Friday, January 04, 2013

To Be Hip and With It

When I was teaching second grade, all the kids liked everything I liked: our collective favorite book was Lafcadio: the Lion Who Shot Back; our collective favorite dinosaur was the parasaurolophus; our collective favorite show was Between the Lions. These are kids who had to be issued pencils before each activity because they demonstrated they would hurt each other, but I'd mention Uncle Shelby and they'd all want to hear whatever weird story about him I made up getting ready that morning. Truth is, everything my class liked was everything I had liked as a kid.

This year, I decided to start following the #sharpschu book club, and read a few books of theirs. I have been in awe of Mr. Schu and Mr. Sharp's abilities to create these communities of learners in their schools; and reminiscing about a time when I had absolute power over kids' interests, decided to try to make this happen in my library. The first book was The One and Only Ivan. I really enjoyed the book, and according to the Twitter chat's log I read the day after it happened, a lot of kids like it too. So I decided: I'm gonna do this. I am going to Make This a Thing. I hand-sold Ivan like there was no tomorrow, trying to get everyone to check it out. By the end of the summer I should've been wearing a shirt with this image:

But, my efforts to Make This a Thing only proved to get it any check outs. At our library this book was checked out 7 times this year, which means it was on the shelf half the time. Two of the check-outs were staff.

There have been a few times that I've been able to hand-sell books to the masses, in the way that I-mention-it-and-suddenly-there's-20-holds, and these have actually been in scenarios similar to the classroom: a captive audience who may or may not use pencils as weapons whose job it is to listen to me.

Here's the conclusion I came up with from my personal case study (Your Mileage May Vary. I am in no way implying, by sharing my experiences, that they have been or should be the experiences of others.):
- My Classroom existed as a microcosm of kid culture. Regardless of what they like/watch/talk about at lunch/recess/after school, inside the classroom it's your show.I could definitely see doing Ivan as a two-week-long after-lunch read-aloud, and making dioramas in science, mapping out his trip in social studies, figuring out a gorilla's weight and how much food he needs in math. If I was into it, the kids would be so saturated that they'd be into it in spite of themselves, like watching the same commercial over and over.
-Our Children's Room exists inside kid culture. Kids come here after school, on days off, on weekends. They come to play Minecraft, read books, meet friends to play games. Last spring, I got my first kid patron asking for "Ninjago" books. First, I had to have him spell it, and second, I felt a sinking feeling that I am tragically un-hip. Finding we had nothing about this new word, I Googled it, only to find that it's a SHOW ON CARTOON NETWORK ABOUT LEGO NINJAS. Nothing in that phrase is unappealing to kids, and damn those show creators for being so kid-cultured. I found out there were books based on them, and ordered 5 paperback copies of the first chapter book, because they were $3.99 retail. By the next week, we had none left and 10 holds on them. I went and found out there were actually four separate ninjas with their own books, AND picture paperbacks AND graphic novels. I went on a buying frenzy of these, and only now are they catching up to demand and are back on the shelves (well, 3 copies of each; we lost 2 of each in the shuffle of Summer Reading).

Needless to say, I realized that in our public library, I need to be way more tapped into Kid Culture than I ever have been, except when I was a kid. Having no kids of my own, it's something I have do consciously.
So here are things I'm doing, and resolve to more of in 2013. Now, I haven't been working as a librarian for 2 years yet, so bear with me if they seem overly simplistic.

To Be Hip and With It: Resolutions
-Look for new shows on Cartoon Network, PBS, and Nick, Jr. so I know what the heck kids are talking about. Watch them (most are 15min long) On Demand when I can, so I get to know jargon, main characters and basic ideas.That way I can actually have conversations with kids about stuff in their world. The thing that has actually helped me a lot without me trying is that I have a working knowledge of professional wrestling, but I understand that there are rabbit holes too deep and filled with rednecks for some people. Luckily for me, I have questionable taste.
-Pay attention to kids' t-shirts. This is a sneaky but very useful trick. I would not have known Adventure Time existed had I not seen a kid wearing a shirt with Jake and Finn on it. They have chapter books coming out this year, too. I have a make-shift window display that's based on the show, and I'm baffled that I can't find an Adventure Time library program online (probably more teen-oriented, natch; the characters are cute but the humor is more middle/high school) especially since one of their episodes is entirely based in a library.
My successful Angry Birds program came on the tails of our teen librarian's Angry Birds program, once I saw how many little kids actually like it. I hardly knew what I was talking about but the kids still loved it!
-Tap into the knowledge of colleagues with school-age kids. A member of the YS team has two sons who are really into reading, who attend public school, and she's very active with all the kids at their school as well as any kids they ever went to school with and all the kids they've ever encountered at church. When it comes to kid stuff, she's a great bank of knowledge. It's always helpful to me when she shares what they're reading and if they like it, as well as being able to say, "here's what I'm thinking about doing. Do you think kids will come?" The downfall of this is kids grow up, and soon her power will be left for the teen librarian.
-Build programming around books kids ask about all the time. Our most successful kid programming since I've been here has been in the form of Wednesday-ology, Professor Garfield, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, because these tuned kids directly into the characters and books they were already looking for. We got to encourage check-out of related books too, in the hope that each kid can find something cool. This spring, I have on deck month-long weekly series based on the Guinness Book of World Records/Ripley's Believe it or Not books; and another based on Mythbusters. Since these will be a fun way to get some STEM programming into after-school, I'm looking forward to see how these go.

Okay, I don't like making lists of more than four, so that's what I have for now.
Do you have any sneaky tricks to help with kid programming, display, and collection development? Share in the comments!

**Edit: want some ideas for keeping up with your teens? Check out this great post at Beth Reads!**


  1. I do all of these things too! Also, I listen to what conversations they have with each other. And seeing what toys are displayed prominently (like on endcaps) at stores around holiday season. Like I really don't understand what a Skylander is, but I know they're hella popular (at least here) because they were all over the place.

  2. Yep. This is what was stressed at my presentation at the YA lit symposium. It may very well be popular culture but you still have to be attuned to what YOUR community kids are reading and asking about. No matter how often I hand sell them, the Star Wars origami books here do not do well. They sit and sit. You're right on the mark.

  3. Amy, I have to thank you in advance for posting your ninja party last year, because we are making it into a Ninjago no-school day party, and I expect approximately 5 million kids. I'll blog about it afterward and definitely link back to you.

    Sarah-- you're right, every library is even different! My kids passed through the anniversary of Titanic like NBD, no asking for all the awesome books I ordered for it, but lots of other libraries even had programs!


  5. Weirdly enough, Pound Puppies made a modest comeback in 2010:

    Pretty sure that means I should schedule a movie program showing The Legend of Big Paw:


  6. I added some donated Care Bears movies a few years ago and they were HUGELY popular. Mostly parents getting them for their kids I think, but quite a few younger kids knew them.

    I've found that building strong relationships with kids really helps. They simple adore educating the unhip librarian on what's cool and popular!

  7. I liked this post so much I did a teen version of it on my own blog.

  8. Thanks Beth! I love your ideas. I'll update my post to link to yours!