court in Utah has repercussions for how libraries serve teenagers. As a result of the ruling striking down portions of an anti-polyamory law, and the growing public acceptance of polyamory, we librarians have a new diversity to incorporate into our public services.

Polyamory–meaning “many loves”– is a non-monogamous relationship type, wherein individuals may choose to romantically commit themselves to more than one person, rather than two people dedicating themselves solely to each other. Polyamory is practiced in many forms, from poly fidelity (a closed group of polyamorous people, not accepting new relationships into the current structure) to poly hierarchical (newer, secondary relationships bowing to longer-established, primary relationships) to poly anarchy (no strictures applied to any relationship or partner). Polyamory is inclusive of all sexualities and religions, and exists in all American socio-economic, age, and racial strata.

Though polyamory has existed for centuries, the term polyamory (as opposed to the gender-limiting polygyny and polyandry) was first introduced in 1990 and did not gain entry into the Oxford English Dictionary until 2006 (Poly in the Media, Jan 6 2007). Polyamory began gaining significant notice in the American cultural conversation in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court decriminalized sodomy in favor of the privacy of “certain intimate conduct” in the case Lawrence v. Texas (NY Times, Dec 15 2013). Today, polyamory features positively in reality TV shows (Showtime, TLC), newspaper columns (Dear Abby, Savage Love), lifestyle segments (Salom, Slate, Redbook, Newsweek), works of fiction, and as special segment pieces in other media (National Public Radio, TED talks).

What brought the relationship structure to my attention as a new diversity to be served in libraries was the U.S. District Court case Brown v. Buhman. Judge Clark Waddoups’s decision can be read in full here. In brief, the decision ruled that while an individual can only be legally married to one person at a time, polyamorous Americans may co-habitate, raise families, build businesses, and practice extralegal marriage with multiple partners, without interference from the government. Poly activists have further legal challenges planned for the near future, primarily centered around what they perceive as discrimination under the law (Psychology Today, Jan 18 2014) and in broader society (Reddit, Monogamous Privilege).

With polyamory socially and legally recognized, it is important to incorporate this family and romantic structure into our inclusive library services. Meaning, books and other resources featuring polyamory should be a part of our displays, recommendations, and programs; library cards, permission slips, and other forms for minors should accommodate contacts for more than two parents/guardians; and we should inform ourselves of polyamory so that when curious teenagers ask us about it, we can answer as knowledgeably and neutrally as we would about other relationship types.

If you’d like to learn more about polyamory, check out this bibliography from the Kinsey Institute (Kinsey Institute) or, for less technical reading, I would suggest the titles below.

  • “Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships” by Tristan Taormino (ISBN: 157344295X)
  • “The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families” by Elisabeth Sheff (ISBN: 1442222956)
  • “Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners” by Deborah Anapol (ISBN: 1442200227)

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24. Children’s Rights in the Digital Age or, How UNICEF is Like Your Library

When I was eight, I won our school’s “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” throw down. I scoured the neighborhood for hours, wheedling coins and Snickers bars out of polite neighbors and adding them to my little orange box. By the end of the night, the hoard of pennies and nickels had broken the box at the seams, and I presented it to my teacher wrapped in a sustaining nest of duct tape.

The reward for all of this was a trip to UNICEF headquarters. Somewhere in my parent’s house there sits a billfold stuffed full of pictures of the wall art, the cafeteria, the library– all of the things that as a child I found interesting. At eight, I understood that UNICEF were the good guys, that they fought AIDS and built wells, and that they were kind of like the non-mouse version of the Rescue Aid Society.

But beyond saving Penny from Madame Medusa, UNICEF strives to help children and mothers in all aspects of their lives, including the digital.

