“Maybe they didn’t miss us.”

My current teen space, with all the fun stuff packed away. No games, no crafts, no consoles, no tables, no computers.

If I hear one more library staff member say this (and I’ve heard it from every level of worker, from page to upper administration), I might scream.


Our library skipped curbside and opened to the public on June 1st. That has had it’s pros and cons (less work for staff, but some of us suspect that many are still hesitant to come on in), but as it is, we’ve been very slow. The model at the moment is basically ‘grab & go;’ check out your materials and then please leave. All our tables and chairs are packed up in a corner, and we have only few computers scattered throughout our system (with NONE at our downtown location). And so because of this slowness, people have been acting very defeated and as though people only used to visit us to get books.


I just can’t believe people honestly think our users haven’t missed us. You know who has missed us, and who hasn’t returned?

– school-assigned tutors who rely on our big tables to spread out their teaching materials

– students and business owners looking for a (mostly) distraction-free environment to work on projects

– parents & preschoolers excited for storytime

– widowers who come to read the newspaper daily

– teachers looking to borrow our puppets, curriculum supplies and other goodies

– parents looking for great audiobooks for the long vacation roadtrip (that aren’t being taken this summer)

– kids looking for an air-conditioned hangout to get away from their homes for the day for whatever reason

– teens who don’t have internet at home & want to play roblox or a gaming console with their friends

– adults without access to wifi who simply want to check their facebook without using phone data

– ANYONE without internet (who therefore also cannot take advantage of any virtual programming being offered)

– new parents who rely on babytime to learn early literacy skills and connect with other parents for the first time in 6+ months

– young adults not into the bar scene who want to hang out and play a board game with their friends

– the retired ladies of our book club who loyally attend each month

– anyone who needs to use a copier

– the homeless patrons who just want somewhere cool & quiet to sit for a few hours

– daycare centers used to weekly storytime visits

– school-age kids and parents excited for fun, free, and educational programming

– teens excited to attend the cooking and movie programs we had started to plan for this summer (not to mention the weekly game night hangout that was always, always, always held (because the kids would be here anyways), and could only be stopped by a PANDEMIC)

Why are these patrons considered less-than when it comes to library users? Are they not taking advantage of the things we offer? Of COURSE our stats are down; our daily attendance dismal. What we are able to offer at the moment is just a shadow of the library we’ve been building for decades. I mourn for the job that was (and worry about the kids I haven’t seen in months), but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the library go out with a hushed whimper.

Great Design Makes the Difference


Presented as part of Marketing Library Programs for Increased Impact Pre-Conference at the 2016 YALSA Symposium

Slides in PDF// Resource Sheet

Surviving and Thriving with Social Media, presented by Carrie DiRisio

Slides in PDF

Marketing Library Programs for  Increased Impact, presented by Samantha Helmick

Slides in PDF // Social Media Audit

Shared ideas document – please feel free to contribute!


A group of my teens, Spring 2015. I know so much about each of them.

Life as a teen librarian is a fascinating/frustrating experience.

I’m not your parent, although I often know more about your interests and who you really are better than your parents.

I’m not your teacher, though I know your reading habits and what other skills & strengths you have outside of test-taking.

I’m not your sibling, though I’m often the person you come to with questions about STDs and other difficult issues you couldn’t find on Google.

I’m not your best friend, though I’m often one of the first people you come out to.

I’m not your social worker, though I know which of you have water and electricity and heat and which of you don’t.

I’m not your therapist, though I help you find books and information you need when your guardian won’t take you to a therapist. I put the suicide hotline number in your hands after I notice what you were looking at online, asking no other questions.

I know which of you suffer from emotional abuse and avoid being at home as much as possible, often skipping meals to do so and walking long miles to get to the safety of Teen Central.

I know which of you have learned to ‘play the game,’ becoming a different person depending on the group you’re in so you can better navigate the moods at home.

I suspect which of you are physically abused based on the long sweatshirts & jeans being worn in our sweltering high-humidity, 90 degree Ohio summer days.

I stand on the sidelines, wanting to help you break out of the violence and poverty that has been your life, but unable to do so when the college financial aid dance becomes too complicated and life on campus alone without the support system so many people take for granted gets too scary. Home might not be great, but at least it’s familiar.

