Today was one of the days that we had enough staff that I could be spared from my branch for an entire day, which hardly ever happens anymore.  So I was able to conduct more class visits than usual at one of my local high schools — a bunch of morning classes all in a row, then enough time to scarf down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the librarian’s office, then another class in the afternoon.  Then I came home, ate some more food, and promptly fell asleep for three hours.  Now I’m all woozy and disoriented, trying to get fully conscious again so that I can do things like catch up on all the email I didn’t have time to write all day.


I did have several positive experiences today.  I mean, just getting to visit this school was positive in the first place.  First their librarians were all “excessed,” and then their school library was closed for several years, so just getting my foot back in the door was great in itself.  The library hasn’t had its “official” opening yet, so it still looks lovely and the kids were all impressed by how roomy and spacious it was (a bunch of dividing walls had been removed since the last time I’d visited, it has all-new furniture, etc.)  And the kids were well-behaved and enthusiastic about the books!

Oh, and my most heartwarming moment of the day was during the third or fourth class just after I’d just finished presenting my booktalks.  The kids were all milling around looking at the books when one of the girls said, “This is the first time I’ve ever been hyped to go to the library!”

That brought me a flash of the happiness I needed to lift my spirits and restore my energy.  And so of course I grabbed my iPod so I could write that down and record it for posterity.  Positive comments from teenagers are sometimes few and far between, so it’s always a good idea to write them down.

My boyfriend just called to see how I was doing.  The last time he called I was still in bed and my brain was still in the mushy stage.  He pointed out that the way my classes had been scheduled — four periods in a row before a break — was against the teacher’s contract.  I said, “Yeah, but I’m not a teacher and I’m not under your contract.”  He said, “Now you see why teachers can’t be scheduled for more than three periods in a row!” and I agreed with him while I was still yawning.  Still, though, it’s a big boost for my statistics that I’ll be visiting a dozen classes like this, even if I do feel like a wrung-out dishrag afterwards.  Oh, and I’ve also been invited to speak at the library’s “official” opening ceremony, which will also help my statistics but will be WAY less labor-intensive.

Okay, I’ve got one more day of class visits followed by sleeping tomorrow.  Then just morning visits after that, and getting back into a “normal” work routine.

Off to catch up on reading and email and stuff …


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The State of Children’s Literary Blogs Today

I Work at a Public Library: A Collection of Crazy Stories From the Stacks

Yesterday I went back to work where the day was pretty much normal, except for once or twice when I talked for too long of a stretch at a time and then started having a coughing fit.  At which point I had to run into the office to drink some Vitamin Water and take a lozenge.  [Note to library patrons – I’m sorry that my 30-second answer to your question was insufficient.  But does rehashing the same question over and over again until I’ve stretched that 30 seconds of talking into 5 minutes of talking really help ANYONE, in the long run?]

Today was a much busier day.  First, I spent the morning doing opening procedures at the branch while regaling my colleagues with some of those “annoying patron” stories from the day before.

Then I went to my local middle school where I’d scheduled visits with several 7th grade classes.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the teacher of my 11:00 class said that I shouldn’t come because they were giving a test that period.  Well, maybe I won’t say “surprise” as much as “dismay and disappointment.”  Unfortunately, in the many years that I’ve been visiting classes in schools, this kind of thing happens a lot.  For whatever reason — last-minute schedule change, administrative decision, or bad behavior on the part of the students — I’ve been told multiple times that I’m not going to see the class that I scheduled time away from my library to visit.  Part of the problem was that I’d already met several kids from this particular class at my library, and I’d promised them that I was going to see them this week to talk to them about books and help them get their fines cleared.

After a few minutes of tense negotiation between the school librarian, the assistant principal, and the teacher, I was allowed to speak to the class for 15 minutes instead of my usual 45.  Which means that I only got to fulfill half of my promise; I got to talk to them about the fine-clearing program, but had no time to talk about my suitcase full of books.  *SIGH*

Oh, and as an aside, it seems that the test the students were taking today (and which their substitute teacher only learned about this morning, for reasons that defy logic), was the newly-instituted “measure of student learning” test.  The way my boyfriend explained it to me is that this is a pre-test that will be compared to a second test that will be given at the end of the year, and that a big piece of the teacher evaluation will ride on the improvement between these two scores.  So … isn’t it in the teachers’ best interest to have students do as badly as possible on this first test, so that they’ll show remarkable signs of improvement the second time around?  Just wondering.  Anyway, I guess I don’t feel so bad that the students had less time to take the test today.  Perhaps it’s part of a larger plan, or the greater good.

Anyway, after my shortened session I had some time to kill, which I spent in the school library trying to be inconspicuous (even though some of the kids recognized me).  Then I went to speak to my second class, which started off a little loud and rowdy but I soon discovered was full of constructive energy rather than destructive energy.  They were attentive and enthusiastic enough that I had time to talk about 8 out of the 10 books I brought with me, and after they swarmed over my books and my handouts at the end of the class, I was filled with a very warm feeling that I had actually done some good and inspired an enthusiasm for reading.  Then I left the classroom and rejoined the school librarian, who asked me how the presentation had gone, and I told her that they were my favorite class I’d visited.  She said, “Really?  That’s our WORST class!” which I guess is why it’s sometimes better that I don’t go in with high or low expectations and just try to evaluate each class for what it is at that moment.

