Back to basics

It’s a school librarian’s worst nightmare, I think  — a class that’s going poorly. Students who seem apathetic, distracted, chatty, hyper, uninterested in anything in the library. A class where you might as well throw those carefully drawn up lesson plans in the trash for all the good they are going to do you.

I’ve had that class. In fact, I have them this school year.

This year, I’m teaching a weekly 35- minute specials library class for middle school students. The school’s goal was to get students to read for 20 minutes once a week and teach some basic literacy and library skills, so I was trying to make that happen. After three weeks, I hadn’t gotten more than a handful of student to read for more than five minutes. Frankly, I barely got through taking attendance in a few of the sections in the midst of all the chatter and disruption.

I was doing every teacher trick I knew — seating charts, one- on – one conversations to get to know students, controlled choice, setting expectations in collaboration with students, making sure students had work to do right away, greeting the class at the door, planning lots of activities with movement and writing. It was so much work, and it wasn’t even working! It’s been awhile since this has happened to me as a teacher.

The doubts crept in.

Was I a bad teacher? Was being a librarian not for me any more? Did my 8 years of experience count for nothing?

Throwing up my hands, I decided if students wouldn’t read and they wouldn’t check anything out at circulation time, I’d just make them sit and listen to me read a book.

And, you know what? It worked. Even though I’d gone back to something basic at least half out of frustration, the classes were curious about their book, not just passively listening, but totally engaged, didn’t want me to stop reading!

The moral of the story, if you go in for this sort thing…

Don’t be afraid to strip away the complexities from your classes and programs and go back to basic and classic activities with meaningful connections to people and stories.

ARCs: How to Use Them for Your Teens and Your Collection

Do you get boxes of ARCs sent to you, bring a bunch home from conferences, or just tend to accumulate them in other ways? Don’t know what to do with them all? Don’t have time to read them all on your own? Use your teens!

I give my teen volunteers an option to earn service hours by writing reviews for our YA collection. I have these reviews out in a binder in the YA area, so if someone is stuck while they are browsing, they can find suggestions. I also post them on our YA page, so they can browse through them before placing a hold or checking to see if something is on the shelf. I do not limit them to only books new to the collection, but do suggest it, so new books will get into readers’ hands. That’s where the ARCs come in.

By giving them books that aren’t released yet they can read them and evaluate them for appeal. For my avid readers they can tell me if it is something that would fit on the shelves of our library or if they think it is something that teenagers would read. I love hearing their feedback because they are very honest and will tell me if they thought a book “sucks” or if they loved it and want their friends to read it. This is great collection development help (I still read reviews, etc.), as it is insight from the actual reader I am looking to purchase for.

I also have them write reviews about it to put in the YA binder and on the website. We add a little note at the bottom of the release date, so they can put it on hold in our catalog and know when it is coming out! This gets other readers excited about these new titles and helps the circulation stats of new books, especially if there is one that they might not have heard about before.

They are also great for programming with your teens. I often use ARCs for Blind Date with a Book. If they participate in that, I ask them if the descriptive words were accurate, if they enjoyed it, etc. It is great to get feedback from those teens that might not volunteer at my library, but still actively read from the collection!

What different ways do you use ARCs in your library?

Reader vs Reader: Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)

Welcome to Reader vs. Reader.  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  September, Andrea and Elizabeth both read Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)  by Lev A.C. Rosen

Reader vs Reader: Jack of Hearts (and Other Parts)

Jack has a lot of sex--and he's not ashamed of it. While he's sometimes ostracized, and gossip constantly rages about his sex life, Jack always believes that "it could be worse."

But then, the worse unexpectedly strikes: When Jack starts writing a teen sex advice column for an online site, he begins to receive creepy and threatening love letters that attempt to force Jack to curb his sexuality and personality. Now it's up to Jack and his best friends to uncover the stalker--before their love becomes dangerous.

The Quick Reactions:

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Elizabeth: I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. I think this is a story that a lot of teens need to read even if the world doesn’t want them to.

Andrea: This is a well-needed book that talks about gay sex (and more) openly. It won’t be for the faint of heart but it really is sex-positive.


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


Action Figure Terrariums: Partner with Parks and Gardens!

At my library, we are encouraged to collaborate with community partners as much as possible. Maybe that’s the case for you as well. If so, here’s a simple and super-fun program that you can do partnering with your local parks department. A local garden center or your local Master Gardener program are other options for partners here.

I wanted to host a program that would teach teens how to care for plants, and I remembered seeing a fandom themed terrarium on Pinterest. Instead of using soil and moss, I decided to use air plants instead. I was able to buy air plants in bulk online (I used and even specify the size that I needed. The terrariums were small glass candleholders from Oriental Trading, from whom I generally avoid ordering, but in this case, they had exactly what I needed. Drowning in daily catalogs was a price I was willing to pay for cheap terrariums.

