Category Archives: Advice

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

    Tips on Working With Teens: Do not try to be cool! You are not cool – and never will be!

    If you were cool you may never have become a librarian, we are never cool but we ARE completely awesome in many other ways!

    Cool is by nature exclusionary – and the library is used largely (but not exclusively) by uncool kids – the geeks, outsiders and young people that want a place where their bullies may not think of looking for them. If you exude coolness it may scare them off as only cool kids mingle with cool people.

    If you target the in crowd first you will limit the growth of the group to those that are in their favour and the library group may become just another clique where the outsiders are marginalised.

    Be a geek, this is easy as almost everyone is a geek these days, be your natural slightly odd self – most of the best librarians I know and spend time with are painfully uncool in all the best ways; they are also magnificent when it comes to working with young people.

    Eventually the library teens will accept you as one of their own and start trusting you and your suggestions on what to read and do!

    Being uncool you will not be a threat to the cool kids and they will eventually take pity on you and talk to you. Once the first one starts talking the others will eventually come round and start engaging

    One of the perks of being uncool is that kids will feel secure enough to laugh with you and, at times at you but you will be their librarian and they will trust you and love you for as long as you are there!

    Once you have done this you will have started transcending the cool barrier, the kids you work with will eventually start saying that you are cool (it may take a year or so)but you must remind them that you are not cool – you are AWESOME – as is everybody that uses the library! When teens realise that they are awesome they will finally start realising that cool is not really that cool.

    Tips on Working With Teens: Be to Them Who You Needed When You Were a Teenager

    One of the first things you should do when working with teenagers is think back to your years as a teen.

    Remember what you went through, the unfairness of being young and perfect and not being understood by grown ups who were never young like you. Think about the challenges you faced, what you needed to get through those years

    While the problems that young people may have changed and multiplied over the years their needs remain pretty much what they were when we were that age:

    • Someone to listen or give advice
    • A reliable adult figure
    • Be a friend but remember that you are also a figure of authority
    • Be encouraging and supportive but always be honest
    • Sometimes just being there when you say you are going to be there is all that is needed, you may not be needed for a deep heart to heart – just your presence may be enough
    • Be consistant – you are working with teens through choice or by nomination, do not blow hot and cold with them or you will alienate them and once that happens they are lost to you!

    This list is not exhaustive, they are just some things that I have used over the years, if you have others please do not hesitate to share via the comments!

    Tips on Working with Teens: Props are Important

    Props can be broken down into three categories:

    Active, Passive and Inbetween/Interactive props

    Active 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.

    Passive props

    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.

    Library of the Living Dead

    This is brilliant!

    Staff at McPherson College’s Miller Library in Kansas, USA, have produced a library guide in graphic novel format, Library of the Living Dead. Intrepid bearded librarians extinguish a horde of zombies, teach something about the Dewey Decimal system and demonstrate the value of library and information lore in the process.

    Available to download as a pdf here