Being Brave in Little Ways: Activism Through Book Displays and Bulletin Boards

“Our patrons are pretty conservative.”

“I think my manager might consider this too political.”

“I’m worried there might be complaints and I’ll get in trouble.”

You ever hear these things from your fellow employees when talking about creating LGBTQ+ friendly programming? Or maybe it was activism-themed programming. Or tough topics for teens. Maybe you thought this to yourself. And I get it. It’s hard to be brave. Pushing boundaries, especially when your library is situated in a conservative area, is pretty freaking scary, especially with news stories about Drag Queen Storytime protests, Neo-Nazis in library spaces, and popular teen books being challenged.

And you know what? Your safety comes first. Always. I want libraries to be welcoming spaces for all, and they should be, but if your library administration doesn’t have your back when things get scary, it is absolutely okay to put your physical safety and mental health first.

That said, if you can, be brave. Your patrons deserve to feel welcomed and safe, and that requires spaces that acknowledge their existence and affirm their right to use the library. After all, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” (This quote is often attributed to Desmond Tutu, but I can’t find a proper source. Anyone in the comments have a good source for this quote?)

So what if you want to be brave, but not as brave as, say, a Drag Queen Storytime or a Black Lives Matter program? Make a display!

My very first Brave Display was encouraged by my manager at the time. She was inspired by this article in School Library Journal, and asked me to create a Black Lives Matter display. Almost 5 years later, that display is still up, constantly being refilled from this goodreads shelf I made. It’s the most popular display I’ve ever done, and has never gotten one complaint, but has received tons of compliments. Now, I have an advantage here: my library is in a black neighborhood. This was fairly safe in terms of my patrons, and I had the advantage of it being my manager’s idea when it came to library administration. This little dip into Brave Displays was an inspiration for me as I went forward.

Below is a selection of Brave Displays I’ve done, starting with that Black Lives Matter display . Click the images for larger versions. I’ve never had a challenge, either from administration or patrons, but I do prepare myself every time I do something a little radical, readying my defense speech. So far, I’ve never had to use it.


Black Lives Matter Book Display, Maintained with this goodreads shelf, inspired by Chelsea Couillard-Smith’s #BlackLivesMatter Booklist for Teens at the Hennepin County Library. Includes Ten Ways to Fight Hate pamphlet by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and “What to do if you witness a racist attack” adapted from “Who, if not you?” from


#NationalSchoolWalkout Display, made last minute on the day of with books I found on our shelves. Sign is covered in screencaps from twitter, featuring some schools in our local area.


Pride Display, with special attention paid to being accessible to all ages. Notice the children’s books are put right on the bottom, in easy reach of little hands.


#BlackHorror, my favorite display I’ve done so far. Background is sharpie ink diluted with alcohol on crumpled paper to create a ghostly effect.


The accompanying book display to the #BlackHorror bulletin board; my patrons don’t often reserve books so I wanted the books easily accessible right after they saw the board.


#BlackHorror detail: Nightlight is a new horror podcast featuring black authors, old and new. Creator Tonia Thompson successfully crowdfunded its 21-episode first season. You can listen to all the episodes for free on their website at


#BlackHorror detail: Jamaican-born Canadian Nalo Hopkinson writes Carribean-rooted science fiction, magic realism, and horror. She edited the short story collection Mojo: Conjure Stories, which features stories from authors like Tananarive Due and Neil Gaiman, and in 2015 released a collection entitled Falling in Love with Hominids, with stories that range from a haunted shopping mall to a Caribbean retelling of the tempest.


Black History Month 2018: I feel like this was my bravest display. Obviously activism themed, featuring both classic civil rights movement photos and very recent photos, including Colin Kaepernick kneeling, Edward Crawford throwing the tear gas canister back at police during the Ferguson protests, and Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse.


Teens: Help Yourself, a guide to tough topics in the teen nonfiction section, including signs/handouts for non-book resources like crisis hotlines and local support groups. Inspired by this Sacramento Public Library sign that went viral. Notice I also use this area to display brochures from groups like Planned Parenthood, Volunteers of America, and All-Options. Follow this link for the most up to date version of this sign and handout, feel free to edit it for use in your library.

All this too direct and scary for you? You can incorporate diversity and activism into displays that aren’t necessarily centered on that topic. Here’s some examples:

2017 Holiday display, interactive with QR codes that lead to articles, podcasts, videos, and books to reserve in our system. Features informative articles about Japanese and Chinese New Year celebrations, a perspective from Native Americans about the celebration of Thanksgiving, and an article written by  Dr. Maulana Karenga, the inventor of Kwanzaa.


Self-care display, featuring books about LGBTQIA+ experiences, neurodiversity, and activism among the tamer meditation, self-help, and recipe books.

