Category Archives: Public libraries

Book Talk Tool: Kahoot!

Kahoot! app.Yesterday, I had my last school visit of the year. I’ve learned a lot through a year of book talks, and get a sense of closure from having the first and last classes I visited this school year be the same. One tool I’ve started using in middle school classrooms is Kahoot!

If you’re unfamiliar with Kahoot!, it’s a free online platform that lets you create multiple-choice quizzes that students can answer on a computer or mobile device. (There are other options for quizzes and games you can create, but I haven’t explored those yet.) Every student at the local middle school has a Chromebook, which is perfect for Kahoot! After talking about books I think the students will like, I tell them about the library’s online resources and upcoming programs. A Kahoot! quiz on our eBooks and events is a great way to see how well the students were listening (and how well I presented!), and to get them more involved in the presentation. In my opinion, the more interactive a class visit, the better! It helps that the teachers use Kahoot! here, too; just say “Kahoot!” and the kids all know what to do!

Tonight, before we Skype with YA author Stephanie Garber at the library, I’ve prepared a Kahoot! with trivia about her book, Caraval. There are so many ways to use Kahoot! to spice up a presentation or host a trivia night.

Do you use Kahoot!?

Why supporting libraries supports communities

Support Libraries. #SaveIMLS.The proposed federal budget for 2017 threatens to significantly cut funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), which helps fund a lot of America’s libraries. While public libraries are mainly funded by taxes (the exact logistics of this vary by state), IMLS provides grants that help libraries develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programming, purchase equipment, and even provide Internet access to the public. I worry that a lot of the people voting to potentially cut IMLS funding don’t really know what libraries do. Maybe they have an idea in their head from when they went to their local library as a kid and checked out books or got research help they assume Google could handle today. So I thought I’d share some of the things we do every day at my library (and that libraries around the country do) to help our community. Feel free to share these stories with your representatives and encourage them to support IMLS!

First, let’s clear up some common misconceptions. Some representatives argue that the Internet is a luxury. It’s 2017; if you want to search for a job, apply for a job, apply for a higher education program, apply for financial aid, view or print a pay stub, view or print travel documents, pay taxes — basically be a member of society — you need the Internet. And I haven’t even mentioned basic “luxuries” like email, social media, and the wealth of information (and, yes, misinformation) online.

But moving past the basics of providing Internet access to everyone in our community, here are a few other things that happen daily at my library. Many of these are teen-specific, because I’m a teen librarian, but know that libraries are here for everyone of every age, gender, race, religion, and ability.

Kids and teens have a place to be and things to do after school. Our community has a lot of latch key kids — kids whose parents/guardians work during the after-school hours. Many of these kids are also in charge of younger siblings/cousins. The library gives them a place to hang out and unwind, books to read for fun, computers to do their homework or play games on. It has study rooms for those working on group projects. It has a children’s department and a designated teen room where kids and teens can spend time with friends their age and meet new friends.

Youth can develop leadership skills. One of my favorite moments as a teen librarian was watching a few of the teens who come to library programs regularly take ownership of an event. I knew almost nothing about Kendama at the start of April, other than my teens were really into it, and they wanted to have a tournament at the library. Fortunately, the teens helped me a lot with planning this event, coming up with the trick lists themselves, recommending prizes for each division, and even helping to judge the tournament. Not only did those who planned the event benefit; the day of, lots of teens were helping each other learn new tricks between heats, and the parents and grandparents who came to watch got to see what their kids were passionate about.

Students can do schoolwork. I have lost count of how many students of all ages (including scores of adults taking online classes) I’ve helped with everything from finding information for research papers to formatting their paper in Microsoft Word to attaching those papers to emails or uploading them to Blackboard. Could they do this work elsewhere? Maybe. Some may not have the research skills to find the information without a librarian’s help yet. Many do not have Internet access at home, so even if they typed their papers at home, they would need to come to the library to do research and to submit their papers electronically. Some may not have a home computer on which to type their papers.

Teens have a safe place to talk about tough topics. Teen Game Nights at my library always contain fascinating conversations. We’ve had political debates over Apples to Apples, discussions of bullying and LGBTQIAP+ identities, conversations about racism and sexism and mental health. Sometimes teens have questions I can answer, like “Is Russia a democracy?”; sometimes it’s harder, like “How old do you have to be to know if you’re transgender?” or “What do I do if my girlfriend’s parents say she’s too young to date?” Sometimes it’s not my job to have the answers; it’s my job to listen and let the teens know someone cares about them, is interested in the things they’re interested in, and is rooting for them to succeed. I know not all my teens will talk to me about the things that are bothering them, but I’d like to think they all know they can talk to me. Because while many of them have parents or grandparents or older siblings they can talk to, not all of them do.

People get free technology help. This afternoon, three teens came in distraught, looking for their lost dog. They wanted to make a flyer with pictures of the missing pet. They had no idea where to start; I showed them how to make a flyer in Publisher, how to upload pictures of the dog from their phone, and how to print the flyers. Could they have done this elsewhere? Perhaps a copy shop could have helped them, but they would have charged a lot more than ten cents per copy.

