Go To Programs

As I started to plan both my March through June programs and my summer programs, while talking to my Advisory Board for program suggestions, I’ve realized I have a slate of go-to programs that I can pull out at a minute’s notice if I needed to. Or at least don’t require a lot of thought, energy or cost any more to put on. I can really not plan or work on them until the day before at the earliest. But that they also draw in the kids!

These are those things that you’d do if you HAD to suddenly do a program for a group of kids the next day.

Mine are:

  • Dungeons & Dragons. I have all the materials I need and enough access to mini-Dungeons that I could be ready to go with less than an hour of prep time.
  • Messy Science (and Not-so-messy science): So many basic materials can be used to do messy science that I can pull together something in one quick grocery trip.
  • Candy Sushi: This takes a little more time because of sheer amount of what I often need but I know the ingredients by heart and can run it without too much forethought.
  • Creative Storytelling (which I’ve discussed before on this blog): Any sort of writing group I can throw together quickly enough and not have to worry.
  • Robotics & Coding: We have Lego Mindstorms kits and access to computers (I use Hour of Code for simplicity’s sake) so everything is at my finger tips.

What are some of your favorite instant programs? Either because you’ve taken time to already get the needed materials or because they’re fast, easy and cheap?

Management 101: Hard Conversations with Staff

Libraries can be magical places, but it’s not rainbows and unicorns everyday for the people who work there. No matter what, there are ALWAYS going to be issues between coworkers.

Here is a list of just a few things that might be an issue when human beings work together in a confined space:

  • different personalities clashing
  • job frustration
  • abuse of position/status
  • jealousy or the “that’s not fair” mantra
  • talking about others behind their backs
  • negative attitude
  • problems at home surfacing at work
  • different beliefs clashing (political, ethical, religious, etc.)
  • substance abuse
  • mental illness
  • physical disabilities (real and imagined)
  • domestic abuse
  • younger generations managing older generations

Working with others can be as dangerous as playing a contact sport, especially when you spend the majority of your waking hours with these people.

Your coworkers can be your best friends or your worst enemies. If you aren’t in a position of management, you can either deal with the latter category on your own, or you can take it to your supervisor or director. If you are a manager…well, then it’s your job to deal with it, whether you like it or not.

I avoid conflict like I avoid that patron who always smells funny. Part of this is my personality, and part of it is because I have typically been younger than the employee with the problem and I always have felt like it wasn’t my place somehow.

I decided I need to get over myself and have those frank conversations when called for. So I did, and I was honest. Like, REALLY honest. (It was kind of like the debate scene in the movie Old School when Will Ferrell’s character sort of blacks out and somehow manages to win the debate and then kind of comes to and is like, “What happened…?” That’s how it was.) And as scary as it was, I felt kind of amazing afterwards. Being honest with someone can be like lifting a huge weight off yourself.

Of course, this is just on my side of the conversation. Employees on the other side of these conversations probably won’t feel quite as good. And being honest isn’t the same as being mean, though most of us often take it that way. No one likes to hear bad things about themselves, even if they secretly think they are true. Even when I am having a VERY frank conversation with an employee, I am still their manager and my job isn’t just to address the problem and bring up all of their shortcomings, but look for ways to make things better. So I try to end on a positive note if possible by highlighting what I see as the employee’s strengths and ways I think we can work together to improve the situation. I actually had an employee thank me after one of these talks, which I didn’t expect at all.


Having an honest l talk with someone you directly supervise can be tricky. In an ideal situation, and depending on the severity of the problem and the employee, you might want to consider:

  1. Writing out what you want to say or jotting down key points as a reference so you don’t get sidetracked or start rambling.
  2. Make sure you appear calm and open, not defensive and accusing. These are your observations and what you see as the problem and possible solutions. You are a zen manager.
  3. If you have documented incidents in the past with this employee, have those handy to reference.
  4. Document that you had the conversation afterwards, summarize what you said and the employee’s reaction. Remember that sometimes people only hear what they want to hear.
  5. If you have someone above you, like your director, a trustee, or someone from HR, it doesn’t hurt to have someone else in the room as a witness for both sides. This is especially good if you have union employees.
  6. Be prepared for reactions – crying is usually one, so have some tissues. If you think there’s a chance of a different reaction, see #5.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and I don’t care as much what people think of me, but I am trying to be more honest in my management approach because it’s extremely stressful to hold things in and it also doesn’t help the employee in question if they don’t know there’s a problem in the first place.

If you’ve ever had to have this kind of talk with an employee or coworker, please let me know in the comments!

Spruce Up your Teen Space: LED EDITION

Hello Friends,

So before the chill of winter set in, my manager asked me to build a branch shadow box to act as a fun display piece for winter.

