Maker Kits

Today we have Emma  from Brooklyn  Public Library talking about teen maker kits!

This year I’ve been trying to renew interest in craft programs for teens at the library. Our main teen program is a video game program which is well-attended but usually only by the same group of boys. I’ve missed having a craft/maker program for teens where teens can take further ownership of our space (the gaming program is in a computer lab that isn’t part of the official teen space), see the program supplies we have available, and just have a calm space to hang out while making some kind of finished product.

Before I started I knew a few things:

  1. I wanted a mellow program environment: Our teen video gaming program is fun but there’s always a lot of competition and I wanted something a bit more relaxed.
  2. I wanted unstructured creating: Teens don’t always like to be told the exact thing they have to make or that there is only one way to make it. I didn’t want to have specific projects and directions. Instead I wanted a setup where the teens could see what materials we had available and opt in to whatever spoke to them. Or make something entirely different.
  3. I wanted teens to be able to take more ownership of the space: Because of our neighborhood demographics, most of my library’s programs are geared toward younger kids. I wanted to create a teen craft program to carve out more space for the teens in my library’s programming schedule. Keeping my other objectives in mind, I also wanted something where they could take ownership of the art supplies/room during the program. Basically I hoped that if I provided the materials, they’d provide the creativity.

So Maker Kits were born.


What are Maker Kits?

Maker Kits are low-cost, versatile materials for open-ended creating put together in one container around a themed craft. Each kit filled with supplies that are easy to use with minimal supervision if not entirely self-directed. I used Ziploc Big Bags to house my kits but storage bins or some other container option would work just as well. The main thing is they should be mobile–don’t just dedicate a cabinet shelf to all the designated supplies.

I started with a few basic kits:


Duct Tape Maker Kit



  • Scissors (good quality scissors–safety scissors with rounded edges are okay but safety scissors will not be strong enough to cut the tape)
  • Rulers
  • Duct Tape
  • Index cards (other cardstock or heavy paper works too)
  • Laminated Instruction Sheets
  • Demo Items

The Duct Tape Maker Kit is stocked with a variety of duct tape, scissors, and rulers. The reason the kits can be self-directed are the laminated instruction sheets. After looking around online I found project instructions from Duct Tape and Instructables. I adapted the instructions to fit my needs, reformatted them, and then printed them out. I used my library’s laminator to laminate each sheet. Because I wanted laminated sheets, I kept instructions to one sheet of paper (one or two sided) for easy printing and laminating. I round out the kit with demonstration items I made myself while testing the projects. Currently I have instructions for bookmarks (the index cards are a base to make the bookmarks sturdier), duct tape wallets, duct tape bows, a flower pen, and a paperclip bookmark. I restock the materials as needed and add other supplies (paperclips for bookmarks and rubberbands for duct tape bracelets) as needed.


Blackout Poetry Maker Kit



  • Book pages (From ARCs, or weeded items. Magazines or newspapers would also work.)
  • Rulers
  • Markers (I went for an assortment of dark colors instead of just black. Do NOT use permanent markers.)
  • Pencils and/or Colored Pencils
  • Laminated Instruction Sheet

Blackout Poetry uses existing book pages to create poems by blacking out any words you don’t want to use. (Victor Vale creates blackout poetry in Vicious by V. E. Schwab and Yossarian comes close to making some when he becomes overzealous in his censor duty in Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.) I found sample images online and added a brief description for the instruction sheet. I started with a variety of markers in dark colors (green, I learned, does not work very well) and at teens’ request I added colored pencils which have been useful in blocking out words to highlight. I was skeptical of this activity taking up an entire program but it turns out making a blackout poem takes a lot of time with all of the coloring. Also once teens get into it they might make multiple pages or move on to the second side of their page. Here are samples from the teens:



Macrame Maker Kit



This was the most time consuming kit to make. I spent a lot of time tracking down, adapting, and reformatting instructions to fit my two-sided sheet structure. Some just didn’t work so I had to print those out as regular pamphlets. Teens can use scissors and rulers to measure the threads they need. Then they can use the tape to secure their project to a table while they are working on it. (I have had mixed results securing them with tape. One alternative is providing safety pins to attach projects to the leg of a pair of jeans or to a shoe. I’m also researching the cost of buying a few clipboards but I’m not sure it’s worth the space and money.)


