Professional Development on the Cheap

A few weeks ago my social media feeds were filled with photos, tweets and status updates from librarian friends posting about all the excitement at ALA Annual in Orlando. Meanwhile, I was at home, one of the “ALA Left Behind.” Registering for and traveling to the conference just wasn’t in the cards for me this year. As a school librarian, I can’t rely on my employer to foot the bill for such an expensive professional development opportunity and I wasn’t willing the pony up the cash on my own either (though I did last year!). Chances are, many of you are in the same position. You want to take advantage of opportunities to develop professionally, but it just isn’t in the budget. Luckily, there’s quality professional development to be had for much less, and sometimes, even FREE!

School Library Journal Events, Webcasts & Webinars

One of my favorite places to turn to for high-quality, affordable professional development is School Library Journal. Thanks to corporate sponsorships, they are able to offer a variety of in-person and on-the-web opportunities to learn about the latest trends in librarianship, new releases and tech. Their annual Day of Dialog, which usually takes place in New York City the day before Book Expo America (this year both events were in Chicago, which was great for Midwesterners, but meant I sat this one out!) costs around $50 and includes a full day (breakfast, lunch and cocktail hour included!) of networking, sessions, author appearances, book signings and more. It is my favorite annual event and I always try to attend. This October, their FREE! Leadership Summit is coming to DC, and I was sure to be one of the first to register. This event bounces around (it’s been in Austin, St. Paul and Seattle previously), so be sure to register when it comes to your area. They also sponsor two virtual conferences: SLJTeenLIVE! (happening August 10!), which focuses specifically on issues, materials and programming for YAs, and The Digital Shift (happening October 19!), which is all about tech in the library. SLJ also has terrific webcasts and recaps publisher previews so if you’re short on time, you can still get small bites of library goodness. The best part is that so much of their stuff is available and accessible to librarians without a subscription.

Book Expo America

If collection development and readers advisory are your main thing, you should make it your business to get to Book Expo America (BEA). This annual event bopped around (New York City, Chicago, LA), but is now typically (aside from this past year) hosted in New York City. According their website, BEA is “the leading book and author event for the North American publishing industry. It’s the best place to discover new titles and authors, conduct business and network, and learn the latest trends.” This event is massive, so it’s not for the faint of heart. We’re talking lots of walking and lots of opportunities to meet authors, get books signed, snag advance copies and schmooze with book industry types. I love that librarians pay a low rate (this past year it was $128 for 3 days or $81 for a single day with early bird registration) and, at least in my experience, are treated just as warmly and welcomely as the bookstore folks (who usually have much better budgets). I love to stop at all the booths to see what’s new, get ideas and of course, get some swag to bring back to my students!

Library of Congress

Naturally, another great place to turn for professional development is “THE” library. For those in the DC area, the LOC offers the FREE! National Book Festival. Since this event is open to the public it can get quite crowded and a little crazy. I recommend planning ahead for the specific authors and sessions you want to attend and making sure to get there early. The Young Readers Center also hosts a variety of speakers and other events from time to time, which are also FREE! For non-locals, the LOC offers a variety of self-paced online modules on various topics – particularly of interest to school librarians! – including several on using primary documents and copyright.


Any blog post on professional development for librarians serving teens would be incomplete without mentioning the resources provided by YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association. While it’s true that access to most of their professional tools requires a membership, dues begin at $61 for students (joint ALA and YALSA membership) and provide a year’s worth of access to FREE! webinars (including the archive, YELL) and discounted rates on registration for e-courses and conferences. One resource that is freely available to all is the YALSA Academy, a series of short instructional videos posted on the YALSA YouTube Channel. Here you’ll find a variety of tech-related trainings created by librarians around the country.

Local Organizations

All of these great options that I’ve mentioned aside, the best professional development resources I’ve found are local. Obviously, you’ll need to poke around in your own area to find local organizations that suit your needs. Back when I lived in New Jersey, I was active in the NJLA YA Section, which offered a variety of trainings and I was also a Reader for their Garden State Book Award. I’ve been in Northern Virginia for the past seven years and with Virginia being so large, I haven’t really felt like involvement in the VLA was workable (everything is far!). Luckily, I’ve found Capitol Choices, a DC area organization of librarians (and other book types!) that meets monthly to read, discuss and evaluate books for children ages 0-18 for their annual list of noteworthy titles. I also helped to re-start MWISLA, the Metropolitan Washington Independent School Library Association. (Don’t Google us, none of that has been updated since our reorganization.) We’re still getting things settled and don’t yet have formal leadership, but we’ve been meeting 3 times per year and doing a lot of sharing of best practices and have high hopes for the future.


