Category Archives: Advice

Teenagers at Risk

I had no idea what to call this post but eventually settled on what it is now, the first in what wil be an irregular series of posts.

I have been thinking about how dangerous it is to be a teenager today, well since teenagers have been teenagers – too old to be kids but also too young to be considered adults and often driven to dangerous and often foolhardy acts to prove themselves.

These thoughts were brought to the top of my mind by two stories involving teenagers that have been in the news lately. the first being the body-shaming of Billie Eilish:

Billie Eilish Shares Video On ‘Real Bodies’ After Body-Shaming Tweets


The ongoing saga of Claudia Conway the daughter of former counselor to Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway and George Conway, co-founder of the Lincoln Project, who has been thrust into the national spotlight as a real-life version of Katniss Everdean who will have a hand in bringing down the President using social media:

15-year-old Claudia Conway broke the news of her mother’s COVID-19 diagnosis. Here’s how the teenager took over social media, from bashing Trump in TikToks to trolling her parents on Twitter.

Body-shaming is nothing new, there have been books written and movies made featuring this trope and with the ubiquity of social media and instantaneous video & text communication this has become more pernicious than ever, leading to consequences varying from leaving school to suicide. Billie Eilish has spent most of her career wearing loose, baggy clothes to prevent people from commentating on her body and the moment a paparazzi pic of her goes online she faces a barrage of body-shaming from people (adults) who should know better.

The story of Claudia Conway veers into yet more dangerous territory, when adults place the burden of saving the nation (or the world) onto the shoulders of children, thanks in no small part to the large number of dystopian young adult novels that show adults abdicating their responsibilities and leaving their children to take up arms to bring down corporations and governments.

The two teens I mentioned are high-profile individuals, the first thanks to a relatively short (so far) but phenomenally successful career as musician and singer/song-writer and the second due to having a very public falling out with her parents who are near the epicenter of power in US politics.

What freaks me out is that this is becoming normalized, with people saying things like “They should have known the risks” or explaining away the attacks as being part and parcel of life in the public eye. It has not escaped my notice that these two examples are both young women, thanks to the inherent sexism of the world in which we live women usually bear the brunt of attacks. That is not to say that men are immune, teenage boys are facing increased risks of body shaming and internalized body dysmorphia.

What can we do to combat this? Watch what we say and challenge friends and colleagues who place the burden for saving the world onto the next generation, it is not up to them to fix our errors and problems, we have to start doing that if we have not already. It is up to us as adults and responsible human beings to prevent children from becoming child soldiers; while it may be exciting to read about teens taking up arms to defend a world that has failed them, these works often gloss over the toll fighting and killing can take on a person’s psyche and afterwards, the dangers living with PTSD can bring.

That is not to say that we need to stop stocking such books, but we must remember that fiction is just that – fiction, and while it is exciting, we must not use such materials as guides for the future, but rather warnings of what could happen if we let it.

A Parent’s Guide to Black Lives Matter

Yoopies UK the childcare platform, has put together a family-friendly resource guide for parents about the Black Lives Matter movement from a British perspective; with contributions from both white and BAME writers.

This guide shares resources (films, podcasts, books etc), advice, and tips to ensure that children are aware of racial inequality, racial hierarchies, and white privilege present in modern-day society, as well as share some knowledge to help combat racism today.

The guide can be downloaded here:

Self-care Reading List

Librarians & library workers need to practice self-care as we focus on adapting the work we do around stay at home orders and mandatory closures for the coronavirus. It is a stressful time for everyone and burnout is another very real threat! I personally am very bad at self care so I have been reading up on how to do this! These are some of the websites I have found useful in this regard:

Library Freeconomics

This post is an adaptation of a training workshop I gave last year for the SLG based on my experiences of working with low to no budgets forcing me to improvise and find alternate ways to gain skills, experience and books and other useful materials.

Getting free stuff for your library may seem like a pipe dream, for as people have been saying since the 19th century There is no such thing as a free lunch – this is true, but not universally so.

Ideas, co-operation and assistance:

One of the misconceptions when it comes to obtaining free stuff is thinking in tangible terms. While they are essential, it is impossible to overstate how important advice, ideas and guidance can be. With training courses getting more expensive and out of reach of library staff that cannot be released or afford courses being aware of networks of colleagues where you can pick the collective brain and share your own experiences with others.

