Category: Summer

Tails & Tales of Woe (and Hope)

At my rural library, teens come to events looking for fun and socialization. There’s not much else to do in town (when I was in high school, I’d hear about people going to hang out at Walmart for “fun”), so I try to provide as much entertainment as possible at my events. This past year has been hard on my teens–many of them hang out digitally already; they weren’t really looking for more virtual options. And I missed being with my teens in person too. So finally being able to provide events in-person again, albeit outside, was exciting.

So…of course the first day scheduled for an outdoor event was overcast.

It will be fine, I assured myself. The hourly weather report said what little rain there was would be over with an hour to spare. Yes, I had a rain date, but we always have better attendance on the originally scheduled day. It’s the first event, don’t cancel, it will be fine, have faith…

So, of course, it started raining right as the program was to start.

On the schedule was Werewolf, an in-person party game that is a precursor to Among Us. Another version’s called Mafia, but we’re sticking with the Tails & Tales theme this year so Werewolf sounded fun.

So here I was, with a game that recommended about 6-7 people minimum, rain on the horizon, and too late to easily cancel with people driving 15-30 minutes to get here.

I did what I feel most of you are probably experienced with now–I improvised and adapted. I had a fun card game (Selfish) ready as backup. With the amount of people I anticipated (at this point, less than ten), I made the executive decision to clear out the kids’ area to make enough room for a large, spaced-out circle of chairs and stuck my mask back on to model the behavior I wanted to see from them (since we’re not allowed to tell people to wear masks anymore). Most importantly, I kept a positive spin on things as teens trickled in.

We ended up with seven teens, four regulars, a younger sibling that was finally old enough to join in, and her two friends. Just enough for our originally scheduled program, which ended up being a lot of fun! Afterwards, they discussed ideas for new roles that would be fun to include in the future now that they are familiar with the game, and expressed an interest in doing it again.

I’m not going to lie, seven is low for our teen summer reading program. We’d gotten to where we were comfortably between 10-20 on most teen summer reading programs. This knocked us back to, well, still better than we were when I started a few years ago, but not by much. I don’t know if that was part weather, or part trying to get back to the swing of business as usual. But while numbers are important, I think we’re going to be ok. As teen librarians, I believe we’re better prepared for working our way to normal than most other programming librarians assigned to other age groups. We’re used to doing the programming equivalent of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. We’re used to improvising.

The saying goes: build it, and they will come. For teen librarians, at least, that is a lie. It takes time and trust to build a relationship with teens that will keep them coming back for more. My personal goal with teen programs is to have fun. To get my hands dirty right there with them. It’s what I’ve built my “brand” on as a teen librarian. Make yourself a place for reliable entertainment and understanding, trial and error without pressure to succeed, sympathy and guidance (when asked for), and your teens will keep coming back–and they’ll bring their friends! As most of us are working our way back up from the hit we’ve taken, don’t worry about the numbers. Be patient. We’ve gotten there before, and we’ll get there again.

Tonight is Jeopardy (with an animal theme, of course). Next week is a water balloon extravaganza. July I’m going to provide quirky games and Budget Busters (my tabletop RPG to teach budgeting, which THEY have requested to repeat multiple times as soon as in-person is possible). This fall, I’m going to work on bringing TAB back to full membership numbers and work with my local school librarian to spread the word about my programs. I’ve got authors and teachers lined up for writing workshops as soon as we have the go-ahead, plans for new riddle quests, and for rebuilding our teen Homeschool Hangouts program. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. And so will y’all. Just give yourself time.

Outside (and Socially Distanced) Summer Programs

Summer is coming, and here in Texas at my library, we’re allowed to have in-person programming again. And while some of my co-workers will be doing inside programs, I’m doing a majority of my programs outside.

I realize as a former camp counselor and camp program director, outside programs are something I’m possibly more comfortable with than the average librarian. So, let me share some of my tips and some of my already-planned programs with you to help spark some ideas for your own outside programs.

The most common complaint to outside programs here in central Texas is that it’s hot. Yes, it’s going to be hot (hello, 105(F) degrees!), so cool everyone down! Make your programs water-centric or bring out the ice cream!

First up is capture the flag, but with water balloon launchers! I like to call this version Pirates’ Battle (supplies and directions here). You can think of this as LARPing, pirate version. If you want to take the STEAM route, the angles and trajectory of the water balloon launcher are great teaching moments.

