The Library: The Ultimate Resource for At-Risk Teens

By Melissa Perkins, MLIS, M.Ed.shutterstock_790842256

Teenagers really haven’t changed that much over the decades. No, really! Even in these modern times, they’re still fighting acne, questioning established rules, craving acceptance, seeking entertainment, searching for purpose, and secretly yearning for sound guidance. Regardless of today’s youthful mastery over high-tech toys and tools, adolescents continue to need meaningful, positive relationships and learning experiences.

Over the years, many public organizations, private organizations, and agencies have assisted with the educational and social development of older kids. These groups have created special grants, projects, and organizations to help meet the developing needs of teenagers. So in the realm of young adult development, what role should the library play as a community resource? Is the library a place for teenagers? Is the library cool enough to attract today’s trap music-loving, selfie-snapping, Twitter-following teenager? Well, the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

Libraries still have what it takes to attract and hold the interest of young adults. In fact, this technology explosion we’ve been experiencing has made young people even more reliant on libraries. As the world becomes increasingly driven by data, software applications, and the Internet, those without the means to attain the necessary technology and communication services turn to the library for the resources they need. In underserved communities, where many teenagers are considered “at-risk,” the availability of technology via the library has become crucial.

However, access to computer workstations isn’t the only service that at-risk teenagers find useful and attractive. Many libraries located in underserved regions offer programs aimed at providing local teenagers with fun, positive, and productive activities and projects. The following are just a few examples.

Helping Incarcerated Youthshutterstock_709809799

Many of our at-risk youth are serving time in juvenile detention centers. And although libraries are often heavily involved in prevention and in early intervention programs, the “cradle to prison pipeline” trend continues to exist. Nevertheless, after kids have been placed in the custody of the justice system and the department of corrections, libraries can still play a role in the rehabilitation efforts that help these youngsters find a healthy path in life.

For example, in 2016, the Glen Carbon Centennial Library District in Glen Carbon, Illinois, established a successful Therapy Dogs for At-Risk Youth program for the Madison County Juvenile Detention Center. The library system partnered with the Got Your Six Support Dogs organization to create a program that uses therapy dogs—in conjunction with the library’s Great Stories Club activities—as physical and emotional support for teens at the detention center.

Nurturing Future Leaders

In addition to creating outreach programs for incarcerated teens, libraries support and strengthen relationships with those ambitious youngsters in underserved areas who are developing leadership qualities and skills. For instance, Queens Library in New York has developed the Youth-to-Youth Teen Leadership Council, which combines civic and community service with youth development. The Youth-to-Youth Teen Leadership Council provides 14-to-21-year-olds “positive ways to discover their voice, explore social-cultural differences and create lasting change within their community.”

Providing Digital Learning

shutterstock_763448002The Chicago Public Library has 12 branches that house and operate YOUmedia programs. YOUmedia Chicago is a digital learning space program for teens. The program focuses on teaching digital media and STEM subject content, while making use of Makerspace activities and projects. The kids engage in projects that can involve graphic design, photography, video, music, 2D/3D design, and STEM subject areas. The program provides at-risk youth with the opportunity to acquire new skills using digital technology to enhance their math and science aptitudes.  The program also promotes critical thinking skills and creativity.

Teen library programming is a significant component in manifesting a vibrant and effective public library. The following website links list several helpful resources for libraries looking to establish fun, educational activities and programs for the youth of the community:

Melissa Perkins - 2.5 x 3


Melissa has worked in an assortment of academic, corporate, and public libraries. One of her major passions is sharing the magical world of stories, information, and ideas with the masses. Click here for more.

Everyday Library Advocacy

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

shutterstock_1038850933They say there is no such thing as strangers, only friends who haven’t met—and the same goes for library users and library advocates. There are potential new ones all around you, every day. Several mentors in my career have talked about the importance of using everyday opportunities to make a case for your library or the concept of libraries in general. The simplest interaction could have a profound impact on someone’s life and expand the library fan base. With funding an ongoing challenge, we need a strong base of community advocacy and support to help keep libraries viable.

The good news is that, conceptually, libraries are an easy sell. Society tends to value equitable access to resources. But let’s face it: competition for funding is fierce among federal, state, and local infrastructure and services. And competition is also fierce in how the public chooses to spend its time and money.

Librarians need to be prepared to articulate value in any way they can to a variety of audiences, particularly non-library users. But conveying the library’s day-to-day value, particularly to the uninitiated, can be challenging. Elevators, public transportation, waiting rooms, cashier lines, filling out a loan or rental application… each and every time you are asked where you work or what you do is an opportunity.

When strangers I meet learn of my occupation, their reactions generally fall into a few broad categories. Some are immediately on board with platitudes: “I just love that I can download e-books for free!” Some are indifferent or irregular library visitors: “I used to take my kids there when they were young.” Others are struck dumb that libraries/librarians still exist or they have antiquated or bad memories: “Who needs books anymore?” or “You mean you get paid to do that?” We have our work cut out for us.

shutterstock_526073965There are lots of resources available to help you generate your own elevator speech and talking points. To the layperson, however, these can sometimes come off as too formal, rehearsed, and/or preachy. I prefer to think about library advocacy in terms of teachable moments.

