Monday, January 27, 2020

Teen Subscription Boxes: One Library's Journey

In January of 2020, my library launched a subscription box service for teens, similar to an Owl Crate or a Book of the Month club, but 100% free.

First, I have to say, this concept was not our idea. The idea came from a presentation our Library Director heard at a conference, and we really need to thank the lovely and kind Maura Schoo from the Hinsdale Library in Illinois who was the presenter. She also later helped me tremendously via e-mail so hats off to her for her generosity in helping us out.

For those of you already scratching their heads, let's begin with what a subscription box is (I was surprised how many of my coworkers had never heard of these things, considering that between my Library Director and myself we probably subscribe to about 20 different ones!). Basically, sub-boxes work like this: you sign up, pay a fee, and each month you get a box in the mail with "stuff" inside it. There are boxes for EVERYTHING from makeup to books to food to alcohol, and if you wan to see how vast the world of box subscriptions really is, I recommend taking a peek at My Subscription Addiction, which does a great job of cataloging almost everything out there.

Now that you know what a subscription box is, let me tell you how my library set ours up. First we needed some boxes. After measuring some books, and looking at the measurements of some boxes, we decided on these mailers from Amazon: BOXES LINK. These are a good size, and are sturdy as well as capable of holding quite a bit of stuff. We also purchased this crinkle-fill for the boxes: CRINKLY FILL LINK and some large printable mailing labels so we could give the boxes some kind of pizzazz.  MAILING LABELS ARE HERE. The money for these items came from our regular annual programming budget.

We used Canva and the talents of one of our artistic employees to create a cute label for the boxes and printed them out on our regular old printers.

Cute, right? The bear is our library mascot and his name is Booker.

Each of our boxes has a theme, which we left very open-ended so as to allow us to pick a wide variety of books from our collection. Example: our first month's box was themed "action and adventure." Each box contains a library book, chosen by staff based on the subscriber's reading preferences as well as a short survey response card on which we asked the teens to rate the book we had chosen for them and their overall like or dislike of the boxes. There is also one edible item in the box, as well as two other small prizes (box 1 had stickers and a pencil case, box 2 was a DIY picture frame kit and a 3D printed keychain). Money for the food and prizes came from our Friends of the Library group.

One thing to note, we allowed 12 subscription slots for the first month, mostly because everything we could find for prizes was sold in 12-packs at places like Oriental Trading Company or Amazon. We also made a waiting list available in case we had more than 12 people wanting to sign up, with plans to allow more subscribers for every 12 people who were interested. Our first monthly box looked like this (except with a different book in each box).

Photo courtesy Dominique Sandoval. 

We offered a brief questionnaire to teens who wanted to sign up asking their reading preferences (genres they like, were they open to series or graphic novels etc.) and required that in order to join, they have a valid library card in their own name. On the 1st of each month we sent out an e-mail blast letting teens know their box was ready to be picked up at our library (to save on shipping costs) and gave them until mid-month to pick it up.
The teens have to check out the box through Circulation or our self checkouts, books are due back in 3 weeks and they are also to return their empty box before the end of the month. Signups do not expire unless the teen fails to pick up the box or they tell us they no longer want to be subscribed. (Or if they fail to return an item and their card is blocked). In our first month we had one teen who never picked up their box, and one who did not return their empty, but we do not charge a fee in either instance.
That is pretty much it, it has not been too much work for our teen staff of 2.5 (2 full timers one part-timer), the teens have not made a mess, and every single returned survey had nothing but positive comments. Considering something like Owl Crate costs about $30 per month, people are SHOCKED we are doing this for free, and some parents have tried to give us money. All we do is suggest they make a donation to our Friends of the Library.

So far it is working VERY well, though only time will tell as we have only been doing this for two months. If you have any questions, hit me up. Also, if you do something similar at your library I would love to hear how yours is set up.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Galaxy Pendants - Super Cheap and Super Easy

If you need a quick, easy and super inexpensive craft program for the "A Universe of Stories" Summer Reading Program, or just for a day when you don't have many ideas or a big budget, I recommend "galaxy pendants." I've been making these for a long time, and even occasionally sell a few on Etsy here and there. The teens love them and every one that you make will be just a little bit different. Also, they're super pretty!
(In this post I talk about making pendants, but the cabochons can be used for all sorts of things other than necklaces including rings, bracelets and hair accessories).

Sample finished pendants.

