Bless Matthew’s soul. The dude (an allowable word if you live near the sea – I do.) totally came out of left field when he mailed me and asked me to contribute to his blog. (Which I hope my superiors never ever read or else I might be subjected to the Managerial Finger Twinge. See my blog for what that means. Plug)
He asked me to list what we’re doing in teen services in our libraries in Cape Town, South Africa. Also, to discuss the services in our libraries and to mention anything in particular I have done in my library (in Cape Town, South Africa).
I think my initial response to curl up into a foetal position and stay there until he went back home was probably the best and least painful response. But then, I wouldn’t be a Public Librarian in Cape Town, South Africa, if a little pain was going to be the issue. And although he doesn’t know it, he’s the one who set me on the path to Comic Books and YA ‘stuff’ evangelism. (Stuff here being a technical term that I use interchangeably to make me seem more intelligent. So far, I don’t think it has worked, but it’ll do in pinch). So I, in the total dude sense of the word, owe him. (I still use his method of preparing Graphic Novels for circulation).
So, what happens from here on can thus be firmly blamed on Matthew. What I hoped was a short little paragraph, turned into something *shudder* anecdotal and slightly personal even. I couldn’t tell you about my experiences with YA “stuff” if I didn’t give you a little bit of background first about me, the Public Library Service in Cape Town and finally, elves bearing gifts.
And it all started with comics and Graphic Novels….
Comics get old-school librarians’ backs up. (Think of every horror movie you’ve seen where the plucky heroine/hero sees the big bad in all its horrible glory, now times 10.) As a reader of Comics and lover of the Comic book medium I couldn’t let that stand.
So, with the fortitude of a young librarian who has not been broken by too much shelving and my trusty power point presentation, I decided to change some minds by presenting a fair, unbiased view of comics to librarians in Cape Town. The emphasis being that there is NO downside to stocking four colour pages of pure unadulterated joy (be they Marvel, DC, Batman, Superman or even Sandman) in their respective libraries.
The biggest public library in Cape Town asked me for selection criteria and a list of recommended Graphic Novels for their shelves. It was a vindication for me on many levels which was only eclipsed by the findings of a Canadian educational and psychological study 3 years ago, that stated quite simply: Comics were good for you. Period.
(The YA ‘stuff’ comes in about now. Thank you for bearing with me.)
The perfect demographic for comics in public libraries are teens.
That’s what I told my librarian colleagues and that’s what I believe (and all the scientists and educators agreeing is just gravy). The plan was to get teens excited about reading and keeping them at the library week after week, to grab Comics. Then, when the opportunity presented itself, to slip in a YA novel and hope like hell I didn’t undo this well nurtured enthusiasm.
The plan played out in my library without an issue.
I convinced my boss that it was absolutely crucial, to the point of the world ending, that we needed the teen section front and centre, so it’s the first thing you see when you look towards the English fiction section. She needed little arm twisting when I asked for regular buys of YA books.
And then I did the unthinkable.
I started talking to THEM, and I asked the staff to do the same.
If you want to court controversy, ask a public librarian to hold up the queue to ask a teenager if they really want to take out that book as oppose to these three books in the same series, that might or might not be something they might like and then casually mention the Girl falls in love with a Vampire that wants to eat her.
At the time (and now still) this sort of one on one marketing helped despite no organisational mass marketing tools. Even though most times we received no visible reaction from teens at the desk, the lending stats on titles that we ‘pitched’ told a different story. Still, what we needed was a magic push to get bodies back through the door and short of teleporting a whole lot of teenagers against their will and giving them a ‘read this or die’ ultimatum, nothing could really provide that push we needed.
That all changed when a Mormon lady decided to write about a girl with a vampire and werewolf fetish.
If you would ask any public librarian in Cape Town what the significance of Twilight was for our libraries, they would have said something along the lines of:
”It was just another popular fad book.” (Or, “junk”).
This is true. (Except for the junk part though).
