How to Read More Books and Not Die Trying

As librarians, we are tasked with keeping up with all of the latest and greatest YA literature. We must be able to recommend books to younger teens, older teens, teens interested in sci-fi, teens interested in thrillers, teens interested in contemporary romance, etc. Sometimes we even need to know adult and children’s books too! It’s quite a challenge to be well-versed in such a wide array of genres, especially since (contrary to popular belief) we are not just paid to sit and read all day! We’ve got to try to balance our work lives and home lives with our reading lives—easier said than done.

I’ve been learning this lesson the hard way while serving on YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) committee. This committee is charged with hunting through every YA fiction title published during the year (technically September of the previous year through December of the current one) in order to create an annual list of the best titles for teens. This requires A LOT of reading! So far this year, I’ve already read about 115 titles, not including those that I’ve started and quit without finishing because I could tell they weren’t up to snuff. This is my second year on the committee, and I’ve developed some tricks and habits that have helped me squeeze every possible reading moment out of each day.

Here are some simple ways to channel your inner Rory Gilmore and maximize your reading:

*Make reading part of your morning ritual
Having dedicated reading time will help build a habit. Most people read before bed, but I find that I’m so tired at the end of the day, I can usually only make it through a few pages at a time. I’ve found that the wee hours of the morning are actually a fantastic time to read. Try setting your alarm around 30 minutes earlier than normal (if you can swing it, go for a full hour, and if not, I suggest at least 15 minutes), and hunker down on the couch with a book and a cup of coffee. It’s such a nice leisurely way to get going in the morning, and I find that I retain much more of what I read this way. It’s also much more calming than reading the news or scrolling through Facebook.

*Know that quitting a book is OK!
If you’re not into a book, it’s going to take you a million times longer to finish it than a book you find compelling. If you’re someone who struggles with leaving a book unfinished, it’s time to change your mindset! It’s absolutely okay to stop reading something that isn’t holding your attention. There are so many fantastic books out there—why waste your time on something you don’t like? If you don’t like a TV show, you switch the channel. If you don’t like the taste of something, you stop eating it. The same should go for books. You can always try coming back to a title another time, or maybe in another format.

*Audiobooks are your friends
Listening to books is an amazing way to take advantage of every minute of your day. If you have a long commute, they can make it much more bearable. If you don’t, you can listen to books while doing monotonous tasks at home. I listen to audiobooks while brushing my teeth and putting on my makeup in the morning. I listen while I do the dishes and put away laundry. I listen when I take a daily walk on my lunch break. I absolutely hate getting ready for bed at night, but if I pop in my earbuds and listen to a good book while I wash my face and floss my teeth, it makes the task much more enjoyable!

Audiobooks can also be a good way to get yourself to read and stick with books in a genre you aren’t crazy about. Sometimes a book’s description doesn’t really grab me, but if I listen to a sample, I’ll find that the narrator does such a fantastic job that I’ll get sucked into the story. Pro-tip: Sometimes I find the pace of CD audiobooks too slow. If you download an e-audiobook from an app like Overdrive or Hoopla, you can speed up the narration. I find that speeds of 1.25 or 1.5 feel more natural.

*Always have at least one book with you
Try to keep a print book in your bag or your car, or an e-book or e-audiobook on your phone at all times. This will help you take advantage of every spare minute of the day. Long line at the post office? Whip out your book rather than scroll through Instagram! Get to work or to an appointment a few minutes early? That’s precious reading time!

At home, keep books in the areas of the house you hang out in the most. For example, if you keep books in your living room, you’ll be more likely to reach for one rather than the remote. At the very least, you can read during commercial breaks!

*Always have around 3-5 books you’re excited about in your weekly TBR pile
Decision fatigue is real. Always have a few print books handy and a few digital ones in your Overdrive queue so you’re ready when you finish one. Don’t go overboard though! The key is to have a few limited choices. Having a variety of genres and lengths helps too. This way if you start something you aren’t crazy about, you have some good backups to choose from. Some people like having curated lists to work through such as one of Popsugar or Buzzfeed’s yearly book challenges, or maybe the current list of BFYA nominees or winners. The key is to never be left without anything you’re excited about reading, or to be overwhelmed by too many choices.

