Teen staff book picks

One of my missions during my time as a temporary teen librarian has been to build relationships between library staff and teens in the community. I really want our teens to know that we have staff dedicated to working just with them, and who care about them and their needs and interests.

It’s important that our teens get to know their library staff members, by name and by face. The members of the Teen Library Council already know who we are, but other teen library users may not have had an opportunity to meet either of us (the teen team at our branch currently consists of myself and a library technician).

We have an awesome display board in the teen area that’s maintained by the library technician, and I thought it might be fun to add a “staff picks” board to the mix. Every month we could each pick a title to promote on the board, in addition to a continuously changing display of cool teen books. Our names and pictures would go on the board (a silly picture of me, of course, because I am a goof), giving teens a chance to see who their teen library staff members are (Joy’s the cool one, I’m the weird one….)

The library technician put all of my ideas together into a really cool-looking display that I’m very happy with! My first pick-of-the-month is actually a manga, since that’s an area I know a bit about, and it’s a part of the collection I’d like to highlight.

Here’s the final product so far – the display will be changing every month, giving us opportunities to highlight different titles, authors and areas of the collection.

(I’m holding a stuffed cat in my outstretched arms, if you’re curious.)


Game On!


Last night we hosted a board game afternoon for teens in honour of International Games Day @ Your Library.

From 4:00 – 6:00pm we took over the teen lounge and filled it with an array of board games and snacks (always the snacks). We tried to offer a variety of games that would appeal to all ages and levels of gamers, so we pulled out a little bit of everything, from Sorry! to Jenga to Apples to Apples to Monopoly.

We weren’t really sure what to expect – we’d had a very good turnout at last week’s writing event, but we’d promoted the heck out of that one, and the board game event hadn’t received as much buzz. The turnout definitely wasn’t as high as it had been for the writing event, but it wasn’t too shabby either – at one point we had 7 teens, though people came and went at different times.

The real star of the night wasn’t any of the fancy new games we found in the teen storage closet, but rather an old party favourite – Pictionary! We played an adapted version that got everyone playing and guessing, which increased the odds of someone correctly guessing the word. It was hilarious! No one was too competitive, and we used a flipchart as a canvas so the teens could make massive drawings.

Sometimes it’s the simplest games that are the most fun! Pictionary is great because it gets everyone involved (we just stole extra pieces from other games so we could add more players, and at one point we had 6 people playing), and the rules aren’t too complicated (we had a few teens who had never played before, but with our adapted rules they were able to jump in without hesitation).

In retrospect, it would have been nice to have had a bit more promotion for the event, so we could have spread the word to other teens (most of the participants were TLC members), but all in all it was a low-maintenance, low-key event that was lots of fun.

Working with teens – lessons learned (so far)

As a library school student, I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work with children. I love, love, love sharing my passion for books with children and their caregivers, I’m a pretty high-energy person, and I naturally sing all the time anyway, so it seemed like a natural fit. What I never really thought about as much was working with teens. This past summer I was offered an opportunity to co-facilitate a teen “maker’s camp” program, and this fall I’ll be co-facilitating the Teen Library Council and teen programming at a pretty large urban library branch. Although excited, I initially felt a little bit intimidated by the prospect of working with teens. Let’s face it, it’s been more than a few years since I was a teen (I’m not telling….), and I was such a nerd in my youth anyway that I was really more like an old lady in teen clothes than an actual teenager. And life was so different then! The internet was a shiny new thing that we had to connect to using our telephone lines, and very few of us actually had cell phones, which were really only capable of making calls anyway. We were exposed to so much less back then than the average teen is today. How could I relate to these youngsters? I found myself worrying pretty much the same worries that I had when I was actually a teenager : will the group like me? Will they think I’m cool, or will they laugh because I’m lame?

Wearing a Domo-kun t-shirt that reads "Nerdy by Nature" may or may not up my coolness factor with the young folk...

Wearing a Domo-kun t-shirt that reads “Nerdy by Nature” may or may not up my coolness factor with the young folk…

Now, I am by no means an expert at working with people between the ages of 12 and 20, but here are a few things I have picked up along the way. 1. You are not cool. Get over it.

  • Being uncool is like being stuck in quicksand. The more you struggle, the deeper in you sink. Just accept that being over the age of 20 makes you an old timer and thus inherently out of touch and worthy of pity. The more you try to act or look “cool” (i.e., like a teenager), the lamer you in fact become in the eyes of your audience.

