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Youth Services

    Libraries Youth Services

    8 Signs You Don’t Belong in Youth Services


    Given the library job market and youth services being a typical entry level position we occasionally see people that really shouldn’t be here. All of us can use a reminder of what kind of attitudes lead to success or failure. This post is inspired in part by Marge’s Top 12 Ways to be a Bad Selector and part by More Than Dodgeball’s post Pizza Church.

    You might try a different specialty if:

    You do all the talking and none of the listening where patrons are concerned.

    If you truly want to offer great customer service to your patrons you need to listen to them. Do your best to offer them the programs they are interested in at times they can attend.  Provide the materials  THEY find useful, entertaining, or informative.

    You consider enforcing library policy, and sometimes additional rules you’ve created, your #1 priority.

    Structure and consistency is important, but if this becomes your main function you will make everyone miserable including yourself.  Don’t have rules for the sake of having rules. Is the behavior actually unsafe or dispruptive (actually disruptive to users and not just annoying to you)?  Who cares how many people are sitting at a table if they are safe and relatively quiet.

    You make assumptions.

    If you put kids and teens in neat little boxes based on first impressions you will never build authentic relationships with young people. Teens and children, being individual humans and all,  are more than one thing.

    There will always be the super needy kid and the perfect volunteer, but if you spend all your time with them you are missing out on other relationships. Teens especially are trying on all sorts of identities which creates wonderful opportunities for us to provide information if we’re paying attention.

    If you are shy and find it hard to break the ice be seen at a football game or school play. Kids and parents will notice.

    You only offer one level of engagement.

    I’ve seen it both ways. On one end of the spectrum you have the those that offer only traditionally educational and book related programs. On the other end either the bar is lowered because of assumptions about your patrons, or the librarian is stat-padding by offering only casual fun programs.

    Instead of this we should be offering a range of engagement to meet our patrons where they are. Just like YouMedia programs have students go from “hanging out” to “messing around”, to “geeking out” our programs can offer points of entry at various levels and encourage young people to be more involved.

    You don’t read widely. 

    This one just blows my mind. There are plenty of types of librarianship where you don’t actually have to be an avid reader, but youth services isn’t one of them. Read good books, read popular books, read books you wouldn’t normally pick for yourself.  You will never be good at your job if you don’t know your collection.

    Your degree was the end of your education, not the beginning. 

    Let’s face it, most of us had a handful of youth services classes in library school if that. Even the best professors (shout out to Dr. McKechnie) can’t teach us everything we will ever need to know. Technology evolves, best practices change, and publishing trends come and go. To give our patrons the best service we need to keep learning and improving.

    You think children’s and teens’ culture is beneath you. 

    Contempt for those you are supposed to be serving is not attractive. Information needs come in all varieties including the birthdays of One Direction. Marketing your programs and collections means tapping into things kids love. On the other hand if you don’t mind an excuse to watch a little Disney Channel now and then you might be in the right place.

    You were looking for a desk job. 

    Youth services is an out on the floor, visit the schools, shake your sillies out kind of job.  You need to be visible and enthusiastic in your library and your community. This of course refers to a sit-on-your- ass attitude, not actual physical differences.

    Do you disagree? Have one I missed? Want to write a guest post going into more detail on one of these?  Speak up.

    Resource Roundup Youth Services

    Beyond Bookmarks: Ways to Promote Databases and Electronic Resources to Youth

    As Youth Services Librarians we are very good at promoting books to kids. We booktalk, create displays, offer programs, and compile lists. When it comes to marketing our electronic resources we can struggle a bit without the tangible object to hand young people and their caregivers.  Here are a few ways to market these expensive and often under used resources.

    Mini Cards

    Less can be more. What do teens really do with fliers? Leave them on the table? Toss them? Wait till they become a clump in the bottom of their school bags? Why not try something they can slip in their wallets or in with their library cards? Create mini-cards the size of business cards featuring the bare essentials of a single database or online service like tutoring, Tumblebooks, Freegal, or Zinio. Focus on promoting just that one resource for a while and then make up a new batch.

    Speed dating

    The basics of the Book Speed Dating program can easily be adapted for databases. In this case it would likely be easiest to have participants rotate computer stations, each pointing to a different database, every 5-10 minutes depending on the age of your patrons and how much time you have for the session. You might consider doing this as a class visit and having a worksheet with one question to be answered by each database just to keep things on track. Leave time at the end for a bit of discussion.

    • Had they ever used a database before?
    • What could they use for a current assignment?
    • Which database was easiest to use? Why?
    • What kind of material were they surprised they could find in the database?
    • What advantages do databases have over Google? (You may have to prompt)

    Targeted Marketing

    When we promote our databases and other online resources we need to think both inside and outside the box. Sure, you’ve told the high school guidance counselor about  online tutoring, but what about the coaches? They have access to kids who need to keep their academics at a certain level but are very busy and are often not the kids you see in the library after school.

