Beyond the Pixels: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes

“NO, WAIT!  Did you say it has two blue wires, one white, and two yellow?”

“YES, that’s what I said!  15 seconds!”

“Okay, okay – wait…hold on…I swear I saw it right here…”



Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes (KT&NE for short) fills a unique place in gaming – it’s got all the hallmarks of a board game, but it’s generally played with a printed paper manual and a computer (or a VR headset, if you have one of those).  KT&NE is a game where one player, sitting at a computer, has a virtual bomb that they must defuse based on their teammates instructions who are looking at the bomb defusal manual.  The bomb defuser (the person at the computer) has to describe the bomb in detail to get their defusal team to figure out where in the manual they need to be looking.  The game starts off with easy bombs – just one or two things that need to be figured out, perhaps – and progressively get more difficult, with multiple modules that you have to solve and environmental issues, like the lights flickering in and out.

This game is hilariously social and played well with a group of four of us.  Three people pored over the manual while another sat at the computer, describing the bomb as best they could without really knowing what they needed to be describing to get us to the information we were looking for.  Eventually, some shorthand was created regarding certain symbols – “There’s a smiley tongue face, a jacked up 3, and Tim Bob!” – but since puzzles are procedurally generated, you never know what the level is really going to throw at you.  It’s fun if you, as the person defusing the bomb, regularly update your team with the countdown timer until the bomb explodes.  It heightens the anxiety and sense of impending doom!  Of course, strategically, this isn’t the best way to go…but it’s fun.

If you do happen to defuse the bomb before it goes off, it saves your best time and you can try to beat the record.  This allows for rivalry and bragging rights, especially if you decide to make this a part of your regular teen game programming.  Additionally, with two copies of the game on two computers, two manuals, and two teams of at least 3 or 4, you could run a competition between two bomb defusal teams!

Really, this game seems like it’ll be a slam dunk for teens.  A social game with competitive elements, uses computers, and involves shouting instructions at each other?  Instant win.  If you end up buying this game and running it at your library, let us know how it goes in the comments!

Child Abuse Prevention Month: A Resource List

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and although not all of us are mandated reporters, required by law to report any suspected abuse among our child and teen patrons, the truth is that all of us work with people who are abuse survivors, whether or not we are aware of it. Current statistics report that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be assaulted or molested by the time they reach age 18. It is highly likely that there are abuse survivors in your teen group, whether or not it is obvious and whether or not they are vocal about it.

If a teen does approach you with questions, or if you want to have resources available for those teens who don’t feel comfortable approaching an adult, here are a few things to start off with. This list is by no means exhaustive; there are scores of young adult fiction titles featuring characters who survive abuse; however, this list can be a jumping-off point for you if you wish to create a display or a bookmark or some other resource for your library.

Fiction Titles:

  • Anderson, Laurie. Speak. Puffin, 1999.
  • Avasthi, Swati. Split. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010.
  • Chayil, Eishes. Hush. Walker Publishing, 2010.
  • Giles, Gail. Girls Like Us. Candlewick Press, 2014.
  • Jackson, Tiffany. Allegedly. Katherine Tegen Books, 2017.
  • Keplinger, Kody. Run. Scholastic Press, 2016.
  • King, A.S. Reality Boy. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2013.
  • King, A.S. Still Life with Tornado. Dutton Books for Young Readers, 2016.
  • Kuehn, Stephanie. Charm & Strange. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013.
  • Mattieu, Jennifer. Afterward. Roaring Brook Press, 2016.
  • Oakes, Stephanie. The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly. Dial/Penguin, 2015.
  • Summers, Courtney. All the Rage. St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.

Nonfiction Titles:

  • Bass, Ellen. The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse. Harper Perennial, 1994.
  • Clark, Annie. We Believe You: Survivors of Campus Sexual Assault Speak Out. Holt Paperbacks, 2016.
  • Feuereisen, Patti. Invisible Girls: The Truth About Sexual Abuse — A Book for Teen Girls, Young Women, and Everyone Who Cares About Them. Seal Press, 2005.
  • Lehman, Carolyn. Strong at the Heart: How It Feels to Heal from Sexual Abuse. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2005.
  • Nakazawa, Donna. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. Atria Books, 2015.
  • Stoian, Maria. Take It as a Compliment. Singing Dragon, 2015.

