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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

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.



How to Ruin Your Volunteer Program in One Well Intended (Opportunistic) Step

It happens to all of us.  We want to cut corners or add an intergenerational show of support for our newest idea.  So someone within your organization will offer up “Let’s get the teens to do it!”.  You either:

a) nod your head excitedly thinking to yourself that it will be great for your teens to help beyond just your department.

b) nod your head unsure of how to tell your higher ups that you think this might not work but resign yourself to try anyway.

DON’T DO IT.  This will kill your successful volunteer program faster than asking them to wear matching uniforms.  Faster than blasting the saxophone intro to Careless Whisper looped for 10 hours straight.  (I’ve done this with Justin, it’s not so bad…)

Teens are not free labor.  You should know this because of the amount of time you spend cultivating them and your program and because of the amount of money you spend on rewarding them.

To ask your teens to do things they have expressed no interest in doing is ludicrous.  Would you ask a random group of adults to do the same and expect overwhelmingly positive response?

Keep in mind their motivation for volunteering probably doesn’t have to do with increasing your programming revenue.  It probably doesn’t have to do with mass producing chotchkies to sell various fundraisers.  (Why is it these “opportunities” always revolve around making money?)

Don’t let outsiders tell your teens what to do.  Especially by using you as a mouthpiece.  You’ll lose all credibility in your teens’ eyes and you’ll be left to start from scratch again.  Well, you can start again once their tween siblings who heard all about it the dinner table age out and the next generation of kids who don’t know about your past crimes will give you a chance.

If you absolutely need their help with this kind of work make it well worth their while.  Give everyone an iTunes gift card.  Give them all tickets to the movies afterward.  And most importantly, do not TELL your regulars this is their next task.  This is exactly why Teen Advisory Boards are failing these days.  Advertise these volunteer opportunities separately along with their awesome prizes and pull in folks who know exactly what they’re signing up for.

 

michael scott

Giving Teens Leadership Experience through Your Volunteer Program

My newest goal at the Chattanooga Public Library is to develop and new branch of our Teen Volunteer Program that’s all about leadership.  If you’ve ever met me or heard me speak in person about volunteer management you’ll know I’m very into creating empowering opportunities that translate well for teens onto college or job applications.  It’s that passion and the freedom of my new job which gave me a great brainstorm just before the holiday season:

I want to teach teens how to program for libraries.

I want them to choose whatever they’re passionate about, let me teach them how to run it as a program and then let them take the driver’s seat and actually run it.  I’ve figure out how to fit all of this into a two hour block of time so it’s easily adapted to school requirements and teenage lives.  Here’s how it works:

Step 1 – Come and tell me what you’re interested in teaching.  I’ll give you a volunteer application to fill out and explain how this works.

Step 2- We schedule a time to get together and I’ll walk you through “How to Run a Program” in a half hour.  We’ll also set up the date and time of your program.

Step 3 – Today is your program!  Work your magic and I’ll act as your helper for the duration of the program.

Step 4 – After your program we’ll take ten minutes to discuss whether or not your enjoyed leading a program and if you’d like to do it again or remain a mysterious one hit wonder!

That’s it.  Super simple.  And when kids are done they’ll have programming experience at a very recognizable nonprofit and I’ll even provide them with a one-sheeter of the kind of work they’ve done translated into “employment ” and “academic” terms they can plug into those applications.

Update, 2/26/2014!:  I recently wrote a piece for The Chattanooga Public Library on a similar topic.