    What student clubs or community groups might be interested in Learn 4 Life classes? There must be teens in your community who would like to learn Java or digital photography for free!

    Obviously the foreign language teachers should know about Mango Languages and the like, but how about the local youth pastor that plans international mission trips?

    What groups in your city would benefit from test prep resources like Learning Express? Can your mini cards be passed out when the Urban League does college tours? These are just a few examples. I’m sure if you look around your community you can think of more.

    Contextual Promotion

    Make information about electronic resources available at the point of need. In other words do your best to integrate pointers to your electronic resources in your physical collection. CultureGrams bookmarks on the shelf near the geography books, Freegal mini-cards near the CD collection, pointers to test prep materials displayed with the college guides all have a better chance of success than the same information sitting on the circulation or reference desk.

    Think about your displays. Place subject specific resource guides or posters pointing to specific electronic resources in sign holders as part of your display. You could even make dummy book covers with the title of the database and access instructions.

    In most schools certain grades do the same type of projects every year. Talk to teachers and make notes of when demand for certain materials increases, be sure to focus promotion on related databases during those times.


    Bring your databases front and center by working with your web team to reduce the number of clicks to get to the start pages. At the very least link a few popular choices from the main youth pages.

    Set a goal to find ways to use or demonstrate a certain number of resources during programs.

    Post “Did You Know?” fun facts on your bulletin boards or social media accounts with links to the database the fact comes from.

    Create a database trailer (like a book trailer) highlighting the types of information found in a specific database.

    Early Childhood

    Serving NICU Parents: Or How the Reason I Quit Reminded Me Why I Love What We Do


    Early in December the specialist I was seeing at the end of my pregnancy decided that it was safer for both me and my little girl to deliver her at 35 weeks rather than wait. I won’t bore you with the details, but needless to say we were incredibly blessed that both of us are healthy and she only spent nine days in the NICU.

    Preemies sleep a lot, and so there is a lot of time both to think and to take in your surroundings during a NICU stay. Once we knew she would be fine and I was able to move around better my librarian brain kicked in.

    Some of us are rather privileged when it comes to our own information needs. The ability to pull out a tablet and download a book on a subject by a reputable author or knowing how to conduct an internet search and be relatively confident our results are both accurate and presented in a way we can understand is a great advantage not just professionally but personally as well.

    Try to imagine yourself as a young, mother of a premature, ill, or special needs newborn with a high school education. You may not have internet access at home, and even if you do you barely spend any time there between working the hours you need to pay your bills at your job and spending time with your child.

    In that limited time you try typing your questions into Google, but when you do you find a bunch of message board posts where every answer contradicts the one before.  There are a couple of other websites on the first page, but now you aren’t sure which to believe. You’ve never been a big reader, but you decide to stop at Walmart on the way home and see if they have a book. They have two, both of which cost a couple hours of pay and each of them only has a few pages on preemies.

    Essentially the reason I’m choosing to stay home for a while served as a great reminder of how much I believe in what we do.

    NICU parents (and new parents in general) face many challenges we can’t do much about, but low literacy, access to information, and information literacy are needs that create opportunities for librarians serving children and their caregivers.

    While we as public librarians are sensitive to the first two sometimes it’s too easy to leave information literacy to the school and academic librarians. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it excludes a large number of people who need these basic skills in everyday life who may or may not have had the opportunity to continue formal education.

     So what can we do to serve our tiniest patrons and their parents?

    -Make an effort to seek out resources for our collections on topics like pregnancy and child care written on a lower reading level or at least set up to be less intimidating.  Dr. Sear’s The Baby Book is well known but I can only imagine how intimidating its 784(!) pages would be to someone who struggles with reading.

    -Partner with local NICU and PICU departments to provide resources for patients and parents. While the NICU had a small shelf of donated materials it included only a few board books for parents to read to their babies. Between regular life and spending time with their child NICU parents rarely have time to visit the library, and many times the large hospital where the child is cared for is not in the same area where they qualify for a library card.  A deposit collection of some type can help meet these needs.

    -Make contact with the social worker who handles the NICU. They can provide expertise on what kind of materials would be most useful to their patients as well as providing information on support resources for parents in your community.

    -Seek out partnerships with organizations in your community that work with parents who are likely to struggle with these skills. Shelters, low cost health clinics, and alternative education programs are great places to start. Sometimes just knowing the library welcomes them and their children can make a world of difference.

    -Create handouts in the library directing patrons to quality, research  based materials including books, health databases geared for the general public, and reputable websites. Share these with your hospital and other community contacts.

