A Chat with Stacie Ledden – Director of Innovation and Brand Strategy for Anythink Libraries

Stacie is rad. SUPER rad. I met Stacie last year at Public Library Association (PLA) and we got jazzed on the oddball things we were both creating at our libraries. Soon after we became Facebook and twitter buddies where I learned more about the amazing initiatives she’s involved in which include Outside the Lines (http://getoutsidethelines.org/ – #getOTL) and being one of the minds behind R-Squared – The Risk + Reward Conference (http://rsquaredconference.org/). Seriously, this woman is a prime example of why people from the non-library world NEED to be involved in what we’re all trying to create.

sledden

Over the course of our interview (or should I refer to it as more of a conversation which occasionally reached fevered pitches?) we discussed a lot of big ideas.

First we tackled what people in Youth Departments can bring to a leadership role. Her thoughts? Youth librarians have the ability to add whimsy, color, and opportunities for all ages to learn through play. Anythink Director Pam Sandlian Smith was once a youth librarian and during a  visit last year from Rebecca Miller, editor of SLJ, Rebecca remarked that Pam had basically turned the whole place into a children’s library. Stacie found that exciting and believes these opportunities for libraries to capture the attention of adults using methods youth librarians already apply – color, marketing, and attention – have the ability to focus on our audiences in a way they aren’t used to receiving. That attention will make youth librarians valuable voices at a leadership table and will keep our public involved in a dialogue we need to stay relevant. She believes we can’t simply rely on the fact that people love us forever, we need to involve them.

We also threw around the idea of not viewing failure as failure. That each experience, be it good or bad, is always an opportunity. Being in a position of innovation she gets asked a lot about failure and never feels she’s giving the answer people are looking for. My question is are we looking for stories of failure to learn how to weather our own? If so, when is moving forward not the answer to encountering failure? We both agree what is important is to recognize the quiet failures, our dying or dead ideas and to throw them away. Holding onto them is maybe the only true form of failure.

There’s far more to our conversation and to Stacie than could ever be captured in 500 words. She’s someone I feel a deep commune with. A fellow library outsider who loves the driving force of libraries and has always been a librarian. We have no piece of paper to prove it, but it drives us from the most deep down punk rock place. It is the only way to stay hardcore and facilitate change from within a system. The best way to create change by actually embodying the change. Becoming the system instead of railing against it.

Moving Past the Minutiae: The Scope of What I’ve Been Creating

I was recently asked to help a grad student with a project he’s working on and when I wrote my response to him I was SO struck by not only the sheer quantity of the work I do but how proud I am of the quality of each of these experiences. I get distracted by those day to day details that have a tendency to sneak in and rule all of our worlds from time to time. The problem you solve only to discover your solution created another problem. The promise you make that results in working on your day off because you miscalculated. I care so much about my work that I will occasionally let it rule my decisions and emotions both inside AND outside of work. This is not only detrimental to my performance at work but to the person I am outside of library world. My husband picks up on my distractions and it makes him feel ignored. My dog gets overlooked as I try to catch up and pouts. The cat… Well, the cat doesn’t really care about me at all…

aga doesn't care

This is the face of a cat that does. not . care.

Ultimately, those small details that nag at you in the middle of the night are also a part of the big beautiful body of work you create. Recognizing them as a side effect of your job, and NOT your job itself, will help you put them aside, deal with them when you can and then focus on your family, hobbies, passions outside of work, and all those thousands of other nonlibrary things. Because it is exactly all those other parts of life that make truly great librarians, not the amount of stress you show or lash out at your patrons or coworkers with.

If you’re feeling mired in the irritating little details lately I’d suggest you take the time to answer the same questions I just answered for this student. You’re most likely rocking it and you deserve to feel good about what you do. It’s a lot of work and laying it out in one place is healing. Write it out, put it aside and then go on a walk outside or something. Take care of you and you’ll be better at taking care of work.

Heres what I wrote:

Hey, ____!