The largest group for School Librarians is the School Librarian Network, started by Elizabeth Bentley, this is a mailing list of librarians who offer experience, support and a place to chat and vent if needed:

The Heart of the School is a website set up and run by Caroline Roche to celebrate and showcase the work of school librarians in the UK. The site is a rich mix of examples of best practice and ideas that can be used and adapted by librarians across the country:

Lastly my own site Teen Librarian is a mix of ideas and programmes that can be used in school and public libraries as well as an array of downloadable content that can be freely used and adapted, from card games to posters and lesson plans. You are here now so once you have finished reading this incredibly interesting post take the time to rifle through my archives and see what takes your fancy!

Looking Online

Project Gutenberg

With the near ubiquity of smart phone use among students and a range of apps that enable smart phone owners to read e-books on the go Project Gutenberg is a veritable goldmine of over 53 000 public domain books that can freely and (more importantly) legally be downloaded in a variety of formats, including .azw (Kindle), .epub (all other e-book readers), pdf and html for (online reading).
These books can also be read on tablets, computers and dedicated e-book readers.


Librivox exists to make all books in the public domain available, for free, in audio format on the internet.

Free Posters

Latest Free Stuff is a website that catalogues free materials from a variety of sources, one of their sub-sections deals with posters. It is always worth going through what they have as the posters are a mix of educational and public interest.

The Secret Book Company Poster Freebies:

TeenLibrarian also has a range of downloadable posters, take a look here:


Bloggers & Blogging

Make friends with local book bloggers as they sometimes look to give away excess books to local schools and libraries.

A quick note on request etiquette (this is important): it is incredibly bad form to contact authors and publishers out of the blue to ask for free books for your library. Authors are almost universally sympathetic to the aims of school and public libraries but their stock of books is not infinite. Writing is a career that for most does not pay incredibly well plus you will make them feel guilty for saying no and even if they want to help, they may not be able to. It is the same for publishers, publishing is a business and a business that gives away its product will not be around for long.

If you wish to approach publishers and publicists you should think of it as a transaction, why not start your own review blog or work with students in your reading groups to review books and post reviews on a school reading blog. Publishers do lookout for perspectives from teenagers about the books they publish.

It is a good rule of thumb to not ask for more books that you or your group can reliably review in good time.

Blog platforms


Entering competitions is a good way to acquire new books for your library, some competitions (particularly on twitter) are rapid fire not giving you much time to enter but not all of them are like that. Some give you a day or days to enter or provide links to sites such as rafflecopter where you are able to enter. Most social media sites are used by authors and publishers to run competitions, the most popular are below:

Some publishers run giveaways in their monthly/weekly email newsletters. If you are a member of CILIP then you can sign up for membership with the Youth Libraries Group – their monthly newsletter has some of the best giveaways I have ever seen.

With regard to social media giveaways (particularly twitter) it is considered bad form in some quarters to run a competition account – basically having it solely for giveaways and competitions. I have found (with twitter) that the friendships I have made, the links I have built and networking opportunities I have gained far outweigh the competitions I have won (but I will not deny they have been really good).

The UK Library Freecycle group is still very new but over time will grow into a clearing house for librarians and libraries looking to get rid of things that others will have a use for.

Use the Damn Library!

Dear Teachers

Now that the summer holidays are fading into a dim and distant memory and you are facing a school year full of students, teaching, marking and meetings. You probably feel a faint dread deep in your gut that you may be on your own in this! Sure you have fellow teachers, but they are facing challenges identical to yours!

You know that you have to provide information to your students and find resources to use in your lessons, if you are a new teacher you may have to create these from scratch and if you are an old hand you may feel that what you have already may need refreshing or updating.

If you feel overwhelmed or are not sure where to turn then may I make a suggestion?

Many schools still have Librarians on either a full or part-time basis! Apart from shelving books, cataloguing and making sure that students do not destroy the place during break times the Librarian can:

  • Offer you resources to support your lesson plans – all you have to do is let the Librarian know what your information needs are for the year
  • Make space available for a break-out lesson in the Library, not just providing space but also assisting students in researching using books and online resources too
  • If you do not have the time or opportunity to bring your class to the Library, the he Librarian will happily put together a box (or more) of books and other resources and deliver them to your classroom ahead of the lesson (it does help to give advance notification and not five minutes
    before the lesson starts)

  • Provide a quiet place if you are feeling overwhelmed; while Librarians no longer do the shushing thing we do keep raucous behaviour to a minimum.
    Libraries offer all these services and more! We are also able to customise the library offer to your needs, all it takes is a quick visit and chat to let us know your requirements.

    To those of you that do use the Library thank you and please introduce your colleagues to this fantastic service and to everyone else what are you waiting for? Join hundreds… nay thousands of your colleagues that are already in on this awesome offer and USE THE DAMN LIBRARY!

