We had the idea to send the book out on the road, much like the characters in the story. We asked “how can this work and how can we help out libraries?” My response was: “make it easy and simple for teen libraries and give them a summer reading program in a box”. Simple things for the library to host and give their community something neat and exciting.
This is what we came up with.
We’re looking for libraries between Boston, MA and Austin, TX to join in on the ride. It’s simple: you host our traveling road show, you get free stuff and a program for teens, and that’s it.
Shirky, of course, advocates that we embrace “as much chaos as we can stand.” In this scenario, staff is encouraged to try out a new thing without regard to the way “it’s always been done.” This is messy, scary, and probably unwanted in most institutions.
It has been a little over a month since we began our grand experiment with lending devices to teens (for the first post on this, go here. for the second, go here) and I am here to check back in and follow up about the project with 100% honesty.
The Nook is still circulating and has a hold list. The device has been loaned out, returned, and been taken well care of. There hasn’t been as much interest in the Nook as there has been the iPod, but I think that’s to be expected with these types of devices and teens (for more on this, see Are Teens Embracing E-Books?)
The iPods have been lost. They were lent out to two teens at the same time and like clockwork a week later, they were gone. The teens came into the library and told me about their story. Both of them were using the device and let their friends borrow it to play a game and then their friends walked off with the iPod. I listened and explained to them that I understood where they were coming from but the fines for losing the device were staying on their card ($324). I didn’t tell them outright that I was a bit sad by the loss (for the library, for the teens that wanted to borrow them, and for the teens that lost them…that’s a hefty fine), but I think they could see it in me. Sometimes you don’t have to say much to get a message across. Emotions are a heavy thing.
Am I bummed that this all happened? Of course. There’s a small part of me that’s sad about how it all went down, but there are two sides to every story. The overall excitement that the teens had when they found out we’d be circulating these devices showed me that I was on the right track. Sure, we lost two iPods, but you have to remember it’s just an iPod touch and not some one of a kind, priceless thing. I’m also happy that we tried something new, something out of the ordinary for our teens and we now have more experience for when we run this program again…and don’t get me wrong, we will try again. I would be letting down the nine other teen patrons in the hold queue for the iPods if I didn’t. In conclusion, this minor setback will not get me down. I’ve seen many bigger successes – such as the one last week where one of my longtime teen patrons who just became a US citizen after being in this country for a few years – to put me down for the count. Those are the things that matter. An iPod touch? Not so much.
What did I learn from this?
You’re gonna lose items…and it’s ok. It’s all part of the learning process. Libraries lose a lot of materials with high value – think about when an audiobook collection goes missing or a disc needs to be replaced in a multi item set.
The teens have to know that they’re responsible. Fines may not be the best way to do this, but that’s a bigger issue for another time.
eBooks and teens? There’s a limited audience.
Teens want to have an experience.
How will this work next time?
One of the observations I made with the teens that had borrowed the devices was that they were more into using YouTube and the web browser than they were using the apps. A possible solution would be to limit access to YouTube and the web browser and limit the devices to what they were intended for: curated app experience devices
Credit checks/signed applications from parents/etc will not work no matter how hard you try to push this on teens. Teens can barely keep track of what they’re going to do after school, let alone understand what signing a piece of paper means. Perhaps a better way forward is for the people working with these teen patrons in the library to make individual calls on each lender. It may be a good idea for those working in the teen library to take some time to sit down with the teens that potentially want to borrow these devices, show them what they can do, and explain in fuller detail what it means to be “selected” for this program.
I won’t call this program a failure. I learned that there is a BIG demand for a specific kind of device (the iPods) and less of a demand for another (eReaders). What the teens want is an experience they cannot get anywhere else. I plan on giving it to them. I’ll make sure to check back in once our new iPods arrive in the next few months
Once I had the idea for lending out iPods with pre-selected apps to teens, I had to do some investigating and thinking about how these devices would be used.
I would describe the iPods as “locked down”. By that, I mean that the borrower can’t do much other than use the iPods for their library defined purpose (play or create) and use the internet.
To access restrictions, visit your settings on your iPod. Under the General tab, scroll down to find restrictions.