Maker Kits in Action

I have used the kits in a few scenarios. For my Teen Makerspace I put out two or three kits (one per table) and explain the contents before letting teens gravitate where they like. I’ve also done several duct tape programs which is always a big hit. Finally, I have started taking the kids to my library’s teen video gaming program to entertain teens who are waiting for a turn on the game console.

My favorite part about the Maker Kits is that I can grab one and go. Everything I need is in the bag so I can run a quick maker/craft program anywhere in the library. The Maker Kits live in my library’s program room so the kits are also available to anyone else on staff who might be covering a teen program and wants to use them.

Because of the minimal time investment and setup, teens can opt in whenever and however they like. Often, particularly when I bring the supplies to other programs, I’ll start working on something and watch teens gravitate to the projects as they see what I’m doing.

Since my initial planning I’ve also created an Origami Maker Kit with squares and strips of paper along with laminated instructions for origami stars, pinwheels and other projects (this is a work in progress so I’m still deciding what to include. Coloring or journaling are also great Maker Kit options. While I made the kits with a mind to appeal to teens, they can also be used in programs with tweens or younger kids as well provided there’s enough supervision to explain the activities to kids who might not want to read multiple instruction sheets.

What are some simple crafts you like? If you work in a library, do you ever host maker/craft programs for kids or teens? Let me know in the comments.


Beyond The Pixels: Retro Gaming

There are a quite few much-anticipated titles on the horizon right now, but many sequels and series of classic titles are also on their way.  We’re in who knows what number of Super Mario we’re on now, and beloved characters like Sonic the Hedgehog and even PacMan have gotten recent reboots.  For many teens however, these new titles are the only relationship they’ve ever had with these characters.

Hey, aren’t we as librarians supposed to expose our teens to new and exciting things?  So what, if those “new” and exciting things happen to actually be old.

Enter retro gaming.

One of the ways I’ve introduced it is by purchasing a Retron system!

For about $70, the Retron lets you take your teens (and yourself) down a road of amazing nostalgia.  Retron allows for high-definition gameplay of old-school games.  The most recent version, the Retron 5 plays cartridges from NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy
Advance.  The 5 costs a bit more, with a $160 price tag, but compared to next gen consoles, it’s a steal.  If you don’t have the budget for either, many old consoles can be found for close to nothing online or in thrift stores.

For building a small collection of retro games, I would recommend checking out your local resales, or goodwill shops. I’ve found classics for anywhere from $0.25 to $5.  Also, don’t forget to ask around, because you never know what friends and family members still have in their closets.

I promise you, one of the coolest things ever is to watch teens that are able to complete a level of Halo, Call of Duty, or Overwatch flawlessly, get tripped up on the simplicity of Ms. Pac Man. Have an Old-School vs. New School showdown where teens can play against adults, or encourage them to try and beat YOUR score.  Pair a retro open gaming session with a showing of Wreck It Ralph, or a gaming documentary like King of Kong or the Video Games: The Movie.  As a prize for a small gaming contest, perhaps give a way a plug and play game system like this $14 DreamGear.

Some of the funniest feedback I got from teens was shock that there was no save file, and that losing a level could mean losing the entire game.  A few teens were also happy to show what they did know, from having been introduced to some of these games by their parents. Most meaningful however, was the number of teens who began to think about how to create new consoles, and what the future of games could be, based on the past.

While retro games don’t necessarily carry the added transmedia components that many new games do, the endearing quality of them can be likened to the addictiveness of many of the apps young adults love.  They also have a less threatening quality to them that makes even the less tech-savvy teens more willing to give them a try.

So what are you waiting for?   Give it a shot!  Let us know how it turns out.