I hope this post gave you some ideas, and I invite you to steal indiscriminately (though credit is nice if you’re sharing online!) from my displays! If you make a display based on one of mine, please share it with me, I’d love to see it!

I leave you with this quote from Elie Wiesel from his 1986 Nobel Prize Acceptance speech:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

Graduating Teens

It’s that time of year again – high school graduation. Over the next few months, it’s likely that some or even many of your teens will be graduating high school and/or getting ready to start college.

Some of these teens may be 17 years old, and some of them may be 18 years old. As far as age guidelines go for teen programs, it’s during this time of year that they tend to become more flexible if they aren’t already. We don’t want to alienate our recently graduated teens and we want to still be a safe place for them to go and see their friends.

But what are some things we can do to help ease their transition and to make them still feel welcome?

The easiest thing to do is to still allow them to to attend teen programs until the end of summer and school starts back up. Even if they are not attending college, at that point they are considered college aged and most library teen programs are for middle/high school students. By allowing them to attend these programs, they will still feel included and you can still see them, talk to them, and connect with them before they may be heading out of town or becoming significantly busier.

If you have a large enough group of graduating seniors, you might host some sort of senior-send off celebration. This would work especially well if any of your volunteers or members of a TAG group are graduating. This is just a fun way to celebrate them and let them know you’ll miss them.

Life skills programs/classes to prepare your teens for the “adult” world would also be great and helpful for them! Things like sewing, cooking, finances, and things of the sort would all be beneficial and can also be really fun for even the younger teens.

What if a teen wants to stay in contact after they graduate?

Well, there are a few options that you can choose depending on what you are comfortable with and what guidelines your district might have about it. The two easiest and I think most comfortable are to either give them your work email address, or to become friends with them on goodreads. Neither are too personal and are clearly just keeping it work based. If they are a teen you know well and are okay with it, you could give a personal email address or even your phone number. I so far have stayed away from this because I don’t want it to become not work related. But you do you!

Overall, just do what you can and are allowed to do to remind your teens they are important, you are there for them, and that they won’t be forgotten just because they graduated. It’s an exciting thing for them and should be treated as such.

Do you have anything planned for graduating teens? Let us know your awesome ideas!

Harry Potter/Star Wars FandomShadow box program

So continuing on previous posts about shadow box craftiness. I fell in love with some of the amazing shadow boxes that are available on Pintrest and Etsy.

I loved the different textures and three different levels.


So taking foam board, if you need a cheaper option you can take cardboard and then wrap it in a colored paper. and creating the frame and box for the craft to sit in.  I created a pattern and I had a teen volunteer cut out enough supplies for 12 kids which covers usual attendance for a craft program during the school year.

I also started searching for images that I could use and divide into three levels

for instance for the star wars shadow box i found this image

I printed off two colored pages of this image.

the first became the bottom level which was the whole image and glued that to the frame.then I pasted just the x-wing on foam board and cut it out carefully with a craft knife and then pasted it on top of the x-wing on the image which was just now the bottom of the frame.


3. I then found a image of an x-wing cockpit for the top layer and cropped it to the proper size, and cut away the space part of the image.

this created a 3 layer image that visually is more immersive and fun to look at from different angles.


This are hardly something I’d sell on pintrest but it’s doable craft and kids are able to bring something home that’s unique and they are fun to do.

I then created 3 more templates a batman and two harry potters. For the two harry potter ones I Used printable transparency sheets for the top layer.


these were the four i created.

What you need for the program.

  1. Foam board or Cardboard
  2. Hot glue gun
  3. glue sticks
  4. Craft Knives
  5. Transparency sheets (optional
  6. Printable sheets.

Overall the program went well and the teens enjoyed doing the harry potter shadow boxes the most.

Where’s Your Stuff? Personal Items and Space at Work


Whether it’s a cubby, a locker, a drawer, a closet, a corner, a workstation, or an actual office – it’s important for employees to have a place to keep their personal stuff at work. And unless you are a member of a cult that requires you to rid yourself of all worldly possessions, you probably have certain items you like to keep at work. Even cult members need chapstick and hand lotion. Probably.

If you are among the lucky few who have an office, this isn’t really an issue for you personally. I am lucky to have my own office and I really could not get all my work done without that space to keep my stuff and with a door to close when I need to. It’s pretty small, but it’s mine. And I don’t know if it’s because I am too materialistic, but I like to be surrounded by my stuff! I like to have my chapstick on my desk. I like to have my phone charger plugged in. I like having healthy snacks in my desk drawer, and plastic silverware, and my coffee mug. And I love to have photos of my daughter, things kids and teens have given me, and POP figures, of course.