Anyway, then it was time for lunch, then desk time, then a teen program where I had to raise my (barely-repaired) voice a few too many times because the kids were getting a little boisterous.  I dunno … does trying to get your friends in a headlock count as “boisterous”?  So the program ran long and I got out late, but then I came home and my boyfriend and I went out to dinner.  Where I regaled him with wacky stories about my day.

Tomorrow should be a pretty normal day, with just one program in the afternoon.  Then starting next week … more class visits!  Where I can inspire audiences with my booktalks!  Be a celebrity!  And get some frigging job satisfaction!

Okay, I can shoot down your first two theories by saying that NO, I don’t wear cat-eye glasses and NO I don’t wear my hair in a bun.  But if my activities today were any indication, I’m definitely in the right profession.  Today I did the following things:

  • I took way too much pleasure in the fact that one of our local truant kids was dressed down by our security guy.
  • I met with a school librarian to talk about future class visits … and gripe about our respective budgets …
  • I helped patrons find science fiction books, graphic novels, and Hispanic-American biographies.
  • I told kids to stop running and stop eating.
  • I spent part of my “behind the scenes” time working on a horror-themed booklist for my library’s website.
  • I had a conversation with one of my colleagues about buying cardigans.

This blog post has been a long time coming.

I actually came up with the title of this post several months ago, as I was trying to find the words to express the highs and lows of working with this particular age group.  The highs are few and far between, but when they DO happen they are so sweet that I cling to those memories with a ferocity that is both poignant and (to be honest) a little bit mental.  The lows can be so frustrating that they leave me questioning my career as a whole, or at the very least wondering what’s the point of having a summer reading club kickoff if not a single participant shows the slightest interest in actually READING.

More on that in a moment.

One of the best things and one of the worst things about teenagers is that they will often speak to you without filters.  This has led to statements as uplifting as “You rock!” and “That was so cool!  Where did you learn to talk about books like that?”  It has also led to statements as painful as “I’m not saying you’re fat or nothing, but … are you pregnant?” and “Oh my God!  You’re older than my mom!”

Some of my favorite interactions with teens since I’ve been working as a young adult librarian have been when they’ve asked me for my opinion on a subject that touches their lives.  Sometimes these conversations happen in settings that I expect, like when I’m having a Teen Advisory Group meeting composed of some of my best and most thoughtful kids who are all gathered around a table for the purpose of talking and listening to each other.

But sometimes these conversations happen in unexpected places, like in the middle of a gaming program in which I’m multitasking between making sure the players are playing fairly (read: not cheating, yelling, or hitting each other), making sure that the other kids in the room are behaving (read: not making out, yelling, or hitting each other), and listening to a podcast through one of my earbuds while I check my email on my iPod Touch.

It was in this setting about a month ago that one of the girls who regularly attends the games program suddenly called across the room to me, “Miss, why would a boy who’s a high school senior keep dating much younger girls?”  I’d been watching her conferring with a girlfriend for the last five minutes, so I gathered that this was an extension of that conversation and that they’d been talking about one of their classmates.  I took out the earbud, closed my email, and gave the girls my honest opinion.  Well, I kind of had to yell my honest opinion, since we were across the room from each other and there were several boys playing a video game between us.  But the point is, after several months of attending my program, she’d come to the conclusion that even though I was an authority figure who spent way too much time in “bossy” mode, that I appeared to have a brain in my head and/or a sense of humor, and that it might be worth asking my opinion on one of life’s great mysteries.

NOTE: Actually, it’s really not all that mysterious.  It’s a similar principle to the “big fish in a small pond” theory that I apply to teenagers who keep trying to hang out in the children’s room after they’re clearly too old to be there.  It’s a lot easier to impress someone younger, and it’s a lot easier to fool someone younger.  At least, this is the conclusion I reached when I dated a classmate my freshman year of college, I broke up with him because he was a frigging mental patient, and he then proceeded to date a string of high school girls.  Because apparently, it took them longer to discover that he was an immature, unstable, and emotional screwup.

Not that I’m still bitter, or anything.

Anyway, I gave the girls a condensed version of the conclusions I’d drawn from my own tragic dating history, and they seemed suitably impressed.  I’m sure they continued to discuss this boy and maybe they’re STILL discussing him, and I hope that my words helped them to see this boy from a different perspective.  After all, age and experience have to be worth SOMETHING, right?

