Creating a Writing Club

Starting a new club or group at the library can be daunting. Will patrons show up? Will they like it? Will they keep coming back? This can especially be daunting when it is an activity that can be isolating, like writing. I had kids asking me repeatedly for a writing group, but I wanted to make sure it was something that was sustainable and something they wouldn’t tire of. In order to do this I started off with a one-off writing program.

At this program, entitled Conquering Writer’s Block, we met and discussed their writing styles, what they are working on, how they like to write (in bed, at a desk, what time, etc.). After that I had a list of ideas for them when they felt stuck, and we tested out some of the activities as a group. I also had them share what they personally do when they are experiencing writer’s block. This was a great way for them to share ideas and get to know the other participants in the group. At the end of the program I asked them all what they would want out of a program. What would they like to accomplish? How often should we have it?

From their feedback I created a writing program that I am calling Write It! that will be starting this January. We will meet every other month, allowing for each participant to have some more writing time in between programs on top of school and other activities. Each program will be an hour and a half long. For the first half hour we will discuss a various aspect of writing, such as writer’s block, characterization, plot, inspiration, etc. The next hour will be for free writing or critiquing together. They were also interested in having guest speakers come in, so I am looking into having an author or college professor from the local community college visit.

I also plan on visiting the area high school’s writing club that meets after school to tell them about Write It! so they can participate, and tell those that are interested in the high school writing club, but may not be able to attend, that there is another option for them.

I am looking forward to seeing how this goes starting in January and I will continue to evolve the program based on their feedback and what is best for them.

Have you had any particular style of writing club work the best for you?

Book Tumblr

Out of curiosity, who finds that their teens are still using Tumblr? Is it horribly passe? We still have a tumblr but it seems like every time I go back to my previous “Great Tumblrs to follow” posts more and more libraries are moving away from Tumblr. That being said, YA book tumblr still seems to be a thing, so whether you run a library tumblr or have one of your own or just pop every so often to check it out, there’s still some great resources out there.

First, here’s my previous posts on Tumblrs:

Great Tumblrs to Follow posted in Feb. 2018. About half the accounts are still active.

Three Teen Library Tumblrs posted in Oct. 2015. Again, some are now gone

Three General YA Tumblrs to Follow posted in Aug. 2015. Only Librarian Problems is still really posted but it’s worth it for the laughs (and truths!). That being said, of course Teen Librarian Toolbox is still very active, just not on Tumblr.


Here’s a few more tumblrs that our Tumblr has followed recently:

For many of your LGBTQIA+ needs: LGBT YA reviews which also includes tons of lists with books focusing in on various communities within the great LGBTQIA+ community.

A great Teen Library space blog out of Wylie, Texas.

Like many of the libraries in New York’s Finger Lakes region, the Wood Library Tumblr is doing excellent stuff.

Our Tumblr has been following Alex of teenlib tumblr for a long time and I can’t believe I’ve never featured them before. They have a great and very active tumblr focusing on YA books.


Are there any other excellent YA related tumblrs out there you follow? I’m sure I’m missing some of ours because Tumblr does not make it easy to search followers.

Awesome Audio Books

Audiobooks are great for all the times you want to read but can’t find the time. So far, in 2019, I’ve personally listened to 28 audiobooks (either in its entirety or alternating with a print copy) on my smartphone. I’ve listened to audiobooks while driving, getting ready for work, eating, or when I’m just too tired to read.

Some people say they don’t like audiobooks or feel like they won’t be able to focus. Honestly, I had thought I’d have a hard time listening as well, but I don’t. My big suggestion is to look into starting with something you may have already read. That way, if you do have trouble following along, you can worry less about missing something.

Below is a selection of audiobooks I have listened to and enjoyed. Not only were the stories themselves (I’m not going to get into their descriptions though) wonderful, but the narrators have done a fantastic job bringing them to life. For your teens who feel audiobooks aren’t their thing, I suggest trying these titles (links to Goodreads) and narrators (links to Audible) with them.

Black, Holly. The Cruel Prince
Read by: Caitlin Kelly (12 hrs and 36 mins)
Highly recommended for fantasy fans. Caitlin Kelly does a fantastic job of impressing listeners into Jude’s story and the High Court of Faery. The best part, if your teens enjoy this one, Caitlin Kelly continues the narration in the two books that follow.

Dessen, Sarah. Lock & Key
Read by: Rebecca Soler (11 hrs and 13 mins)
Rebecca Soler is one of my favorite narrators, and this is one of my favorites she has narrated for teens. To give you an idea of how great she is, I didn’t realize she was the narrator of so many books I listened to as she wonderfully tailors her narration to each story.