Web Resources:

Ask An Agent: Print Reference Section?

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:  Is it still worth it to have a print reference section?


Pal-Entine’s Day Party: A Celebration of Friendship

This year, Valentine’s Day happened to fall on my usual program night, but I was hesitant to offer a teen Valentine’s Day party because I didn’t want the teens to feel like they were only welcome if they were in a relationship. Then again, I’ve read enough stories of librarians facing backlash for anti-Valentine’s Day parties to be wary of those too. Of course, I could have done a program that had nothing to do with February 14, but as I was turning ideas over in my head, a thought struck me: Why not have a program celebrating friendship and self-love? And so my Pal-Entine’s Day Party was born. Although I did this on February 14, you could adapt it for Friendship Day (August 6 in the US), or just anytime you want to have a program that encourages teens to think of themselves and their friends in positive terms. After all, friendship is something we should celebrate all the time, right? Not only was my Pal-Entine’s celebration a big draw (in spite of a school dance that night!), the cost was minimal and the teens are already asking to do it again.

Here’s what we did for our celebration of friendship:

Friendship bracelets: My teens are embracing this ‘80s phenomenon, and it can be done on the super cheap. I set out various colors of embroidery floss that we already had in our craft stash, some tape to secure those bracelets to the table during construction, and let the teens have at it.

Coloring Station: It always amazes me how much my teens enjoy kicking back with a coloring sheet and colored pencils, and tons of designs are free online. I keep them in my teen room as a passive programming staple, but the coloring station at our Pal-Entine’s Party was very popular as well.

Books of Awesome: I first learned about this clever craft at Teen Think Tank in Ohio. It’s time-consuming, but the end result is pretty fabulous and the teens can get very creative with it! For each participant, you need:

  • A deck of playing cards (I got these at the dollar store for $.50 each)
  • A hole punch
  • 52 blank sticky address labels
  • String or ribbon for binding

Have the teens write one awesome thing about themselves or a friend on each of their address labels, then stick a label on each card. Punch two holes down the left side of each card and bind them together with string or ribbon for a great friendship keepsake.

Chocolate fondue: This was the most expensive part of this program, but I didn’t feel like our celebration would be complete without a little chocolate. I used a big bag of milk chocolate chips, melted in a slow cooker with a bit of half-and-half for consistency, and offered strawberries and Oreo cookies to dip in it. You could get elaborate with different types of chocolate or a wider variety of things to dip, or skip it entirely if you need to cut costs. As a bonus, the smell of yummy, melty chocolate was everywhere in our youth and teen area that day, and it drew in several teens who hadn’t signed up!

Overall, our celebration of friendship was successful, fun, and inexpensive. A win for everyone!

Moving On and Moving Forward

Saying that I don’t like change is a huge understatement. And yet, when it doesn’t happen, I feel stifled. Change is something I force myself to undergo as often as I can, because I know it’s good for me. However, when your profession is very often something you use to define yourself (“Hi, I’m Pam! I’m a teen services librarian!”), how do you handle it when that has the possibility of changing?


I never thought I would work with kids, and then, when I kind of fell into my position as the de facto (and later just straight-up facto) teen librarian, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I made Sorting Hats and Minions and planned Star Wars events and that was my job. How could I trade that away? Or so I told myself.

On the other hand, I was feeling burned out. I couldn’t muster enthusiasm for projects anymore. I felt like I wasn’t being original enough, and that everyone else (yes, this is how I think–in absolutes) was a way better teen librarian than I was. So when I had the opportunity to be a circulation librarian instead, I took it. And I moved away. And I had to leave everything that was going well for something that was–relatively speaking–brand new.


If you are in the same situation, or if you are thinking “Hmm, I don’t know if I want to do this teen thing forever” or if you are thinking “I have to do this teen thing forever because otherwise people will judge me”: it’s okay. You can be a kick-butt librarian after changing jobs, whether you still work with teens or not. A change in job title or focus does not–I repeat not–mean that your worth as a person or an employee is any less.


