Category Archives: Advice

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.

Teen Librarian Challenge

Local government will again be the biggest loser on Wednesday as the chancellor, George Osborne, unveils £11.5bn of overall spending cuts in 2015-16, an end to automatic pay progression, and a further round of public-sector job losses.

Between 2010 and 2016 most library services will lose 30% to 40% of their budget. The extent varies, but few organisations can take a hit in their budget of that size and carry on unchanged

If you have followed the links above and have been keeping track of the austerity cuts over teh past few years then you will be aware of the perilous state libraries are in and have been in for a few years now. Every part of the library service will be affected by the new cuts that are coming up, we all know colleagues that have lost their posts due to cuts and that is set to become more severe.

So, I am issuing a challenge to everyone that works with young people in libraries. Ever since starting Teen Librarian – the newsletter and the blog over seven years ago I have asked readers to share ideas for library-based activities aimed at encouraging teenagers to engage with their libraries (public and school). To date a number of librarians have contributed some really excellent ideas that I have shared.

If everyone sends in at least one idea of events they have run in the past then it will be possible to create a series of events that can run for over a year.

We are all in the same boat – we have more demands on our work time, less time to plan events, budgets if we have them are being stretched to breaking point to cover everything we do.

So if you have ever run an event for young people in a library then send it in. If you have ever had an idea about a library-based activity for teens and young readers then we would love to hear about it. If you have ever run a library event and have it go horribly wrong then please share – ideas that do not work in one location may soar in others.

Everyone that sends in an idea or activity will receive the credit, if several people send in the same or similar ideas, credit will be shared. If you wish to remain anonymous then that is what will be done.

Starting from the next edition of Teen Librarian Monthly and on the website I will be rerunning articles about events that may spark new ideas or even be dusted off and reused and I would love to run new ideas as well!

This will only work if everyone shares – the idea you send in may help a colleague on the brink of despair, it could spark a teens love of reading or case a teen group to form in a library under threat of closure due to lack of services.

send your ideas to me at:

YALSA: Teen Space Guidelines

teenspacesThese guidelines were created in 2011 -2012 by a task force of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) with feedback from the library community achieved through a public comment period in the fall of 2011.
This is a tool for evaluating a public library’s overall level of success in providing physical and virtual space dedicated to teens, aged 12-18. Potential users of these national guidelines include library administrators, library trustees, teen services librarians, community members and job-seekers hoping to assess a library’s commitment to teen services. Not every element of the guidelines may apply to every public library situation, but the guidelines can serve as a place to begin the conversation about what constitutes excellent public library space for teens.
Click here to read the full YALSA Teen Space guidelines.
The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) is a national association of librarians, library workers and advocates whose mission is to expand and strengthen library services for teens, aged 12-18. Through its member-driven advocacy, research, and professional development initiatives, YALSA builds the capacity of libraries and librarians to engage, serve and empower teens.

Tips on Working with Teens: Bribery & Corruption are OK!

There is an old(ish) saying that goes “You get nothing for nothing!”

That can be adapted for attracting teens into your library or teen activity/reading group. As librarians we know the pleasures that reading brings, some teens are also aware of this – these are the ones that will come to the group anyway. Reward the group members – a big bag of Funsize Mars Bars is a relatively inexpensive way to do this. The idea is not to broadcast that there will be freebies but surprise the attendees towards the end of the first session.

Teenagers talk to one another, and when word gets around that they can get sweets /chocolate and possibly win cool free stuff in the library then their friends will start coming along. The good thing about readers is that their friends are also not averse to picking up books when the need arises. Teenagers are busy people and often need a reason (or excuse) to attend something that may cause them to lose face in the eyes of their peers.

The nature of the group will dissuade all but those most determined to get free stuff and those that are attending because they love reading, manga or whatever the group focus is (also those that may need a reason to eb there but can’t admit to liking books). It is a good idea to institute group rules – the first rule of reading club is that you must talk at reading club, if it is your first time at reading club you must talk, talking can be about books, magazines or any printed material.