It didn’t have the market awareness and GIGANTIC fandom that Harry Potter had but I believe it still left a lot of public librarians wrong footed because suddenly girls AND BOYS of the Teen persuasion were coming in with their parents. The unseen demographic suddenly got seen and YA sections in public libraries in Cape Town, tucked in their corners, out of sight (and out of mind), suddenly had a whole lot of bodies hanging around them looking for the this Twilight “nonsense”(or so-called “junk”).
What followed was:
Thoughtful customer orientated libraries (the good ones) bought the books in good numbers and supplied the hungry masses, while other libraries approached it from the “let’s wait and see” or “if we ignore them they’ll bugger off” approach (the bad ones). The exceptional libraries realised they had an opportunity and moved their YA sections into the light, bought similar titles, and new authors, marketed them (with home-made posters and an overabundance of glitter) and gained consistent numbers in the YA demographic.
This bore fruit when South African novel Spud by John van de Ruit crossed over from adult to teen reading. In libraries it rivalled Twilights’ circulation numbers. This was due to the word of mouth generated by YA readers, who were now all talking about the books they were reading. The YA demo was staying with intent to loiter and read.
What Twilight wrought, was a clear indication that YA readers and the Teen demographic, when mobilised by whatever they craved so intensely, could have wonderful positive effects on circulation as well as shape market trends. (The impact on literacy levels and comprehension levels was something no one tried to find out, but, I’d like to believe it was positive.) It also helped that they were vocal about what they wanted to read next, which in my library’s case was a clear call to meet demands to get the YA horde to stay.
Some libraries took that momentum and used it to cultivate a readership, but others let the tide ebb. YA readers not seeing the books they wanted, left. Or that’s what my colleagues believed. But they were in for a shock when the tide came back in with The Hunger Games. A handful of libraries stocked the book before a movie was even announced, promoted it and used it as carrot for keeping YA readers in the library. So when the wave hit (again), a demand could be met because the exceptional libraries have staff members dedicated to ensuring the YA section is stocked with appetising titles. Unfortunately, in even the exceptional libraries, this staff member usually has to shout very loudly to be given a fair hearing.
Sometimes, in public libraries popular can be a four letter word.
At present I believe we are at a tipping point in our public libraries.
The YA ‘stuff’ is not going away despite some of my colleagues’ best efforts to not care. The short sighted need to still believe in the “preservation of the library” against so called unworthy material is censorship, plain and simple.
Nothing exists in a vacuum. The deeper significance is ultimately not so deep: we keep pushing away a customer base in a time and place where we can’t afford to. Doing so, when all available data indicates that people are reading less, opting for alternative methods to get their bibliographic fix and buying fewer books due to high prices, is tantamount to negligence.
You see, the stuff of YA ‘stuff’ in Public Libraries in Cape Town, South Africa is one of potential that is for now unfulfilled. The why of it is particularly complex and terribly involved and would in effect require a full time study, 3 bags of ice, a best of Barry Manilow compilation and red bouncy ball. Since the budget is simply just not there at all, I have taken a stab at explaining the whole thing and have decided that the reasoning for the (non)state of YA services is in fact:
Reasoning, the First.
What the Public Libraries lack in Cape Town is an effective marketing tool/methodology/magic wand to market the material that sits on our shelves. The drive gets channelled to other pursuits that are equally worthy: reading, comprehension and basic literacy but effective marketing would have a positive effect on those initiatives as well. (And the City’s Public Libraries footprint on social media is about the size of an ant’s indentations across a block of butter. But I can’t say more: Managerial finger twinge.)
The skill (be it technological, biological or mineral) to take a book, track its market potential, communicate to users about its merits and allow users to comment and interact just isn’t there.
The thing is, we are good enablers of reading but what we are crappy sustainers.
What that means in not so indistinct terms, is that we’re reacting to what our patrons want and not being proactive.
The difference being: that 15 people will have to ask for 50 Shades as oppose to having it waiting when person number 1 walks in the door.