*Keep track of what you read
If you don’t keep track of what you read, now is the time to start! Find a method that works for you and stick with it. Write everything down in a notebook, keep a spreadsheet, use Goodreads—there are tons of options. It’s extremely satisfying and it will help you better remember what you’ve been reading so you can more easily recommend titles to friends and patrons. If you really want to up your RA game, jot down a short plot summary, and a short list of the things you liked and disliked about it. I use a notecard as a bookmark and write these things down as I read and then transfer them when I’m finished.

*Limit distractions
Do what you can to limit your distractions and make your environment ideal for reading. For example, when you’re reading at home, try to only read print books so you have less chance of getting distracted by the internet. Personally, on days when I’m really struggling, I’ll shut my phone, tablet and laptop away in another room so I’m not tempted to do a quick email or Facebook check. You could even read with a buddy so they help keep you honest. I’ll sometimes sit with my husband while he’s grading papers so I’m not tempted to reach for a device. If you’re really having trouble focusing, set an alarm and read in short bursts. Try making it through 10 minutes or so at a time. If even that’s too much, listen to an audiobook while going on a short walk around the block.

By building up these habits and developing better reading rituals, I promise you’ll be doubling your reading in no time. If you have any other great tips, please share in the comments.

Reader vs Reader: I Hate Everyone But You

Welcome to Reader vs. Reader (anyone have any wicked name suggestions???).  Two librarians who have read the same book will discuss it critically.  They may agree, agree on certain points, or completely disagree.  RvR will challenge your reading comfort zone and dig deeply into the text to find potential problems or subtle brilliance.  And maybe both.  

In July, Andrea and Pam both read I Hate Everyone But You by Gaby Dunn & Allison Raskin 

Reader vs Reader: I Hate Everyone But You

Dear Best Friend,I can already tell that I will hate everyone but you.Sincerely,Ava Helmer(that brunette who won’t leave you alone)

We're still in the same room, you weirdo.Stop crying.G

So begins a series of texts and emails sent between two best friends, Ava and Gen, as they head off to their first semesters of college on opposite sides of the country. From first loves to weird roommates, heartbreak, self-discovery, coming out and mental health, the two best friends will document every moment to each other. But as each changes and grows into her new life, will their friendship be able to survive the distance?

The Quick Reactions:


Pam: For several reasons. The predatory relationship with Charlotte, who is in a position of power but Gen says that she knows what’s happening–yeah right. Also, the voices seemed authentically 30, not 18. Ava was portrayed in a way that made her mental illness seem sort of glamorized AND sensationalized. Finally, there’s the whole mislabeling fiasco. Andrea:  Big thumbs down for me. Not only did it not feel like a teen book in any way, shape, or form, but I had some other huge issues as well. My biggest ones are the unhealthy relationship with someone 14 years older and who was in a position of power, the mental illness portrayal feeling off, & the continual mislabeling issue.

Snippet of our conversation (Warning: spoilers everywhere!):


Ask An Agent: Which 3D Printer is the Best?

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:  We are ordering a 3d printer for our library and wondered if anyone here had any suggestions of which models/brands work best. Looking for a printer that’s easy to use and has good customer support for repairs, something in the $1000 ballpark. Right now we are considering the Flashforge New Creator Pro or the Prusa i3 MK2.


Seven (plus one!) STEM Activities on a Shoestring

For the last year or so, I’ve been trying to do a bit more STEM in my programming. Many times, I’m inspired by what colleagues are doing with younger kids, or what I find online, but universally, I’m stunned at how many science activities can be done with minimal supplies and money. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Pinhole cameras using Pringles cans. “Pinhole camera” is a bit of a misnomer here, since you can’t actually take pictures with these, but they make cool optical illusions and they’re a good way to discuss light particles, refraction, and more. All you need is a Pringles (or similar) can, some waxed paper, duct tape, and aluminum foil. Here’s the tutorial from the Exploratorium. I used this activity to add a little sneaky STEM to my Miss Peregrine party last fall.