2. You are not there to be everybody’s friend.

  • Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be friendly, or that you shouldn’t have positive relationships with your teen group. What I am saying is that teens for the most part already have friends – they don’t need or even want you to take on that role. What they do need is for you to be a role model, a supporter, a guide and a leader. Someone who will be firm with them and honest with them when it’s appropriate, even if it means coming across as uncool or boring or lame. Someone who will be there for them even if their friends have turned on them or labelled them uncool. It’s important to be liked by your teens, but it’s even more important to be trusted and respected.

3. Laugh at yourself and the world laughs with you.

  • Don’t take yourself or your programs so seriously that you can’t laugh at your mistakes or shrug off your failures. In my first teen program, there were times when my best-laid plans just completely fell through. I’d planned activities with a certain audience in mind, which turned out to be not even close to the audience that actually showed. What can you? By laughing at life’s little hiccups, dusting yourself off and making the best of the situation, you’re not only making your own life a lot less miserable, you’re also providing a pretty positive example for your group. I want my teens to know that although you can’t always control what life throws at you, you can control how you react, and how better to illustrate this than by living it (most of the time…) myself?

So, that’s just a little bit of the totally non-earth-shattering wisdom I have gained in the past few months. Here’s hoping the next few months prove just as enlightening.

An example of how cool I look when I’m working with teens!

Ice breakers!

Oh ice breakers, the part of meetings that we all love to hate. Designed to get people moving and interacting, ice breakers can all too often be cheesey, boring, weird or even uncomfortable….

Because our teens come from different schools and are in a number of different grades, it’s important that our teen library group meetings include some form of interaction activity that can help teens get to know each other in a non-competitive and hopefully non-threatening way. That being said, we don’t want teens to think that the library is even less cool than they already think it is!

Here are a few ice-breakers that I’ve used in the past, either with teens or in my other role as a facilitator of newcomer programming. Some of these ice breakers have a greater emphasis on “getting to know you”, while others are just fun ways to get people mingling and moving. I’m going to use the word “teens” here a lot, but these can be adapted to work with different age groups as well.

1. Pair and Share

  • Divide teens randomly into pairs. Here’s one way to divide the group: Brainstorm a bunch of YA lit or culture words. If you want to divide the group into 10 pairs, for example, think of 10 words or phrases (Katniss Everdeen, Divergent, One Direction etc.) and write each word/phrase on to two slips of paper. Put all the slips of paper into a hat, and have teens each draw a slip of paper. The teens have to find the person with the matching word, and voila! You have your pairs!
  • The “share” portion of the ice breaker involves teens interviewing their partners, and then introducing their partners to the group (we had the teens write their answers on flipchart paper, so we could display the interviews around the room).
    • We posed both practical and funny questions, to get the creative juices flowing (nothing too personal, though, as we don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable). Besides the usual “name, grade, school” questions, we asked teens – “What animal form would your patronus take?” and “Which actor/actress would play you if your life story was turned into a movie?” These questions got some pretty creative answers!


2. Where do you stand?

  • This isn’t a “getting to know you” ice breaker, but it definitely gets the group up and moving. Everyone stands in the center of a room. The facilitator gives the group two options. Participants then have to move to the right side of the room if they prefer the first option, the left side of the room if they prefer the second option, or the middle of the room if they like/dislike both options!
    • Example pairs: Pepsi or Coke; Coffee or Tea; Early bird or Night owl; Ebook or Print book; Cake or Pie; Appetizer or Dessert; Summer or Winter; Xbox or Playstation; Superman or Batman


3. Alphabet Games!

  • I LOVE alphabet games. I am a total geek. My partner and I actually play these games while we walk, or while we play badminton. We’re cool that way.
  • You can play these games in a million different ways. Teens can sit in a circle on the floor, sit at chairs around tables, or stand. They can throw a beach ball or bean bag at each other, or progress from one teen to the teen seated beside them. Great replay value!
  • As the leader, start the chain with the first example. If your theme is “edibles”, say something like “A is for apple”, then throw the ball at a teen or turn to the teen beside you. The next person has to think of an edible that starts with b, followed by c, and so on. Keep going around the room until you finish the alphabet, and encourage the group to help each other with difficult letters, and be creative!
  • Depending on your group, you might start easy and just have the teens shout out any word starting with their letter. To up the ante, you can work in themes, like “edibles”, or “living things”.
  • Another way to play the game is to have teens think of a word that starts with the same letter as their first name (or the name of the person beside them, if you want to make sure teens are listening during introductions!). I might say “My name is J. J is for jaguar”, or “My name is Jane. Her name is Sophia. S is for salami.” You can definitely also play this game with themes if you’re feeling imaginative – I love the “edibles” theme because it’s definitely open to interpretation – cardboard is technically edible, right?