Here are my answers for you:

1. The Goals and Aims of the 2nd Floor program.

The goal of the 2nd Floor is to create a self guided learning experience that is scaleable to various ages and focuses on creation (digital, physical or relationship). We strive to provide a wide variety of walk up experiences that patrons or nonpatrons can access independently or with the assistance of a librarian should they need it. In addition we offer many more formal programs and a robust volunteer experience for teen volunteers that results in a more of a mentorship/job training than most volunteer experiences available to teens. Ultimately, we want to reflect our community in all our offerings be it books, programs or physical space.

2. The services you provide and how teens impact what you choose to provide.

We offer traditional services such as books, movies, audiobooks, and reference assistance. Perhaps my favorite part of our traditional resources is the concept of being patron driven rather than library driven when it comes to purchasing. Under our search tab on our front page here’s a link that leads you to a page where a patron can request the purchase of materials. So long as it is in print (and not outrageously priced  – think multiple hundreds or thousands of dollars) we will purchase it and the patron who requested it will be the first to borrow it! (http://chattlibrary.org/patron-request-purchase-library-materials) This includes our teen population, in fact I LOVE showing off this feature during tours to school groups who come needing a “reference tour” and explaining this means Minecraft materials, movies, whatever!

We also offer a very robust catalog of digital resources ranging from movie streaming to online certification courses in a wide variety of topics (http://chattlibrary.org/resources)

Finally for programming we currently offer the following:

As far as getting feedback from our teens goes, I’d say we utilize the following methods:
  • Comment Cards
    • Sure lots of places have these but most places hope they won’t get filled out. I not only encourage them to tell us what were doing wrong but if they’ve really enjoyed something I have them tell us about it on a comment card. These babies get read all the way to the top and it’s a chance for teen voices to truly be heard and make an impact! If something’s really popular we’ll repeat it and if something bombs we get rid of it. We’ve taken even the most outlandish concerns seriously including putting in a swimming pool and installing a zip line.
  • Volunteer Program
    • A well run volunteer program will provide you with invaluable insight into the honest opinions of how you’re doing in a teen’s eyes. REALLY. Not the sugar coated answers they’ll give you because you’re a grownup stranger who asked hem a question but the honest to God truth about your performance. This program can give you a chance to build relationships with the very population you’re looking to offer your services to. Don’t squander their help by limiting them to physical tasks like cutting out things or sitting at a desk. Involve them in the creation of your department and it will ring with an authenticity we grown ups simply can’t provide on our own!
  • Focus Groups
  • Community Events
    • When I table at community events I don’t prattle on and on about all the great stuff we’re doing for teens. I bring the button makers, let the teens get creative and when they’re obsessed with how much fun we’re all having a ask them what they’re into. If we have a program that matches their interests I let them know, otherwise I take notes and ask if I can contact them to help make their ideas a reality.
  • Customer Service
    • This is above and beyond all else the best tool to find out what your teens want. Don’t be the librarian behind the desk they go to when they need something. Be the librarian who is always around, playing what they’re playing, making what they’re making, a real part of their world within the library. The librarian behind the desk is someone they’ll never feel they can really trust so they’ll never be honest about what they want. The librarian behind the desk will run ideas past them, and the teens will say they think they’re good ideas and then won’t show up after those “good idea” are a reality. The librarian thats out there playing with them will know what they want through all the conversations (and fun) they’re having  together.

3. How you gather feedback and analyze that feedback.

We organize the feedback from the Focus Groups into spreadsheets and publicly share our findings using social media. We immediately start adjusting our offering s and performance based on this feedback.
When it comes to our everyday interactions we just talk all the time about fine adjustments we can make base off the vibe on the floor from day to day or cultural changes that take place as different groups of teens/tweens discover us, become obsessed with us, leave us, etc.
Comment Cards that come in about our department are reported to us and we determine what course of action to take then these decisions are shared with the patrons who turned in the comment cards if they asked to be contacted.
In time it becomes a full circle kind of thing. Teens ask for stuff in various ways, we deliver, then we talk to them or get comment cards from them about how it went. We listen, adjust and move on!
I hope this was helpful. It was so fun to write that I actually think I’ll turn it into a blog post. Thanks for making me think about my work in these terms!
If I didn’t quite give you the info you were looking for just let me know!
Megan