Teenagers at the library are more likely to smile, and laugh, and say over-the-top things like “This book changed my life!”  They’re also more likely to show up at the library wearing fairy wings (“just because”), or offer me a fist bump, or come at me like they’re going to hug me …

Well, that’s when I get to make a split-second decision.  If it’s a girl who I’ve developed a bond of trust with, then it’s okay.  If it’s a boy who presumably wants to test my boundaries / wants to distract me from noticing his friends who are hitting each other / wants to cop a feel / wants to show off to his friends / etc.  then the answer is a definitive NO.  Or, as I expressed it to the last boy who tried it, “Nice try, Bright Eyes.  It ain’t gonna happen.”

So there are the positive interactions with teens that fill my heart.  The times they laugh at my jokes, or tell me how much they enjoyed my presentation to their class, or talk to me about the books they love, or ask me questions about real-life issues (mostly about boys, but sometimes about other things, too) and then they LISTEN to my answers.

And then there are the negative interactions.  By which I mean …

God help me …

it’s now time for me to share the story of MY MOST DISASTROUS SUMMER READING CLUB KICKOFF PARTY EVER.

So I’d spent a lot of time getting the room ready.  Rearranging the furniture, setting out free books, preparing handouts, putting out refreshments, setting up a laptop for online registration, and preparing a raffle.  Then the program started, and the first boy showed up.  Which, frankly, was weird, since it’s usually girls who come to my book-themed programs.  Then another boy showed up, and another boy, and another boy, and another boy, and another boy …

This was a momentous occasion, Dear Readers.  I have NEVER, in almost 20 years of public librarianship, had a reading program attended by all boys before.

And on a related note, the next time I complain that I don’t have enough boys come to my reading programs … please remind me of this day.

Anyway, every time I tried to start the program, some new distraction happened.  One of them took too many cookies, and the other boys started yelling at him.  Then one of them kept leaving the room to see what his friends were doing on the computers outside.  Then another one left to use the bathroom.  Then another one left to see where the other boys went.  Then two of them wouldn’t stop giggling.  Then one of them took out his foam dart gun and started shooting the other boys with it.

Most of them had the attention spans of hummingbirds (or is it goldfish?  Which species remembers less?)  I started talking about the badges they could earn on the summer reading website, and one of the boys said, “Badges? Where???” and started pawing through everything on the table as though I’d hidden them beneath the bookmarks.  When I referred to myself as the young adult librarian, one of the boys (the one with the shortest attention span, who was of course the one with the foam dart gun) interrupted me and yelled incredulously, “Wait … you’re YOUNG???”

So, yeah.  THAT was a highlight.

So I was getting to the end of my rope when one of the boys who’d been running in and out of the room came in and told one of the other boys that they had to leave, so then they asked if we could do the raffle early.  I walked up to the raffle box to discover that one of the boys had had enough mental faculties to write his name down on a piece of paper, but had apparently spaced out on the “then put the paper in the box” instruction.  I also decided to double-check a sneaking suspicion that was nibbling at the back of my brain and confirmed that yes, one of the boys (the one with the shortest attention span) (the one with the foam dart gun) (the one who thought it would be ironically HILARIOUS to refer to me as “young”) had put his name into the raffle box multiple times.  What a gem!

So we had the raffle, and the winner walked off with his prize (a Plants vs. Zombies hat that my boyfriend’s daughter had picked up at a convention and donated to my program).  And I tell you, Dear Readers, not ten seconds had passed after the raffle was done before one of the boys (I’ll let you guess which one) yelled, “CAN WE GO NOW?”

I looked at the clock, I looked at the boys, and I said, “Yes, I think that’s a good idea.”

As they left, I called out after them, “Next time, we’re going to talk about books you’ve read lately!”  But I’m pretty sure that my words fell on deaf and disinterested ears.

I have high hopes that this week’s program will go better … by which I mean that more girls will come, and that those boys will find something more constructive to do.

My boyfriend just sent me this link.  It’s just what I needed to pick up my spirits after a long day at the library!

While I was working as a librarian trainee I enrolled in library school, and library school was a mixed bag of practicality.  Some of the assignments were ridiculously out-of-date, like the ones requiring us to use reference books that were nearly impossible to find anywhere in the city EXCEPT for our college library.  And they only carried those books because our professor was inordinately attached to them, and had fond memories of using them in the Cincinnati Free Library BEFORE I WAS BORN.  And then there were the assignments requiring us to use Word Perfect, even though Microsoft Word was already being used everywhere, even at the public library that was notoriously slow to keep up with new technology (hint: before our computer upgrades last month, we were all still using Word 2003).

Then there were some assignments that were more practical, and that tied into stuff that I was actually doing and sources I was actually using at work.  We would learn about cataloging, and booktalking, and conducting programs for children and teens.  But there was one assignment that I still remember to this day, and that I cite as something that helped me appreciate the importance of encountering a good librarian rather than a bad one.

So the assignment was this:  visit three different libraries and ask the exact same question the exact same way.  It shouldn’t be a short and simple question, like “Why is the sky blue?” but rather a question that is detailed and has several components.  Then write a paper evaluating and comparing the level of service that you got at each library.  (more…)