Ask an Agent:

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: Any programming advice for Banned Books Week? I’m looking for something fun and interactive for my teens to do (not just another display). I’m struggling to find any good ideas/resources online


Kindergarten for a Day

Kindergarten for a Day! Believe it or not, my teens loved this program this summer. Who knew something so simple would go over so well? It’s a great way to relieve stress without teens even knowing it. It can also be a great way to connect with your children’s librarians for some pointers on doing story time, which books they think would go over well, and some fun craft ideas. The program itself was about 2 hours with the first 20 minutes dedicated to story time and songs and the second was crafting, snacks, and even a requested nap with classical music. The cost? All of the craft materials we already had, so it was just a matter of getting some snack and drinks which ended up being about $20.

At the beginning of the program, teens came in, grabbed a name tag and a carpet square and found a spot on the floor. We began with the “Hello” song followed by “What’s the Weather” where one teen volunteered to use their “powers of observation” to determine if it was raining, snowing, wind, or sun. For our stories, I read to them read three books with a song between each. First up was Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems.

This was a huge hit with my group of teens. The Norwegian dinosaur was by far the favorite.
Next up was Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea. unicorn

Once again my teens were very amused by this one. They loved Goat and Unicorn but were very confused as to why Goat was eating pizza with goat cheese on it.

The final book was a last minute switch. I was going to read Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds but instead switched it out for Can You Make a Scary Face? By Jan Thomas.creepycarrots scaryface

This was a flop. It was too simple for my teens after reading the first two books.

The songs that we sang in between were Herman the Worm (which many of them already knew and loved!), The Moose Song , and The Princess Pat. Yes, I was once a camp counselor too, haha.

After story time was finished we had stations. At the beginning when everyone picked up a name tag, it had a shape pre drawn on it; a blue square, red triangle, yellow star, or a green diamond. Each shape corresponded with the station they got to go to first. They had about 15 minutes at each station and then would rotate to the next one.

The first station was finger painting. A couple of teens didn’t know what to draw, so I encouraged them to just get messy, put their whole hand in the paint and have fun with it. I do recommend having some baby wipes nearby for easy clean up after!

The next station was “create your own story” where they got to make a new Goldilocks story with three other characters. Of course there was also the snack station; by far the favorite. I kept it simple with lemonade and goldfish crackers. And finally there was the reading corner. I grabbed some stuffed animals and a few comfy cushions and piled them in the corner along with a stack classic picture books for everyone to read.

After stations were over, it was quiet/nap time. I put on some classical music and they had the choice to continue to read or curl up with their carpet squares and take a snooze. All in all, this was a big hit with my teens. Because many of the materials were things we already had for children’s programming, it was also very inexpensive.

We want to hear from you! Have you tried doing a similar program? Let us know in the comments!

Goal Setting: Build a Better Library and Become a Better Librarian

It’s late September. The temperature is starting to become bearable (at least at night…maybe), the kids are back in school and summer reading is a distant memory. Things are settling down and you’ve had a chance to catch your breath and reflect. Whether you are a freshly minted librarian or a veteran of the field, or serve teens in a public, school or other type of library, it’s a good time to take a moment and take stock of where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you want to go next. Maybe you want to revamp your collection. Pursue a PhD. Start a new program. Or maybe you want to find a new job.

Set aside an hour or two create some goals. It doesn’t have to be in one block. It can be 10 minutes one day. 10 another. And then a longer block of time when you’re really feeling motivated to GSD.

Reflection: Where You’ve Been

This is a little bit like writing your resume. Even if you’ve been in you job for some time and aren’t planning to look elsewhere, this is critical.  What education, certifications, training and work experience do you have? Is there something you’ve achieved that you are particularly proud of? Or maybe something that you used to be passionate about that’s fallen by the wayside. As you do so, reflect on why you entered librarianship and the kind of librarian you wanted to become. Have things changed?

Observation: Where You Are

Come up with five words that best describe you. Don’t think too hard about these. They should be obvious. Write a brief narrative that encapsulates your motivation and/or vision for your work. It’s not a long essay. Rather, it’s just a few sentences where you lay out why you do what you do and what difference or meaning you want to make.