We all know that the key to being a good conversationalist is discovering and engaging in whatever it is that people like to talk about. I often think about what kind of people I may encounter and what I could tell them that might be new or interesting about libraries.

Interactions involving any of these topics offer fertile ground to plant a library seed. Here’s how I choose to position the value of libraries with respect to particular topics, although there is no definitive right answer for any of them.

  • Caregiving—Free entertainment for all ages, through items to borrow and programs to attend
  • Sense of Community—Gathering with like-minded individuals through book clubs, knitting groups, author appearances, writing workshops, poetry readings, musical performances
  • Do-it-Yourself—Those great how-to books you see at the home improvement store are free
  • Education—Professional materials and books for the classroom
  • Health—Resources for diet, nutrition, cooking, exercise
  • Home Decorating—Paint colors and techniques, upholstery and textiles, accessory ideas
  • Hobbies—Perfect your skills, study up to decide on new pursuits
  • Literature—Informational, recreational, scholarly reading
  • Local History—Genealogy, rare books, census records, historic photos, yearbooks
  • Newcomers—Opportunities to engage in interesting activities or meet new people
  • Makers—Digital media labs and studio spaces
  • Minimalism—Access over ownership
  • Places to go—Libraries are one of the few free, open places where people can go without being confronted with expectation to buy
  • Saving money—Why buy when you can borrow or share?
  • Taxes—Anyone paying taxes should want to get their money’s worth
  • Technology—Those either permanently or temporarily on the other side of the digital-divide need to fill out on an online applications, apply for unemployment, print, fax, scan
  • Traveling—Country and state guidebooks, road trip guides, passports

This is just the tip of the iceberg. What can you add to this list?

Then there are always the tough sells. It pays to be prepared with some “pro” arguments to combat the “cons” associated with libraries.

How would/do you respond to the following?

“I don’t really read…”  Response: That’s okay, do you like to learn?

“I find what I need on Google/YouTube…” Response: But sometimes, don’t you need more?

“I can afford to buy my own books…” Response: But you could afford other things if you took advantage of free resources.

“I don’t want to wait for the newest book/movie…” Response: (Again, the money aspect…)

“I just go to RedBox…” Response: RedBox can’t match the library’s collection depth.

 “I don’t want to pay to park.” Response: It’s a small price, plus you’re supporting your local community.

Questions along the lines of “I don’t know what the library has…” or “I can’t find anything and don’t like asking for help…” are tough ones to respond to, and they reaffirm the universal need for library marketing and merchandising strategies.

Remember, not all battles can be won. Just try to give your audience something to think about. An impression of you as a person is also an impression of the profession you represent. Somewhere down the line, someone may simply remember that they met an interesting librarian, and who knows where that may lead?


For more information:–Not-Good-With-Elevator-Speeches-Try-Taxi-Chats.shtml




Before joining Brodart in 2016, Stephanie Campbell worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

Is Print Dead?

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

shutterstock_1031453560It goes without saying that most of us who work in libraries love books. What do we do, then, when people start sounding the death knell for the printed word? Some of us may be dismayed by the statistics about print that we read and hear, including the news release from Amazon that it now sells more Kindle-formatted books than those in traditional format. But the statistics do not indicate any clear death notice, and they fail to tell us the real story.

Let’s consider this.

It’s clear that those heralding the coming death of print never sat in on the university forecasting class taught by noted IBM business planner Ollie Wight in the mid-decades of the last century. Each of Wight’s opening lectures began with Wight stating, “Remember that all forecasts are wrong from the moment they are made.” And so it goes with the predictions about the death of print. These predictions seemed to take on a strident pitch with the emergence of portable electronic tablets more than a decade ago. These days, amidst the proliferation of electronic reference databases, downloadable library e-books, and the ease of hyperlinking, what thinking person wouldn’t wonder how soon the obituary of print would be—pardon me—printed?

I am struck by sociology professor and author John Thompson’s (“Merchants of Culture”) observation that “Few … challenges were foreseen in the feverish hype of the 1990s that the days of the book were numbered. Paper texts were clunky and old fashioned; digital versions were smart and sleek.” Many have jumped onto the perceived coffin of books, Pull-Quote-1newspapers, and magazines and enthusiastically heralded a new day. Indeed, yes, it is a new day—with many more to come for those of us who work in libraries. The rapid changes facilitated by technology will continue and the pace will become even faster than it is at the moment. However, does this mean that print will soon be dead? Perhaps not. When radio appeared, forecasters predicted that newspapers would disappear. The advent of television led to the same prediction for radio.

Going back to 1894, there was speculation that the (then) new technology of phonograph records (à la audiobooks) would bring about the demise of books. Earlier cries were that the newspaper would kill the book. Today’s newspaper, while certainly challenged, is still with us, as is the book it was going to replace. Except for high-end audiophiles, the phonograph record is dead.  So is its successor, the audiotape.  For some of its applications, print is in great decline. Think about reference collections today versus twenty years ago.