Our library was re-done about 12 years ago before I started working there. While the design is lovely, the functionality is somewhat lacking. In the Children’s Room, where my office is, the circulation desk is pretty small and has limited storage. My staff understandably wanted to keep their personal items near them and since there was no place designated for this on our floor, we tried different things:

  • the random storage closet across the room that wasn’t insulated and had no light
  • file cabinets in the storytime room (it’s cool, we can just store the paper on the floor)
  • cabinets behind the circ desk (difficult because of limited storage space)
  • my office (didn’t work out so well)
  • under the workstations at the circ desk (great entertainment when a coworker trips on someone’s purse handle)

I ended up finding a set of 4 lockers for sale online ($30.00!) and put it in the Storytime Room. I had a teen volunteer spraypaint them (outside, of course.) These work pretty well for my staff, and they can lock them so curious program attendees can’t open them. They are big enough to keep a lightweight jacket and other items, plus they can be decorated just like in middle school! I also still have a shelf in one of our very few cabinets behind the circ desk for staff to keep a small purse or other items while they are at the desk. I have asked staff to remove personal items from the workstations and the counter behind the circ desk. It looks much better and is easier to keep clean and organized. Our lack of cabinets with doors means that many things are out in the open and it doesn’t take much to look disorganized. I have also been attempting to clean out my office a bit. While it does contain personal items, the majority of stuff belongs to the library and sometimes it becomes a depository for “things we want to keep but don’t know where to put yet.” It’s a work in progress.

How do you handle personal item storage at your library? Do you have your own office? Shared office space? Let me know in the comments!

Library Comic-Cons: What’s Next?

Last month, I talked about our initial plans to do a comic-con and how they’re coming to fruition at my library. This month, I want to talk about what we’ve done since,  what our next steps are and talk a bit more about elevator pitches on why comic-cons in libraries match libraries’ missions so you can try and sell your own staff on the idea.

What we’ve done since:

We haven’t picked a date yet because a couple of us who are doing the main part of the planning are waiting on vacation dates to make sure they don’t overlap with the con. But I did do a mocked of our schedule, with some room for variables because we’re getting a few outside people to do activities. I then sent it out to the rest of the planners to make sure I wasn’t missing anything of critical importance. Our in-person meeting had been used to figure out what spaces we were going to use and what we were going to keep for just everyday library users. We don’t have a lot of big spaces for events so I had to plan carefully.

Initially, we’d though 10-3 on a Saturday, but the timing breakdown made more sense to go until 4. Here’s my breakdown (very much subject to change):

As you can see, I’ve broken things into 90 minute chunks. We decided our library wouldn’t be into a cosplay contest, at least not the first year, so instead we’re doing a Costume Parade around the library during a break. Our craft ideas are all revolving around the idea of letting people of all ages create things to then use in the parade. Our Program Room is small but just big enough for maybe 15 people for a drawing class or a Cosplay program. We don’t have much outdoor space but we do have a fairly large plaza that we want to utilize if it’s not raining. Having the Costume Parade when we do also gives us, as staff, time to reset rooms for different events without losing people. Our focus was on trying to have enough activities that people would want to stay, if not the whole day, then at least a hefty portion of the day.

What’s Next:

Our next step is to pick a date. I’m hoping to have that finalized in the next week or two. Then we need to book someone for our Cosplay & Make Up 101 and our Drawing classes, plus the balloon person. Then we can also talk to our Friends group about snacks, reach out to the cosplay groups and more.

After that, it’ll be a matter of starting to mock up publicity leading up to the event. We’ll also want a schedule of events the day of with locations, just like a real con. We’ll also need to determine what kind of swag or other materials we might want to have to make us seem as official as possible.

Why do a comic-con in a library? Elevator Pitch style

This could probably be a post unto itself (and maybe it will be) but here’s the 101 on why comic-cons in libraries and why it aligns to mission statements.

Most libraries have something in their mission statement about ‘freedom of information’ or ‘providing no cost’ or something about providing access to things for free. For those not in the know, comic-cons are expensive. Massively expensive. I’d say an average per day is at least $60, maybe a bit less if you’re going to a smaller less well known con. And yes, granted, your library probably won’t be getting any huge names but it’s the intent behind the con. The access. You’re offering a fan experience for people for free that they would normally pay through the nose for. It’s one of the reason that for at least this first year, we want absolutely everything to be free (with the small exception of snacks, but people can also bring their own snacks or picnic on our lawn). If we do do booths, everything must be free giveaways.

How can we provide access to something similar that has the same feel for free? Cons are incredibly popular right now. I’m in the Boston area and we have quite a few (Boston Comic-con, PAX East, Anime Boston, etc.) as do most cities. But where I grew up? There was nothing. Having a comic-con there would be allowing not only access for free but access at all! Most people can’t travel and pay for all of that related costs (food, travel, etc.). Have a place for teens (and all ages) to celebrate all things geeky and nerdy in a safe space where they might not otherwise get that chance. Teenage me would’ve killed for the chance.