Depending on the size of the group one bag of Funsize mars bars can last for a minimum of two group meetings. You do not have to use Mars bars if you have a manga group you can pick up a bag of White Rabbit sweets, Pocky has become unbelievably expensive compared to what it was a few years ago and I only use it for prize giveaways these days.

Over the years I have found that many group members may come for the freebies, books or magazines but end up staying for the community spirit and being with like-minded teens who enjoy what they like.

Once the group is established you can hold random giveaways if you are able to source freebies, these can include proof copies of books, interesting things that you pick up at conventions or cheap, shiny things that you can pick up at pound stores.

Organising Author Skype Visits

Hosting a virtual author Skype visit is a lot easier than you may think, all you need (apart from a willing author at the other end of the Internet) is an Internet-enabled computer, the Skype VOIP program, a webcam, a microphone and for best effect an interactive whiteboard to project the image onto.

Skype is freely available to download for all major operating systems, you can download it here and you can pick up a microphone, speakers and basic webcam for under £20. The biggest problem that colleagues that I have spoken to in the past have had was being able to access Skype through their work computers. The only way to get around this is to cultivate a good working relationship with your IT team, or, failing that, speak to your manager or senior leadership team and ask them to speak to teh IT peaople for you after making a really good case as to why you need it.

The Internet has made the world smaller than ever and with many authors now having embraced social media, more and more are willing to go on an international tour without leaving their home.

Finding an author willing to virtually visit your school or library is as easy as going to the Skype an Author website.


  • Make sure you have or can get Skype before booking an author
  • Test your Skype account the day before the event
  • If you have booked an author in a foreign country make sure you both know the times you are going to hold the virtual visit
  • Check that the webcam and microphone are working before the day
  • Have a member of teh IT team standing by just in case
  • Tips on Working with Teens: Do NOT Touch the Librarian

    This one is known as Mr Imrie’s first rule, and I put it in place for two reasons – firstly I am over 6 feet tall and fairly bulky, the last thing I want is to have someone scream “Oh my God! That monster what is he doing to the children?”

    I have had that particular phobia ever since the incident where I picked up my cousin’s daughter in Curry’s to prevent her from toppling an expensive television and she screamed the place down, fortunately I was able to find my cousin and give her back before anything happened which in my mind was being picked up by the police for attempted abduction and deported.


    It is the one boundary rule from which all others are established. As long as they follow the rule it shows they are actively thinking about engaging with you, it also building an almost subconscious level of respect. Eventually it becomes almost second nature and while they may recognize you as part of the library group they are also aware that you are apart from the group. In one of my previous libraries one of the teens introduced her friends to me by saying “This is Mr Imrie the Librarian, do not touch the Librarian, no-one is allowed to touch the Librarian!”

    Anyway, back to the tip. One of the things I have learned about teens is when they are in a group they can get very huggy – and they can be indiscriminate in their hugs. Glomping has been known to occur.

    I have only been hugged twice since starting working in the UK, the first was when one of my teens left the group to go to university, she hugged everybody and ambushed me and ignored my cries of “No touchy the librarian!” It was a bit embarrassing as I had some colleagues visiting the group from another local authority and I had been telling them about how I had been running the group. The second was after a group meeting and I was waiting at the bus stop and some of the kids were waiting nearby and started chatting to me about where they were going on their holidays when their bus arrived one of them hugged me to say goodbye then almost missed her bus as she started apologising for the hug and was worried about me getting into trouble at the library.

    A friend of mine set up his rule by establishing his personal bubble space through mime and then saying “This is my bubble you are not allowed through it!”

    Personally I prefer the Emperor’s New Groove approach

    I do that whenever anyone tries to hug me, or looks as if they may be heading that way. It helps avoids awkwardness and can sometimes get a laugh.

    There are a couple of exceptions to the no touch rule, these are either if someone wants to spud you (fist bump) or give you a high five. I can be persuaded to spud occasionally but never high five.

    EDIT: Barry Lyga has a good post on working with teens from an author’s perspective: Remember that they’re kids