Humans, wired as we are by our genetic heritage, tend to like tactile objects. Gutenberg’s invention was a vast improvement over cuneiform tablets and parchment scrolls. Do digital editions and databases offer a similar leaping improvement over print? We humans prefer convenience and practicality along with the sensory and tactile. You, the reader, are right now looking into an electronic screen, not a printed page.  When you pack for a long trip, you may well be packing yourshutterstock_229026028 iPad or other portable reading device along with a laptop. Who wants to lug around a suitcase made heavier by adding several books and magazines?  So, yes, reading digitally is sensible, practical, and convenient. And its integration into our daily lives and into libraries is a no-brainer.

Certainly, digital reading offers splendid possibilities and conveniences. What librarian wants to return to the days of hunting for magazine back issues, finding missing or mutilated copies, or lugging reference books around that are too expensive to be duplicated at all branch locations? Digital reading is wonderful for some applications—but not for all of us all the time.

Stephen Fry, comedian, actor, and writer, summed things up well when he wrote: “This is the point. One technology doesn’t replace another, it complements. Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators.” I think this is where we are in the print versus digital buzz. Print is holding its place well for many applications and users, while the adoption of digital formats continues to become more widespread. It isn’t one against the other. There aren’t winners and losers. We simply have more choices these days.

Pull-Quote-2I believe that print is going to maintain a presence in our lives—for the present and near future, and probably for a long time. Why? Many people prefer it for long reading and various aesthetic reasons. Who doesn’t thrill at receiving a handwritten card or letter from a friend? What child does not delight at having an adult share a picture book with them? What emotions do we experience when we pull a long-treasured book off our personal bookshelf and find a pressed flower, a scribbled note, or a bookmark that triggers memories? A while back, I relocated to another city and my books were stored in heavy boxes for a few months. I was able to put them back onto bookshelves recently. The experience was more than I expected it would be. I was so moved that I began to write:


Print and digital are close cousins, not warring tribes. Underneath the emotional aspects of an attachment to print, the solid ground is that print works for us. And digital works for us. New technology benefits us and gives us choices we did not have before. The thrill of the new can sometimes obscure the benefits of the old-fashioned. We winnow our way as librarians and help translate the truths of the library into today’s vernacular. We flow with and help interpret the tide and lend a hand to customers as we explore and adapt today’s technologies.

Premature Obituaries for Printed Books:shutterstock_228824866.jpg

  • “Books will soon be obsolete in the public schools.” —Written by Thomas Edison, in the summer of 1913
  • In 1966, in a Life magazine profile, Marshall McLuhan lumped books with other antiques: “Clotheslines, seams in stockings, books and jobs — all are obsolete.”
  • “The physical book will be dead in five years.” —Declared by Nicholas Negroponte, father of the One Laptop Per Child project, at a conference in 2010
Paul Duckworth New - 2.5 x 3


Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

“I’m only taking pictures of spine labels–honest” Educating Non-Librarians about Libraries

By Lauren Lee, M.Ln.

shutterstock_610103249Have you ever thought about conducting a spine label scavenger hunt? I wanted to inject a little fun into our training exercises for some of our new non-librarian staff, so I concocted a list of 20 types of items that they had to find and photograph over the course of the fall. I must be a frustrated teacher because I was totally absorbed by designing questions and scoring answers. I wanted to be sure that they had to walk into and take a closer look at all the major parts of a public library collection: all age ranges, all classifications, old books along with new—the whole gamut. I wanted them to notice how spine labels serve as addresses for the books, with each line being a key to the content. And since the questions were designed to require exploration in more than one library, they also got a chance to see how spine labels (and thus collection organization) can differ from library to library.

The most in-depth tasks proceeded further than the spine labels. I had them find examples of a picture book, a reader, a chapter book, and a juvenile fiction book and then photograph the interior pages. I asked them to notice how text and illustrations evolve from one level to the next. This may be children’s lit 101 but it doesn’t come naturally, even to parents of emerging readers.

longest dewey with borderAnother daunting challenge was finding examples of series Cutters and talking about why libraries might use this practice. Some of these staff members might be responsible for doing series authority work at some point. Incidentally, I am surprised that more libraries don’t use series Cutters. I would if I ran the zoo.

Other items to find included manga with volume numbering and new books that had special branding (merchandising with signage and stickers other than just “NEW”). For fun, I asked them to photograph a lurid romance cover and we rated them on a “sleaze scale.” They also had to document the longest Dewey number they could find. The “winning” number had 8 places past the decimal and gave us the opportunity to talk about how Dewey numbers are formed.

Of course, I gave extra credit questions for the overachievers. They had to find LC classification (apologies to our friends at LC libraries), Cutter-Sanborn, a special local collection, and an unusual fiction genre. Some of them had to travel outside the area to find these.

book hunter posterThe assignment brought out everyone’s competitive side. In addition to the required photos, I also received images of bookmarks, posters, and even “Ben the librarian with his bobble head collection.” My thanks to any of you who served as safari guides when Brodart representatives were in search of the elusive juvenile sports biography in your library, or if you heard someone say “I’m only taking pictures of spine labels–honest.”

Feel free to comment with your creative ideas for training. I haven’t come up with my next assignment yet. What kind of training do you provide for your non-librarian staff?




Lauren Lee is approaching her 40th year as a librarian, with more than half of that spent at Brodart. Although she rarely gets to select now, she loves life on the road, visiting as many public libraries as possible. Click here for more.