People can improve their lives. Whether this means checking out a book on eating healthier, borrowing an exercise DVD, or using one of our community meeting rooms to hold a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, people’s lives change every day at the library.

I could keep going, but this post is already longer than most. If you care about libraries and building strong communities, please ask your representatives to support IMLS. And if you have your own library stories, please share in the comments!

Measuring Success: Beyond the Numbers

Success.Every month, I submit a report to my managers with information about outreach events and meetings I attended, professional development, and programs I facilitated. These reports are largely about numbers — how many LEUs (Library Education Units) I earned for attending a webinar, how many presentations I made to how many students on a school visit, how many hours I spent on a special project. But those numbers often don’t tell the whole story.

For instance, at an open mic night last week, I had three attendees. One wanted to perform, but was too shy until I made a deal with him: I’ll sing first if you sing second. So we both sang for the two other teens, who are regulars at teen programs. After he rapped for us, the shy performer asked if he could bring his own music next time, instead of doing a karaoke rap to a YouTube video. We talked a bit about the raps he writes before he had to leave. On paper, my program with three attendees may not look like a huge success, but it gave me a chance to connect with a teen, and gave him a chance to share something he’s passionate about.

Those numbers also don’t show the relationships I’ve built with teachers, or the students who pull me aside after I’ve talked to their classes to rave about favorite books. They don’t show the times I’ve helped people apply for jobs, find obscure recipes, learn how to train their new puppies. Numbers are great, but they shouldn’t be our only measure of success.

How do you measure success? Have you ever had a program that looked like a flop on paper but went really well?

Genre Lessons: Women’s Fiction

Woman reading.I belong to a librarian book club that reads a different genre every month to improve our reader’s advisory skills. The idea is to get us better-acquainted with the types of books we may not normally read. In addition to improving my recommendations, I’m also studying these books from a writer’s perspective. Just because I don’t write a certain genre doesn’t mean I can’t learn from those who do. If you want to see other posts in this series, check out the “genre lessons” tag.

This month we’re reading women’s fiction. If you asked me what genre I read the least, it would be women’s fiction. There are a lot of excellent women’s fiction writers out there (a few of my friends among them), but it’s not the type of story I typically look for. Women’s fiction and romance tend to be predictable — you may not be able to guess every turn the plot takes, but you always know the couple will end up together. I don’t see this is a fault; in these genres, it’s intentional. It’s what the reader wants. They may want to be surprised by a twist, but they expect a Happily Ever After.

But here’s the thing: having a predictable plot gave me ample room to explore the different beats of the plot. There were conflicts in each protagonist’s work life. There was a secret that threatened to ruin everything. There was an antagonist ex-fiance, a climax, a dark moment when it looked like the relationship was over, and an engagement at the end. If, like me, beat sheets make you cringe, women’s fiction is a good genre to work on breaking down the plot of a story.

Another thing about great women’s fiction: setting. The book I read was basically a love letter to Milwaukee, where it’s set. I’ve never been to Milwaukee, but now I have a loose map of the city in my head, and I’d love to visit for one of their cultural festivals! Perhaps in part because there’s less room for the plot to meander, women’s fiction has ample opportunities to develop rich settings. And the way the characters describe their settings speaks volumes about who they are.

Have you read any women’s fiction recently? What writing lessons did you learn?

What happens when you let teens take ownership of a program

Kendamas.A few of of my regular teens are really into Kendama. After school, there’s almost always at least one person practicing Kendama in the Teen Room. A few months ago, one of the teens on the advisory board asked if we could hold a Kendama tournament.

I had no idea how to run a Kendama tournament, but luckily, he did. One we picked a date for the program, he came up with the trick lists for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced competitions, and helped me get in touch with someone in our community who’d run a tournament last year. He gave me ideas for mini-games to play in between each division competition. He volunteered as a judge, and helped me find other volunteers to judge.

The tournament was awesome. The best part wasn’t the competition itself, though; it was watching all these teens who were passionate about something come together, give each other tips, cheer each other on, and build off of one another. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And it was awesome to see all these amazingly talented teens showing off their skills.

Another cool thing about the tournament: about two-thirds of the competitors were teens I’d never seen before. The teens who helped plan this event were the ones who spread the word and brought new people to the library. Will all of them become regulars at teen programs? No. But maybe a few will start coming to other teen events, or hanging out in the Teen Room practicing Kendama after school.

So, if you have teens who are interested in programs around something you don’t know a lot about, see if they’d like to plan an event. You know your teens; if they can handle the responsibility, it can be truly amazing to see what they do when given the chance. And you might just learn a thing or two about their passion; I bought myself a Kendama because it looked so fun, and I plan to be able to get through the entire beginner’s trick list by the time we hold our next tournament!

Have you let your teens plan any programs at your library? How did it go?