As part of their ongoing efforts to support children the world over, UNICEF recently came out with a study entitled “A Global Agenda for Children’s Rights in the Digital Age.” At 76 pages and written like your psych major friend’s thesis, it’s not exactly a page turner, but at its core lie some very important ideas:

  • More and more children are using internet and communication technologies (ICTs) in their daily lives and for more and more of them the use of this technology is something normal– taken for granted.
  • Developing countries are seeing a slow but undeniable increase in the use of ICTs.
  • Children face dangers and complications whenever they step online– and those dangers are ill understood by the adults responsible for teaching them to stay safe.

UNICEF wants to help these children and their caretakers understand how to use ICTs safely and productively, and help use them to their fullest potential.There’s just one or two problems:


  1. Most knowledge has been obtained in the global north, and it’s relevance to the global south is largely untested.
  2. Although many valuable initiatives are underway worldwide, the lack of comparable baseline data and policy and programme evaluation makes it hard to learn from the experiences of others or to share best practices (4)

The report goes on to detail recommendations for how to gather information, problems with existing data, and what information has never been gathered at all. It points out that much of our research into how children used the web was conducted during the “web 1.0” days, before social media and the Sharing Revolution began. For an organization like UNICEF, the report argues, moving forward without baseline data and research leaves them without a leg to stand on: in order to help children navigate the internet, they first have to know how they’re using it.

It’s an idea that applies to libraries and librarians as well: to help, we first have to understand. Without understanding, our actions, no matter how well-intentioned, will see their impact hobbled. You’ve seen the results of assumptions in your daily interactions: a parent who wants the library computers to be monitored; a teacher who bans laptops and iPads from their classroom; a librarian who thinks the computer table is a waste of space. All of them are acting based on what they assume kids are doing online, whether that’s checking in online and checking out IRL, tempting shady PSA-worthy predators, or cyber bullying their peers.* And in some cases they’re absolutely right; kids are kids, and they do ill-conceived things online sometimes. That’s what they have adults for– to help them make good decisions, and give them the tools to face down their bad ones.

One of the harder things can be getting teens to actually tell you what they’re doing online. It requires more than a survey, or a one time sit down; it requires trust and an established relationship, and there’s the rub. Whether teacher, parent, or librarian, to ask teens a question and expect a serious answer, you first have to know the teens and get them to understand you as a person who will listen. The Future of Libraries report puts it beautifully:

“To support their learning—personal, work-related, and academic—library staff must connect with teens as individuals. As one participant noted: “Many teens don’t have relationships with non-supervisory adults. . . . Teens need more adults who are not ‘in charge’ of them” (participant, YALSA Summit). This theme was echoed by other participants, who used words like allies, mentors, coaches, and partnerships to describe the relationships that library staff must develop with teens in order to provide effective and substantive programs and services” (10)

Forming these kinds of relationships with our teens is paramount if we want to help them in their needs as patrons. As librarians, we’re uniquely positioned to have this conversation. We monitor and guide, but can’t ground them. We help with homework, but can’t give them a grade. Our interactions with our kids can offer them not only a safe place to be, but a person to talk to without fear or reprisal or judgement, and an advocate who can communicate their needs to the library or school administration.

Of course, receiving an answer to the question of “how do you use the internet” is only the tip of the iceberg. The internet has made us a globally connectable community, but we are still creatures of flesh and soil and our geographical and social differences mean we use the internet in different ways, and can face different dangers while on it. Answers need context; you have to understand teens’  backgrounds, their goals, what their home life is like, who their friends are. You have to be aware of the geographic area you live in, the socioeconomic makeup of the community, the diversity of the population, and a hundred other factors that come into play.

Basically: understanding people is hard, and understanding them well enough to be able to effectively guide them is even harder. But understanding is the first and most necessary step to educating; you must grok before you can lead.

How are you having this discussion with your teens and patrons? Do you think it’s a conversation worth having at all?



*Because we all know adults never spend too much time on their iPhones, check Instagram during meetings, or post nasty things on online forums.