If I could change one thing about librarianship, it wouldn’t be the stereotypes regarding eyewear or the frustrations of working with the public. It would be the rampant judgment within our own profession. There’s this unspoken code that if you don’t end up a “rockstar librarian” in your niche, or end up serving on a committee, or make the news in your town, that you are a “bad” librarian. This is patently untrue. You don’t need to be or do any of those things to be amazing. You know what? You’re amazing because you love people so much that you’ve dedicated your professional career to helping them. If, during the course of that career, you decide to work with teens (who I would argue are the most overlooked group), you are a super-awesome, self-sacrificing person. But you don’t lose any of that if you get a different job or decide that you want to change it up. All of the things you’ve learned working with teens will benefit you greatly no matter what you go on to do. Because guess what? You made and are making a difference. Even if you don’t get fancy awards or invites to publisher parties or quotes in newspaper articles: you. Are. Important. You matter. What you do matters. And whatever you go on to do–that matters just as much.


Once I got over that mental hurdle (and to be quite honest, it’s a hurdle that I have to get over at least twice a week, over and over again), I had to learn how to say goodbye to my teens. That’s how I saw them–they belonged in my heart. Even when they pulled really dumb stunts like prank-calling 911 from a payphone or skateboarding in the library. I felt responsible for their future success. It was exquisitely painful to tell the teen who had been confiding in me that I was going to leave. They said “You’re the coolest librarian we know! None of the other librarians like us!” And I challenged them and said, “How do you know?” I challenged them to talk to the other librarians when I left. To give them a chance. And they said they’d try, which is all I could ever want.


And now? Now my job, which isn’t necissarily a teen-focused one, allows me to program for whichever age group I wish. So I’m meeting with other youth librarians in the system to create an epic room escape. I have teammates now, when before, I was on my own. Everything I ever did in my old system is brand-spankin’ new in my current one. I get to succeed (or fail) all over again. Looking around, I see very few teens in the library. And thinking back, that’s exactly what it was like when I started in my previous position. Then, a few years later, we ended up with the “problem” of too many teens in the library. I want that problem again. I want to make it happen.


So don’t feel guilty about moving on. Do what you need to do for you. But see every opportunity as a fresh start. You get to introduce yourself and your awesomeness to an entirely new population–whether they are kiddos, teens, adults, or some mix of them all. Go for it!

Blind Date With a Book

One of my favorite displays to make is my annual Blind Date With a Book Display. This display features books that are wrapped or otherwise covered so readers can’t see the title or jacket copy of the book until they borrow it. You can label the book with short descriptions, a quote, the first line, or anything else you can think of to entice readers.

I put this type of display up in my library’s teen area at the start of February and leave it up for the entire month. Because it’s themed around Valentine’s Day, the display usually has a lot of pink and red as you’ll see in my photos. What I like about this kind of display, though, is that it’s versatile. I do a similar version for Banned Books Week and provided you have the time and supplies, it can be adapted for almost any theme you choose (masked books for Halloween, anyone?).


As usual I started with a graphic that I created in PicMonkey. I also asked my library’s marketing department about using a hashtag and we came up with #BKLYNBlindDate. Ideally with the hashtag people would share their thoughts about the books they picked up. That didn’t work out this year but I’m hoping maybe it will gain momentum in future displays.

Depending on the type of library you are in and how checkout works, you might have to get creative with wrapping. I’ve seen some libraries cover books with paper bags for quick and dramatic reveals while others wrap the books completely so they look like gifts. In my library checkout is handled in a different department as well as by self-checkout machines so I wanted to keep barcodes visible for easy borrowing.

To wrap the books I used printer paper (sometimes two sheets taped together for larger books) and wrapped the books as if I would a gift. Then I used a scissors to cut out the paper covering the barcode so that it would be visible.

I decorated the books with paper cutout hearts then I wrote quick descriptions for each book. I chose books to appeal to a variety of ages with different genres and titles. Since the books would be wrapped, I also tried to pick titles with multiple copies in case someone wanted to borrow a book that was part of the display. I wrapped books in batches of five to keep the display well-stocked throughout the month.


Here’s the fully stocked display with a few of the wrapped books:

Have you made a Blind Date With a Book display at your library before? If not, hopefully this post has inspired you to create one soon!