Camp EtsyNooga – The What

Some of the materials we used daily: laptops, printed worksheets, markers, pens, bottled water, folders…

Look at YOU… With your speakers and your timing down and your spaces located. I’m so proud of you…

I hope you like what you’ve been creating so far because the work is about to change. Your soundbites and elevator speech are probably pretty dialed in at this point. That’s great for what you need to share with the community. Now though, it’s time to dive into The What.

What exactly IS the camp?

What materials do I need to pull this off?

The STEAM Factor

Here at the Chattanooga Public Library we worked REALLY hard about a year ago to create a document that labeled every single walk up station and program with what we refer to as STEAM tags. The idea is that we can talk to any city government official, any teacher, and parent about all the educational benefits each station can provide their child. In fact Lee Hope, our Youth Services Coordinator, took it one step further in the Children’s Department and tagged all their walk ups and programs in accordance with (ECRR) standards too! I liked this way of thinking so much I can’t turn it off now and I even included this kind of breakdown for every single activity in the book!

The Camp is a complete STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) immersion experience for the teens who participate.

Each week I’ll share the STEAM terms associated with the topics you’ll be covering. However, in overarching sense here’s the big picture impact:

  • S: Social psychology of consumerism, purchasing and product photography. Creation of targeted branding based on social passions, product, identified customer base. Targeting customers based on socioeconomic patterns.
  • T: Use of new artistic equipment. Web based market research. Web based materials research. Organizing inspiration, materials research, pricing research into social media.
  • E: Construction of product. Creation of branded packaging.
  • A: Honing an artistic craft. Experimenting in new artistic mediums. Logo design. Product photography.  Writing about artistic process, artist, products. Booth design. Crafting a stage presence. Practicing public speaking.
  • M: Pricing formulas for profit, wholesale and retail markets. Timing creation process to determine formula outcomes. Sustainable pricing research and cost analysis. Financial literacy.

I bet you wish you had known all this sooner. Maybe you think like me so you’ve already been spouting these benefits (or at least speculating about them) to pretty much whoever will listen. If not and you wish I had mentioned them sooner fear not, they will re-energize your conversations, add a layer of educational depth to your pleads for additional speakers and reinforce the value of the contributions for those who have already agreed to help out.

What Do I Need?

I’ll give you a week by week breakdown of the materials you’ll need to pull of Camp each week but here’s the general set up requirements:

Space:

  • Messy Workspace
  • Room to leave stuff hanging on the walls

Hardware:

  • Projector
  • Laptop or iPad with Projector hookup*
  • Ability to play music (Pandora or other streaming service is the easiest)**
  • Printer

*My preferred presentation method is to use my iPad so I can wander around the room helping where needed. Plus I can control the music from it which is nice. I link up to the projector using Apple TV so there are no cords, just lovely wireless freedom.

** I found the Two Door Cinema Club channel on Pandora was the best for our group. I could leave it on a low volume while I was speaking without getting distracted and every now and then the teens would inadvertently bounce along with whatever song was on while working or breathlessly tell me how much they loved the music I picked. Win!

Everyday Items:

  • Folder or binder per camper
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • A TON of Paper*
  • Pens
  • Markers
  • Large Paper to Hang on the Walls
  • Tape
  • Scissors

These items may not be used in every single camp session but I like to keep them on hand for whatever pops up.