Once in the restrictions section, you will see a number of things that you can turn off for the user. I turned off everything except for Safari, YouTube, and Camera. This section is locked by a 4 digit passcode which the borrower does not have access to.
I’ve also decided to use Find My iPhone app as a means of locating the device as a last resort (if it goes missing, stolen, etc). Find My iPhone relies on the borrower being in an area that has wifi, but also has an option which will notify the Apple account holder (the library) of the next time the iPod has connected to a wifi network. I know that this will sound a bit “Minority Report/1984/we’re watching you and your every move”, but I assure you that this is not the point of using this app. In order to keep our investment safe for other members our community to borrow, I decided that using Find My iPhone was in our best interest. Luckily, we haven’t had to resort to using it yet and I hope we never have to, but if the need arises it will be there for us to use.
And finally, I’ve been asked the question “Do the teens have to sign some kind of agreement to take out the iPods?” My answer to this question is…sort of.
While we do not have a print version of a lending agreement in place that the teens/parent/guardian has to sign, we do have a spiel that we do give the teens before we check them out to them. It’s not the same every time, but it goes something like this:
Just so you know, but checking out iPod out is kind of a big deal. If it gets damaged, lost, or stolen, you’re going to have quite a hefty fine on your library card that you will have to pay before you can use the library again. So, if you’re ok with that and you can be responsible with the iPod, then you should totally borrow it.
We usually end this conversation with a funny secret society type of handshake. My hope is that it resonates with the teens a lot more than signing some piece of paper.
We can talk all day about whether or not it’s a good idea to lend out devices to patrons, but in the end action is better than any kind of talk. After listening to both sides of the lending devices story for a few weeks, I decided to say the heck with it and buy some Nooks and iPod Touches to lend out to my teen patrons.
My approach to lending out these devices was simple: sure, anyone can go out there and buy these devices and put whatever they want on them, but what about all of the cool stuff they may overlook? There’s so many great apps and games out there that there’s no way you could try them all.
I approached the devices as something that the teen library would “curate”. The librarians of the future are also our community leaders. They not only inform their communities, but they also teach, show, and introduce their communities to new things. I took that approach when selected the apps and ebooks that would come loaded on each of these devices. I also came up with a “brand” for the devices….PLAY, CREATE, AND READ SOMETHING. It is my hope with the brand that people come to see the “____ SOMETHING” idea in the library as something unique that a library does not offer traditionally.
The criteria for selecting apps and ebooks was simple. I asked myself “what would I want to experience on these devices?” and also “what could give someone who is borrowing this device the best experience possible?” Each iPod came loaded with $50 in iTunes store credit, and for the Nooks I purchased $100 in ebooks (you can see the complete lists of what are on the devices below).
The program rolled out yesterday, so I don’t have any feedback to give yet, but I’ll make sure to follow up on this post soon.
Here are the details of each of these programs, what I loaded onto the devices, and more, please visit:
Programming is a great tool for libraries, but it can only get us so far. Real interactions, friendships, and something as simple as saying hello to our patrons is one of the best practices for a teen librarian to learn. I’m inclined to believe that librarians who spend more time interacting, building friendships, and communicating with their patrons have better results with the community that they serve.
How many teen craft programs can we host? Do teens even really like Star Wars/Harry Potter/Twilight themed events? Is gaming really one of the main solutions we have to keep turning towards?
We shouldn’t abandon programming all together. Think of programming as the first step, the gateway towards something deeper. Plan ahead with teen programs, but don’t spend a majority of your energy and focus on the programs themselves. Spend this time and energy on people. Take the time that you’d be taking to plan and implement an event like, say, teen after hours, and instead funnel that energy one day towards sitting down with your teens. Ask them about their day. Tell them about your life. Listen to their stories. Have a laugh.
Another idea, although slightly pricey, may be to think about investing in staff. Sure, employing even a part time staff member can even have a tremendous effect on your budget, but you can’t think of it in business terms. An employee whose main priority is to interact with teen patrons and make them feel like part of the community can bring such a great positive energy to a library.
The next time you want to focus your energy and budget on a Twilight themed prom style event, think about your other options? Is it worth spending your energy sitting and chatting with the teens in your library instead?