I help when and where I can. But too often, I know you so well but am not a big enough presence in your life to help before it’s too late. I hear things through the grapevine; so-and-so’s back from college, they’re pregnant, he got shot. Social workers, parents, teachers – they’re told things. People let them know when tragedy strikes. But no one thinks to tell the teen librarian – she hears about it on news, stalks people on Facebook who neglect their privacy settings, desperately seeks information online.

Lately, colleagues ask me about Pokemon Go, if the kids are excited about Suicide Squad, if they care about the new Harry Potter book. I give these answers, but what I really want to know is what I’m supposed to do with my memories of the smart, hilarious, and sassy girl who left me a note on my desk two weeks ago just to say ‘Hey girly miss you lol’ after I haven’t seen her in months who shot her father last week.

What can I do for a former teen who is so smart and  been through so much who got shot in a botched robbery attempt, losing a lung and nearly dying in the hospital to infection? I was a wreck that month, but thankfully, he pulled through. Now he’s finding it difficult to get back to school to finish his double-major of chemistry and physics, what with his new disability and the knowledge that his shooter was allowed to walk free due to no evidence outside of his word.

How do I respond to a nineteen-year-old that I’ve known since I started who is excited to be a father but is panicking that his girlfriend might want to terminate the pregnancy?

I don’t know what to do for a teen who summons up the courage to tell her mom that she suspects she’s suffering from anxiety and depression and wants help then gets told to just get over it after laughing in her face.

I want to know how to help these kids get through more than a semester of college without the support system that I had.

I want to be as big a part of their lives as the knowledge I have about them, but I don’t know how. I know so many of these kids, give them a safe place to grow and explore and figure out who they are, and yet, nine years after starting, I still don’t know what to do about this big stuff. It hasn’t become any easier.

My life as a teen librarian is filled with gaming, the latest book-to-movie adaptation, lots of noise and tons of nerdy, awesome laughter; I know that. And I know that that’s what most people think of when they hear the phrase ‘teen librarian’. But my life is also filled with so much frustration.

My heart hurts.

Thursdays at Main: A different take on programming…

the guys


I do apologize for the silence around here, but it’s been an interesting year for me. In previous years, I’ve held one big event most months (say, 8/12), then had an anime & TAB meeting on two different Saturdays, and occasionally had a weekly hang-out or game night.

But back in spring of 2014, when we were already thinking about the fall (summer obviously already planned), I knew that I just could *not* deal with Smash Bros for two hours every week any longer. (BWAH BAH NAH NAAAAAAH! NAH NAH NAH NAH NAAAAH! I was starting to hear the theme in my sleep), so I decided that although we’d continue to have weekly events (they would be here anyways, now that I’d trained them to come each & every Thursday), we would do different stuff every week.

It… has made for an interesting year, and a very different approach to my programming than I’ve done previously. Why?

– My crew is mostly guys right now, and has been since the fall. I don’t really know why – the events I plan aren’t particularly gender-specific (we watched TFIOS with 15 guys and 3 girls). So while most other libraries tell me their teen events are populated by middle school girls, I now not only get primarily high schoolers, but guys as well. I don’t understand why – there’s no secret that I’m aware of.

– The guys, and even the girls who do come, do not want to do crafts. They’ll all make t-shirts and do coloring sheets, but not crafts. My craft closet is suspiciously full.

– I’ve had to seriously re-think how I spend money on programs. Whereas in the past I’ve spent a decent amount of money on that one big event and next-to-nothing for a weekly hangout (to be fair, I have a VERY generous budget [Thanks, Supportive Director & Board!], but I have to make sure I now have enough money to get food and the occasional craft and prize for the 10-40 teens who attend every week. I know, it’s a fabulous problem to have, but still. More teens = more food (and more cups/bowls – those things add up!), more supplies, and just more ‘stuff.’ My teens are hungry, and also bored, and Thursdays at Main is sometimes the only time they get to hang out together. They expect it to be fun, each and every week.

And you better believe they let me know when it isn’t.