Grant-Seeking 101


By Richard Hallman, M.Ln.

shutterstock_326576381Someday, when flying cars are rusting away in museums and the last sword has been beaten into whatever a plowshare is, there will be plenty of money available to libraries and librarians. Until then, librarians and the organizations that support them will probably have to keep looking everywhere for the funds needed to fix leaking roofs or buy 3D printers.

But the money is out there. It’s just a matter of knowing where—and how—to apply for it.

Show Me the Money

In addition to being a member of Brodart’s Collection Development team, I’m a librarian at Foundation Center South in Atlanta. FC is a nonprofit, headquartered in New York, which researches philanthropic giving, including grants awarded to libraries. Here are a few examples:

  • In 2017, in Vandalia, IL, the Charles Ruemmelin Foundation gave $750 to the Evans Public Library for “Children’s section shelving.”
  • In 2016 in Connecticut, the Thomaston Savings Bank Foundation gave $1900 to Morris Public Library for a color printer/scanner.
  • In 2015, in Los Angeles California, the Cathay Bank Foundation gave Friends of the Chinatown Library $13,000 to “Develop community awareness…” and “Raise funds for capital improvement….”

shutterstock_583376662That money can come from grants made by foundations and government agencies. Some foundations announce grant opportunities with deadlines. The ALA keeps a running list of such grants here: The blog is run by two librarians who wrote a book about getting grants for libraries: “Winning Grants: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians with Multimedia Tutorials and Grant Development Tools.”

Proposals: Prepare Your Outline and Find a Grantmaker

But there’s more money available to enterprising librarians who learn about the giving priorities of grantmakers and use that knowledge to craft proposals. Grant proposals are well-organized, well-researched arguments that say, in essence, “Here’s why you should give us a specific amount of money, and this is what we’ll do with it.” You can view a sample proposal outline here:

shutterstock_500238862So how do you identify grantmakers with money to award? Many of you work in libraries that offer a richly gratifying database called Foundation Directory Online. Libraries all over the country make this resource available for free. Plug a zip code in here to find the nearest library to you: FDO, as users call it, is produced by Foundation Center.

Foundations award grants to nonprofits. Most local library foundations and “friends of” groups are nonprofits. Foundations also give grants to government agencies, including schools and libraries.

Further Preparation and Tips

How to get started with that grant proposal? Use the database mentioned above. Read up on tips from successful grant writers like this librarian in Florida. Check your holdings for books on grant writing and check out these two free classes you can take in person, live online or recorded from Foundation Center’s Grantspace web site:

There are plenty of additional resources on FC’s website.

Here are a few additional tips on securing grants:

shutterstock_113190907Start local: Most people believe you’re more likely to get a grant by hitting up foundations in your city, metro area or state.

Study up: Your grant proposal should send certain messages like, we read a lot about you, we know what you stand for, here’s how helping us helps you. Follow all of the grantmaker’s stated rules.

If at first you don’t succeed: Don’t be surprised or discouraged if your first proposal doesn’t get the green light. If possible, ask what you could have done differently. Try again with the same or another grantmaker.

So find those grantmakers, write your proposals, and don’t give up. The future is waiting—flying cars and all.

Richard Hallman, M.Ln.


Budding collection developer Richard Hallman finally set aside his dreams of becoming a rock star, movie director, and/or famous novelist to embrace librarianship. Click here for more.

Pull, Pop, Pet, Bite… How Do YOU Board Book?

By Gwen Vanderhage, MLIS

shutterstock_384472549.jpgSelecting board books for public libraries can be tricky. Every time I am asked to work on a collection aimed at babies and toddlers for a library, I have to pose detailed questions. Do you want pull tabs? Pop-ups? Lift-the-flap? Only sturdy flaps? Die-cuts? Wheels? Padded cover? Finger puppets? Lap-size board? Noises? Touch and feel? Scratch and sniff? (Just kidding about that last one, but they DO get published sometimes!) When selecting, we can include or exclude certain features, using terms like “novelty” and “pop-up,” but those filters only address a limited number of details. Many libraries I work with automatically say “yes” to flaps but “no” to fuzz.

Here’s the thing: collection development philosophy dictates the kinds of board books a library selects—even those intended for babies. Many libraries choose to exclude all of the features listed above, which is certainly the way to go if the goal is to make those board books last. Or so you’d think… While interactive features are generally considered to shorten the shelf-life of board books, they can be critical for stimulating and capturing the attention of young children.

Book-ImageIn her wonderful book Reading with Babies, Toddlers, and Twos, Susan Straub writes, “The importance of touch and feel to an infant cannot be overemphasized.” She goes on to explain, “Dragging your baby’s hand across a ‘bunny’s’ fur or a ‘chick’s’ feathers is a lovely feeling for you both. Each furry or feathery swatch prompts you to say something about it. What do you tell your baby?” We emphasize to families that talking with their babies is part of reading and a critical early literacy skill, and these kinds of books can be an important tool. Some parents, especially those with infants, tell us they are at a loss for what to say to their babies. Books like these invite conversation and help develop vocabulary. Parents can teach their children words prompted from their own experience, even in a language other than the one in which the book is written.