Teen Librarianship has a unique place within libraries. It’s not quite a new idea for libraries to provide dedicated services to teens, yet it doesn’t still have the same kind of rich history we have with other populations. This gives teen librarianship a unique place within libraries today; it allows the librarians that serve these groups the chance to experiment in regards to how we approach library services. Teen librarians are not exactly bound by the same rules and programs which have held public libraries together for many years. Librarians working with teens have the chance to fully embrace participatory culture and help build a community of patrons who participate just as much as they consume.
THE LIBRARY STAFF IS THE COLLECTION
Librarians can act as the teachers for guiding their community towards being more active in sharing. This is one of the ways libraries in the 21st century can show their public value to their communities. The role of the librarian is transformed when librarians help their communities create content instead of merely just consuming it. We become teachers for our community, guides who help patrons learn and experience in new ways. This also adds value to the library staff. No longer are library staff just “there to help”, but they are there to help you experience. This added value re purposes libraries; the staff has become as important as the collection. Much like the reference book that helps you repair your car, the staff and their unique skills can help patrons navigate the 21st century.
LET’S BUILD SOMETHING
The use of technology has changed the way our community members can communicate with other. Patrons are no longer restricted by geography, forms of communication, or channels to publish their communication. Libraries now have a vast array of tools in our utility belt that we can call upon to engage patrons, build unique collections, and more. For example, take Historypin, which allows users to upload photos and pin them to a Google Map. With photos added, the true power of Historypin becomes clearer, as it creates a visual map of your community. The best part about it? It’s free to anyone that wants to contribute and share. Our communities now assist in building collections, and librarians become the curators of those collections. Better yet? Teen are learning new ways of communication which will no doubt aid them in their own search for identity but also give back to the complex fabric of the community in which they live.
(check out this and this for examples on teens creating unique content for their local public libraries)
I got an iPhone this past month, and I’ve been slowly digging into the vast library or apps that the phone offers. A lot of things have grabbed my attention, but nothing perhaps so much as Historypin. From Wikipedia:
Historypin is an online, user-generated archive of historical photos and personal recollections. Users are able to use the location and date of an image to ‘pin’ it to Google Maps Where Google Street View is available, users can overlay the historical photograph and compare it with the contemporary location.
When I use Historypin, all that I can think about is how libraries should be jumping all over this and using it to create a unique glimpse into their community. I’ve talked before about how I believe the path forward for public libraries is in encouraging our communities to create unique content (1, 2, and 3) and here is a tool that allows us to do this.
Here’s what I’m imagining from my point of view as a teen librarian: what if I got a handful of teens interested in photography, a few digital cameras or iPod touches, and we had a program where we headed out into the city for a half hour taking pictures. We could then come back into the library and, using the library’s wifi and the Historypin app, upload the photos and catalog our city at that moment in time. What’s even better is that Historypin encourages users to snap pictures of old photographs and upload them to Historypine (see the above image for an example). Say that your library has an extensive local history collection (sort of like the one at my library). Wouldn’t it be great to mobilize some volunteers to digitize photos and upload them to Historypin? The library could even partner with local tourism organizations to give people with mobile phones a walking history tour of the city.
We met over lunch at Kamasouptra and we came up with a simple idea: get beats, teach teens about music, hip hop, and writing, and let them make music.
THE PLAN IN ACTION Sonya put out the word to those in the hip hop community that we were looking for beats for the program. She got a number of beats back from some great producers. Our teens then listened to those beats and selected the two which they wanted to work on over the next few weeks.
THE NEXT THREE WEEKS Over the next 3 weeks, the teens hunkered down with Sontiago in the library and worked on adding to the music. The teens (with Sontiago’s guidance) mapped out where the verse, chorus, and bridges would be in the song. They took the instrumental tracks and transformed them into their own pieces of art. By the end of the third week, all of the teens parts had been written and recorded. The final step was mixing the tracks and blending the teens vocals together to create something truly moving. Between the work done by the producers, the teens, and Sontiago, this was a true collaborative project that took place in the public library.
FOR MORE INFORMATION I wrote about the Make Music at the Library over at my personal blog while the program was going on. You can read those posts here.