    All the best

    Your Librarian

  • How to Raise a Reader

    From the moment you’re expecting your first child, you are bombarded with messages about the importance of reading. For good reason: The benefits of reading at every stage of a child’s development are well documented. Happily, raising a reader is fun, rewarding and relatively easy.

    A guide from The New York Times by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo:

    How to Raise a Reader


    An introduction to the scourge of plagiarism using the current disagreement between Shia LaBoeuf and Daniel Clowes as an opener and going on to look at what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

    Setting up a Dungeons & Dragons group in my Library

    At the end of the last school year I was approached by a group of students who asked me in a very roundabout way if I knew about Dungeons and dragons and if I had ever played the game and would I maybe be interested in running a Dungeons & Dragons game for them at some point this year.

    I had been thinking about a D&D group for a while but had become stuck on how to advertise it, as working in a faith school I have always been a bit cautious of doing things that could get me if not burned at the stake outright then at least accused of evil doings and leading children down the paths of darkness and that sort of thing is not fun (if you have not experienced it trust me on this).

    So anyway I had been hankering after starting a D&D group and then out of the blue one of my colleagues said these magic words to me: “My son has a Dungeons & Dragons box that he no longer wants, would you like it for the library?
    Two weeks after that the aforementioned group of students came in and showed me the character stat sheets that the father of one of them had made years ago.

    Sometimes the stars just align in your favour…

    But wait! It gets better, I have another colleague who I know visits Forbidden Planet and The Orcs Nest and we were chatting about games and gaming and I mentioned my plans for a D&D Club at school, and he says: “I have a bunch of D&D figures that I no longer use if you want them?”

    So yes I am starting a D&D Club at school after half term!

    However it will not just be gaming and character creation, I am going to get the kids reading and not just the monster manuals and Forgotten Realms novels no (although I will be pushing those at them too). I am aiming at the kids that shudder visibly whenever I thrust a book in their direction. Here is a handy hint if you have any library users that refuse to pick up anything made from dead trees – webcomics, all of the kids that have a professed dislike of reading spend ages online during breaks and before and after school reading things that interest them, so I thought if I can hook them on gaming comics I will be able to introduce them to the print editions once they have gotten into the story-lines.

    This is a list of some excellent (free) online comics dealing with gaming and Dungeons & Dragons:

    The Order of the Stick


    Table Titans

    Goblins the Comic (often has extreme violence)


    Dork Tower

    Will Save the World for Gold

    Looking for Group

    Table Titans is very good at introducing beginners to D&D and gaming in general, the site also contains amusing stories from gamers about quests that often went horribly wrong.

    If you are considering becoming a dungeon Master (or games Master) take a look at this post for beginner ideas:
    and the Teen Librarian Gaming Special Edition for at least some of your library gaming enquiry needs.

    Tips on Working with Teens: Failure is Always an Option

    Today we live in a very risk averse society – it has been this way for a while now, I can still remember when I suggested starting up a teen reading group soon after I started work in the UK, I was told that it was not a time for growth in the teen service side and rather I should focus on supporting existing groups as I was not a member of the children’s team and if my attempt failed I could destroy any chances of a future group being started in my library. Fortunately with the support of my line manager I was given the go ahead and started laying the groundwork for the launch of a new teen group.

    For two months I chatted to the teens and other young people that came in to the library, I gave out leaflets and parental permission forms for addresses and then posted out invitations to the launch of the group. About 12 or so teens came in to see what was up and were hanging round the library to see what happened. As the hour sounded some of the kids asked me what was going to happen, I told them it was for a teenage reading group – it was the fastest clear out of a library I have ever seen, they recoiled in disgust and ran for the hills.

    I was distraught, after sitting in shock for about 15 minutes and whimpering softly to myself; I stood up, dusted myself off and with the help of two colleagues rounded up some of the teens who had not bolted too far and with the promise of snacks and drinks lured them back into the library. Over some small cans of coke and a bag of mini chocolates we spoke about what they would activities they would like to do in the library, which authors they enjoyed reading and how we could tempt them back the following month.

    In just over three years I built a teen group that had around 70 active members – they did not all come every month (average attendance was about 40 per session) but it taught me how not to go about getting a group started.

    Failure is not always bad, it can teach us what does and does not work in a particular situation. My initial failure led me to finding a way to connect with young people that I may not have discovered had the initial group activity (centred around The Matrix Movies and comics and books centred around the concept of mind control) worked.