All this is to say that you shouldn’t let time or money stop you from being the librarian that your teens deserve! Even with a packed schedule and non-existent professional development funds, there are ways to get out there and network with other professionals and develop your skill set. I’m sure there are tons of really great resources that I haven’t even mentioned. If you know of another awesome free/cheap professional development opportunity, lay it in me in the comments.

8 Books about Gamers and Gaming

When you aren’t catching up on your favorite book, summer’s a great time to catch up on favorite video games (Dare I bring up Pokemon Go here?). Why not combine two great pastimes and read books about video games? YA classics and trending novels like Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Feed  by M.T. Anderson and Ready Player One by Ernie Cline are a great place to start for gamers who want to read about gaming. Gamers looking to level up their fiction and nonfiction reading about gaming should check out these eight YA and adult titles.



Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa — Because of his ADHD, Tyler is worried about his future. He is a caring, responsible teen who helps his brother through rehab, but he much better at video games than school work. He’s given the opportunity to beta test a flight simulator game that could help him get into flight school. After he meets and falls in love with Ani, the game’s genius teen developer, he realizes that the game may be more than he originally thought.

Insignia by S.J. Kinkaid — As WWIII rages for control of the resources of the solar system, teen virtual reality gaming expert Tom is recruited from a his struggling life to attend a prestigious military training academy.

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner — Michael, a gifted hacker, spends much of his time in a virtual reality world called the VirtNet. When the Mortality Doctrine associated with VirtNet super hacker Kaine causes deaths in the real world, the government calls Michael and his friends in to save lives.

The Leveller by Julia Durango — Nixy works as a virtual reality bounty hunter. For a fee, she will pull kids out of the MEEP. But when the MEEP’s creator hires her to find his son Wyn, she realizes that there’s more at stake than in her usual jobs.

The Six by Mark Alpert — When the world is threatened by an artificial intelligence called Sigma, Adam, who has muscular dystrophy and has been told he only has one year to live, and five other terminally ill teens trade their bodies for weaponized robots and train to battle.

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang — Anda enjoys playing Coursegold, a massively-multiplayer role playing game. When she meets Raymond, a Chinese teen who works as a gold farmer in the game, she learns more about the poor conditions of his life outside Coursegold. She inspires him to take action, but his action is not without consequences.

An Illustrated History of 151 Video Games: A detailed guide to the most important games; explores five decades of game evolution by Samuel Parkin — This history covers some of the most significant video games since the 1970s. While it stops in 2012 so it doesn’t include the most recent console games, this book is a great primer for those who want to learn more about the games that influenced gaming as we know it today.

Level Up! The Guide to Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers — When it’s not enough to just read about video games or play them, why not consider making your own or exploring video game design careers? This book is a great start for teens who want to learn what goes into making a fun and challenging game.

Bonus level: Gamers may also enjoy video game tie in series about games ranging from Halo to The Last of Us so it’s worth checking these out for your collection or recommendation lists.


Looking for A New Agent!

TSU is seeking a new agent. The requirements are pretty easy. Here is what we’re looking for

  • A teen services librarian or someone who has teen services experience
  • Ability to post 1-2 posts a month
  • Be able to do a variety of posts (RA, programming, pep talks, etc)

Pretty easy right? If you’re interested, please send an email to [email protected] and answer the following questions

  1. Why do you want to be an agent?
  2. Tell us a bit about yourself. What can you bring to the group?
  3. Can you commit to 1-2 blog posts a month?
  4. Give us some sample of things you’d talk about! If you have sample posts, even better.

All submissions need to be sent in by 8/05/16.

Teen Coding Camps for the Technologically Averse

You can teach a coding camp!  Yes, you, the librarian hiding in the corner, shaking her head vigorously, saying, “but I don’t know HTML!”  As it turns out, the good people behind (totally not affiliated, etc.) understand your fear and pain.  And lo, they did maketh a block coding course for thee!

After being burned by the whole “OMG WE NEED A MAKERSPACE EXCEPT NOW THEY’RE NOT COOL ANYMORE RATS!” fiasco, you may be leery of investing more time and energy in a tech program.  I feel you.  However, coding is a fundamental skill that teens will need in the future.  Pokémon GO was created with code!  All the actions and reactions are governed by code!

The great thing about is that it’s completely free to use.  All you need to provide is the hardware.  In my department, we have iPads that we purchased with a technology grant, so we use those.  However, desktops or laptops will work too.  As long as you can access the interwebs, you’re golden.

