My First Four Months as a Teen Services Librarian

I just passed the four-month mark in my first professional library job. I work as a teen services librarian for a large system in Washington state and I split my 30-hour week between two small branches, with a couple shifts a month at a larger branch for reference desk coverage and one shift a month doing outreach visits on our small bookmobile. The biggest learning curve has been learning the system’s policies (and there are many!) and culture. I look forward to continuing learning and developing as a librarian!

What I’ve Been Working On

Programs at Branch 1

My “home” branch has some history of teen programming, though it took a bit of legwork to get info about past events and I have only anecdotal info about attendance. This is a small branch, not really near any schools, so it doesn’t get tons of traffic from teens. On any given afternoon/evening, I might see 5-10 teens in the library using the computers or checking out books. They are often with families, though we do see some independent teens hanging around.

Weekly drop-in gaming program: This is a long-standing program that most branches in the system offer. We don’t have a dedicated teen space in my branches, so for two hours, once a week, I set up our meeting room with video game systems (Wii, XBox360, PS2) and teens can drop in to play. So far, I’ve run this for 10 weeks. Most weeks we have one or two teens stop by, though two weeks we had six. This seems to be in line with how this program went before I took the position, so I’m not sure if this is worth the time investment on my end. I will keep it going for the rest of the school year to possibly build up interest, but will probably re-think gaming programs for next year.

Book club: Oh, I so want to have a thriving book club! I have twice tried to hold a book club without a specific book to discuss (just come talk about any book!), but haven’t had any takers yet. I will try one more time before scrapping this plan. I have some feelers out at the middle school and high school in my service area about doing an after-school or lunchtime club at the school, but those plans might have to wait until the start of the school year due to some scheduling issues.

Craft programs: I am trying out doing once-a-month craft programs. My first attempt was a duct tape program in February, which brought out one very interested teen. I’m doing a BrushBots program for Teen Tech week in March, hoping to get some more takers!

SAT Prep: The system funds free SAT prep classes twice a year, so we are trying them out for the first time at this branch in the spring.

Volunteers: I’d really like to get a few volunteers at Branch 1, so I’ve been working on some materials related to that and will be doing at least one info session at the local high school to drum up some interest.

Programs at Branch 2

This branch is a tricky one! It’s one of the lowest use branches in the system, both by circulation and door count. It’s also on an Indian reservation, though it’s not exclusively for use by tribal members. The tribe has its own state-of-the-art teen center, so it’s difficult to draw teens into the library when they have transportation and friends already at the center. I have had some success with bringing programs there. I did a repeat of the duct tape crafts there and will be bringing a break dance group next month. As with any collaboration, there are some communication and scheduling issues with this as well.

I have had two presenter-led programs at the branch, one poetry related and one a craft program, that were not very successful. One very enthusiastic teen attended the poetry workshop and no one showed up to the craft program.

Outreach

I am actively working with the school librarians at the local middle and high schools (one each in my service area) to come to the schools to do presentations on databases and get students signed up with library cards. Right now, at the high school, I am lined up to do lunchtime visits related to eBooks and volunteer opportunities, and an after-school session about our free homework help resources. I will likely do some book talking in the late spring to prep for summer reading. I am also working with the other teen librarian in my area to meet with other community groups who work with youth to discuss collaboration. Luckily, the system is very interested in outreach, so we have a lot of time and freedom to leave the library and explore partnerships. This is both the most important and most challenging part of the job!

Collections

We have central purchasing, but I am in charge of maintaining the teen collections at the branches. I did a full weeding of both collections when I started, since they hadn’t been looked at in about six months. Now I do a scan about once a week for books in poor condition and a monthly look at specific sections. I can also request new copies of popular titles, so I have a tiny bit of purchasing power! The system is lucky to have a healthy collections budget and a great teen materials selector, so I have yet to come across essential titles that we are missing! The biggest challenge with collections is not having the books you want to recommend to teens right there on the shelf any time you want them, but that’s a problem in all libraries. Some teens are on board with holds, but I’ve found that most want something to read immediately. I definitely need to keep improving my knowledge of less-popular titles to recommend in reader’s advisory.

System-Wide Projects

So far, I’ve gotten involved with my system’s Mock Printz group and am on a team working on developing new RA services for the whole system (across children’s, teen, and adult). I will also be working on an advisory group for a new system-wide teen website to be launched in conjunction with summer reading.

YALSA Blog: What I’d Like to See

There was a bit of hub-bub this month about the news that the YALSAblog was re-booting. First Wendy Stephens, the outgoing blog member manager, posted on her blog that the Editorial Advisory Board had been sent email notices that their terms were ending early. Then the Midwinter Board documents went up last week with item #18 YALSAblog Reboot. The blog is also currently seeking a new member manager, though according to the board doc, there will be an interim manager from now until the position is filled.