*I felt pretty bad about the amount of paper I used for this camp at first. You’ll be printing writing exercises, worksheets, articles and more. It may not seem like much at first but then you remember you’re multiplying everything by up to ten and Holy Moly that’s a LOT of paper. Not to mention printing out additional sheets for your speakers and yourself so you can follow along. If you create an online version of this that works for you I’m gonna love you forever. If not just remember, a lot of teens find it helpful to scribble their thoughts and notes physically. It’s all saved in a folder or binder where they keep track of their work and if your experience is at all like mine you’ll be referring back to these printouts frequently.
Niceities:

  • A local snack each afternoon of Camp (Be careful of allergies!)
  • Bottled water for your speakers
  • Thank You Cards
  • Camp stickers for campers and speakers (More viral marketing! Woohoo!)

These will up your status from library programmer to library goddess/god. Take extra special care of the people who come to help you for free!

If you have organizations or individuals who have asked if you needfinancial assistance with camp the items above make great donations. If not, now you’ve got a shopping list!

Go forth and gather your supplies because coming up next is Prepping and Advertising!

 

What Teens Really Want

10-15 years ago we librarians got it wrong.

We were freaking out because we had programs for the elderly like book clubs, novel to film groups and other things they told us to do. We had programs for babies like storytimes and all the other stuff that moms and dads just bring their babies too. But what about the folks who weren’t babies or elderly? We were missing out on serving the majority of our populations! 

The logical solution? Help the teens!  People are scared of them! They’re vulenrable! What if they turn to drugs because they aren’t healthy/fulfilled/informed/in a library? It was a noble move, truly and not totally our fault. I mean EVERYONE was focused on this age bracket and how to help. We, naturally, threw our hat into the ring and devoted ourselves to teens and kicking butt in the process.

We formed teen advisory boards, ventured into high schools and gave reader’s advisory sessions, bought video game systems and hosted overnights. A lot of this was fun but then the ineviteable turnover took place. Folks aged out of jobs or moved on to other library systems and the teens lost out. Those of you who have entered a library as a Teen focused staff member following in the footsteps of the librarians who pioneered this programming know what this is like. Despite your efforts to win over new teen audiences and all the great advice out there (Just give them pizza! They’ll love you!) you couldn’t help but feeling like you were losing your teens. Like they didn’t like you. Like you weren’t good at your job. (Have I lost it? Did I ever really have it?!?)

The truth is that this happens because teens are maginficent and loyal creatures who are finally at and age where they’re able to stand up for what they believe in and will do so without calculating risk or reward. This is one of the things that makes them completely great. Think about it- teens will literally obsess over bands, athletes, shows or their crush. They will write poetry, create art and spend all their money on these obsessions. Their librarians are no different. Even if during my time in VT I heard a ton of flack for some of what I was trying to do I STILL have teens and tweens from that library who write to me looking for advice on books, girls, and bullies. The same thing has happened since I left ME too. These kids will always be “my kids” and if they’re reading this they know I’m if talking about them. You’ve gotta feel for anyone who steps into the shoes of the last Teen Librarian…

So how did we get it wrong? We focused on these elusive, loyal creatures assuming we could wow them and win them over instantly. By jumping from kids to teens we accidentally created a new barren wasteland of that now elusive group following our children’s programming audience – Our tweens. If we aren’t programming for tweens they’ll never become the kind of teens who will give us the feedback we need to create high quality programs teens have ownership over! You’ve gotta have BOTH to do your job well.

Fast forward from my gaming/TAB glory days and the landscape is totally different in Teen Library Land and I’m in a totally new city. What I’ve learned about the kind of work I do since I moved to Chattanooga is not in line with anything that’s worked before for me. I create a pop culture relevant program with a steady after school following? Everybody stops coming when summer starts AND NEVER COMES BACK. I create an intense program with homework about starting a small business that no teen in their right mind would sign up for? Massive hit and they want more. Any type of precipitation is in the forecast? The 2nd Floor will be a barren wasteland FOR THE WHOLE DAY. 

The only thing that hasn’t changed is what teens want.

Money, Freedom, Driving.

Really, that’s it. 

If you can host the local Driver’s Ed program you have struck gold, my friends. (Especially if you can work a little fun programming into their breaks!) If you can show teens how to get a job or earn money you’ve got a winner. If you can schedule your programming around when your teens are there, not when it’s convenient for you then you’ll do just fine.