Camp counselor pro-tip: When you’re making your water balloons, store them in a cooler and add water. This will lessen the likelihood of breakage.

Wet’n’Wild Water Games (supplies and directions here) is like Minute-to-Win-It games, but outside and with water. If your teens have favorite Minute-to-Win-It games, try and figure out how to make them water-friendly. Or Google for more if you don’t like some of these!

(Side note: Yes, my directions include a different capture the flag version than Pirates’ Battle above. Because of this, I won’t be comparing Pirates’ Battle to capture the flag when I talk it up or explain the rules.)

Camp counselor pro-tip: If you haven’t filled water balloons recently, you’ve GOT to try these. It makes it SOOOOO much easier and quicker!

Scavenger Hunt! My library is very lucky to have a park right next door. Scavenger hunts are fun because they allow teens to use their observation skills, teamwork skills, and communication skills to complete a task. And, they get popsicles at time’s up!

I realize that my scavenger hunt won’t really help you create your own, but here are my procedures, which may help you if you have never done one before. But, here it is anyway… you may be able to use some for your version, too.

Camp counselor pro-tip: Include a variety of tasks from silly to educational to  plain ol’ fun to hit the gamut of teens who may come to your program.


If water and ice cream aren’t your (or your teens’) style, try programs that allow them to get messy!

Gravity Art (supplies and directions here) is a program that is wholly un-tested, so grain of salt with this one, but my teens like unique art opportunities, and they won’t follow my step-by-step instructions anyway in favor of their own experiments, so my plan is to just have fun with it!

Messy Mayhem (supplies and directions here) is a program I actively “borrowed” from my time at camp, when we did a whole week of Epic Camp. I did this program several years ago, and I can’t wait to do it again this summer! Make sure you include in your advertising, though, that participants should  wear clothes that are okay to get ruined. I also provided several super large t-shirts for walk-ins.


Whatever your summer programming looks like, I wish you good luck! And please share your outside programming ideas in the comments, below, too!

Using Beanstack for Summer Reading

Summer is coming! And with many libraries still in the throes of the pandemic, here is ONE option for online logging: Beanstack.

Disclaimer: I do not work for Beanstack or any other similar company. I am not paid to write this by Beanstack or anyone. All opinions are my own. I have used one other summer reading online program, ReadSquared, so most of my opinions about Beanstack are in comparison to ReadSquared from 2016-2018. 

A brief run-down of what you can do with Beanstack:

  • Libraries set up their Beanstack program(s) for patrons to log reading and/or activities.
  • For reading, they can log minutes or pages.
  • For activities, readers can submit pictures, mark items as completed, answer questions, and more.
  • As they read or complete activities, they earn badges. You can attach physical or virtual prizes to badges.
  • Reader can receive virtual tickets to place into drawings, all within Beanstack.
  • Staff/volunteers can mark prizes as picked up within Beanstack.
  • There is a Beanstack app to make for easy logging. It also has a timer function, so you press start, read, then it logs how long you read.

Why I like Beanstack:

  • SUPER easy set-up. The first program you set up, a Beanstack staffer will be there the entire way (at least, that’s how it was for me our first summer in 2019). They have a step-by-step set of instructions to help you make sure everything is good to go, they have “checkpoints” to make sure what you’re doing on the admin side matches up with their side and the readers’ side. It’s also very intuitive. The intuitiveness was a huge selling point for us as we were deciding to move from ReadSquared to Beanstack.
  • The staff is so nice! Their CEO sends weekly emails of what they’re  working on to make their product better, they send out an end-of-summer survey to make sure the product is doing what librarians need the product to do, all the emails from staff are so kind and helpful without being overbearing. Just: *chef’s kiss*
  • That intuitiveness I mentioned earlier? It’s also way more intuitive on the readers’ side, so even those who aren’t technologically savvy can pick up on it (if they’re willing to try).
  • The app! A lot of people in our area don’t have internet access at home, but they usually have a smartphone. The app makes it so that they can still participate digitally.
  • The badges. I’ll admit. I wasn’t super sold on the badges at the beginning. BUT, I listened to our rep, and I’ve drunk the Kool-aid. Plus, the art options for the different badges are awesome– and they get better every year. And yes: they do new badges all the time, including for the CSLP and iRead themes.

If you’d like to see what Beanstack looks like for participants, you can watch my library’s tutorial videos from last summer.

If you have questions about Beanstack, I’d be happy to try to answer them. Please comment below, and I’ll get to them as soon as I’m able to. Happy summer planning!