I think it’s great that YALSA is re-evaluating the blog, though I wish it had been a bit more transparent to the advisory board and manager than it appears it was handled. As mentioned in the board doc, the blog has been pretty much operating as-is since 2006. A lot has changed in the way YALSA communicates information to members, not to mention the changes in the broader information media landscape. As a YALSA member, here are a few things I would like to see from a new YALSA Blog:

  • Have a clear vision about how the blog fits into the YALSA communication structure. How is it different than the eNews, the other blogs (especially the new YALS blog), the print YALS, the website, listservs, and wikis? The blog should fill an information-sharing gap. I’m sure part of the declining numbers is due to the dispersed and growth of communication from other YALSA sources. Realistically, can the average member keep up with all of these sources? It should be clear what need the blog fills for professionals who have limited reading time.
  • One clear benefit to a blog, as opposed to a print source or even an email, is the ability to link out to other resources. As noted in the board doc, posts are often lacking in links to existing resources. In an ideal world, there would be a central index of all YALSA material, so one could quickly find print articles, blog posts, Wikis, videos, podcasts, etc. on any topic. I have no idea how that would work, but it would be cool!
  • Support the online network of YALSA members. There should be more interaction between the blog and YALSA members who write elsewhere online. An active directory of YALSA member blogs is one possibility, as is a Twitter list. People who already contribute online to their own blogs or to other online sources are a key group upon which to draw for posts.
  • Extend the conversations that are happening elsewhere online. A lot of discussion happens on Twitter and the listservs, but both of these formats are very transient and don’t have a great way to archive material. One idea would be to highlight the best conversations each week, similar to the current Tweets of the week, or to compile resources on particular topics that are discussed in either format. Also make it clear where to go for more discussion, that is, actively point people toward blog posts and comment threads.
  • Provide more coverage of live events, including Midwinter, Annual, PLA, webinars, etc. Assign bloggers to cover different events, whether in-person or compiling Tweets about the event.
  • Experiment more with multimedia, especially video and images from conferences.
  • Get more voices involved with the blog. Invite guest posts from other associations or professionals with intersecting interests. I’m not sure if bloggers need to commit to a certain number of posts, but I wouldn’t make that a requirement. One of the reasons I haven’t pursued contributing is not knowing what I would regularly write about! On that note, a wishlist of posts that need authors might help someone fill a niche.
  • Make the blog more personal. The author’s names are posted, but I would love to be able to click on a name and see more about the author. A profile of the manager and others involved would also be helpful.
  • Support professional development of members with more posts on contributing to the profession (how to submit a conference proposal, how to make a poster, doing research), more reviews of professional resources (and not just library-related books!), developing a personal learning network, etc. Depending on how the new badges work, tie those into professional how-to posts. I would love to see something like “So you want to be a teen librarian?” with resources for those considering entering the field.
  • Feature old content that is still relevant. Services like LinkWithin automatically list related content. Or create nice link buttons in the sidebar for particularly useful series.
  • Reconsider the new design. Can I just say, I really don’t like it?

Those are just a few of my disjointed thoughts about the YALSA Blog. I have no idea if any of these things have already been considered or are completely outside of the realm of feasibility. I have nothing but respect for all of the work the past member managers, advisory boards, bloggers, and YALSA staff have put into the blog up until now. And yes, I’m considering applying for the open Member Manager position and thinking about ways I can contribute to the blog!

The Politics of Book Links

When you click on a link of a book title, where do you expect to go? Ever since I started blogging about libraries and books about five years ago, the practice of creating links to books has been almost an existential crisis for me. Blogging is an interactive medium, so of course I want to link out to somewhere, but where?

The default most places on the web seems to be to link to Amazon. For many reasons, this is great. Amazon has loads of bibliographic information about specific titles, along with other book recommendations and the opportunity to buy with as little as one click. As a blogger, I could also use Amazon Affiliates links and even make money from linking to Amazon (full disclosure: I do have an Affiliates account, but do not currently use my links). But as a librarian and book-lover, the Amazon default kills me a little inside. Of course I do buy books from Amazon, but they are clearly a threat to the survival of physical bookstores, both independents and chains, and are well on their way to disrupting the publishing industry in general. Since I care about the continued existence of bookstores and traditional publishers, I choose not to link to Amazon on my blog.

I could instead make my book links go to an independent online bookstore. I’ve seen plenty of blogs and other websites link to Powell’s, an indie chain in Oregon, since they are large and have an extensive online selection. I think this is a fine practice, but I’m not so sure I want to favor one independent bookstore over another.

On the non-bookstore side, I see a few options. The biggest reading social network is Goodreads, which is an obvious choice when linking to a book. I’m an avid Goodreads user and when I’m reading about a book on a blog, it’s so useful to be able to click on the title, go straight to Goodreads, and add the book to my to-read shelf. Goodreads also has heaps of info about the title and links to a whole host of book-buying options. Of course, it’s not so great if you’re not a Goodreads user. Oh, and it’s now owned by Amazon, so it’s contributing to the factors already outlined above. (This does not stop me from using Goodreads though—it’s so useful!) Similar to Goodreads, LibraryThing is another social book site that could be used. While I am a user of the site, I don’t think it’s the best option for regular book links. Its user base is much smaller than Goodreads, so it won’t be as useful or familiar to most blog readers.

Another option I have used extensively on this blog, is Worldcat. This big online library catalog from OCLC provides bibliographic information and links out to other library catalogs based on your location. It also links to a few buying options and pulls in Goodreads reviews. I like linking to Worldcat because I see it as a neutral source and it promotes libraries (bonus!). My one hesitation with Worldcat links is that it’s not very familiar to most people, which could lead to confusion if someone is used to book links going out to Amazon or Goodreads.

I’m still clearly undecided about the best way to link to books from my blog. There are no industry standards for book blogs, so what do others prefer? Am I the only one who lets this issue keep them up at night?

Site Updates

If you’re looking for youth services librarians on Twitter, I have a Twitter list of over 100 librarians who work with teens and tweens. I just added a widget to the blog’s sidebar that compiles all their tweets — check it out! Let me know if you want to be added to the list!

I also have an in progress listing of teen library websites from around the US and Canada. For many of the states, I’ve highlighted pages that are particularly awesome. Does your library have a teen site that’s not listed yet? Let me know!