When you create an account on, sign up as a teacher.  This way, you can create and manage logins for your coding classes.  Make sure to work your way through the course before teaching it to teens because you will need to troubleshoot.  I didn’t do the Unplugged activities with my teens because they’re aimed at a younger crowd and it would have disrupted the flow of the class.

For my summer coding mini-camps, I started everyone out on course three.  One thing I realized I should have specified in the program description was that if you have any prior coding experience, this class will be too easy for you.  I had one teen who had taught herself Python, so the “code the zombie to turn left using a loop block” was a bit easy for her.

What’s great about the coding program is that you don’t need to know any languages.  You need three things: problem-solving skills, math skills, and nunchuck skills.

Napoleon Dynamite Skills

Ha, kidding about the last one!  At its core, coding is problem solving, problem forecasting, pattern-making, and math.

One thing to be prepared for is that some (for me, ALL) of your teens won’t know basic math or geometry.

Powder Paint Fight

Today we have a guest post from Becca at Ela Area Public Library. Today she’s telling us about her awesome Powder Paint Fight.

A few years ago, it seemed like everyone was participating in 5K Color Runs and posting the photos on all aspects of social media. The runs looked like so much fun and I knew that I could use the concept at the Library but I also realized that a 5K wasn’t an option. I decided that the easiest and most viable option would be a version of tag using the same powder paint used in the runs.

We had a large open grass-covered space in front of the Library but before we did anything else, we made sure that we had permission of both the director and the village. We wanted to make sure that all of our bases were covered and we had complete support of the program.

The paint was purchased online in five pound bags from a company that creates powder paint specifically for Color Runs. It is a mix of pigment and corn starch. Make sure you aren’t just purchasing powdered paint (that you would mix with water to make paint) as it will be far more difficult to get out of clothes and off skin. Buy as much powder as your budget will allow – you will go through it all with no problem. It isn’t inexpensive but it isn’t any more than bringing in an outside performer or presenter.

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Before the program began, we called the patrons and reminded them that there was going to be airborne color and they should consider bringing goggles, sunglasses or protective eyewear. We also recommended putting leave-in conditioner in their hair before the program (particularly for those with light/dyeable hair) to help rinse the color out after the program or wear a scarf, hat or headband to cover their head. Wearing sunscreen would both protect them from the sun and provide a barrier between the skin and the color. Again, this made it easier for the color to come off at the end of the program. We had a couple of stations to rinse off at the end of the program but if they were going to be picked up, we recommended a towel on the seats of the car because there would still be powder on their clothes and in their hair. We asked that they wear white shirts so that the color would be easily visible when they were hit. We also recommended that they bring a water bottle (we had large jugs of water that we provided for refills.)


When the teens arrived, the first thing we did was go over and then reiterate the rules. We wanted to make sure that everyone had fun and stayed safe. Our rules were simple but effective.


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Our Rules:

1)  DO NOT THROW POWDER IN PEOPLE’S FACES – if you are seen throwing powder in  people’s faces you will be asked to sit out for the rest of the game. (We were very strict about this rule and did not take it lightly. It was a matter of safety for everyone. While we hated eliminating people, we needed this program to be safe.)

2) Stay on the lawn – we are trying really hard not to get powder on the sidewalk or buildings or patio or anywhere it might not wash off quickly and easily.  This goes for when the program is over too.  Please “shake off” on the lawn.

3)  Do not trample flowers/garden. Be mindful of the game’s boundaries. (We used trees on the lawn and the sidewalk at the top and the bottom of the grass to mark off the “playable” space.)

4)  If you need a break – go up to the patio – this is the “safe” zone. (This was a space behind a garden so teens were clearly out of the game and could get a drink or just take a moment if they needed it.)


We have tried a couple versions of the powder paint fight. The first was progressive tag. The teens counted off and we assigned 5 of them to start as “it.” Each person who was “it” was then assigned a color and each took two handfuls of that color. Once both the teens and their colors were assigned, a staff member would yell “GO” and those with the color could throw it at anyone who is not “it.” For the first round, the people with the color can only hit those who do not have color in their hands or on their person. If a teen is hit with powder, they were allowed to go and grab two handfuls of the color they had been hit with and throw them at two people who do not have color on them.  This went on until there is so many people with color in their hands that everyone can throw at everyone. Then, we continued until the powder ran out.


