You can do it! — Advocating for program resources

Nurture partnerships in the community.

Work with different stakeholders.

Provide evidence of your success.

Become invaluable to your administrators.

Write grants.

Keep asking.

Be patient.

If at first you don’t succeed, try again.

When it comes to advocating for library program resources, you’ve probably heard this advice. I know I learned much of this in library school. But it’s so hard to follow it. With this advice often comes a lot of discussion about lean budgets, under resources libraries and how often we’d hear “no” as the answer to our funding requests.

Honestly, I was afraid to ask for more funding or personnel because I keep hearing “no” or “not yet” from my school. At first, I tried pretty earnestly, but as I kept hearing “no,” I started to believe that the things that I wanted just weren’t coming in.

This post is meant as encouragement, so what’s encouraging in this narrative of try, try again but don’t succeed?

The thing is, the advice works. Five years into my program, even I, scared of asking for more, now have many of my dream library resources — a steadily growing budget, a part-time assistant, a subscription to some databases, and a new small makerspace. I tried new approaches to asking. I’ve found creative solutions to funding, like asking for Parent’s Association grants to fund a database or pooling resources with the Science department to get makerspace equipment.

Even in a tricky funding situation, if you ask, if you show an effective program, if you accept creative solutions and funding sources, resources will come. Slowly, perhaps and in a different way than you planned, but your program will grow and thrive.

So, keep asking. You are doing a great job.

Movie Viewing and Streaming Rights

Have you shown a movie at your library for a program?  Did you check to see if you have the license to do a public performance of that movie first?  If you don’t have a public performance license, you may have been in violation of copyright law – and as librarians, we need to take this more seriously than I’ve seen out in the wild world of public library teen programming.  You may think it’s harmless to show Star Wars: A New Hope at your library without a public performance license, but it won’t be so harmless if you get hit with a $250,000 fine and possible jail time. Not that that’ll happen, but…is it worth the risk?

Understandably, it’s not immediately obvious that you need a public performance license if no one’s told you and it wasn’t addressed in graduate classes.  After all, we collect books and loan those out for use without copyright concerns, and even do readings and storytimes from them, so what’s the difference when you take a movie the library owns and show it to the public?  The law is different for these two mediums, though, and we need to be responsible about ensuring we follow copyright law. Ignorance of copyright law won’t save you in court. While I couldn’t find any instances of a library actually getting fined for copyright violations due to not having a public performance license, I wouldn’t think being the first one is on anyone’s bucket list.

Here’s another really, really important thing to consider – do you have meeting rooms that members of the public can reserve?  Do they have the capability to watch movies in those meeting rooms? Can more than one unrelated patron see the same screen in the computer lab?  If so, then you need to have a public performance license because you can be held liable for those viewings as an organization!  This is called being a “contributory infringer”, and even applies for patrons that are watching copyrighted material on computers (personal or library-owned) in the library.

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to get public performance licenses for every copyrighted work out there.  For instance, the Miyazaki films (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, etc.) are notoriously difficult to get the performance rights to, so there are some things you’re just not going to be able to show.  However, there are two big licensing organizations that will cover nearly every movie you’ll want to show: the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation (MPLC –, and Movie Licensing USA (via Swank Motion Pictures, Inc. –  Pricing is typically population based, and also usually only counts one location, so if you have a multi-branch system you may need a performance license for each branch location.

Two important caveats: This public performance license does not cover outdoor movie viewings!  For an outdoor movie you would need to get a single event public performance license from the licensing organization.  Also, you cannot stream movies from streaming services for your program!  In the Terms of Use on most streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hulu, they specifically state that streaming on your account is for private use only.  Unless you have an agreement with these entities to allow streaming for public performance AND you have a public performance license from somewhere like MPLC or Movie Licensing USA, you will have to use a physical, legal copy of the movie for your program.  And if you somehow got Netflix to agree to allow you to use your account for public performances, let me know what magical fairy you talked to – I don’t know anyone who’s pulled that off yet.

You may have heard that there are exceptions for libraries in regards to public performance licenses, but this is not accurate.  There are no exceptions for educational, non-profit, or free of charge viewings.  There are very, very few exceptions, but 99% of the time they will NOT apply to library programming.  Washington and Lee University has a very good explanation and I’ll provide a link to it in the resources below.

I know none of this is really fun to hear, but it’s necessary that we adhere to copyright law as librarians.  “Copyright is at the core of almost everything that libraries and librarians do” (, and ignoring that ignores one of the most important aspects of our profession.


Listed below are a number of resources about how to screen movies legally, licensing organizations, and more:

2018 Rainbow List: Tweens and Teens


Every year the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBT-RT) of the ALA presents the Rainbow List, a curated bibliography of the best QUILTBAG/ GLBTQI books for ages birth though 18. Reading through hundreds of books each year, the committee selects books aiming to help youth find books best reflecting significant GLBTQI content. It is also an excellent resource for librarians and library specialists in adding books to your collections. Within each list, the committee also highlights 10 books that are the best throughout the list. We’ve highlighted the tween and teen books for you below.


Helping Hands: A Night of Crafting for a Cause

My teens love making crafts, but they don’t often come to programs where we just make a craft for the fun of it. What they really want and need from their library is volunteer hours. Thankfully, the two combine pretty easily. A quick search online reveals all kinds of crafts that can be made and donated to charities. Sine homeless shelters and foster agencies will take decorated pillowcases. Many hospitals won’t allow real flowers for fear of infection, but paper ones are welcome. You can collect toiletries and other items, put them in decorated bags, and donate them to shelters. Cats and dogs in shelters love homemade toys. Projects like these are now staples for my TAB meetings when library tasks are in short supply.