Lift-the-flap, tabs, and pop-ups offer the interactive excitement of making something happen in the story. Whoa, autonomy! Magic! They also provide the very young an opportunity to practice patience, manual dexterity, and fine motor skills.

shutterstock_222765934In my opinion, many of the bestselling picture books that publishers choose to release in board book form are not at all geared to the audience. Maybe your three-year-old can’t be trusted with paper pages and picture books offer a sturdier alternative. Okay, I’ll give you that. But otherwise, many of the titles that don’t include interactive features are not actually suitable for babies. This puts caregivers in the position of trying to make storytime stimulating, while using books that aren’t up to the task. Worse, caregivers who don’t have access to interactive titles often give up reading to their babies altogether, bemoaning the inability of their little ones to sit still for a book. Our job as librarians is to encourage parents and kids to find the books they love, so we need to offer them engaging experiences that encourage reading and learning.

When I was a children’s librarian at a public library, our general rule of thumb was that a board book gets about five circs, after which it’s trashed. It didn’t matter if the title was smooth and featureless; it got chewed up by happy, teething readers. So if you’re shutterstock_27090169-with-invisible-borderanticipating such a short shelf-life, you might as well get something fuzzy, or otherwise tactile, to entice and interest the babies for whom the stories are intended. In the grand scheme of a library’s overall budget, board books are a small-ticket item.

At the same public library, we also had a large, rotating collection of Book Babies storytime tubs, with lots of these sorts of books that were non-circulating. Each tub contained 30 copies of a board book title. Three tubs went to each branch each week, allowing for communal reading of interactive books during storytime. This allowed the librarian to demonstrate different ways of using these special books. And, wonderfully, the library had more interactive titles available for families to take home.

shutterstock_311950931Speaking librarian to librarian, my advice is if a library is really embracing programs for babies and the ALA’s Every Child Ready to Read program, it’s worth considering interactive titles.

How does your library do board books?


Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3


After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.


What is the weirdest thing you’ve encountered or had to do as a librarian?

By The Brodart Librariansshutterstock_26690845.jpg

Given that librarians are service-oriented professionals, we encounter our fair share of strange behavior and offbeat requests. For your enjoyment and to start the year off on a lighter note, we have compiled some of our favorite memories of odd people and odder situations that we have encountered over the years in the libraries we have served.

Some of the anecdotes are slightly off-color, so proceed at your own risk… And please share your own stories in the comments section! (Login not required)


Melissa Perkins: “A guy walks into a bar…”

Melissa Perkins - 2.5 x 3This happened when I was completing my internship at a public library. One night while I was manning the reference desk during the evening shift, a man who seemed drunk wandered in. Apparently mistaking the library for a pub, he approached the “bar” and ordered a Bacardi on the rocks. I started smiling and said, “Well sir, we don’t have that, but we do have some books on rocks.” He looked dazed and confused for a few moments until he suddenly realized that he wasn’t at a bar after all. He began laughing. He and I chatted and laughed together in a neighborly fashion, as I quickly but politely escorted him to the nearest exit.


Lauren Lee: “Dangerous Material & Reading Aloud”

Lauren Lee - 2.5 x 3The weirdest request I ever received for reconsideration of materials: Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed. A concerned parent was up in arms because she thought the book in question encouraged toddlers to eat raw carrots, and as we all know, “That’s dangerous!” (It should be noted that The Carrot Seed is a classic—and harmless—children’s book.)

The oddest printable public service request I ever received from a patron took place by phone: “Go get Volume 4 of The Oxford English Dictionary. Go to page 216 and read me the thirteenth entry on that page.” This happened more than once with the same patron, who always claimed that he had forgotten some detail that he needed to confirm. The entries were invariably words you wouldn’t want to read aloud—I’m sure you can hazard a few guesses. Volumes, pages and entry numbers have been changed to protect the innocent.


Stephanie Campbell: “The Expanding Role of Librarians”

Stephanie Campbell - 2.5 x 3In my first job at a public library, I was approached at the reference desk by an elderly woman who asked if I could remove a scratchy tag from the back collar of her dress. Somewhat taken aback but eager to please, I followed her into the stacks for some privacy and cut out the tag with a pair of scissors. She was then able peruse the large print section in comfort.

A few years later, I fielded a similar request while at the desk of an academic library. Still surprised, but rather unfazed since this was the second such occurrence, I went right for the scissors. This time around, the younger female patron simply grabbed the back of her elastic waist pants and stretched, granting me access to the rear seam and we took care of the offending bit right there on the spot. She then happily returned to her seat at the computer, itch-free.

So what’s weirder, that I was asked this not only once, but twice… or that I complied? Clearly, I take the role of “removing obstacles to library usage” VERY seriously!


Laura Young: “Ghostly Movements & Pranks Gone Wrong”

Laura Young - 2.5 x 3I worked as a student assistant at the reference desk in the main library of a large university. The floor containing the reference area was closed and locked every night at midnight, leaving only the 2nd floor open to students. One year during finals week, we came in to find that someone had defecated on the floor in front of the reference desk. This happened every night during finals week. We never figured out how the person got into the locked floor overnight, and never found out who did it.

In a separate incident, as part of hell week, one of the university fraternities required its pledges to perform a prank in the library. The pledges had to dress up in three-piece suits, cram themselves into a single elevator, and ride from the first floor to the sixth floor and back again. As luck would have it, the elevator malfunctioned and the pledges were stuck in the elevator between floors for four hours—dressed to the nines—before anyone could get them out.