The one on the right actually. But have it be free standing…and a little thicker. 

Being semi handy with building things, and any chance to flex some creative muscles is one i tend to take. I became quite excited at the idea of replicating this but I also began to search for shadow boxes and became slightly obsessed with the idea of creating something for my teen area.

There is a lot of amazing shadow boxes out there they run between oh that’s cool but too simple…and


Knowing what I created would be somewhere in between.  I decided I would do a silhouette or sorts.  It seemed feasible and not terribly expensive.

I then went onto amazon and purchased these items in order to create some sweet shadowy things.

My first goal was to create a fun light up sign for my Teen Area. We call our teen events teen zones and that seemed like a logical place to start.  I specifically chose an LED pack with a plug as  apposed to battery as I didn’t want to be constantly replacing or rechargeable batteries or . I bought the transparency sheets to use as a backing in order to give it a fun colored sign.

I then went on Microsoft publisher and Created this fairly simple design.  I decided I was going to use red and blue transparencies.

I enlarged the REVERSED image to fit the 20″ x 30″ foam board printed it off on 4 11×17 page papers and then pasted them on.

  1. Using the carving knife I removed the areas that were red and blue.
  2. Using painters tape and pasted the transparencies onto the foam board and had the front cover.
  3. I cut 2, 1″ x 30″ pieces and 1-1″by just under 20″ pieces.
  4. With a hot glue gun I glued these smaller pieces to create the frame of the box.
  5. Then glued and taped the LED light strips to the box and plugged it in and Boom!


Below is a fun video link…

Now I would have loved to have included some step by step pictures as visually that is way way way more helpful but…..I wasn’t thinking…which happens often and so here is my second project.

Newly confident in my foam board carving and excited to use these newly acquired skills for another project I decided to go after a little more complex project. My desire was to try something a little more complex and up the cool.  And because of the sheer amount of artistic options to choose from I chose Harry Potter as the theme of my new sign.

The first thing I did was Google “Harry Potter Stencils for pumpkins”

I then opened up Microsoft Publisher and created a page size of 20″x30″ and created the document I wanted.


After REVERSING the image and printing it off on 4 separate 11×17 pages.  I glued it to the foam board using a glue stick.

After the Gluing was finished.  I began to start carving out the pieces.

Pro-Tip: Start with the small delicate pieces first.  Cut them out but do not remove the pieces until later. This will help keep things stable as there will be a lot of cutting and tearing.

Pro-Tip: Use a sharp blade,  I changed the blade four times for this project.  If it gets dull it will cut poorly and so will the results be.

The lightening bolt on Harry’s face was small and delicate. I made sure to cut this area first

After a bit of work and lots of time spent punching the pieces out and trying my best not to have too many tears in the foam board it looked like this!

The next step I took was to apply wax paper to the back of the foam board in order to evenly dispense the light from the LED strips.

Cutting the paper this way made sure to avoid seams in visible areas.

After gluing the wax paper, I had the front of my sign finished and it was time to build the box.


  1. I cut 2 ~ 2″ x 30″ strips and 1~ 2″x20″ strip.







2. Then using a hot glue gun I glued the strips to a new backing.






3.You can purchase LED light strips that have adhesive backings and so I removed the backing just applied it to the edges.






4. Using some painters table I sealed off the connections and taped the cords to the inside edge piece. I also added poster board to the backing so that it would be more reflective of the LED lighting.









5. After gluing the front onto the frame I added two holes on the tops of either side and threaded cord through and then glued around the area in order to be able to hang the sign.






And here it is!


PRO TIP: Be sure to test your LEDs to make sure they work and by using hot glue instead of super glue you have the option of reheating the glue to make any repairs.  Also make sure you don’t buy the cheapest LEDs.


These were the ones I created following the Harry potter project.



P.S. Humblebrag: Here are the shadow boxes that my manager asked me to build.


Graphic Novel Recommendations

Today we have Nancy McKay from Ella Johnson Memorial Library talking about graphic novels.

Graphic novels have been growing in popularity but it seems at times that a prejudice against them remains, with a lingering doubt about their literary merit. But as a former elementary teacher, and now a current teen librarian, I can say confidently that graphic novels are a magnificent way to bring a story to life.  And other educators agree, as teachers and librarians on the 2014 New York Comic Con panel Super Girls: Using Comics to Engage Female Students in the High School Classroom listed these benefits and skills that are strengthened by graphic novels: “motivating reluctant readers, inference, memory, sequencing, understanding succinct language, and reading comprehension.” To find out more about how graphic novels can be used in education go to the website CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund for they have featured articles that are designed to lessen confusion around the content of graphic novels and to help parents and educators raise readers.