Fascinatingly, besides (usually) remembering that the first Thursday is Game Night (for which we purchased a shiny new Wii U and Smash Bros, thanks for our Friends), they never have ANY IDEA WHAT THE EVENT IS. They take SO MANY flyers, but they just don’t know. Sometimes I have teens who come for that specific event, but the core group of 10-15? Nope. No idea. They just know that it’s Thursday, and so they’re here. Usually right after school – and we can’t get into the room (due to computer classes) until at least 4:30. So it’s noisy from about 3-4:30 down in Teen Central, then we finally take the noise upstairs to our meeting room until about 7:30. There are frequent trips to and from Teen Central for books and to the Circle K down the street, but yeah. Lots of teens here on Thursdays. I’m always reminded of the scene from High Fidelity: “They just started showing up every day. That was four years ago.”

So what have we done? Some examples:

– Monthly game nights, featuring the occasional tournament. We’ll be bringing back Minecraft in the fall once a quarter.

– Movie nights, sometimes with a featured food item (we made sundaes in January to watch Frozen, PF Chang-type lettuce wraps for Chinese New Year while we watched BOTH Kung Fu Panda movies, and made cotton candy [like the clouds?] when we watched & cried through TFIOS), and always with coloring sheets.

– Movie Premiere Parties: Maze Runner featured ‘Maze Races’, wherein I printed increasingly difficult mazes and the first to finish each one got a big Airhead (they LOVE those things!); Insurgent featured watching Divergent while they drew tattoos on each other and made t-shirts.

– Some featured events, like the annual Love Stinks Chocolate Fest and the Nightmare on Mahoning Ave, our Halloween party, still went as usual. I just made sure to schedule more less-expensive events (such as movie nights) during those months to save a bit of money. We also hosted the Ultimate Teen Challenge and threw a SuperWhoLock Party, both of which I’ll write about later, that were pricier than some of the others.

– We had a really excellent Retro Game Night, where I had the teens play old Sega games on our PS2, dragged out my husband’s old Dreamcast so they could play the original Soul Calibur and Crazy Taxi, and got out a few laptops and loaded up Oregon Trail (spoiler alert: most of them HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD OF THIS. I highly recommend this! And yes, they all died, much to their confusion, of dysentery.) I’m definitely doing this again.

– We hosted a few nights where the teens shared favorite Youtube videos, to varying success. They all might watch videos, but they watch very DIFFERENT videos, and when they were watching something they didn’t like, they were incredibly vocal about it. You had better believe that we had lots of conversations about rudeness, respect, and overall decency.

What I’ve found, even more than in past years, is that these teens cannot just watch a movie. They can’t just sit and do a craft. All of the programs have needed to be multidimensional, whether it’s the TV cart in the corner with some games available, a variety of board games and card games (Munchkin has been a big hit with my teens) for them to play during the movie or Youtube videos or whatever, and they need the freedom to talk and enjoy each other’s company. They still want something to be happening, but they are also perfectly comfortable sitting in the corner with a few friends seemingly ignoring what’s going on. It’s an interesting need, but I’m glad I can provide it.

Oh, and an outlet. Which is probably why they’re in the corner, but yeah. They have to have a place to plug in that phone.

Click here for the quarterly flyers of our weekly events so far!

[edit] As of March 2016, we’ve reverted back to a weekly game night with one monthly special event. Why?
1. In the fall, our attendance exploded and we have 30-50 kids each week, no matter the event. This, in turn, made the special events (especially the fandom events) much less special for those teens who came because they love Supernatural – most of the teens in room were just there to hang out with their friends, not to enjoy the special things I’d planned. There’s nothing worse than doing trivia that you’ve spent a good chunk of time preparing for a room filled with kids who have no idea what you’re talking about.

2. It was becoming exhausting, coming up with new stuff each week. And since we have SO MANY kids each week now (I am fully aware that none of you feel any sympathy towards this), I couldn’t do some of the more special stuff, since it’d get too expensive to do a $3 craft with 50 kids. And frankly, I MISSED doing big special events; finding the perfect craft or game.