  • The Marshmallow Challenge. I haven’t done this yet, but I heard about it at a conference earlier this year and I can’t wait to try it with my teens. Break your group into teams and give each team a marshmallow, a yard of masking tape, a yard of yarn or string, 25 pieces of uncooked spaghetti, and one marshmallow. Then, set a timer for fifteen or twenty minutes. The team that builds the tallest tower and balances the marshmallow on top wins–either a small prize or just bragging rights. This is a good one to tack on to the end of any program, or use as a team-building or icebreaker activity with your TAB.


  • Toothpick Towers. Put out some toothpicks, gumdrops, and marshmallows (mini or regular-size or a mix of both will work) and see who can build the tallest tower using only those materials.


  • Marshmallow Cannons. Cut the bottoms off of clear Solo cups (punch-size). Knot some balloons and cut off the bottoms. Stretch a tied-off balloon over the bottom of the cup and use it to launch mini marshmallows at targets. This is a good way to talk about physics and trajectory. Here’s a tutorial.


  • Constellation Cups. There are tons of constellation patterns available online. (I’ve used this one.) Cut out a diagram of a constellation and glue it to the bottom of a Dixie or styrofoam cup, then use a thumbtack to poke holes in the constellation pattern and you can look through the cup to see the stars!


  • Index Card Bridges. This is a lot like building card houses, and all you need is index cards. Have your teens build bridges composed entirely of index cards. For a little extra challenge, have a bowl of dice, beads, pennies, beans, or whatever other small objects you can think of and see whose bridge can hold the most weight.


  • Binary Beads. Put out some beads, string, and a chart of the alphabet in binary code (like the one here). Have your teens write their name in binary, and then use two colors of beads to make their binary name into a bracelet or necklace.


  • Anti-Gravity Calm Bottle. I’m doing this one with my teens as part of our Eclipse Week Celebration next month. It costs a little more than the others I’ve listed, but not too much. Fill an empty water bottle halfway with baby oil and add some glitter. In a separate container, color water with food coloring until you have your desired shade. Pour the colored water into the bottle and leave about half an inch of space at the top. Put the top on the bottle, seal it up with hot glue or duct tape, and shake. Because of the way that oil mixes with water, the glitter will go up instead of settling to the bottom. Check out the full tutorial here.

Looking for more inspiration? Check out my Pinterest boards for Teen STEM, Teen Space Programming, Maker Club, and more!

Day in the Life of a YA Librarian

Today I’m sharing what a typical day looks like at my library. For context: I’m a YA librarian in a Youth Services department at a large urban library. My library, the central branch, is part of a system of around 60 branches. My department includes a mix of 8 Children’s and Young Adult librarians and we work together to staff reference desks and programs.

9:45am: Arrive at the library, put stuff away, check schedule

10:00am: YA Book Showcase committee meeting. (I’ve talked before about some of the trainings my committee presents like our Mock Printz. Today we welcome new members and discus expectations and requirements for the Fall New Books presentation in October.)

11:00am: Weeding. (The entire department is weeding picture books and YA non-fiction. I’m evaluating YA non-fiction from 000s to 792s looking for multiples, damaged items, and out of date items–this has included a lot of older titles on the election process and programming/computer titles. After confirming titles fit my criteria I log into Sierra and delete them.)

1:00pm: Lunch! (I eat and read my current School Library Journal review assignment.)

2:00pm: Supply Unboxing. (Our library is gearing up for a lot of summer programs including Garden Club and Project Art which are run by facilitators from outside the department. Lots of supplies came in so a few of us opened everything up and squared them away.)