YA to Make You LOL

Genres: Funny

April can be a rough time of year at the library for librarians and teens alike. Here at my library, we’re bogged down in Summer Reading Program prep, and the teens are all grumpy from doing standardized testing in school. And despite it technically being spring, our girl Mother Nature often throws us at least one snowstorm as a little April Fool’s joke. T.S. Elliott did famously say that “April is the cruellest month.” These days, my brain can’t handle nonfiction or any super-serious topics. And don’t even get me started on the news. During these rainy days, my brain craves levity–a good fart joke here, some sassy dialogue there, maybe some embarrassing situations, and a few double entendres. I want, wit, whimsy, and straight up weirdness. I want snarkiness, satire, and shenanigans. I want something to make me laugh out loud, gosh darn it! Here are some of my favorite recent funny books to help get the laughter train rolling.

The Haters – Jesse Andrews

Wes and Corey are haters. They are obsessed with music and even more obsessed with determining why most music they encounter sucks. At jazz camp, they meet fellow hater, Ash, an intriguing guitar-player and one of the few girls at camp. They form a band and then proceed to make a series of dumb decisions as they ditch camp in search of the perfect gig. This book will have you laughing out loud right off the bat. The banter among the characters is full of swearing, hilarious over-the-top jokes about male anatomy, and musical one-upmanship. If you’re into raunchy bromance comedies, this book is for you.

Dan vs Nature – Don Calame

Dan’s mom, who has a history of dating losers, drops a bombshell: She and current boyfriend Hank are engaged! And she’s booked a trip for Dan and Hank to an outdoor survival camp so they can bond. Dan and his best friend Charlie decide to use the trip as an opportunity to scare Hank off by planning a series of horrific pranks. This farce is chock full of gross humor and is perfect for tweens. Think Home Alone but in the wilderness, with a lot more diarrhea and bear attacks.

My Lady Jane – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows 

The British cover of My Lady Jane is amazing!

This silly, alternate history reimagines Lady Jane Grey’s nine day reign as Queen of England as a madcap, shape-shifter romance. The feud between the Protestants and Catholics is presented here as a feud between Edians (humans that can become animals, much like the animagi in Harry Potter) and the Verities that hate them. So that she can succeed King Edward, Jane is wed to Gifford Dudley who, for better or for worse, spends every evening as a horse. This playful story is full of fun pop culture references (from Princess Bride to Monty Python to Game of Thrones) and a lot of fourth-wall breaking by the authors. It’s safe to say that this is a story unlike anything you’ve ever encountered.

Kill the Boy Band has the coolest endpapers.

Kill the Boy Band – Goldy Moldavsky

The Ruperts are the hottest boy band on the scene. Four superfans, Isabel, Apple, Erin, and a mysterious unnamed narrator, check into the Ruperts’ hotel in hopes of meeting the guys in person–and they’ll do whatever it takes. When Apple literally runs into Rupert P. (the ugly one) at the ice machine, she knocks him out and kind of….kidnaps him. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.This satirical black comedy is an over the top send-up of fame and fan culture.

Drag Teen – Jeffery Self

JT is determined to get the heck out of Clearwater, FL and go to college, but he needs to find a way to pay for it. He’s always dreamed of being a drag queen, so when his boyfriend Seth and best friend Heather convince him to enter a drag competition for teens in New York, he reluctantly agrees, hoping to win the scholarship promised to the first place queen. This funny, fluffy story is part road trip novel, part fairy godmother fantasy. Though it’s a bit cliched and didactic, it’s a perfect light, smile-inducing read.

Spontaneous – Aaron Starmer

High school senior Mara Carlyle is just chilling in her pre-calc class one day when—KABLAM!—fellow senior Katelyn Ogden spontaneously combusts. Soon, seniors are exploding left and right. Don’t even get me started on the horrific scene at the homecoming game…yikes. The town is reeling, and everyone is on the hunt for someone to blame. Is it drugs? Homosexuality? A government conspiracy? Or is Mara herself somehow causing it? I know this sounds like a tragedy, but Mara’s snarky, tell-it-like-it-is voice and the ridiculousness of the situation make this a (literal) gut-buster.

Ask An Agent: Escape the Room?

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:  Have any of you ever done an escape room program? How did you do it?


Craft Buffets

I originally learned about the concept of craft buffets when I started my current job. The children’s part of my department had previously used them extensively as a good vacation time program, since it could accommodate a ton of people, but also not rely on any particular number in case only a few came. We still use it occasionally and sometimes even have impromptu sessions.

However, as time went on, I discovered another great use for them. You know those programs where you plan for ten, just in case you get them, or there are last minute signups and you have four set of materials left at the end? Those start to really add up over time, but there isn’t enough of anything to manage an entire program without buying yet more supplies.