Action: Where You’re Headed

Finally. It’s time to look to the future make some goals. And there’s an acronym to help you make some deliciously meaty goals! I like to make what are called SMART goals. There are a few slightly different interpretations for what each of the letters stands for, but here’s how I do it:

Basic RGB
Image via

Sometimes you’ll hear people talk about “ambitious, yet feasible” goals. This is basically the same thing. You don’t want to aim so high that you’ll never get there. But you don’t want your goals to be things you were going to do anyway. Stretch yourself a bit.

A SPECIFIC goal is one that has direction. Instead of “read” it should be “read YA novels” or “read professional publications” or “read nonfiction” or “read Asian-American authors.”

MEASURABLE goals are quantifiable. Don’t just say you’ll “read more books by Asian-American authors.” Commit. “Read one book per month by an Asian-American author.”

Before you get too comfortable, think: Is this ATTAINABLE? Will you really have time to “read one book per month by an Asian-American author? Would 8 books over the course of the year be a bit more realistic, given the fact that you’re currently averaging only 4 or 5 books by Asian-American authors?

And speaking of, why do you suddenly want to up the number of books by Asian-American authors that you’re reading? Maybe you’ve identified that you tend to read mostly white authors and it’s time to shake things up a bit and see what else is out there. Make sure your goal is RELEVANT. If you want to add some diversity to your reading, Asian-American authors are a great start. You could also read all of the Pura Belpré Award winner and honor books from the last few years. Or all of the books on the WNDB Young Adult End of the Year Booklist to catch up on what you missed. Whatever you decide, make sure it makes sense and actually relates to the underlying reason you created the goal in the first place.

You can go on reading forever and still not have enough time to read everything out there. Set yourself a hard deadline for meeting your goal. Making your goal TIME-BASED gives a bit of gentle pressure to keep you striving toward a finish line.

Within that final deadline, you’re probably also going to want to set some milestones. If your goal includes reading 24 specific books that are outside your regular reading routine, and getting it done by the end of August, you’re going to want to pace yourself. Set a milestone of 2 books per month and it’ll be easier to check your progress and stay on top of things.

Rumination: What Stands In Your Way

Not sure about this whole goal-setting thing? Can’t figure out what kind of goals to set? Maybe you think the goals you have in mind aren’t “good enough” or aren’t the “right” ones to get you where you want to be as a professional. Or that you don’t have the right supports or resources in place to even get out of the starting block. Some ideas on how to keep yourself moving in the right direction:

  • Write your goals as questions. This might seem weird at first, but it helps! Questions beg to be answered. If you’re thinking about a goal centering on reading more diversely, ask yourself “How can I change my reading habits to ensure that I am reading a wide, representative variety of materials that reflect the reading habits and diversity of materials available to young adults?”
  • Talk about your goals with a colleague or friend. Maybe they have a similar vision for themselves. Or maybe they’ve been there before and have some helpful hints on how to make your goals happen.
  • Visit a library or librarian that has/does what you want. Do an informational interview to find out the backstory.
  • Get a mentor! Have a librarian idol? Study them. Interview them. Share your vision with them and see if they can help you realize your path.
  • Read a book. There are so many great professional development books out there. A book doesn’t have to be specifically about libraries to helpful. I love reading “Business” and “Self-Help” books like Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, 168 Hours by Padma Venkatraman, and Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath.

Dealing With a Materials Challenge


ALA’s Banned Books Week kicks off September 25 and runs through October 1. While it is a bit of a misnomer, as “banned” refers to those materials that are completely removed from the library or system, this week highlights the necessity of libraries’ and teen service specialists’ being prepared for materials challenges. No matter what you call them (challenges, reconsideration of materials, or other fancy verbiage), in reality they can be a jolt to you and your staff. The best way to handle challenges is with impartial grace and advance preparation.


Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, Volume II

Genres: Graphic Novel

ultimate_comics_spider-man_vol_2_6I am having a hard time finding a book that captures my attention. I don’t know if it’s due to two full years of being on reading selection committees or if I am just burnt out on books for young adults. The last time I picked up a random YA book to read was in May. I haven’t been able to break out of that YA slump. But I am finally reading. I started on Marvel Comics which I have never done and fell in love.