I purchased the small figurines from Dollar Tree and Wal-Mart, but teens could also bring their own if they had one they wanted to display. Dollar Tree also had bags of colored sand and rocks that were approximately one million times less expensive than the hipster options at Home Depot.

I contacted the education outreach staff members at the major park in our county to give a brief presentation before the event. The staff member who attended gave a fun, interactive talk about biomes and adaptations, in case teens wanted to give their superhero figurine an ecologically correct terrarium home! I also explained how to care for their air plant and keep it happy and healthy.

After that, teens were free to assemble their terrrium however they liked. I provided hot glue to stabilize the figurines and create rock formations. Here are some of their creations:






This was a really fun STEAM program and a great way to build a relationship with the parks department. Got questions? Leave them in the comments below!



Planning an awesome thank you party for your Teen Volunteers

So given school has started and many of your volunteers have wandered away until next summer, I hope that many of you were able to say thank you in a special way.  Below is that layout of what I was able to do for my teens.  We had a party and it was roughly 2 hours of majestic mayhem.


I called it the RANDOM FANDOM thank you party.

I dressed up as Caesar Flickerman, equipped with a blue colonial wig and blazer and then proceeded to do doing a Harry Potter Sorting Ceremony, followed by a combination of minute to win it, team games, and of course lots of candy.

Now given this was for a large branch and I had something like 50+ kids sign up to volunteer but feel free to tailor as need be.


  1. Harry Potter Sorting Ceremony…(Dressed up as Caesar Flickerman and I had another staff dress up as Effie Trinket)
    1. We divided the teens equally into four houses.
      1. Our friends of the library organization gives a gift for the teens when we staff our giant book sale on 4th of July…with that money I was able to buy Hogwarts house scarves from china I was able to give the teens these as a thank you gift.
    2. For each event I printed off slips and set them at each table.  Event Slips are provided so that house/teammates can sign up for events ahead of time as WE DEMAND TRIBUTES!!!!!!

These events were throughout the party.  I had some music set up as well as some sound effects to play in order to declare that the next event was happening.

  1. Candy Sushi
    1. -Everyone Participates
    2. This even is mostly kids making sushi roles out of candy such as Twinkies, Fruit roll ups etc….
    3. The Best Sushi Role is Sent up From Each Team and Arbitrarily judged, ranked, and consumed.
  1. Wrap Battle 1 team member
    1. 4 toilet paper rolls
    2. Teens must unroll an entire roll of toilet paper without ripping the paper and without
  2. Straw Build it Better.-2 team members
    1. Large amounts of Strawbuilders straws and connectors
    2. Each Team must build a free standing structure that a team mate can stand inside of.
  3. Sharp Shooter 2 from each team
    1. 60 seconds to shoot down 4 clothes pins holding playing cards from 8 ft away
      1. Teammate collects bullets runs to the front and fires at remaining cards
    2. 4 nerf guns- 6 bullets for each gun
    3. Safety glasses*******
  4. This Blows 1 person from each team
    1. 4 balloons and 4 Ping Pong Balls
    2. Players must blow up their balloon and then use the stored wind power to blow their ping pong ball from one side of the room to the other, it’s a race!
  5. Dicey 1 person each team
    1. 24 Dice
    2. 4 plastic spoons
    3. Players must place a spoon in their mouth and stack six dice on top of each other.  It’s a race!
  6. Team trivia ongoing throughout the event
    1. Everyone participates for their team and writes their answers
    2. We had a bell in the middle of the room and when teens had the answer they would race to hit the bell first.
    3. Fish of Knowledge will be on display ( Cascade’s Trivia Trophy (Do you have a trivia trophy?….BUILD IT!)
  7. Hanky Panky 1 Player each team
    1. 4 Tissue boxes
    2. Players can only use 1 hand to remove all the tissues
  1. Card Sorter 1 player each team
    1. 4 sets of 20 cards (5 are similar)
    2. Players must sort the cards into five different and correct piles 1 at a time
  2. Block Builder Everyone participates
    1. 100 tiny 1inch blocks
    2. Each team forms a line
    3. Goal is to have the tallest tower after 1 minute
    4. Each team member can only touch 1 block at  a time before returning to the end of their line
    5. if the tower falls the team must begin again.

For each event points are given out.

1st  place = 7 points

2nd place = 4 points

3rd place = 2 points

4th place = participation trophy worth 0 points

Add up all the points and announce the Winning House.

Have prizes, or not? Winning is the prize?

I also at the end take time to honor a few moments where kids just absolutely did awesome.  This is a wonderful thing to do and should not be skipped.

For instance one of my teens did on the spot translating in Mandarin!  There was a family where English was their second language at a story time and he was able to explain explain the craft in freaking MANDARIN!!!!!  THAT KID IS AMAZING!!!!