In December, I decided to do a program called Helping Hands Night where we had several different projects that could be made and donated. As a bonus, I told the teens that if they needed me to sign off on volunteer hours for coming to this program, I would do that as well. Even though December is historically a low-attendance month for my library, Helping Hands Night drew over a dozen teens–some just looking for a good time, and some brought paperwork for me to sign so they’d get service credit for attending. It was a huge success and I’ll definitely bring it back in the future!

Here are the projects we did at Helping Hands Night:

  • Made catnip mice from this pattern and donated them to a local animal shelter. (I’m not brave enough to teach my teens to sew, but hot glue works just as well! And if you’re not a cat person, shelters always need dog toys!)
  • Painted large pieces of paper, which were then laminated and donated to Meals on Wheels for use as placemats.
  • Made cards for patients in a local nursing facility.
  • Colored holiday-themed coloring pages for Color A Smile.

I’m looking forward to repeating this program in the future with different activities. Have you done a craft for charity? Tell us your favorite projects in the comments!

The Library as a Safe Place: Musings on a Recent Scary Experience….

If there’s one thing we public librarians know, it’s that we never know who will walk through the door.

I wasn’t sure how to write this post. I’m still not sure what I should share, IF I should share anything, but I think it’s something that needs to be shared.

What Happened

A few months ago I was working in the Children’s Room, where my office is, with one other coworker. A tween boy suddenly ran into the room and up to the circulation desk, breathing hard as though he’d been running for awhile. We asked if he was OK and if he needed help. Bullies, I thought. He said he was fine and just needed to use the phone to call his mother. My coworker and I knew something was wrong, obviously, but we just helped him dial out. He couldn’t reach her and was now almost crying. We asked where his mom was, and found out she lived 45 minutes away. Huh. Now I wasn’t so sure it was bullies. We had him sit down and asked if we could get him some water. “OK,” he said. And then suddenly he was telling us about why he was running and about his father…. My heart broke for him and the mother-bear inside me woke up. I brought him into my office, which is just behind the circ desk, since there were some other kids in the room using the computers. I went into the Storytime room to get him a cup of water. When I came out, my coworker was coming towards me, her eyes wide. When I saw the man at the counter, I knew who he must be, but pretended not to. I used my perky Librarian voice: “Hi, can I help you?” He told me that was his son and he came to take him home. The boy refused to leave my office and said he wasn’t going with him.

At this point in story, I would love to give more details. But after writing it all out, I know that I can’t. Here’s what I can say: there were some MAJOR RED FLAGS. I was afraid of the man standing on the other side of the desk. Afraid for myself, my coworker, and the boy. As things progressed, I remembered – miraculously – that we had a panic button! It was installed 10 years ago and we never once used it. I hoped it worked. I managed to press it without him noticing. Meanwhile my coworker had ushered out the 2 kids on the computers, but she did not want to leave me alone so she stayed in the room. There were no other patrons in the room. Our library is 2 floors, so no one on the adult level knew what was happening and I was afraid to pick up the phone.

The man stayed behind the counter. There was yelling and not-so-nice things said by both the man and the boy. I stood in the space between them and tried to figure out what to do if the panic button hadn’t worked. The boy was extremely upset. Finally, the man said I might as well just call the police. I was surprised, so I did call. The police said they had been alerted that the panic button and were on their way. Luckily we have security cameras, which the police can access. I found out afterward that  dispatch was watching and relaying what was happening to the officers on their way.

After I got off the phone, things escalated quickly. The shouting got louder.  Things got scarier. The man started to come around the desk and I reached for the only thing I could think of: the can of wasp spray in the desk drawer. I was scared. And I was angry. I was angry that something like this was happening in a place that should feel safe and now it wasn’t.

I held up the can and he laughed.

“You’re going to spray me with that?”

“I will if you don’t go out in the hall and wait for the police.”

He looked at me and then slammed his hands on the desk and lunged forward, screaming “THEN DO IT!”

What I Learned
  • Wasp spray is very messy.
  • Time moves much slower in stressful situations – what had actually been about 5 minutes since I pressed the panic button, was like an eternity in my head.
  • Hindsight is 20/20. I did what I thought I needed to do at the time. I don’t think I’m a hero or anything like that. Far from it. Mostly I was scared. The fact that I had the presence of mind to remember that we had a panic button is still amazing to me. I’ve watched the security footage since, and it makes me feel better about my actions, though I do sometimes wonder if this will ever come back to haunt me.
  • Parent and child issues are really complicated.  The hardest part – I had to watch the boy leave with his father: his primary guardian. I was afraid I made things worse.
  • A parent’s right to their child is a fundamental right, and comes under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. A parent’s right to their child cannot be violated unless it is proven the child is in danger. This could have been really complicated and turned out badly for me.
  • It was a good “test” for us at the library. It made us realize we needed to upgrade our panic button system so that staff on the opposite floors would be alerted if the button was pressed. We will also be testing the button on a regular basis. We learned that we needed to talk about more staff training and emergency procedures.
  • This kid was scared. He came to us to find safety. It made me think about the library in a new way. How many other tweens and teens were coming here to feel safe? And how far do we go as librarians to make it a safe place, or protect our patrons and ourselves?

I am not proud of what happened. I wish it hadn’t happened at all. I wonder all the time if I overreacted, if I could have just waited 2 more minutes for the police. But I can’t take it back now. While this experience is not nearly as horrific as some, it was still scary and eye-opening. The library is a public building and open to ANYONE. I’m glad that I was able to make this boy safe for a little while. Last I heard, he was doing OK and I am truly relieved.