Miles Morales is a 13-year-old half Puerto Rican, half black teen living in Brooklyn and he just found out he won a lottery to a new charter school.  He feels guilty he got in over other kids, he goes off to see his uncle and tell him the good news.

Unbeknownst to Miles, his uncle is also known as The Prowler. The Prowler successfully broke into the Oscorp labs to steal the formula recreated from Peter Parker’s blood that made him Spider-Man. While there, a genetically modified spider crawls into his bag and he unwittingly brings it home. The spider bites Miles while he is at his uncle’s house and he gains superhuman abilities similar to those of Peter Parker. Miles does not tell his parents as his dad hates those that are mutants or have superhuman abilities. He only tells his best friend Ganke Lee.

Miles does not want these newfound abilities and doesn’t like the idea of of risking his life for heroics. But after he sees Peter Parker die at the hands of the Green Goblin, Miles realizes he could have helped and maybe save Peter. After Ganke’s urging, and learning what motivated Peter from Gwen Stacy, Miles decides to become to new Spider-Man.

On his first solo crime fighting night, he runs into people who think this new Spider-Man is in bad taste. They include Spider-Woman who unmasks and arrests Miles. She takes him to S.H.I.E.L.D. where Nick Fury reveals he knows everything about his family, including his criminal of an uncle. While at S.H.I.E.L.D. Miles helps subdue and capture an escaped supervillain. This prompts Fury to release Miles and give him a new, darker suit to use effectively making him the new Spider-Man.

Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, Volume II, aka Miles Morales’ origin story, is fantastic!  The story is compelling and a lot of other heroes and characters make appearances that help Miles on his journey.

Ask an Agent: Relevant/Trendy Program Ideas

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’ve hit a wall in programming ideas… trying to stay relevant with current trends & make a worthwhile program. Any ideas for fall 2016/winter 2017?


Themed Programs: International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Talk Like a Pirate DayInternational Talk Like a Pirate Day is celebrated every September 19th. Like many themed holidays, this particular day has great potential for teen programming. Here are some ideas for things you can do with your teens on September 19th:

Themed Snacks: If you search for pirate-themed snacks on the internet, you will be inundated with a plethora of ideas. The teens at my library will be greeted with a bowl of cannon balls (grapes), fish bait (gummy worms), and fish and chips (goldfish and potato chips). This is a decent balance of not completely unhealthy snack foods that also avoids many of the possible allergy issues.

Icebreaker Activity: Have teens create their own Jolly Roger flag. This can be on fabric if you like, but can also be as simple as providing black construction paper and a supply of markers, glue sticks, scissors, and stickers. Teens could make a flag for their team, if you want them to compete in teams, or one just for themselves.

Pirate Jokes and Trivia:

What does a pirate use the library’s computer for?

To look up arrrticles, of course!

There are lists upon lists of these on the internet, and many of your teens will be able to make up their own variations, too, once they hear a few. Most pirate jokes are some variation on the sound “Arrr,” and if you look these up before the program you can separate out the library-friendly jokes from the ones you may choose not to tell the teens. The trivia is also a good way to get teens into a pirate-y mood or to choose which individual or group will go first in the next activity.

Project Walk the Plank: This is my take on Project Runway. The teens will be given a limited amount of craft supplies (yarn, construction paper, duct tape, scissors, markers) as well as black trash bags, and they will be creating Pirate Couture which they will then premier on our library runway. If you have particularly loquacious teens in your group, you could challenge them to emcee the runway event using pirate vocabulary.

Library Treasure Hunt: Take a typical library scavenger hunt and turn it into a treasure hunt! I have eight riddles, each of which leads to a particular book or location in our library. At each location I will place an envelope containing a piece of a treasure map. This piece will also have the next riddle printed on the back. The teens must solve the riddles and find all the map pieces, then put together the map and figure out where the treasure is. To do this, I made a parchment-y looking document in Microsoft Publisher and drew a rough map of our library on top. Then I placed an X where the treasure is and left another riddle that clues the teens into what they might be looking for.