2:30pm: Emails. (I send out meeting notes and other reminders in email form rather than provide handouts or rely on notes so I started putting together a list of everything people on my committee need to know. I also coordinate summer volunteers so I checked to confirm interview times that I have scheduled tomorrow with a few teens.)

3:30: Reference Desk. (The children’s/YA department is a separate wing so we only staff the service points in that area. I’m at the children’s reference desk fielding questions about where to find books, the location of our after school programs, early literacy computer sign ups, and any other reference questions that come up. We’re also doing a quarterly reference survey so I have to tally all questions asked on a special sheet for the day.)

4:30pm: Finishing Touches. (During my last hour I check the department inbox and put out new flyers for our summer programs that arrived. I finish up some emails and save them to send tomorrow morning. Enter important meeting dates and deadlines into my phone calendar since I stay digital whenever possible with organization. And generally make sure I have everything ready for tomorrow.)

5:30pm: End of Day. (Time to go home and hope the subways don’t have too many delays!)

Meet the TSU Agent: Christie

We’re starting a new monthly feature called Meet the TSU Agent. We realize you guys have been reading the blog for a couple of years now, but may not really know us. This will also be a way to get to know new agents as the come onboard. Last month we met Andrea, and this month we’re getting to know Christie!


An Alternative to the Love Triangle: 8 Books with Minimal or No Romance

kissing book


There are several reasons why someone might not want a super romancey, I SHIP THE SHIP sort of book. One might be you are talking with a teen whose parents would prefer that they not read anything about the kissing type of relationships (they might also call these “clean reads;” however, the books I am feature may also have language, drug use, or other possibly objectionable content. I’m only talking about a marked lack of romance). Another reason might be that they are just burned out on love, maybe for personal reasons or just because they binge-read a super romantic series recently. Here are 8 books that are good to have in your back pocket for recommendations when you don’t feel like having all the feels. Or just having very minimal feels.

  1. A Season of Daring Greatly by Ellen Emerson White. Yes, I am aware that this is the second time I’ve done a book list with this title, but I so very highly recommend it. The concept of the book–a young woman is the first female ever drafted by a pro MLB team–seems like it would lend itself to romantic hijinks, but Jill really doesn’t want to get involved with the guys on her team, even the nice, cute ones.

  2. The Lie Tree (or Cuckoo Song; both are excellent) by Francis Hardinge. Hardinge writes compelling characters that wrestle with extremely twisted family relationships–and you really don’t need to toss romance in the picture with the gothic tension she creates.

  3. Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier. This historical novel with a dash of the supernatural follows Kelpie, a street urchin, and Dymphna, a Sydney madam’s “best girl” as they evade gangsters and murderers in a slum called Razorhurst. Dymphna’s ex appears in the story, but as he is quite dead, there isn’t much of a romance going. A phenomenal book about violence and survival.

  4. The Walled City by Ryan Graudin. In the Walled City, people are abandoned and become human refuse. With no government, they create their own sort of laws, enforced by pimps and drug lords. In this dangerous warren, Graudin tells the tales of three young people–Jin, Min Lee, and Dai. This is a fascinating look at a city that was stranger than fiction when it existed.

  5. Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman. Be warned: this book is a slow mover. Rituals and beliefs are described with exactitude. BUT it’s a fabulous fantasy about a girl named Eona who passes as a boy in order to be matched with a dragon to wield magic. It’s also a thoughtful exploration of gender roles.

  6. A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis. Give up any notions of the 19th century being the good old days of propriety. Raped and impregnated by her father, Grace Mae is stashed in an asylum for the duration of her pregnancy. The book moves from the complete horrors of the asylum in the city to a bucolic sanitarium in the Midwest. Unfortunately, tragedy and death seem to follow Grace, and she poses as a madwoman in order to solve murders.
  7. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. This is probably one of the greatest friendship novels ever written. Yes, there’s a little flirting going on, but the focus here is on female resilience, strength, and love.