Reasoning the Second:
Imagine this sort of reactive behaviour applied to YA books/services and a demographic that at the best of times is tolerated in a Public Library/ies.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that NO YA books are bought for and by libraries.
Not at all.
What I am saying is that YA books in public libraries in Cape Town end up in libraries because;
If you wondering, the last reason is the one that public libraries in Cape Town should use to buy YA books.
The hard realisation which I am trying to soften with all these snarky asides and failed attempt at humour is that YA services in Public Libraries in Cape Town, don’t exist.
It’s a hard pill to swallow. The Library and Information Services Department’s specialised groups have been established along lines of Children’s and Adult Interest groups amongst our librarians. YA has a small representation in the children’s groups but not in any meaningful sense. These groups generate a lot of genre based content ranging from reading lists, all the way to developing basic marketing strategies but none seem to touch on the specifics issues or needs of the YA demographic.
Instead, what we have is more like a movement that exists despite the uninterested that seems organisationally hardwired into the existing work structure. (Any more explanation about that and I’d be shot.) There’s a movement of public librarians within the Public Libraries in Cape Town, who not only keep in touch and recommend and talk about (lament) books, but also try to persuade, cajole, wheedle and just plain nag the Powers That Be to give a little ground about starting a YA interest group, developing better marketing tools and branding for libraries and its services, making eBooks available for cell phones and getting the Public Library “Institution” seen on Facebook, Twitter and Mxit. (Something the Local Authority wants to prevent with all their might).
It’s not ideal, but grassroots movements have been known to foment great change, and we wouldn’t be public librarians, Cape Town – South Africa, if we didn’t think we could try.
…and Elves bearing gifts: Just say no* .
*Thank you Terry Pratchett. Just because.
Props can be broken down into three categories:
Active, Passive and Inbetween/Interactive props
Active props are those that you can use to initiate conversation with a teen or group of teens, these can be books, magazines or things as simple as a sign up sheet for a group activity.
A book is perhaps the easiest and simplest prop to use. If you are new to the library you do not want to go out brandishing a book; the first thing to do is find out where the teens lurk in your library. These days it is usually the Teen/YA area. You need to be in that area before the teens arrive, working not just loitering as (unless you are a teen yourself) hanging around a teen area can give the wrong impression. Once they have gotten used to your presence and started treating yu like part of the furniture you may be able to pick up on their interests and reading habits. The next time they come in to the library you can have a book in your hand that tallies with what you gleaned from their activities previously and when they start chatting you could insert yourself into their conversation with a “If you like that then you may enjoy this!” and showcase the book. Even if they do not take the book you will at least have been able to initiate conversation which can make things easier in future.
A piece of paper can have many uses, firstly it can be used to take notes after you have said something along the lines of: “Hi I am [insert name here] and I am the new Teen/Youth Services/ Young Adult Librarian and I am hoping to run clubs and activities for young people in the library, what sort of groups would you like to see here?” Then you could either jot down what they say, or give each of them a sheet clearly marked with a space for names and ideas.
These are generally things that you wear or can have on your desk or around you if you are working in the Teen Area. They can also be more exciting and in some cases unique.
The most successful passive prop I own is a Domo-kun lanyard that I used to use to hold my library name badge, there was a massive manga reading group of young people that used to come in and when they saw it they invariably asked where I got it, and, could they have it?
More recently I have become the proud owner of a Mockingjay pin; now that gets a lot of attention – from teens as well as adults who are in the know, I have received the usual questions as to where I got it and can they have it, not only that but I have created a dystopia novel conversation group in my library based on a single pin (and the multimillion advertising for the movie and the books).
Hats can work as props, but are more limiting indoors, clothing can also be used but depending on the dress code where you work your mileage may vary!
In-between or Interactive props
These are props that fall somewhere between Active and Passive ones, they can include musical instruments, games consoles and even plush furry toys.
The furry beast is a prop that I used infrequently and mostly when one or more of the kids I worked with were upset – giving I teen a hug is just about acceptable for a female librarian but for a male member of staff it is the sort of thing that can get you reported for improper behaviour, but having something plush for them to cuddle until they feel better is a lot safer all round.