Ann Wilson: “Evil Books”

AnnWilson - 2.5 x 3Back in the Dark Ages (i.e., the 1980s) I was the librarian of a combined high school/public library in a very small, very conservative community. Obviously, both school students and the public (children and adults) used the collection, which sometimes created interesting issues with respect to the collection. One day I received a call from a member of the library board who had just gotten a phone call from an older lady after she returned home from her weekly library visit. The elderly patron had expressed concern to the board member that the library was promoting “devil poetry.” The patron said this topic was not acceptable to the public and certainly should not be promoted to students. The board member was quite amused but asked me to please try to figure out what had upset this lady. I explained that I was quite certain we had no such books but I would of course look around. I could not imagine what the library patron had seen to prompt this outraged phone call, but I soon found it in the New Book section, where we kept the “hot” best-sellers of interest to adult readers. As it turns out, we had just put out Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.


Fern Hallman: “Can you help me make…?”

Fern Hallman - 2.5 x 3When I was a new librarian, a man approached me at the reference desk with a crumpled up piece of paper. This was long before Google. He told me someone had given him a chemical formula and he needed to know what he could make with it. The note on the crumpled paper read “C21H23NO5.” Since chemistry isn’t my specialty, I told him that if he thought he knew what the substance was, it would be easier to work backwards. After he hesitated a bit, I assured him I wouldn’t tell anyone. He finally told me he thought it was the chemical formula for heroin. Turns out he was right. I did tell him that he probably wasn’t going to be able to smash together a bunch of hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen atoms and go into business.


Suzanne Hawley: “Scary Monsters & a Scarier Mother”

Suzanne Hawley - 2.5 x 3A fourth grader in one of my schools fell in love with a book about movie monsters. The pictures in the book were horrific and full of gore—in other words, the kind of things young boys love to read and look at. The kid had checked it out about seven times and at that point it was overdue. His mother, presumably when going through his book bag, found the overdue notice and asked him to show her the book. When he did she immediately grabbed it and started ripping out pages. She stormed into my office the next day with the torn pages and told me the book was disgusting and she couldn’t believe I had such material on the shelf. She further informed me that it was her duty to examine all of the books in the media center. She said she’d be there early the next morning. She actually arrived at about 2 p.m., went through the books on one shelf and I never saw her again! Her son came in regularly after that and searched for the scariest possible books to check out. Not a word from Mama after that.


Gwen Vanderhage: “Hazardous Activities & a First-time Chef”

Gwen Vanderhage - 2.5 x 3I’d say one of the weirdest incidents that ever happened during one of my librarian shifts was when someone, for some unknown reason, decided to disassemble a large battery in the library. Not surprisingly, the acid from the battery dripped onto the floor and started eating through the carpet. The whole building had to be evacuated as a HAZMAT team moved in to clean up the mess.

One of my favorite questions came from a young woman who desperately needed advice about how to bake delicious cookies to impress a new boyfriend. “Can I use a blender?” she asked. “I have a blender.” Oh, dear… After looking over the recipe she had selected, I gave her my tips and offered advice on suitable appliances to use. The next week, she returned to report on her success and express her heartfelt appreciation. Librarians do change lives! Ha, ha!


Kat Kan: “An Unconventional Library Visitor”

Kat Kan - 2.5 x 3I was still an “emergency hire” librarian (month-to-month temporary hire) in Hawaii, my first library job after graduating from library school. I worked as a technician (paraprofessional) in the Arts, Music & Audiovisual Department of a public library. One afternoon while I was on duty at the reference desk, an older gentleman came out from behind the book stacks and proclaimed, “Young lady, there’s a cat in the stacks.” I started to giggle—it sounded so much like a Dr. Seuss rhyme—but he was very serious and took my hand. “Young lady, I’m not joking. There’s a cat in the stacks. Come and see.” So I walked over to the book shelves with him, and he pointed down; this was a double-sided shelf in the middle of the room. And there, on floor level, between the books, there was a little gray and black tabby kitten. I thanked the man, picked up the kitten, and called for one of my co-workers to bring a box for the kitten. After my shift, I called around to all the staff in the library that I thought might take a cat, but they all refused (most already had a cat, or multiple cats). We also had a cat at home, and a toddler; but I called my husband and asked if we could take the cat home. And that’s how we adopted Persephone, who lived with us for 20 years and traveled with us from Hawaii to Indiana to Michigan and then to Florida. She crossed the Rainbow Bridge 14 years ago, and I still miss her.


Paul Duckworth: “Analog Wikipedia”

Paul Duckworth New - 2.5 x 3Many years ago, before the Internet, I was staffing the reference desk at the main library where I had been employed for a few years. A colleague told me I had a “call on line 1.” I dutifully answered it and identified myself. Before I heard any voice on the other end, I detected the background noise of laughter, a song playing faintly, and muffled conversations. Then a man came on and asked me if I could settle a bet he had placed with his friend. They were at a bar and his request was important. He maintained that hummingbirds migrated from the southern United States across the Caribbean each year by hitching a ride on the backs of other (presumably larger and stronger) birds. Was he right, he asked me? I took down the number of the drinking establishment and assured him I would call him back shortly. Between chuckles, I wondered where in the world I could find a printed source that addressed whether or not this type of migratory behavior was utilized by hummingbirds. All the while, I restrained myself from phoning back and saying, “You idiot, of course they don’t hitch rides to migrate such a long distance. That’s absurd!” I quickly came to the conclusion that I was not going to find a printed source to refute his claim and so I needed to contact an expert. I called the local office of the state conservation department and found my answer. Then I called the patron back at the bar and broke the bad news to him. All in a day’s work—and never provide an answer without a reliable source to back it up!