Approaching Problematic Books As A White Reader

I don’t know a single person who enjoys being told they are wrong about something.  I don’t know anyone who feels a frisson of excitement every time they hear, “That’s wrong.”  We crave acceptance from others … except when the “others” are pointing out our own racism, intolerance, bigotry, and microaggressions.  Suddenly, those who dare to challenge us are cast as trolls, haters, stalkers, and my personal favorite, “just overly sensitive.”


As information professionals, book lovers, and advocates for our patrons, it is in our responsibility to question and challenge materials that reinforce white superiority, solidify the concept that the white cishet gaze is the only one that matters, and that minimize in any way the suffering of marginalized groups.  Equally important is our willingness to listen when people from said marginalized groups critique a book that is hurtful or ignorant.  Even if we, personally, liked the book.  Even if a fancypants review source gave it a coveted star.  


Because guess what?  It’s not all about you.




Let’s take the recent criticism of e.E. Trujillo’s When We Was Fierce as an example.  This author thought that it was okay to write a book that ignored the rules of AAVE.  I guess inventing your own slang is more authentic than what the teens reading this book actually say?  Oh well!  What do they know?  They’re just … a part of the culture that you are purporting to represent but are, in fact, offending.  


Then, an agent and an editor and many, many reviewers looked at the text and said, “Oh wow.  This person is so brave for addressing problems in the Black community.”  However, when this book was brought up at ALA, many librarians were completely shocked that it was even slated to be published.  I remember a group of us looking at each other and just going, “Noooooooo.”  


Jenn Baker and Edi Campbell then published excellent, in-depth reviews of the title and pointed out why it was so problematic.  And the reaction from white Twitter was, predictably, shock.  People kept saying, “Well I  don’t see anything wrong with it.”  “I really enjoyed it.”  Bully for you.  When a POC says “This is hurtful.  This is racist.  This is appropriation” then we, as white librarians, need to listen.  Specifically, we need to shut our mouths and listen.


This is no place for excuses.  This is no place for raising your hand and saying “But I…”.  Because this isn’t for you to judge.  You sit down and you listen and you learn.  And then you turn around and read critically.  You call out problematic terminology or lack of representation in teen literature.  


Let’s look at it this way: telling a POC critic, author, scholar, or reviewer that their opinion of a book about POC doesn’t matter is like a plumber coming in off the street and telling you that you have no idea how to properly conduct a reference interview, manage teen programming, or help people find information.  That he, the plumber (nothing against plumbers here–it’s what popped into my head!) could do a better job.  That you’re not qualified to do the job for which you attended school.  This plumber has an amazing skillset that you don’t have, but that’s not relevant to the critique.


Would you feel angry?  You’d probably exclaim, “He has no right to tell me that!”  That is correct.  And white readers and librarians have no right to question the anger, disappointment, and hurt that POC feel when an author steps out of her lane and causes a cultural pileup of truly epic proportions.  


More recently, Faythe Arredondo wrote a post here on TSU about the appropriation and inaccurate portrayal of Dia de los Muertos in Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel Ghosts.  While some responses considered Faythe’s thorough breakdown of the issues in this book, others dismissed her opinion by saying, “Well, the author did research.”  Research does not an accurate, compassionate, inclusive book make.  Why would you take the word of someone who is not a part of Mexican-American culture over someone who is?  


Is it because it makes you feel uncomfortable?  Good!  Feeling uncomfortable, as white readers and librarians, when books we may have enjoyed are called out for being problematic is indicative of the fact that we need to change how we see the world.  Even if we didn’t grow up in a family that was overtly racist–even if we think we are “good allies”–we have been indoctrinated by society to rely on  our privilege as white people.  That funny feeling in your stomach when you hear an author say “A character in book X says racist things” or “Author A doesn’t write diverse casts of characters” is like a compass, pointing to the subtly racist things that we’ve internalized over the years.  Follow that compass and root out those feelings.  Burn them.  And then replace them with openness and tolerance and advocacy.