The one program that’s able to cover all of these bases really well and that no matter where I am teens flock to is my volunteer program. I’ve set it up so that by working far (and I mean FAR) in advance I’m always able to give the teen who “needs 8 hours by tomorrow!” plenty to do. This kind of flexibility provides them with autonomy and Freedom.

I ask about their interests and simultaneously am able to flesh out my own programming by training them on how to lead a program, buying what they need to make it happen and letting go of control, only acting as support if they need it. This kind of training is actually mentorship and depending on the program various types of job training (large event management, program design & facilitation, customer service). All volunteers are offered a one page document when they’re ready that outlines their service and the impact it had on their community in bullet point sentences applicable to the job world. This provides them with meaningful work experience and creates a relationship with me they can use for college, scholarship or job applications. And you know what that leads to? Money

Occasionally there are opportunities to hang posters for the library or collect donations using their cars. Depending on your policies you may or may not be able to give teens driving time to earn those hours. That’s right, Driving their cars can be a library program.

So I’m taking a new look at how we present the Volunteer Program on the 2nd Floor. It’s not just us doing the right thing and creating high quality volunteer experiences for our local teens, it’s job training. It’s job shadowing. It’s a mentorship. It’s work training. And our two teen employees on the 2nd Floor were once volunteers so it’s also a job creation program. 

As such, I’m not only counting the hours that teens give us each month so we can show an in-kind donation with a serious monetary value from the very audience we aim to please, I’m counting the weekly number of participants in the volunteer program (as in working a work, week). I’m also kicking myself because this is a powerful stat I should have been collecting for years!

So go forth, re-examine the way you utilize your teen volunteers. Giving them more will get you more. I promise.



Camp EtsyNooga – The Why

Camp Etsynooga Banner

Okay, a little truthful background – I didn’t even really know what I was creating at first.

I knew I had the beginning of a good idea. I knew it would cover multiple kinds of education. I knew the Etsy name would raise the bar for both expectations of my content and the teen’s end results. I was just compelled to create and see what shape it would take on.

When I came to Chattanooga last fall I was given the green light to simply follow that course and discover what my fledgling Etsy program would become.

Through continuing design tweaks it became apparent that one off programs wouldn’t work. To effectively host a product photography workshop teens would already need to have their shops open. To offer a workshop on packaging they would need to have a clear understanding of both their brand and their intended customer base. It was obvious that the way to go was to run a camp on how to start a small business using solid building blocks- understanding what drives your creativity, defining a solid brand, honing in on the audience for your product, doing the hard work to understand how to price your items for both wholesale and retail, and SO much more.

I had a goal. I would create a camp to teach the basics of starting a business to teens. Then I would teach them how to open an Etsy shop! Ooh! AND I could give them a chance to sell their stuff! Like everything else I do I was already thinking BIG.

This story may sound familiar to you. Maybe you’ve wanted to teach small business classes to teens as the debate of “is college really worth the cost” swirls around us. Maybe you’ve wanted to take your craft program to the next level by teaching your talented teens how their skill actually carries a monetary value. Or, maybe you’re like me and both of those are true as well as your belief that the world would be a better place had we all been given the opportunity to let our creative growth flourish along with our academic growth.

Imagine a world where your lawyer is a macrame master on the side. Where you accountant is also an oil painter who appreciates landscapes. Where beauty and imagination are just as important as earnings and the bottom line.

I firmly believe that by encouraging this age group to take responsibility for their artistic growth during a time when society is telling them they can only be serious about academics, sports or earning money will result in a healthier future for us all.

This post marks the first in a series I’ll be doing about how to run your own version of Camp EtsyNooga. And just like the camp it starts by understanding why you want to do it. So re-read the reasons I just gave, sit down with a pad of paper and hot cup of whatever and mull it over, or talk to some of your trusted teens about what they think. Whatever you do to brainstorm start there and be honest with yourself. If there’s no passion behind a program like this it just won’t work.

Coming up next- The Who