Federle, Tim. The Great American Whatever
Read by: Tim Federle (6 hrs and 33 mins)
Tim Federle has a comforting and pleasant voice that makes the listening experience enjoyable. Unfortunately, he only seems to narrate his titles, so listening will be limited in hearing his narration. The good news, The Great American Whatever might by a book they will want to re-listen too.

Henry, Katie. Heretics Anonymous
Read by: Michael Crouch (9 hrs and 4 mins)
This list would be incomplete if it didn’t have something Michael Crouch narrated on it. He did such a remarkable job with this title I couldn’t get him as the Michael in the story out of my head. That lead to me having to wait before listening to another book he narrated. If this title doesn’t interest your teens, there are plenty more Michael Crouch narrates, both solo and with other narrators, to recommend to them.

Hiaasen, Carl. Chomp
Read by: James Van Der Beek (6 hrs and 10 mins)
Unless they are watching this season of Dancing with the Stars, your teens may not be familiar with the Dawson’s Creek star who narrates this story. This book may be on the older side, but I find Hiaasen’s books easy and appropriate to hand to middle schoolers, and this audio is no exception. Van Der Beek does a terrific job telling the story of Wahoo Cray, and readers will find themselves immersed in his adventure.

Ireland, Justina. Dread Nation
Read by: Bahni Turpin (11 hrs and 56 mins)
The way that Bahni Turpin narrators this story helps make it. I found I couldn’t get into it when reading but could listening to her read it to me. If your teens are turned off by the summary of this story, I do suggest trying one of the other books she narrates, and there are plenty of them.

Jackson, Tiffany D. Let Me Hear a Rhyme
Read by: Korey Jackson, Nile Bullock, Adenrele Ojo and Adam Lazarre-White (9 hrs and 31 mins)
Four characters are telling this story, and four narrators to bring them to life. For those interested in multiple narrators, be sure to suggest this title. There are certain parts where the narration aides to the story and your teens won’t get the same experience merely reading it.

Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie
Read by: Vikas Adam and Soneela Nankani (11 hrs and 36 mins)
If your teens have read When Dimple Met Rishi, suggesting the audio of its sequel may be comfortable for them as they are familiar with the author and style. As the story alternates between Ashish and Sweetie’s points of view, Vikas and Soneela alternate the narration. Sometimes listening to two different narrators’ speak for the same characters can be annoying, but this pair makes it enjoyable.

Oliver, Lauren. Before I Fall
Read by: Sarah Drew (12 hrs and 25 mins)
Whether you loved or hated her as April on Grey’s Anatomy, Sarah Drew does a lovely job narrating as Samantha Kingston, so don’t let it turn you off. I’ve listened twice, and both times I did hear the character as Sarah in the very beginning but quickly fell right into it be Samantha telling me her story. Listening to this tale may take some time, but it’s well worth it. Personally, I find this story to be an important one and think the audio version of it may be the way for some teens. 

Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Read by: Lin-Manuel Miranda (7 hrs and 29 mins)
Yes, that is right, Lin-Manuel Miranda does the narration, and I’d be lying if I said that didn’t sway me into listening over reading this book. Luckily, he did not disappoint. For your teens who are fans of this actor and aren’t turned off by the summary, this narration should be an easy sell.

Stone, Nic. Dear Martin
Read by: Dion Graham (4 hrs and 32 mins)
I am a firm believer that this is a book that everyone should read or listen too. Thankfully it has a terrific narrator for those who opt for the audio. That this book takes just over four and a half hours to listen to may also lead to it being an easy sell to your teens. Dion Graham perfectly captures Justyce and bringing his thoughts and feelings to life.

Tamani, Liara. Calling My Name
Read by: Imani Parks (6 hrs and 33 mins)
Imani Parks is another narrator whom I am a fan of hearing. I listened to two books she narrated, and she did such a fantastic job giving the main character in each book their own voice. Honestly, I listened to both without looking at the narrator and didn’t know she did both until I looked them both up at a later date. Now, she’s somebody I won’t hesitate to listen to if the story sounds interesting. Between the two I have heard so far, this is easier to recommend to your teens as an audiobook.

Walton, Julia. Words on Bathroom Walls
Read by: Christopher Gebauer (6 hrs and 31 mins)
What I love about this story is that it is in journal form, which makes the audio feels like Adam is reading his journal out loud to the reader. In some ways, I think the journal format makes the book less complicated to listen to than traditional prose, especially for those who haven’t done audio before.

Zoboi, Ibi. Pride
Read by: Elizabeth Acevedo (6 hrs and 8 mins)
If the narrator’s name sounds familiar, it is because she is an author herself. While she narrates her books (The Poet X and The Fire on High), those I both read instead of using the audiobook format. Pride is a fantastic remix of Pride and Prejudice, and Acevedo does a beautiful job bringing Zoboi’s story to life.