My ukulele has attracted a lot of attention in my current library as I take it in to practice during my lunch break but games consoles will give you an automatic audience no matter where you are!
Any number of props can be used to engage with young people, especially if it is something that you are personally interested in or know a lot about. They do not have to be big or expensive – cheap and cheerful items work just a swell as long as they are eye catching then that is all you need.
In a slightly different timeline than ours, the explosion of information and misinformation came to be considered a direct threat to society. In a daring decision, it was decided to create a new government agency dedicated solely to information management. Some thirty years later, in 2019, the government still monitors and controls information, suppressing anything they find undesirable, but standing against their abuses of power are the libraries, with their special agents called ‘the book soldiers.’
This all sounds really familiar! Suppressing information, cutting access to books and people think it only happens in fiction! Guess not – who knew that manga could foretell the future?
I like the idea of being a Book Soldier, the first shots in defending Libraries and access to books are being fired as we speak. Do we as librarians that work with young people have a duty to educate our Teens on how to protest the cutting of the EMA, provision of addresses of MPs, during the reading groups and activity sessions should we be able to run letter writing workshops to Parliament to protest the cuts. I am working on a how-to create a ‘zine programme that I will post up here soon, maybe even a workshop on protest sign making.
The youth are already rising up, I think we have a responsibility to guide them on how to do it safely (and legally)!
You can grab Library Wars from Amazon here or ask at you rlocal comic or speciality bookshop.
The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation (ICDL Foundation) is to support the world’s children in becoming effective members of the global community – who exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas — by making the best in children’s literature available online free of charge. The Foundation pursues its vision by building a digital library of outstanding children’s books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children.
To create a collection of more than 10,000 books in at least 100 languages that is freely available to children, teachers, librarians, parents, and scholars throughout the world via the Internet. The materials included in the collection reflect similarities and differences in cultures, societies, interests, lifestyles, and priorities of peoples around the world. The collection’s focus is on identifying materials that help children to understand the world around them and the global society in which they live. It is hoped that through a greater understanding of one another that tolerance and acceptance can be achieved.
To develop a greater understanding of the relationship between children’s access to a digital collection of multicultural materials and children’s attitudes toward books, libraries, reading, technology, and other countries and cultures.
To collaborate with children as design partners in the development of computer interface technologies that support children in searching, browsing, reading, and sharing books in electronic form.
To provide a platform for operational excellence that insures the Library grows in strict accordance with it strategic priorities and in a manner that leverages its outstanding human and intellectual resources to achieve the Library’s mission of reaching as many children as possible with the best of children’s literature.
Plymouth HeadSpace project – a place where young people 11-19 can read/listen/surf/chill every Tuesday night.
A group of 15-19s HeadSpace at Efford Library recently hosted their own James Bond themed night called Bond James Bond. The library became the Casino Royale for the evening! The group were made over by professionals and took part in a glamorous photo shoot for the local Evening Herald newspaper. After the photo shoot we took part in a quiz hosted by Q, played Poker and chocolate roulette. This is a link to the article on the Evening Herald website and there are more photos on the Plymouth Libraries Flickr account.
– Library trolley dash –
Find as many books as you can from this list.
Write the title and Dewey number underneath:
An award-winning story
A book you read at primary school or at home
A guide on a sport of your choice
A 2006 Dance CD
A DVD you would recommend
A guide to speaking a European language
An autobiography of a famous person of your choice
The group will be divided into two teams. The winner will have the most books and Dewey numbers on their sheet and will receive a small prize.
The second e-mail concerned the creation of a new discussion list that has been created for the discussion of Graphic Novels in UK Libraries – it is based upon the GNLIB list in the USA but will have a UK bias.
To join the list go to: GNLIBUK – it will be an invaluable resource as so much of what is available has an American bias, it would be good to get an idea of the state of GN reading in UK Libraries.