Happy New Year from Brodart!


Shelving, Collection Usage, and Your Library

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

Have you ever wondered how your collection “stacks up?”

The following figures, which represent how most Brodart customers approach opening day collections, are the target proportions you should aim to achieve when building a collection from scratch.

Pie Chart #1 - NEW

Pie Chart #2 - NEW

Pie Chart #3 - NEW

Of course, every library is different and should reflect the wants and needs of the community it serves. But chances are, your usage reports, re-shelving carts, and catalog searches will mirror the same general ratios shown above.

So how do general collection ratios influence strategies for displaying your materials? Good question! In short, your existing shelving should support how the collection is being used. In the absence of the space or money required to install more shelving, you can move collections around the building, which both highlights individual collections and frees up space in the stacks for areas that need to grow.

shutterstock_108584921Although slatwall and display kiosks are better for merchandising your collection, the fact remains that most libraries still rely on stacks—rows upon rows of shelving units—to arrange the bulk of their materials. The above guidelines are great when you’re planning a new space, but what if you want to rework an old one? How should you juggle the competing needs? How do you do justice to every subject area while growing those areas that enjoy the most traffic? At the end of the day, our primary goal as librarians is to help patrons find the titles that interest them.

Arrangements need to make sense so that patrons can self-direct. That said, fixed shelving units and the layout of your building may dictate the sizes of the collections and how they are arranged. Aside from weeding, how can you make more room for those popular 600s and 700s?

Breaking out collections is one way to overcome shelving obstacles. Here are some examples.

  • Biographies and classics can stand alone; they need not be housed in the physical rows where they belong according to Dewey classification
  • Reclassify and move your short stories to fiction, or vice versa
  • Pull out your paperbacks for a dedicated commuter collection
  • Interfile all books by a particular author, regardless of bind
  • Pull all the language learning materials, test prep, or travel guides into a special section
  • Dedicate stand-alone locations to mysteries and/or sci-fi/fantasy

There are pros and cons to all of these approaches. However, the needs and preferences of your patrons should guide your decisions.

shutterstock_394779487Once you’ve determined your priorities, sketch out a new layout. As the saying goes, “measure twice and cut once.” What type of material do you want to move? Do your materials and shelves follow standard dimensions? Take into account the measurements of both where the materials sit now and their future location. You don’t want to get halfway through a move only to find that a collection won’t fit in its new destination (i.e., those art books that are too tall and/or too deep) which would require reducing the number of shelves. Be prepared with signage to alert patrons about temporary locations until the dust settles.

Don’t be afraid to make major changes or be daunted by major moves. With a little pre-planning, shifting projects and relocating other materials can progress smoothly and manageably. And your collections can meet traditional expectations while embracing current usage.

Here are some resources to help you with measurements and standards:



Before joining Brodart in 2016, Stephanie Campbell worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

A New Color-Coding System for Children’s Books

By Suzanne Hawley, MLS

shutterstock_448281532.jpgBefore joining Brodart I was the librarian at an elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia. At that time, Fairfax County’s School System had a robust, active library community. We met regularly to share information and best practices with each other, and sometimes hear from guest lecturers.

During one session, a PhD candidate from one of the local universities told the group about a project she was working on for her doctorate. Specifically, she was trying to develop a unique method for organizing picture books to help children find titles on their own without supervision. The concept included using numbers and colors, both of which are appealing to youngsters. After being introduced to this concept, I began thinking about how I could adapt and implement a similar system in my library.

I knew that revising the categorization for all of our picture books—nonfiction as well as fiction—would be labor intensive and time consuming. I did a lot of begging for help and managed to secure commitments from several volunteers to assist with the effort. We developed a plan and made the change during the summer months when school was out. Staff and parents looked upon the project as a labor of love.

We decided upon a classification system with 10 color-coded categories and 10 numbered sub-sections for each category (with the exception of the Easy-to-Read Titles). Shown below is a rundown of the categories.



On the title page of each book I placed the number of its predominant subject. We purchased small, round, colored labels for each of the eight overall subjects. The correct number for each book was written on the label with a black Sharpie. Then the label was applied to the book’s spine and covered with clear tape. For example, both Martha Rustad’s nonfiction All about Christmas and Karma Wilson’s fiction Bear Stays up for Christmas had tan labels with the number 38 on them. We also changed the corresponding location of each title on the computer record.


Large, prominently-displayed posters served as directional aides. There was a poster for each of the eight colors with the corresponding numbers and their subjects. The title of each poster was the overall category. For example, “General and Reference” was the title on the white poster. On the side of the poster were the 10 numbers with their matching subjects. Here’s an example of a poster:

The new organizational structure for nonfiction and fiction picture books was an instant hit with students. In fact, it was so successful that I instituted it in two more libraries in Florida schools—again with the help of staff and parents. In all three schools, teachers, kids, and parents frequently mentioned how glad they were to be able to find books so easily.