See a title missing, that could be because:

  • I haven’t personally listened to it and don’t feel I can justly recommend it
  • I listened to it but don’t personally recommend it
  • To avoid an abundance of recommendations, I limited those highlighted to one book per narrator
  • Also, one book per author
  • MacMillan Audio publishes it, and as they are now limiting library purchases of electronic material, I feel I should limit by the advertising of them
  • It just didn’t make the cut

Flag on the Play

Today we have a guest post from Andria Amaral from Charleston Country Public Library is talking about how she handles noise issues in the teen area.

The good news is we have a dedicated teen space. The Teen Lounge at the Main Library is 4,750 sq ft area where young people in grades 6-12 can “hang out, mess around, and geek out” with books, manga, video and board games, computers, art supplies and more. 

The better news is the teen space is being used by real life teens and tweens. Every weekday afternoon, from 3:00-5:00pm, the room is packed with young adults exploring, engaging, and interacting at their own pace and interest level and it’s beautiful. It’s a YA Librarian’s dream come true.

The bad news is we have to share the library with grownups. 

When we converted the Periodicals area into the Teen Lounge in 2012, I was thrilled to finally have a space young adults could call their own. But I was worried, because that space was on the second floor, which had been the unofficial “quiet floor,” and was adjacent to the Reference department and a bank of 35 public internet terminals. 

You may already know this, but teen spaces and quiet areas go together like oil and water. 

I was going to make this work, regardless.

There’s a middle school across the street, so we had a ready-made audience and it didn’t take long for word to spread. The small group who waited at the library every day after school until their caregivers got off work were soon joined by classmates. Students who usually got picked up immediately after school started hanging out with their friends in the Teen Lounge for an hour or so instead. 

Parents came in to see for themselves. “I had to check it out, I didn’t believe they actually *wanted* to go to the library!” Of course they did – we had games and activities, special events, snacks, and let the teens talk among themselves in normal conversational tones. We encouraged them to have fun. We got to know them and we liked them.

Posters stated the rules: “respect the space, respect the staff, respect each other and yourself,” and we used these as a framework for all discussions about conduct. We only intervened when things got out of control. 

At the beginning of every school year there was a period of adjustment as the new 6th graders did what kids their age are supposed to do, and tested the boundaries of acceptable behavior. 

As the responsible adults in charge, we did what we’re supposed to do, and set clear and reasonable limits (no shouting, no running, no stealing your friend’s phone and hiding it in the trash can, keep your hands to yourself) and consequences (three strikes and you’re out for the day). 

The Teen Lounge team had to educate some staff and patrons. We effused that we were thrilled older students finally had a library space of their own, and there was more room in the Children’s area for the little ones now. 

We explained that for this brief two-hour period, one of the most important services the library provides our community is giving these young people a safe and structured place to be after school. “We really appreciate your patience and understanding, and if you need a quiet place to study, you may wish to move to the tables near Biography, or come back at just about any other time.” 

We countered comments like “but this is a LIBRARY,” with a cheerful “yes, and this is what libraries are now: interactive learning spaces, isn’t it wonderful?! We’re so happy they’re taking advantage of all we offer.”

For the most part, we managed to coexist peacefully with the afternoon adult patrons. Faced with our unrelenting enthusiasm, most grudgingly admitted it was a good thing that kids with nothing to do after school were choosing to hang out in the library instead of “on the streets.”

A new middle school within walking distance opened, kids who live in the neighborhood but go to other schools discovered us, and new groups were added to the mix. 

And things got complicated. More and more often, we heard complaints that noise from the Teen Lounge was disrupting the entire second floor. It was LOUD, even by “interactive learning environment” standards.

But usually it was the combined effect of many voices all talking at a reasonable volume; no one person was violating the conduct code. There wasn’t even one specific group we could give a pointed look, much less a strike. 

And when we said, “hey, it’s getting loud in here, please bring it down a notch,” we would invariably be met with a chorus of “it’s not me, I’m not the one being loud, they’re louder than me, why are you always picking on me?!” That only made things worse and increased the growing tension between staff and teens.

When school started this year, I knew I had to find a solution. Too many teens enjoying the library is a good problem to have, and I didn’t want to discourage them from using the Teen Lounge exactly as I’d hoped they would. But we were getting a lot of complaints. And to be fair, grownups have a right to use the library in the afternoon too.

I thought about those noise-monitoring traffic signals some schools have in their lunchrooms. You know, green light means the noise level is acceptable, yellow means it’s reaching the limit and when the light turns red everyone stops talking or else. I started to look up how much they cost, then realized they only work when someone notices the light changed and I was pretty sure our teens would be oblivious. Plus, I’d much rather put the money towards a new gaming system.

