The Young Writers and Leaders film is part of a Telling Room program, Sonya Tomlinson, David Meiklejohn, and 15 Portland, Maine area teens (all of whom use my teen library everyday!). Simply stated, the film tells the stories of the teens and their involvement in the Telling Room program and their lives in Portland, ME.
Their goal is to take their film and the fifteen teen participants on a trip to Boston and spend the day in the city visiting a sister writing center, pairing up with Boston-area young writers, and holding a screening of the film in a film house that holds 250 people followed by a Q&A with the Young Writers and Leaders students.
Over the past two years, I’ve come to know a lot of these teens one on one from my time with them in the library. As I sit and write this, I see Ali sitting in a study room in front of me listening to music and working on something even though it’s spring break this week. Just this morning, I met up with Chrispo and gave him a drum set that I had sitting around collecting dust in my storage unit. He’s been wanting to play drums for years now and used to use garbage cans at the open mic events we held in the teen library in 2010. I remember having many talks with Edna at the teen service desk just one year ago about her librarian-ish obsession to categorize, archive, and color code all of her homework in a specific brand of Office Depot three ring binders. These teens have come a long way in the two years that I’ve known them and now they’re getting a chance to tell their story and take it on the road to another community.
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.
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.
On Tuesday May 17, 2011, my library had the pleasure of hosting a show featuring the wizard rock band Harry and the Potters. The show itself was awesome: the music was great, the band was super nice, and everyone had a good time.
The highlight for me had nothing to do with the actual show. Instead, it came from the patrons. The first moment where I noticed that this wasn’t going to be just any old program was when I stepped out to announce to the fans that were waiting for the show to start that the band was just sound checking and would be ready shortly. I expected maybe 20 people tops, but the line stretched all the way from our auditorium up into the library proper. We’re talking at least 100 people here, all with smiles on their faces.
Once the show got underway, I stepped up to the mic to introduce the band to the 203 people that came to the library on a rainy, Tuesday night to see this free show. I was greeted with shouts of “I LOVE LIBRARIES” and “WE LOVE LIBRARIANS”. I felt like a Beatle.
But that’s not what I’m trying to get at. What I’m really trying to say is this: the death of the library has been greatly exaggerated. This event showed me that there are people out there that love their libraries. They know who we are and what we do…and they love us for it. Will 26 ebook circulations be the thing that takes away that love? What about when Seth Godin says that libraries are out of date? Are they gonna listen to him? I don’t think so. People will remember you when you give them positive experiences.
I have a feeling we’re gonna be ok.
Here’s some video I took at the event with my phone. Sure, the quality isn’t the best, but I think it captures the excitement of the evening.
As much of a fan of putting together elaborate and unique programs at my library, at the same time I feel it’s good to balance things out with some laid back stuff as well. This lead to my desire to seek out a movie license so that we could show some films. It was a program that could easily happen and at the same time give our teen patrons something to do.
I tried a Random Movie Nightprogram at first. It was probably the least amount of work I put into a program and I had hoped for high results. It wasn’t that big of a success. I’m still trying to figure out why, but I feel like it had something to do with uncertainty. If someone’s gonna make the trek out to the library to see a film, they want to make sure it’s something they’ll enjoy.
With that, my colleague Michael Whittaker and I put our thinking caps on. How could we effectively use this movie license and still keep the program simple? It was Michael who came up with the theme Teens Through Time, a film series showcasing teen movies through the years. Our hope was to show that what people call “teen angst” wasn’t just something that was happening to their generation, but instead a problem that teens have faced through the years. We quickly came up with a list of films we were enthusiastic about and put our creation out into the world. For the full list of what my library is showing during our Teens Through Time series, click here
Students who watch the movies will see that fashions may change but people don’t, and the issues that they are wrestling with have been constant themes.
They also may recognize that, like some of the actors on the screen, they will likely play different roles in the course of their own lives, as they have kids, who also grow up.
The series is a great use of the renovated library facility and should give teens — and adults — plenty to talk about this winter.
So far, we’ve gone through two movies. At the screening of Blackboard Jungle, we had a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter show up for the film. The grandmother told us that she had seen the movie in the theater when it came out and that her daughter had seen it on VHS many years later at home. It was the granddaughter’s first time seeing the movie. Three generations of family in the public library, enjoying just one of the many services we offer. Awesome.
I’ve been thinking a lot about transparency this year. It might have to do with the term becoming a buzz word of some sorts, or maybe because the ongoing discussion concerning Wikileaks in news media. A huge part of me, however, thinks that I came to the conclusion that as a public employee I have an obligation to inform my community about what I’m doing. Nonetheless, I approached creating a 2010 year in review for the Portland Public Teen Library with this idea in mind.
The one thing I realized about annual reports as I created this one was that they can often times be a bit heavy on the positive stuff. With that in mind, I’d like to add a few things that I will be aiming to change in the Teen Library in 2011.
Create a Teen Advisory Board. Involve them in the creation of programs, collection development, and the creation of the year in review.
Have a fail section in the year in review. What didn’t work at the library and why? What can the Teen Library do to improve
A in depth look at how the teen materials and programming budget was spent. Where did the money go? How were grants effectively used?
Stats are good, but be more in depth about the breakdown of age/gender/target audience using the teen library.
-Post by Justin Hoenke, Tame the Web Contributor
People, Libraries & Technology – A Weblog by Michael Stephens