There is great variety within graphic novels, with many genres available beyond the stereotypical superhero stories (although those can be great too!). No matter your interest, there is a graphic novel for you, so I have pulled together some of my favorites to highlight.

Diversity is key in literature and even stronger when an #ownvoices author can share their experiences with the reader. As such, here are a few Diverse Reads:

Roughneck by Jeff Lemire is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire. Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect and shows the reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I saw a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

The graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s story, Kindred, was extremely well done. Butler’s original novel, published in 1979, was a groundbreaking story that liberally dipped into historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy within a time traveling framework. The author herself called the story “a kind of grim fantasy”, and this adaptation shows just that. This was a heartbreaking story, and through the juxtaposition of main character Dana’s experiences in two different centuries, this fantasy novel actually gives a highly realistic view of the slavery era.

The Outside Circle, written by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and illustrated by Kelly Mellings, tells the fictional tale of a Canadian First Nations man that comes to terms with his heritage and who begins to take responsibility for his life. The story is based on the reality that many Native people face (in Canada and the US), for the government took away thousands of children from their families over the years, breaking the circles of community and fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore.

Strange Fruit by JG Jones and Mark Waid has an interesting premise: what if a black Superman landed in the segregated South during the 1920’s? This magical realism tale is based off the historical 1927 flooding that affected many towns in the South along rivers.  As the threat of disaster looms in this story, and racial tensions are mounting, an explosion occurs nearby. An alien ship has crash landed and out climbs a naked black man, whose ship disappears into the river muck. This novel raised more questions than it answered, but was certainly thought-provoking.


For those of you that like horror stories, here are some Dark & Disturbing books:

Locke & Key is truly one of the best graphic novels I have ever read, hands down.  It just dominates. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are superb storytellers, and the six volume series is strong from beginning to end. The story starts with a family tragedy as the Locke family is terrorized by two students who have an ax to grind with the father, Rendell. After the father’s murder, the shattered family leaves California and heads to Massachusetts to start over at the Locke family estate but malevolent horrors await them there.

Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët was macabre, unsettling and gruesome. I loved it. This seemingly sweet graphic novel starts out with a lovely young woman having tea with a prince, and it is going splendidly well, that is until great globs of red stuff starts falling on them. As everyone runs for safety, the view shifts away for a long shot, and you see little creatures pouring out of the orifices of a dead girl. And the story continues to go sideways from there.

Another series that I found outstanding was Revival, written by Tim Seeley and illustrated by Mike Norton.  It was an atypical living dead story, in which a handful of dead suddenly came back to life. They quietly rejoin their former lives, not even realizing or remembering their deaths. Their new existence sets the town on edge, with media scrutiny, a government quarantine and religious fanatics taking over the region. I loved this series even before I won a contest run by Seeley and Norton, in which I was drawn in as a cameo character in the eighth and last volume. I will talk about this honor until my dying day.



Sometimes real life is stranger than fiction and these non-fiction stories or based on fact stories are a great example of Real & Gritty:

The March trilogy is a perfect example of how graphic novels can bring educational content alive. This non-fiction series is a vivid account by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell about Lewis’ human rights struggle and the greater Civil Rights movement. Students can learn so much from these three novels as they bring history to life and supplements what text books only briefly touch on.

Briggs Land by Brian Wood and Mack Chater is an absolutely riveting series about “an American family under siege” by both the government and their own hand. Set in rural upstate New York, Briggs Land is a hundred square mile oasis for people who want to live off the grid. Established in the Civil War era, the Briggs family would give sanctuary to those who wanted to live a simple life, but this anti-government colony has taken a dark turn in recent times. The village that grew within its fences has morphed into a breeding ground for white supremacy, domestic terrorism and money laundering.

Rebels: A Well Regulated Militia is “a historical epic of America’s founding” and is very accurate in describing this exceptionally good graphic novel by Brian Wood (again!) and Andrea Mutti . It gives a window into the Revolutionary War era based in the NE corner of our new nation in the late 1700’s. Divided into six chapters, Wood first gives us a lengthy portrait of the fictional character Seth Abbott and his journey from farm boy to one of the well respected leaders of the Green Mountain Boys. Then we are given shorter non-linear vignettes of other loyalists and patriots and their contributions to the war.


Now that I’ve covered other genres in graphic novels, I want to share some Classic Superhero stories that go deeper than most:

Although Superman: American Alien by Max Landis has Superman in the title, it is really focused on Clark Kent stories. Each of the seven stories features a different artist and are put in chronological order to fill in the gaps in the Superman canon. We start with Clark as a boy learning how to fly, move through his adolescence, and finally settle in his early years in Metropolis. Every story is strong, and fits in seamlessly with what we already know about Superman. I highly recommend this book, for it humanizes him. All seven stories are excellent, and they flow and connect into one another to form the larger picture of who Clark Kent is and who he will be. A must buy for Superman aficionados!