    I have tried other activities that have not worked with the various groups I have worked with over the years some have taken on a life on their own while others have withered away.

    Do not be too concerned if a brilliant idea has failed to gain traction in a particular environment or with a specific group – it does not mean that it is a bad idea it just means that that it does not work with that group or it may need a bit of tweaking to get it right. If it does not take in a different situation put it on the shelf for a while and reuse it in a different context or offer it to colleagues in other areas as it may prove to be successful with them.

    Fear of failure can lead managers to ask staff to go for the safer option of starting a reading group or a manga group but not even those are guaranteed to succeed – by all means go for those options if you are unsure but do not be afraid to tailor those to the interests of the kids that use the library and attend the group, it may fail but it may succeed beyond your wildest hopes! All that failure means is that you have found something that does not work in that particular library; and by then the teens will have started talking to you and that gives you the opportunity to try something different with them!

    Do not be frightened to try something new with the kids you work with, it may well work and if it doesn’t it will still give you something to talk about with them and offer other avenues of engagement. Once you have a few teen successes under your belt it gets easier to try out new ideas, both your own and ideas from friends and colleagues! Another plus of failure is if you do fail you can use the experience to learn new things – about yourself, your library and the teens you are working with.

    Remember: failure to try is not trying to fail – it is failing, not just yourself but also the kids in the library and that kind of failure is the worst kind as it teaches you nothing!

    Teen Rights in the Public Library

    As of now the staff of Ontario Public Libraries are my heroes!

    “Why Matt why?” I hear you cry, “Why are those crazy Canucks your heroes?”

    Let me tell you why! Have a read of this:


    Young people are valuable members of our library community who deserve the same respect, dignity and human rights as all library members. This document provides a framework for developing library services to teens that meet the educational, informational, and cultural and leisure needs of young people in ways that are developmentally appropriate.

    Each public library has a different community to serve and therefore different priorities and needs. although specific services for teens have not been well established in all libraries, these goals are created in the belief that young adulthood is a unique life stage and that young adults are entitled to the same quality of library services offered to other age groups in the population. (adapted from the IFLA Guidelines for Library Services for Young adults, 2006 and the YAlSA Guidelines for library Services to teens, ages 12-18, 2006.) the goal of library services for teens is to assist with the transition from children’s services to adult services and to provide access to both resources and an environment that meets the needs of young people for intellectual, emotional and social development.

    Teens in Ontario Public libraries have the right to:


    The library establishes clear policy statements concerning the right to free access by young adults to library resources and information sources; and respect for the rights of young adults to select materials appropriate to their needs without censorship, the library’s teen collection, policies and services should be consistent with the concepts of intellectual freedom defined by the Cla, ola and Ontario human rights code.


    The library integrates library service to teens into the overall plan, budget and service program for the library. Library service to teens is integrated with those offered to other user groups.


    The library incorporates funding for materials and services for teens in the library operating budget and ensures there is equitable distribution of resources to support programs and services for young adults.


    The library provides a wide spectrum of current materials of interest to young adults to encourage lifelong learning, literacy, reading motivation, and reader development. the library endeavors to develop collections that encourage leisure reading, support homework and school success and responds to gender and cultural diversity. the library provides unfettered accessto technology including social networking, licensed databases, and other online library resources for teens./ o p l a 23


    The library provides identifiable spaces for teens that are separate from children’s spaces where possible, reflects their lifestyle and allows for teens to use this library space for leisure or study, either independently or in groups.


    The library promotes friendly, positive, non-biased customer interactions with teens, providing staff development and training and ensures that services for teens embrace cultural and gender diversity and economic differences. Library staff will endeavor to respect the teen’s need for privacy and non-judgmental service and assist young adults in acquiring the skills to effectively access all library resources and become information literate.


    The library fosters youth development by providing programs for teens that contribute to literacy, life- long learning and healthy youth development. The library endeavors to provide volunteer opportunities for helping others through community service hours including participating on library advisory Boards, and other projects that help develop a sense of responsibility and community involvement. The library’s teen services initiatives are effectively managed according to best practices in the field of Youth Services.


    Library staff is knowledgeable about adolescent development and age appropriate resources for young adults inclusive of those with special needs. The library provides services by teen specialists as well as by others who are trained to serve teens.


    The Library works in partnership with other community agencies and organizations to support all aspects of healthy, successful youth development.


    All this and more can be found in The Ontario Public Library Association Teen Services Benchmarks and Statistical Report 2013. There is a lot we can take from the report so take the time and read it and maybe pass it on to colleagues and friends who may have an interest in teen library services.