    Kid's Programs Programs

    The Land of Stories: Five Activity Ideas for Library Programs

    LOS1Chris Colfer's THE LAND OF STORIES

    Today the second book in the Land of Stories series, The Enchantress Returns, will be released.  I’m pretty biased when it comes to the author so instead of a review I bring you program ideas. This would be a great tween program as the audience for the book extends past it’s middle grade-ness.

    Versions of Fairy Tales

    Alex and Connor’s teacher talks about how the original versions of stories have been lost to modernization and Hollywood versions. Why not check your collection for various versions of the same story and have the kids compare and contrast? Do a little research and share the oldest version you can find as well. Sur La Lune Fairy Tales will get you started.

    Writing Activity:Fairy Tales from a Different Point of View

    “What the world fails to realize is that a villain is just a victim whose story hasn’t been told.”

    Challenge students to write a version of a fairy tale from the point of view of the villain. You could share The True Story of the Three Little Pigs to get them thinking. How would the witch in Hansel and Gretel explain her actions? What about the tailor in the Emperor’s New Clothes?

    Fairy Tale Improv

    For a more active game get silly with favorite stories. Pick a couple of well known stories and several ways to perform them like fast forward, slow motion, super sad, cowboy style etc. Make a spinner with each of the styles and have participants spin the wheel and volunteer to act out the story in that particular style.

    Make a Map 

    Provide large sheets of paper and let kids create a map of their own imaginary world just like Chris Colfer did as a child. Here is the author’s childhood map of The Land of Stories and the professionally illustrated version from the actual book.

    Chris's map

    TheLandofStories_MAP (1)

    Fairy Tale or Literary Wanted Posters

    In The Land of Stories Goldilocks is a wanted criminal. Have students create a wanted poster for her or another literary criminal. This could easily extend beyond fairy tales to other literary bad guys like Count Olaf or Bellatrix Lestrange.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, my pre-order copy should be here any time.


    Doing More With Summer Reading Data

    Pretty soon youth services librarians across the country will heave a giant sigh of relief and wrap up their summer reading programs for the year.  Beyond soothing over-competitive or under-organized parents, making sure all the vendors are paid, and breaking out the wine and/or chocolate it’s also a time for evaluation and reporting.

    Traditionally we track the following things depending on the structure of your program:

    Number of registrations
    Number of participants reaching a pre-determined completion point
    Program attendance
    Circulation (You are including this in your SRP stats, right?)

    This is all important information, and numbers are essential when telling our story and advocating for our programs and services to administration and outside funding partners.

    However, given the wide use of Evance and other electronic registration systems there are some other numbers that can help us evaluate our offerings and possibly grow participation in the future. If you didn’t get this information this year don’t worry, it will be time to plan next year’s program before you know it. (Sorry)

    New Participants vs. Repeat Registrations

    Are you reaching your entire community or are you preaching to the choir? Of course we love our regulars, but those are the families who would likely read over the summer anyway.  If we really want to make a difference we want to reach out to families that might need the incentives, whatever they might be, to make reading a priority over the summer.

    One way to see if this is happening is to count the number of kids registered this year who have never participated in summer reading before. It’s true you would need data from previous years for this, unless you asked upfront if this is their first time, but it might be worth it.

    While you are doing that look for other patterns in new registrations such as school affiliation or location which we’ll talk more about below.

    Age Participation

    Usually we keep stats in two or three broad age groups such as preschool, school-age, and teen. Yet it might be instructive to look a little deeper at these numbers. If you run your program from birth to high-school are you actually getting participation from all of those age groups?  Looking for more detail will let you see who you are and aren’t reaching.

    Do you need to modify your teen program to appeal to high school students?  Do you need better publicity to get the word out to parents that their littlest ones can participate as well? Do fifth or sixth graders participate in your kids’ program or is it aimed too young?  You won’t know without the numbers.

     School and Location Information

    For libraries serving larger populations this can be very interesting, especially when these numbers don’t line up along socio-economic or geographic boundaries.

    What schools have the highest participation compared to enrollment? The lowest?  Gains or losses from previous years?   It might be wise to reach out to schools in the fall both to encourage and thank those schools with high participation and to see how we might better reach schools with low participation. Sometimes schools can help us overcome tricky problems like providing translations of program materials or contacts for summer programs where we might reach children who can’t get to the library.

    What branches have large gains or losses in registration? There may be new staff, schools that have opened or closed, changes in school staff, or competing programs that influence these numbers. How can under-performing branches plan for next year to improve their results? How can the library as a whole support both these branches and ones that are overwhelmed with participation?

    Obviously there are tons of factors to consider when evaluating your summer reading program and we know that the strict numbers only tell part of the story.  Still, it’s worth our time to get the whole story the numbers can provide. Now, go dig into that chocolate. You’ve earned it this summer.