I’ve been gone from the schools for a while and I’ve often wondered if subsequent librarians reverted back to the traditional classification system: by author’s last name for fiction picture books and Dewey classification for nonfiction picture books.

shutterstock_746904463Recently, I ran into a couple of primary grade teachers I used to work with and asked if the revised system was still in place. One asked, “You mean the colors and numbers for elementary kids?” When I nodded, she said, “The teachers would mutiny if they changed that system. Makes it so easy for us to do our units. When I do the community helpers unit, I go right to the red section!” I laughed and asked, “Well, how about the kids?” “They love it. Really cuts down on their frustration over finding the right book,” she replied. “Of course, it means that every little boy knows that the dinosaurs are in yellow 41 and spends lots of time there.” That’s what changing the traditional approach was all about!

Although I implemented this particular system in a school library, it could easily be adapted for public libraries as well. Do you use an alternative system? If so, I hope you’ll share.




In addition to selecting children and young adult materials for library collections, Suzy Hawley spends her days interfering in her children’s lives as much as possible, wheedling her husband into cooking dinner just one more time, and walking on the beach. Click here for more.

Self-Publishing & Instant Printing

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

shutterstock_268054271As librarians, we know that technology has changed the way we provide service to our patrons—it’s a no brainer. Some of us, myself included, have been around long enough to remember being a part of the beginning waves of change: the introduction of the MARC record, the advent of turnkey automation systems, followed quickly by the rise of personal computers, and the transformation of card catalogs into scrap paper. For years, prior to using the Notes feature on my smartphone, the backs of my library’s catalog cards served as shopping lists.

None of us really knows how technology will transform the way we interact with our customers in the next five to ten years. But there’s one particular area that I’m especially excited about: the advent of instant publishing. Gone are the days when the publisher imprints of Vantage Press and a few others were stigmatized as “vanity presses” and scorned by librarians. Today, any title can be easily published with only a modest financial investment and made available worldwide through standard online retailers, as well as a wide variety of other websites, including,,, and

Why am I excited about this? Furthermore, why should librarians care?

Fifty-ShadesFirst, instant publishing completely bypasses the gatekeeping function of traditional publishing, designed to maintain profitability. It is now possible for anyone who has a good story to tell—or an underrepresented nonfiction topic to explore—to publish their work, be it via print or e-book. Thanks to new publishing alternatives, hot titles like Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy went from initial self-published e-books to having its rights acquired by St. Martins. After being rejected by major publishers, E.L. James self-published her first book, Fifty Shades of Grey, both as a paperback and an e-book. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so…

Second, books can make it into finished form and into the hands of readers much faster than ever before. That’s undeniably a good thing.

Third, local authors in our communities have many more shutterstock_348765254options now for getting self-published and getting their books onto our shelves. I could go on and on, but the benefits of self-publishing are clear for authors, readers, and libraries. An added plus for collection development librarians is that it has become easier for publishers to bring titles back that had moved to O.S.I. or O.P. status when their inventory was exhausted.

Self-published titles do present challenges for libraries. Lack of reviews and cataloging records, competition for limited materials budgets, and acquisition challenges are not insignificant. I have often wondered how my library could offer an e-book to users if it isn’t included in titles offered by ProQuest, Overdrive, hoopla, or other content aggregators. But in my experience, libraries (and opportunistic new businesses) always find ways to shape new technologies into expanded services for patrons.



Today, Espresso Book Machines are installed in public libraries and other locations. This ingenious device makes it possible to purchase a book from among thousands of available titles and have it printed and delivered (i.e., dispensed from the machine) in a few minutes. Biblioboard makes it possible for individual e-books to be easily added to its database of titles that are available to libraries (MARC records included). Also, its partner, SELF-e, offers a means for people to produce their e-books and distribute them through their public library.

These are exciting times when we librarians can say “yes” to more people and encourage access to more titles.

shutterstock_222267694At one time, the LP record was THE format for music and spoken word. Its replacement, the cassette tape, is long gone and now CDs are beginning to be phased out. The emergence of Beta and VHS videotapes led to forecasts that movie theaters would disappear. Instead, theaters continue attracting audiences, Beta and VHS are gone, formats unimagined at the time have replaced them, and video materials have the highest turnover in public libraries.

Similarly, the development of e-books sparked fears that the traditional book format would fade away. So far, the physical books are holding their own quite nicely and libraries now offer access to far more titles in formats far improved from the original Rocket eBook. No doubt self-publishing will trigger predictions that traditional publishers will crumble. More likely, as with so many other developments, it will simply add yet another format or option to the mix. I predict that we librarians are going to enjoy choices and service opportunities that even the brightest of us can’t predict. How’s that for a prediction!

shutterstock_255656932.jpgWhat do I see when I gaze into the crystal ball? Change. It’s just a hunch, but I think libraries will remain part of that mix so long as we don’t latch onto particular formats as sacrosanct or reflexively try to resist the pace of change, only to make ourselves redundant in the process. Instead, we must continue to embrace new opportunities and technological adaptations in the name of service for our communities.


Paul Maya party


Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.