Kingdom Come, written by Mark Waid and illustrated by Alex Ross, was praised by IGN with the statement, “One of the greatest comic book stories of all time”, and they were not far off the mark. I am typically more a Marvel fan, but this DC story was fantastic for the moralistic debate featured in the story line. The artwork is top notch, with a distinctive photo-realism look and holds up 20 years after first being published. This book stays true to each character’s back story, so kudos to the team’s familiarity with the history of all the superheroes!  As such, the Epilogue was a perfect ending.

Vision- Little Worse Than A Man by Tom King and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta is as far from a superhero story as possible. While grounded in the Marvel universe, with cameos by other Avengers and villains, this book is about our definition of humanity. This quietly ominous story had such power, and felt especially moving to me to read at this time when I worry about our nation’s future. Its sequel Little Better Than A Beast was equally strong.

Marvel 1602, written by the esteemed Neil Gaiman and Andy Kubert, was marvelous! The story was a perfect way to freshen up the franchise and reboot some of the hero’s storylines. The story takes place in 1602, and is an alternate world in which Europe and colonial America’s history is jumbled and out of order due to a rift in the timeline, with America’s first child of European descent, Virginia Dare, surviving and traveling overseas to London with her bodyguard Rojhaz. Court intrigue during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I abounds, and there are several betrayals, with many of the mutants needing to travel far to escape persecution for being “witchbreed”. Eventually, America becomes a sanctuary for these people with magical abilities, and an answer as to why they are in 1602 is made clear.


While I could wax poetic about many other books, I hope those featured encourage you to pick up a graphic novel for the first time or introduces you to new titles if you already are a fan.

Nancy McKay, Teen Librarian at Ella Johnson Library in Hampshire, Illinois.

What to do when your Book Discussion fails

When I started at my new library I was excited to be leading a monthly book discussion. My previous library only did book discussions in the summer and my thought was to be doing it monthly must mean high interest, right?

Wrong! I have lead three discussions as of this post and I wouldn’t exactly call them a success.

My first discussion in October, I had two boys attend. One of which did not read the book and the second only read the first two chapters. Since we couldn’t discuss the book, I just forgot about it and instead I let them take control and share what they have read and enjoyed with me.

In November, I had one girl who only read about ⅓ of the book.

For December’s, I had one girl (who was not from the month before) who signed up late and only read about ¼ of the book. Both months, I talked about what I could with each girl. It was hard because the second was a mystery but she was definitely intrigued to finish the book.

It was disappointing month after month to not be able to fully discuss the books I carefully chose to discuss with teens. The important thing to remember if this happens to you is to not let it get you down. Discuss what you can of the book with who shows, and/or discuss what they just like to read.

What I discovered though, is that something different needs to be done. The book discussions for January, February and March were planned before I discovered what low attendance I was having and I am willing to keep consistency for the Spring but I am definitely looking to revamp after summer.

How may you ask?

Step 1: Reduce – Yes, we are libraries and books are our thing but a monthly discussion can be to much for teens. Between school, homework, school sports and clubs and other extracurricular activities, teens reading time is limited and would likely prefer to read what they really want to.  Instead, make discussions either bi-monthly or once a season. You can always add more for summer if you like.

Step 2: Best time to schedule – Like I said, teens are busy. Schedule book discussions either the week of or week after a school break or long weekend. Time off from school allows more time for teens to get in reading and therefore more likely to complete and attend the book discussion.

Step 3: Audio books – Try selecting a book that is available in audio format from your library. This allow teens who walk to & from school or can’t read on the bus to take in the story you selected. They can also listen while doing other things such as getting ready for school and cleaning their rooms.

Step 4: Snacks – If you don’t already supply snacks you should. Teens are always more likely to come if free food is offered. Offers first dibs to those who finished the book.

Step 5: Get the teens who come involved in the planning – Chose a selection (no more than 3 or 4) and let the teens who are attending the current meeting vote for the next book or the one after depending on your library. At my library we put the titles in the newsletter so I may have to have them vote for the one after. Having teens select a book they are interested in means they are more likely attend.

Another Option: Instead of choosing a book, choose a genre or theme. Let’s say you pick Fantasy or Road Trip Novels. Have the teens select a book that meets the genre or theme for the discussion (have recommendations available) and then let them book talk what they read. With this teens are more likely to read a book they are interested in and may even walk away with some titles to add to their TBR list. 

Just remember what works for one library may not work for another. Maybe you will want to alternate between everybody reading one book and everybody reading the game genre or theme. You may also need to revamp every couple of years as teens age out and new teens age in.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on your book discussions!