Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Life in the pit

A few years ago, I took a look at our library layout and proposed to my fellow librarians that we were sending the wrong message. When you entered the library, you came through a gate and passed several librarians working behind the circ counter. The library itself stretched out and back a long, long way. It's a huge room. Two service desks were on the side in the front and in the back. The middle was filled with tables, reference books, etc. "Let's set ourselves up in the center of the room!" I proposed. And the pit was born. Three desks are set up in a horseshoe in the center of the room. Librarians are present and visible at all times. The message is: Ask for help. Talk to a librarian. We are not afraid of you and you should not be afraid to talk to us.

It worked...too well. In addition to many meaningful connections, we have become the food police. There is no way to sneak food into the library. It's all out there for us to see. Now I'm not talking about the occasional granola bar or coffee. Egg McMuffins, sub sandwiches, birthday cakes (not slices...sheet cakes), macaroni and cheese, pizzas (2 or 3 at a time), a beverage that looks suspiciously like vodka and Tang, bags of bagles, tubs of cream cheese, cookies, candy (one little girl has a nice little business selling the candy out of a Ziplock bag...we suspect she makes more money a day than we do), and half a ton of chips a day. We have tried everything to curtail the food party.

Now we're trying emotionally intelligent signs. The first one went up before vacation and reads: The librarians thank you for not eating. The mice don't." We're hoping that connecting food with our persistent rodent population may work. In the meantime, about half our day is spent hopping up to send the the poor starving students to the cafeteria (a mere 20 steps away). I wonder whether we have become too friendly??? Aside from being really severe, which doesn't work for us at our school, have you had any success in keeping the food down to a managable level? Let me'll find me in the pit.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In search of books teens actually want

I have a guilty little secret...I hate Booklist. And SLJ. And all the rest. Can't help it. After 10 minutes skimming reviews (trust me, I'm a world class skimmer) I hit a wall. Every review sounds the same, all the books sound dull dull dull and I take my ADD little self for a mental stroll around the block.

How do librarians get through all this [fill in your own scatalogical noun] to determine what teens want? It's not Booklist! Many of us rely on material from organizations like the American Booksellers Association and daily newsletters like Book Sense. I also take a careful look at book reviews in People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly and Seventeen. I hang out at Barnes and Noble to check out new displays. I read pop culture blogs like Whitney Matheson's Pop Candy to catch this old lady up on what's new and wonderful. I won't say traditional review sources are dead, exactly. But Grandma surely is sitting on the roof!

And what prompted this mini-rant? I was looking at Carlie Webber's blog (Librarilly Blonde) and here's what she said: Professional journals are indispensable when doing collection development, but buzz, pop culture attention, and advertising are extremely powerful things and those, not professional journals, are what make a lot of people walk into our libraries and request books. The power of sparkly vampires is not to be underestimated.

I'm off in search of the next sparkly vampire....

8th grade field trip redux

The other day, one of my co-workers chaperoned an 8th grade field trip for her son. That reminded me of my own experience. Since my son was a handful, the teacher asked me to supervise Paul and two of his pals. When I arrived, I took a look at these three boys and started to laugh. Boy #1 was tall, skinny, hollow-chested, with enormous feet and a high, childish voice. Boy #2 was short, chubby, and largely silent. Boy #3 was tall, with a full luxurious mustache and a deep bass voice.

Here's the point, folks. They were the same age and in the full bloom of teendom. Together, they represented the vast arc of adolescence. So when you're buying books, planning programs, or doing outreach... recall that spectrum. For teens, one size does not fit all!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

One teen at a time

This particular piece of wisdom came from my colleague, Kevin. We were being driven to distraction by mobs of kids who were rowdy, raucous and wicked annoying. "How do you keep that calm exterior?" I muttered as I tried to finish up a booklist in the middle of Grand Central Station. "I just deal with one at a time," he replied. This was true genius. And it works. By engaging (positively, of course) with one teen, you make a connection. Those connections grow exponentially until you have a critical mass of kids who have been treated with respect by the staff. That makes a huge difference not only with crowd control but also reader advisory, research skills, program attendence, teen advisory boards, etc.

I chose the sunflower as a symbol of this process. One sunflower holds in its center many seeds. Each teen is connected online and real time with so many others in the community. The seeds of your service are contained in that one teen/sunflower. Networking 101 teaches us to grow your contacts. Why not try today to grow a teen contact? Over time, this technique yields great outcomes.