So I’ve started doing Craft Buffets for my YAs. About once a year, I take out all my extra supplies from the previous year, plus all the usuals (scissors, tape, glue, markers, etc.) and let the kids have at. I make sure to have the library iPad there for instructions if people need them and I’ll pull some of our general arts and crafts books to give inspiration, but mostly I just let them free-for-all craft depending on what they want to do.

It’s simple and, in a way, cheap, since it’s all previously bought materials. It’s also a good way to clean out that overcrowded closet/cabinet/cupboard.

There’s always discuss with the early literacy set about process vs. product and a lot of that discussion ends for most kids once they hit school. A good art teacher will keep it up, but so many kids these days don’t even get art classes. So this is a great program that encourages process rather than product because a) everyone is making something different and b) there’s no right answer or example to show. It’s part of the reason I have so little in the way of potential instructions.

The kids, after often staring at the materials for a few minutes in consternation, then slowly start to dig in and create great things. And use up old supplies along the way! (so I can spend another year or so filling my closet with fresh parts of art programs).

How Do You Avoid/Stop Burnout?

Burnout is very real and something I’m sure we’ve all experienced. It’s something that can make going into work a drag, make coming up with programs feel like pulling teeth, and real creativity buster. So how to you avoid or stop it?

Here are some ideas from the TSU staff.

Andrea says: As someone who has experienced a lot of burnout in my 8 years as  Teen Services Librarian, my number one advice is self-care. Take breaks & time off. Vacations have always been my number one way to destress and come back feeling better. If you can schedule them after a time you know will be stressful. For example, I always try to take time off in August after the craziness of Summer Reading. As for the day to day, make sure you’re scheduling time for the things you love to do in your personal time. Staying happy/balanced in your personal life will go a long way in your work life!

Molly says: I think this job can be really exhausting. One thing I would recommend is to try to take advantage of professional development workshops if you are able to. Not only can you learn something new and get new ideas (and get out of the library!) but talking with colleagues about things they are doing at their schools or libraries can be really eye-opening. Talking about those crazy teens or patrons and other problems we all deal with can also be amazing therapy! The other thing I’ve tried to do is to schedule down-time at work. Otherwise, I don’t have any. For instance, we are taking a week off from programs – both kids and teens – the week before April School Vacation. Usually I do weekly storytimes, as well as teen programs, right up to the week before vacation, but this time I knew I would need a break and I am so glad I scheduled it this way. I will be working a couple days to prep for school break, but the rest is vacation time for me. It’s pretty much the last chance I get for some time off before Summer Reading consumes me!

Pam says: Find something that has nothing to do with libraries and pursue that in your downtime–and make sure you have downtime! I know it’s tempting to feel like you have to be eating, breathing, drinking, and sleeping programming/teens/library life, but don’t do it. Although we often define ourselves by our jobs or with our jobs, that should not be the only thing that makes you you. I lift weights and it’s great for my head, because I have to focus on moving my body correctly and challenging myself. Also, talk to other people about what you’re feeling. Other librarians can be super helpful, because they know what you’re going through. Finally, stop comparing yourself to other librarians. You don’t have to do all the programs and win all the awards and get all the teens to come to your programs. You don’t. It’s okay. Do your best at what you do. Remember that your goals in life are not the same as anyone else’s, so you shouldn’t let other people’s goals define your path.

Elizabeth says: Make your space a happy place. Buy a lucky bamboo plant for your desk (those are impossible to kill), put up pictures of family, friends, pets, or favorite places, print out some funny memes, or scribble inspirational quotes on post-it notes and put them where you’ll see them every day. Find ways to commune with your tribe of other teen librarians. If you can, travel to a conference. (If it’s in another city or state, find a way to experience that place while you’re there!) If you can’t travel, join a listserv or social media group. The TSU Facebook group is a great place to start. Even if you just lurk there, you can borrow someone else’s enthusiasm when you don’t have your own. And always be reading a book that interests you but isn’t strictly for work. I was amazed how much my burnout factor went down when I started reading random nonfiction books along with my usual teen books. In fact, you could say that ten minutes a day of The Federalist Papers saved my sanity! If the thought of another book scares you, try the Serial Reader app for your phone or tablet–it sends you a bite-size chunk of a classic every day, and it’s free!