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25. Gamification of Summer Reading

Home Screen of Teen Summer Challenge

Games often provide an opportunity to have fun, learn new things, simulate real life, and explore things only dreamed of before. Whether playing a board game, role playing game, or a video game, players are challenged to overcome obstacles and use strategy to solve problems and meet goals. In classrooms teachers are using game elements more and more to encourage practice, assess mastery, or explore new concepts with students, while keeping lessons interactive and engaging.

Much like the proverbial carrot and stick, rewards are a strong motivator, plain and simple. If you ask a group of teens to tell you one thing they can check out with their library card, most will stare blankly at you; if you offer up a piece of candy for an answer, everyone in the class will beg to be the one you choose to respond.

Gaming has this motivation built right in, though instead of rewarding players with treats, they get points, fun things to add to their inventories or badges to show off. This brings in another big motivator – competition. Although competition doesn’t appeal as widely as rewards, it is powerful to many. Who doesn’t like to feel like they are special, smart or more successful than their neighbor or friends? The combination of rewards and competition is a strong, almost universal, force for motivation.

Every summer, vast numbers of libraries across the world host some sort of summer reading program to encourage kids and teens to read. They give charts and logs for the participants to keep track of their reading. For the younger kids, this breaks a big challenge into smaller, easier-to-accomplish chunks, making personal success more consistently achievable. Unfortunately, that kind of gratification doesn’t seem to be as appealing to the teen population – participation from that audience is far lower than most libraries would like. So what would be a better motivator?

In 2012, Pierce County Library (PCL) was inspired to take our summer reading program out of the box and into the 21st century, by taking it online. The librarians were not happy with the participation levels of teens and wanted to do something about it. Ann Arbor Public Library and New York Public had seen success in having an online program, and PCL was determined to find a way to engage teens. An online game seemed like a natural answer.

More influence and inspiration came from Search Institute’s research on Sparks and Thriving (http://www.search-institute.org/research/sparks-thriving). Sparks refers to the intrinsic interests, talents, and passions that young people have that motivate them to learn, grow, and contribute. PCL wanted to introduce teens to as many new experiences as possible, encourage teens to further explore interests, and to celebrate the talent and passion demonstrated through the successes of projects during the summer.

The team was certainly ambitious that first year – determined to come up with something imaginative, engaging and different from what everyone else was doing. Using the framework of gaming as a motivator, the Teen Summer Challenge was born. A team of youth services librarians, led by two teen librarians, created content and a game platform that increased participation in summer reading from about 200 participants county-wide to about 650, with practically no marketing. The goal was to have a soft release to test the waters with the community – instead there was a pretty significant splash. With that achieved, each of the next two years led to further development and fine-tuning to meet the target audience and make it the best it could be for participants.

Probably the most common question is regarding what software was used, and can it be shared or purchased. The answer isn’t that easy – this program was not something that was built by a vendor or corporation, nor comes out of a box. The primary development was done completely in-house by a staff member who was very comfortable with WordPress. The guidelines and content creation for the challenge were written by librarians on staff. Using Buddypress along with several different add-ons, the basic framework was created. As the project grew and improved, grant funding and hired programmers helped to make the desired customizations.

Ann Arbor and New York Public Library’s programs used a different model, created primarily in Drupal, and now more libraries are joining the bandwagon and using a variety of other tools with success. The tool isn’t the important piece, use whatever you have (including paper logs), but it is to give teens a challenge and motivation, and then celebrate with them and give them bragging rights with their friends when they accomplish goals. Whatever form your game takes, be it scavenger hunts or small quests that are part of a bigger challenge, or something completely different, make sure it involves those motivating elements of rewards, achievements and some element of competition. Offer a wide range of options or interests to inspire a wide range of teens. You might be surprised at your participation and how even a little friendly competition will inspire teamwork, community and encouragement.

If you’d like to learn more, check out these links:

First year of PCL’s Teen Summer Challenge
Current year of Teen Summer Challenge 
New PCL Adult Program launched this year
Ann Arbor Library
New York Public Library
National Digital Summer Reading 

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