The other version of tag we played was Freeze Tag. Again, we counted off and assigned colors. If you were hit with powder, you have to freeze until you were hit by someone else with a different color, then you were allowed to move again.  Once the teen was frozen and unfrozen, they were allowed to go and get powder to throw at someone else.  The teens had to have been frozen and unfrozen to go and get more color.  We played until the powder ran out.


Just about any form of tag will work – you just replace tagging with throwing color. Have fun, try something new and get your teens outside. Every year, I have teens asking me if we are going to have the program again as they are playing and every year we have a full game (50 teens plus staff) with a full waiting list. Also, the teens really like when staff participates in the event. So, put on your white shirt and running shoes and get in the game!

Have any questions? Don’t hesitate to ask!
Becca Boland
Teen Librarian/Assistant Head of Popular Materials
Ela Area Public Library
[email protected]

A big thank you to Pioneer Press and The Hinsdalean for use of photos from the program.

Resources for teen writers


Encouraging teen writers to develop their voice and work on writing can be a rewarding part of a librarian’s work. In my school library, I’ve worked with teens not just on writing for their school assignments, but deeply personal creative projects too. It can be a challenge, though, to give teen writers all they need to flourish and hone their craft. If you are looking to support teen writers in your library or start a creative writing program, here are some resources that could help.


Publishing opportunities and contests
Teen Ink — Teen Ink, a quintessential publication for teen writing, allows students to submit work for publication online or in the monthly print magazine.  It allows submissions of articles, art, photography, novels and videos.

Scholastic Art and Writing Award — This annual award allows writers and artists in grades 7 through 12 to compete in 29 different categories from journalism to sculpture.

Merlyn’s Pen — A long-standing publication that accepts fiction, poetry and essays from teens.

Young Adult Review Network — This online publication accepts submissions of YA fiction written by writers of all ages.

Canvas Literary Journal — Canvas is a quarterly publication edited by teens, accepting a wide range of student creative and artistic work.

Claremont Review — An international writing journal for young writers in the English-speaking world.

Polyphony HS — Polyphony HS is a student-run publication that allows high-school writers from all over the world to share their work.


Writing communities
Wattpad — This extensive online writing community deserves a blog post of its own. It allows writers of all ages (including published authors like Margaret Atwood!) to read and comment on the works of others while publishing their own.

Figment  — A teen-focused writing community.

Deviant Art — Teen graphic novelists can share their work via Deviant Art.

Go Teen Writers — This rich blog and writing community offers many practical writing articles and resources in addition to connecting young writers to readers via a Facebook group.

Where Teens Write — This teen writing community also provides online writing classes and writing exercises to help writers grow.


Books for inspiration and technique
Writer to writer: from Think to Ink by Gail Carson Levine — Levine offers advice to young writers, giving practical suggestions for writing fiction and poetry.

Spilling Ink: A Young Writer’s Handbook by Anne Mazer and Ellen PotterMazer and Potter share their experience with writing topics from writing beginnings and endings to overcoming writer’s block.  “I dare you” exercises helps young writers practice what they learned.

This Is Not a Writing Manual by Kerri Majors — In this series of personal essays, Majors gives a first-hand look into the life of a young writer, talking about challenges from finding an agent to dealing with rejection.  

On Writing by Stephen King — King’s memoir provides valuable insight into the writing life while also giving an inside view of the writer’s life.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard — Dillard’s passionate and eloquent writing imparts deep wisdom about the writer’s life sure to inspire teens who stick with the book.


8 Books for Your Summer Vacation

 We’re about halfway through the summer, and we all know the best way to enjoy it is with a great book! Whether you’re lounging by the pool, away on a tropical vacation, or inside enjoying the air conditioning, having a good book at your side is the best way to beat the heat. These are some of my favorite summer reads, featuring summery adventures, romance, family trials and tribulations, and lots of drama.

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   18718848 Never Ever
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The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Did I Mention I Love You? by Estelle Maskame
Fish Out of Water by Natalie Whipple
When We Collided by Emery Lord
Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Never Ever by Sara Saedi
Life Before by Michael Bacon
What Happens Now by Jennifer Castle

Ask an Agent: How to Handle a Rough School Visit?

askanagent2You’ve got questions,  we’ve got answers! Our volunteer Agents are on the job! Here’s what they have to say this week….

Question:  I had a very rough school visit – rude faculty, they kept me waiting for 30 minutes in the waiting room, the 600 kids were out of control with zero teacher supervision. I heard later kids were saying pretty awful things about me despite my best efforts. The visit
wasn’t a total waste because some awesome library regulars were there- and some new teens signed up for events. But I can’t help but feel discouraged. This district has never played well with the public library. So I feel like I’m lucky that they even let me visit. How can
I do better next year (other than non-assembly style visits)? What can I reasonably ask of the school? Would it help or do damage if I spoke with the principal on how these talks went?