Organizing a prom dress giveaway

Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway.This month I organized the First Annual Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway at my library. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the positive community response — when we put out a call for donations, over 300 dresses came in, and the event was shared both in person and on Facebook and Twitter many, many times! This was truly a group effort, and I could not have done it without the help of many people. If you think an event like this would be good for your community, and have questions for me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! And if you want another perspective, check out this blog post by the extraordinary Regina Townsend that gave me the idea for this program.

November/December

I started planning for our mid-March event in November. The first thing I had to do was make sure we had a place to store donated dresses. Thankfully, we have a lot of storage space in our basement, and were able to lay down plastic sheets so the dresses (stored in garment bags) would not get dusty. I also reached out to co-workers and community members to see if anyone had clothing racks we could borrow to store donations and display them the day of the event. Thankfully, word of the program spread to someone who suggested we talk to Community Hospital, who let us borrow some clothing racks that they use for their Coats for Caring program in the fall.

January

We began collecting donations just after New Years’ and continued up until the day before the event. Next year, I plan to give myself at least a week between accepting the last donations and holding the program. I was fortunate that Circulation and Maintenance staff were extremely helpful in collecting and storing donations. We collected dresses and prom-related accessories, including shoes, purses, jewelry, and shawls.

I also reached out to local businesses that provided prom-related services, to ask if they would be willing to donate anything. One local salon offered discount coupons, and another donated gift baskets to be raffled off. A local jewelry salesperson also donated a few pairs of earrings and rings. Finally, a staff member’s wife who does alterations volunteered to do free alterations at the event.

February

Promotion, promotion, promotion! I continued collecting donations, and advertised the event everywhere I could think of. In addition to the library’s social media, I sent flyers to my contacts at the local high schools, and our Marketing Coordinator promoted the program on the local radio station. The local paper contacted me and ran a front-page article about the event, which really helped spread the word. I’m also fortunate to have the student body president of the public high school on our Teen Advisory Board. He reads the announcements every day, and talked up the program in the weeks leading up to it.

I also started getting dresses cleaned in February. A local dry cleaner offered us a significant discount on cleanings, and was even kind enough to drop off clean dresses and pick up the next round of gowns at the library. They expressed interest in partnering with us again next year, and I look forward to working with them!

Finally, I arranged for a mix of staff and volunteers to help with the event.

March

I continued to promote the program and collect donations. Our Maintenance manager helped come up with a setup for the program room and built temporary changing rooms in the most impressive transformation of a storage room I’ve ever seen.

The day before, a volunteer and I spent the whole day sorting dresses by size, then by color within each size. I would not have finished on time without this volunteer’s help. As it is, we started at noon on a Saturday, and even with the help of two volunteers we were still getting things ready at 11:58. Next year, I’ll give myself an extra day to set up.

On the day of the event, I had volunteers working the “checkout” (all we asked was to see a high school ID), tracking how many dresses were given away (30 total) and what schools the shoppers came from; returning dresses that didn’t fit to their racks; helping girls as “personal shoppers”; and staffing the accessory tables.

We also had a red carpet and a photo booth just outside the program room. I’m debating whether to have these again next year or not; if I do, I think I’ll try to get the photo booth inside the program room, because no one really took pictures in their dresses. We also had giant thank you cards for our local partners for shoppers to sign as they left.

In all, this program was a lot of fun, and I consider it a big success for our first year. Working in a community where seventy percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, my goal with this event was to help our teens have a memorable prom without their having to stress over how to afford a dress. I look forward to hosting this event for many years to come.

Got questions about the Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway? Thinking of hosting your own giveaway? Let me know in the comments!

School-Library Partnerships

Library eBook.One of my favorite parts of my job as a teen librarian is partnering with local schools to promote a love of reading for pleasure. During my school visits, I always tell students how they can get a library card if they don’t already have one. Recently, however, I’ve been working with teachers and department heads at one of the local middle schools to provide eCards for all of their students.

eCards allow students to access several of our digital platforms — Axis360hooplaOverDriveFreegal, and Freading — using their student ID number as their library card number. While a full library card (which all students in our community can get for free) provides access to these resources as well, eCards expand access to eBooks and audiobooks for those who need it most: the ones who can’t get to the library to sign up for a full card. I am so excited to bring these resources to our students!

If you’re thinking about setting up a similar partnership, here are some things to consider:

  1. Who is your contact at the schools? In order to make the eCard program a success, I had to have buy-in from the head of the English Department. We had several meetings to work out the details, and when we were ready to go live, I was invited to present the resources students could access at a meeting of all the school’s English teachers.
  2. What will the logistics look like? How often will new students be added to the public library’s system? How often will those who leave be removed? Does every student have an ID number? Are all student IDs the same number of digits? Our Collection Services Manager had to work with our vendors to ensure students’ information could be added to our system so they could log in to our digital platforms.
  3. How will you tell students about it? In addition to promoting eCards on our website and social media, I have been talking up these digital resources when I visit classes and showing students how to use them.

We’re still in the early stages of using eCards, so I’ll have another post later with an update on how things are going. In the meantime, if you have any questions about starting a program like this at your library, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!