3. No one ever watched the movie for movie nights, which kind of defeats the purpose.

4. All they want to do is play the consoles. It didn’t matter what the event was; every single week, without fail, they’d ask, ‘Is the Wii U going to be up there?’ I’d blink at them incredulously and say, ‘No. It’s a movie night. Why would the Wii U be on if we’re watching a movie on the screen?!?’

So now we’re back to Game Nights. We purchased an XBox 360 and a variety of games, and we have three consoles going plus board & card games for two hours. It’s worked pretty well so far – everyone seems happy to either play the games or just hang out. Happy teens, much less stressed out teen librarians = happier teen services.

The Love BITES Chocolate Fest

This year, I'm hosting my SEVENTH Chocolate Fest. SEVEN! It's completely crazy to me that I've been a teen librarian now for seven years. I'm also in my very first rebuilding year, but that's a topic for another time.

The Chocolate Fest continues to be my most popular event – last year we had over seventy teens come. What shocks me about this event in particular, though, is that I get the largest variety of kids at this event, and that's why I don't mind that this is also by far my most expensive program.

With the Vampire Academy film being released the same week, & many of my teens being HUGE fans, I knew I needed to do something. But after doing five Twilight films, I really wasn't feeling doing yet another vampire program (nor did I really want to read Richelle Mead's novels. They might be really fun, but I'm personally kind of vampire-d out). So! The Chocolate Fest this year really BITES, and we're adding a few vampire elements to our usual mix of chocolate & break-up song videos.

  • Everybody will get vampire fangs when they walk in.
  • I'll have mini Vampire Academy posters for everyone (I just print these out)
  • We'll do some vampire trivia, with books, movies, & lore
  • All the chocolate stuff will be red – strawberries, chocolate covered cherries, etc
  • Red fruit punch!
  • I'm on the look out for the just the right craft this year. We've done mini voodoo dolls two years in a row now, so I think I might do something along the lines of a vampire kokeshi doll, a bottle necklace of “blood,” or the vampire bite necklaces.


    Feeding teens

    Photo by altair toyZZ

    Unlike almost every other level of programming at the library, we teen librarians nearly always must have food. It’s simply not a question – these kids are hungry! I take it up another notch simply because a lot of the teens that come to my 6:00 program often come straight to the library after school without a snack – & some of them didn’t even get to eat lunch. Same goes for Saturday programs – they show up right after breakfast at 9:30am & then stay all day, sometimes without even a dollar to go grab something from Burger King.

    But here’s the thing – you can serve something other than pizza. For some reason, pizza seems to be the default food offered to teens, but personally, I find it cost prohibitive! The only program that gets pizza is the Teen Advisory Board, & that’s $25 with delivery & tip for three mediums. If I did that for my big programs… let’s just say we’d be doing a lot less of them!

    I’d like to encourage everyone to think outside the box & offer something different to their teens, especially if, as I’ve found, feeding these hungry creatures can get rather expensive fast!

    My weekly program gets a snack – usually either pretzels or animal crackers, although sometimes they get cookies instead. It’s usually about $1.50 to 2.00 to feed 15-20 of them each week – I rely on the Target generic section for their goodies.

    Our anime club usually gets pocky, cup o’noodle ramen, or rice & nori. Three of our annual programs for this club involve food, though, so that’s easy – candy sushi, bento boxes, & the ramen noodle eating contest.

    As for other events, it usually depends on what’s going on. For Breaking Dawn, we had wedding cake. Our Chinese New Year’s Party had the teens eating well with dim sum, fried rice, & oranges. We serve hot dogs at our Summer Finale Party; at Hunger Games they’ll be eating granola bars, trail mix, beef jerky, apples, & other “survivalist” type stuff.

    But even I fall into the trap of cheap food – thinking a bag of chips is the cheapest way to go when the $3.99 to buy the big bag of Doritos could have been spent on a bag of apples instead. Going into the future, I’m definitely going to try & expand my mind on what we could spend our money on. Sandwich platters? Party packs of tacos? Veggie trays? We had nachos at an event last year, & they LOVED that – salsa, cheese, & chips from GFS was definitely less than the $25 pizza order.

    Let’s feed these teens something new & think outside the pizza box! What ideas do you have?