  8. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King. I am an unabashed fan of King, and this one definitely skews more toward the surrealist side of her oeuvre. However, it’s a stunning meditation on art, self, and abuse within a family.


Ask An Agent: Any Good Refresher Resources?

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:  What resources would you recommend as a “refresher” for a librarian returning to the workforce? I’ve been a stay-at-home Mom for the past 5 years and haven’t had the time to follow current trends and practices. Any advice?


Things To Do at a TAB Meeting #1: Make a Book Display!

You’ve worked hard to get teens interested in coming to your Teen Advisory meetings and they’re finally here!

Now what???

One of my go-to activities for my TAB meetings – after snacks, of course – is to have them do monthly book display and/or decorate for various holidays. Since we usually have meetings once a month, this works out pretty well. I’ve found that when I don’t have a specific agenda (or haven’t had time to plan one) this seems to really engage them, regardless of age or gender. I usually try to research 2 or 3 ideas for displays, typically from Pinterest, and print pictures of them so they have an idea of where to start. Sometimes they try to copy one, or make their own. It usually becomes a scavenger hunt for books that fit the display theme, whether it’s by a word in the title or the color of the cover. It can even be a STEM activity if you try to build a book tree!

Here are a few reasons why this is such a great activity to do with your TAB:

  1. It requires a sneaky form of teamwork
  2. It makes the teens feel more at home in the library
  3. It makes the teen space THEIR space
  4. They become more familiar with the collection
  5. As I mentioned before, teens of all ages, genders, backgrounds, etc. can usually get into it and have fun!

Here are a few pictures of my TAB creating some amazing displays! Check out my Pinterest boards for some ideas!



No Separate Teen Space?

I know many of us are lucky enough to have our own separate teen space for the teens to hang out. Some of us are doubly lucky and have a desk in our teen space. And some of us have none.

I’m closest to the none. I share a desk with the rest of Youth Services and usually get the computer facing towards our YA section, but it’s more of a large alcove than anything, with a giant pillar in the middle which obstructs my view of a good portion of the section. We have couches across from it near the desk but all their sitting space on the floor and such has been filled in by furniture (not my choice). The YA area itself has two high top tables tucked in the back with three high chairs each.

It’s a great space for the collection as far as shelving and is the perfect size for what our collection should be, for the most part (I’d like a few more shelves for a small nonfiction section and/or putting the YA audiobooks there, but I’ll still take it). However, since I’m also on the desk for all patrons there, it’s hard sometimes to even spot my teens as they come in. My usual suspects I can often spot far enough ahead I can say hi as they pass the desk. I try sometimes to approach teens in the area (when I can see them) but not only is it not really in my personality (flaw, I know) but I’m usually busy and can’t get away to say hi or see if they need something.

The best I’ve managed is to try and at least give them all a smile and a hello, with a name if I know it, but it’s definitely a work in progress that might never fully pan out as well as I’d like.

How can we still create an environment for our teens that is inviting and gives them the space that they need when we don’t physically have a space devoted to them that hits their needs? Many of us have picked a space somewhere in the library to designate as a teen gathering space, and many use signs to keep other age patrons away during the primo teen times (Afterschool, weekends, vacations, etc.).

We all try and help teach our coworkers why teens are important and not to overreact at their slightest behavior and let them rest wherever they want. We also open our program room on non-program afternoons to any kids wanting to do homework from middle school and up and word of it seems to be spreading as we had more kids than usual in the last month before the end of school.

I also make it a point to learn names as soon as possible. I’ve discovered I’m great at the names of people under 18 so I’ve made that my goal in life. To remember them after the first or second time I meet them. It definitely seems to pull in the kids, even though our hang out space isn’t great.

And, of course, we try and lure them back with programs that they want, which is why basically everything I do is Advisory Board suggested.

What other things do all of you do to get teens in the door to stay, hang out, feel comfortable approaching you for help and feel safe in the library when you don’t have a dedicated teen space and/or desk?