Teen Glow Party

Today we have a guest post from Nichole Thomas at Henderson Libraries. She’ll be talking about her glow party that she recently did.

When I took over doing the teen programs at my library a year ago, we had just revamped the way we do things.  Every other Saturday would be a program for the teens at noon and every month we started doing after hours programs.  Doing these things GREATLY increased our teen numbers at our branch. When I started researching what kind of after hours program I wanted to do for June, I of course went to Pinterest. I knew I wanted to do something really cool and different since it was the kick off to summer.  I ended up finding a post from another library about how they did glow painting with teens.  They used neon paint and black lights. So the Teen Glow Paint Party was born!


We have a local DJ that has helped out at previous teen events so I made sure to contact him and see if he wanted to be involved.  He is fantastic at what he does and loves the library, so he was in.  Thanks again Landon AKA “The Mash-up King”!  Here are the stations I had set up:

Food table-Chips, soda, neon cups, and cookies to decorate with neon frosting (this didn’t glow as much as I had hoped but it was still fun)

Playdoh table-I found glow in the dark Playdoh at Target

Painting tables-I bought small canvases on sale at Michael’s and neon paint.

Glow table-This had glow sticks and necklaces

Tattoo table-I found glow in the dark tattoos from Oriental Trading

We blew up about 50 neon balloons and these were probably the best part.  They glowed so much and the kids had a ball throwing them around.


I ended up using about 10 black light bars and hung them on the wall with command strips. (These were essential because they didn’t take the paint off the walls).  They definitely needed to be hung up so that the light would project better around the whole room.  The max capacity of the room is 122 so hopefully that will give you an idea as to how big the room is.


I had teen volunteers and 3 staff members come in to help. It did take quite some time to set up but the end result was worth it.  I had 40 teens and they all had a BLAST. I even got a thank you note from one *sniff*.

I will definitely be doing this program again.  I might re think how to do the paint portion though because it did get a little messy.  Luckily it was water based so it wasn’t too terrible. Now that I have the black lights (I borrowed some from other library branches in our district and purchased some myself) it will be even cheaper next year!

Juggling Life and Library

Right up front, let me warn you that I am no life coach or guru on How to Be Totally Organized Like A Boss. I struggle with balance in my life. However, I’ve found some strategies that really help me to not let the library completely overrun my life and vice versa.

Let’s start with work issues crowding in on your me-time, family-time, or whatever sort of hyphenated time you’ve got.

Find a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with work. This one is hard, since as librarians, we probably read for pleasure. Disassociating work from the act of reading can be difficult, so try finding something completely non-book related. For me, it’s weightlifting.  It doesn’t have to be physical, but exercise definitely helps with pep and your mood. You could also try knitting, gaming, cosplay, cooking, sketching, music–anything out there that will take your mind off of work. Repetitive tasks are good, as are those that require a good deal of focus.

Designate home as a work-free zone. If that’s totally impossible with your job–you’re a supervisor, for instance–at least don’t go looking for work things to do. If you must check your email at home, prioritize. If someone’s calling in sick and you need to flip the schedule, ok. But responding to a system-all email about pie in the break room can wait until tomorrow. Our work is important, but luckily, we are not brain surgeons. It is highly unlikely that someone is going to die if you don’t open that email RIGHT NOW. Really. It’s okay.

So you’ve got work under control. What about life stuff? You know, all those pesky adulting things?

See your phone? Okay.  Put it in your bag or in a drawer and do not mess with it at work unless you’re on break or lunch.  I try really hard not to answer my personal phone at work at all.

If life is stressing you out, find out what really occupies your brain at work.  For me, ordering books takes a lot of my concentration.  I also love creating displays.  So if I find myself worrying about life issues while at work, I’ll get up and walk around, checking displays or brainstorming new ideas.  Or I might check out the buzz on upcoming books and then add them to my ordering spreadsheet.  Once I get in the ordering or display-making zone, my mind moves away from problems and focuses on the task at hand

Have multiple commitments outside of work, like a committee?  Make sure that you schedule time to care for those commitments.  Treat it as you would a work project.

I am not sitting here in a state of blissed-out zen, with my life-work balance all feng shui-ed up.  But I try to keep things in balance.  If work follows you home, that’s okay.  Just nudge it back to a place where you are comfortable.