But it gave me an idea. Using construction paper and wooden dowels I made two flags: one yellow, one red. 

That afternoon, I waited until the Teen Lounge had filled with the usual suspects, and stood in the middle of the room.

“Y’all listen up.” 

They know I’m the Manager, it says so on my nametag. They listened up.

“New thing in the Teen Lounge.” I presented the flags with a flourish. “There’s a lot of y’all coming here in the afternoons now, which is AWESOME and we’re glad you’re here. This is your space and we want you to have fun. But the reality is we have to share this building with other people and when there’s a lot of you, even when you’re all being good, the noise builds up and spills into *their* space. It gets in the way of them using the library the way they want to, and that’s not cool. We have to respect them because it’s their library too.

“So here’s what we’re gonna do. When you see one of us holding up the yellow flag, you’ll know it’s generally too loud in here and you all have to work together to bring the overall volume down. OK?  And what do you think it means when we bring out the red flag?”

An 8th grader blurted, “we’re in trouble!”

I laughed. “Yep. The red flag means we’re about to start naming names and giving out strikes.” 

The first strike informs a specific person or people that they’re being too loud. Second strike is their final warning and the third strike sends them out for the day with an invitation to try again tomorrow. 

We’ve been using the flag system to control noise in the Teen Lounge for two months and I’m thrilled to report it WORKS. It’s a powerful visual signal that’s instantly understood. Because it depersonalizes the corrective action, no one gets defensive and proclaims their innocence. It encourages them all to be responsible for their own and each other’s behavior.

Sometimes we don’t even have to leave the desk. Just standing up and lifting the yellow flag is enough to catch the attention of one who will hiss to the others, “they got the flag out, y’all!” 

Sometimes we have to be a bit more obvious and walk around doing a wacky sort of semaphore until they notice, but we keep the tone light and joke “flag on the play” as we do. Either way, it gets results and is stress-free.

It’s entirely possible this technique won’t be effective forever, but that’s the nature of Teen Services: you have to be prepared to change and adapt your methods constantly. For now it’s working and I’m loving it and recommend you give it a try.

Galaxy Jars, Two Ways

Since this past summer’s reading theme was space-inspired, I did a set of three galactic crafts for the teens. I’d seen a lot of galaxy jars on Pinterest, but I never had the chance to try them out. These crafts are extremely simple and also pretty darn cheap. Win-win!

The first type of galaxy jar we made is the more traditional one with layered “clouds” and glitter.

You will need:

mason jars (get these at Dollar Tree, seriously. They work better than any of the more expensive mason jars I’ve tried.)

a pitcher of water

Various colors of acrylic paint

disposable cups

cotton balls (again, Dollar Tree is your friend)

glitter/glitter glue

That’s it! Assembling them is also super easy. The only tricky part is getting the colors just right.

First pour a small amount of water into a cup and add a dollop of paint.

Note: I liked using pastel colors because they looked more … dreamy? Of course they can use whatever colors they want. It’s important to keep in mind that the colors will start to run together, so don’t be like me and layer yellow on top of blue to make a nice swampy layer of galactic goodness.

Next, start fluffing up some cotton balls by teasing them gently apart. You don’t want to have really defined clouds, which would happen if you just dropped them in there. So just make them a bit more fluffy. Place the cotton balls in the mason jar.

Pour your first color over the cotton balls. A lot of tutorials that I consulted said not to use much water, but I found that I needed to use a lot more water than I thought. So mix up more of the color than you think you might need and pour it in s l o w l y.

Dump some glitter in there. Glitter glue is also nice and less messy. I had teens who looked like they had just attended a rave because the glitter was all over their faces and in their hair.

Repeat these steps but with different colors of water. The long it sits, the more the glitter will start to move around and the colors will mix a bit so it doesn’t look so striated.

The second type of galaxy jar has no liquid involved, so if you’re hydrophobic, this one’s for you.

You will need:

Spray-on glue (like this):

mason jars


glow in the dark paint (optional)


It’s good to have masks for this one because of the spraying glue. It also smells … not great.

To start out, spray the inside of the jar with the glue. You may have to restrain the teens from using the whole can because they are weirdly fascinated that glue can spray! Modern technology, y’all!

Next, pour in some glitter. You can do one color, then spray and add another, or dump everything in all at once. Then pop the lid on and shake it. You will need a good amount of glitter to coat the entire inside of the jar.

Optionally, take a small paintbrush and add little stars to the outside of the glass and allow to dry. We originally did it on the inside but it smeared really easily.

And that’s it! Has anyone else done galaxy jars before? Any tips or tricks you want to share?