Here’s a video playlist taken from the four weeks the teens spent working on the tracks:
“The time is now,” I keep telling myself. Let me tell you why.
It’s been almost five years since I fell into being a teen librarian. I was working toward my MLS at Clarion University when I was approached to do some summer teen programming at the Clarion Free Library in Clarion, PA. Their proposal was simple: do stuff for teens, buy some cool books, and get them into the library. I was a one-person team tasked with pretty much creating a library for these oft-forgotten patrons. I did it, and the teens were happy, but I realized at the same time that I had inadvertently reinforced the mainstream belief that all it takes is one teen librarian to make it happen.
Maybe that was true in 2007, but it’s 2011, and things have changed.
Being a teen librarian is a full-time job fit for a small army, and it is high time that we reward the position with proper staffing. No longer can the work rest on one person’s shoulders. Teen librarians deserve to be recognized as their own department within the larger structure of a public library, not a bridge between children’s and adult services.
I can only point to examples from my life to highlight how great the need for expansion of teen services is. At the end of 2010, I put together this https://sites.google.com/site/portlandplteens/2010yearinreview year in review to share with the community all of the things we’d been doing for teens. The numbers are pretty staggering, especially when you consider that we opened to the public on April 15, 2010. Yes, I did have some help with my programs, but it was small—one employee running our public desk for ten hours per week while I programmed/managed/collected/did everything I can’t when I work directly with the public.
In 2011, that system persists. I also dedicate four hours per week to help with shelving returned materials. However, when it comes to the bulk of the steering, I do it solo.
Luckily, I have Twitter to call upon other teen librarians. When I posed this question to them, I found that quite a few of my colleagues were in the same boat (here are their full responses). The ones that were not had some kind of small team around them, and the thoughts they shared were rather positive (for example, read what @johnny_pistols has to say). This leads me to think about the atmosphere we’re creating in our teen library spaces. Sure, we’re making awesome experiences for teens, but are they also picking up on just how stressed out we are?
Day in and day out, our teens are seeing us as the one person they can identify with in the library. If part of our jobs is to help them become strong adults, are we failing them? I’m 31 years old, and I’m finally realizing that very little can get done when you’re acting alone. The real magic happens with teams: family, community, and friends are what we need to make things happen. We’re giving our teen patrons a false sense of what it means to be an adult by operating our teen services this way.
That’s not to say that we should be hiding away in teen library land. In getting our own department, we’d have a great responsibility. It would be our time to rise up and communicate effectively; enrich and broaden library services. Our teen department should be well tuned into what’s going on with children’s and adult services and vice versa.
Yes, I realize that adding staff is hard to do in these times. Over the years, I’ve been hearing so much about budget cuts, scaling back, doing more with less, etc. In the midst of this doom and gloom came voices of support from patrons, the media, and most important, the community at large. This article comes to mind:
The message is clear: people love libraries, and if we add more value to their experiences, we could win more financial support that could be directed to teen services. Some concrete evidence as to why we should choose this branch of services over others: Over the course of nine months last year, my teen library alone saw 7,053 one-hour computer sessions completed. Most of the teens who logged in this screen time are new to the United States (Portland, ME, has a large Somali and Sudanese immigrant population) and spent it searching for jobs, learning how to get a driver’s license, watching soccer, talking to their family members overseas, and Facebooking.
We have also given teens the opportunity to be creators instead of consumers and explore interests that could become careers. Self-confidence, always a difficult thing to develop, is a goal. The “Make Music at the Library” program allows them to tinker and compose, The end result is a unique piece of art that will be stored forever in our library.
Finally, what I consider the most wonderful thing about working in a library is the connection that we most often overlook because it isn’t measurable: we offer teens friendship and a nonjudgmental ear. Over the past week, I’ve had a number of teens come to the library just to talk to me about life, love, the pursuit of college, and everything in between. They didn’t leave the library with a solid answer of how to move onto the next step of their lives, but that’s not what we’re here to do. By simply listening, we’re giving teens a chance to talk things out.
I sincerely believe that despite our current economic situation, the time to expand library services is now. One of the best ways to ensure that libraries thrive well into the future is to invest in its future adult citizens: teens. So let’s talk, and better yet, let’s act.