What you will need:
Large clear glass cabochons (you can find them at dollar stores, craft stores and sometimes even pet stores.
Any kind of cheap nail polish, but especially ones with glitter, as well as shimmery ones. It's also a good idea to have at least one bottle of plain black and one bottle of plain white polish.
Necklace bails (can be bought in bulk from Amazon, I purchased these: Bails)
Some type of necklace cording (these are the ones I purchased: Cord)
A bottle of super glue or jewelry glue (be advised, Super Glue dries much faster)
Optional - a jar of Mod Podge

To make them:
Start by painting the flat side of the cabochon with your largest glitter. The more layers you add the more the glitter will show up, obviously, but it will also take progressively longer to dry.
Make sure each layer of nail polish is completely dry before adding the next.
Glitter polish with smaller glitter pieces can be layered on after the big glittery pieces.
Then move on to colored polish without glitter.
The very last layer of polish should be your darkest color (or the white, if you have it) to give a flat background and make the glitter pop.
Once the polish is dry, you can seal it all with a layer of mod podge  - this will make the polish last pretty much forever and prevent chipping.
When all your layers are completely dry, attach the bail with super glue and thread through your cord.

Make sure you do this program in a well ventilated space to avoid getting woozy from the polish fumes!

Teens creating their own pendants. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Book Review: Betrothed

The choice: have sex with a guy you just met, or fight that same guy to the death. Either way, your choice will decide the fate of the entire universe.
This is the premise of Sean Lewis' and Steve Uy's Betrothed a terrific new graphic novel series.
Kieron and Tamara are the cursed couple: the only orphans at their school, they have known each other since they were kids, but don't really KNOW each other. Then one day, just before they both turn 18, Tamara starts having weird feelings towards Kieron - a mix between wanting to jump his bones and tear his spine out through his mouth type feelings.
As it turns out, neither Kieron nor Tamara realize they are actually the figureheads of two warring alien races. Kieron's people are a little more earthy and fight with weapons like swords while Tamara's are ultra high tech and sport fancy guns and power suits. Also, the fate of both of their races totally hang on the two teenagers, since they have been betrothed since before their birth, and they need to decide to either consummate their betrothal (thus ending centuries of war) or battle it out Mad Max style to the death - winner take both kingdoms.
Of course everyone around them has their own agenda. Kieron's people want them to bang in the name of peace, Tamara's people want blood, and there are double agents on each side with their own agenda. Tamara is just pissed no one asked her what she wanted, and Kieron pretty much wants to get laid.
It's a fun and promising start to what could end up being a very good series. 4.5 bookmarks!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Book Review: Sincerely Harriet

There is a teeny tiny spoiler ahead  for the graphic novel Sincerely Harriet by author and illustrator Sarah Winifred Searle, so move along now if you don't want to read it!

Anyway, the year is 1990 and it's hot in Chicago, where Harriet Flores has just moved with her hard working parents. Because of their jobs, they are rarely home so Harriet spends her time writing to her old camp friends and hanging out with her downstairs neighbor Pearl. 
As the story develops we slowly realize that Harriet is sick - she falls down a lot, she wets the bed, and (here comes the spoiler!!!) we eventually find out that she has Multiple Sclerosis. Her parents moved to Chicago to get her better medical care, and her camp "friends" are not really her friends - just a couple of girls that went to camp with her, and it's heavily implied she had a crush on one of them. 

You see, to cope with her illness Harriet makes up stories. Well, actually, she lies. She lies because she assumes no one will understand her and how she feels - until she realizes that Pearl has a grown up son who suffered from Polio and she begins to write to him through her diary because she feels he is someone who might understand her. It's through this that Harriet discovers that her knack for lying can be positively turned into story telling. 

PS: as a teen librarian I love that Harriet's parents enroll her in a creative writing program at the library's teen room! YAY TEEM ROOM!

Sincerely Harriet dropped back in January, so pick it up at your nearest book store or library. 

3/5 book marks, pretty good, though a bit short. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Planning a Library "Con" or Pop-Culture Festival - Part 3: What Should the Con Consist Of?

Here is a list of things I personally feel (as someone who goes to about 5 pop culture conventions or festivals a year) every one of these events should have if at all possible:

  • A cosplay contest or showcase. No matter what type of convention you are hosting it's a chance to encourage people to show up in costumes that fit the theme. Our library's cosplay contest has very loose rules. 
    • Costumes can be store bought, hand made or a mix of both.
    • Costumes must fit the library dress code and be appropriate or a family friendly event. 
    • Props are welcome but all weapons must be clearly fake, and foam weapons are strongly preferred
      • All props must be checked by staff at the "peace banding" table where we put a zip tie around the item to show it's safe. 
    • There are 4 categories and each cosplayer may only sign up for one:
      • Kids ages 12 and under
      • Teens ages 13-17
      • Adults 18 and older
      • Groups. Must be 2-6 people max.
    • No skits are allowed, it's a walk-on presentation only. 
    • Judges are usually invited local cosplayers, special guests or staff members who were not involved in planning the event. We have found 4 judges to be optimal. 
  • A guest author of some kind. 
    • They don't have to be mega famous, and you can do it via Skype (which is much cheaper or even free in a lot of cases) but if your budget allows this, authors are always a HUGE draw. 
  • For an all ages convention, at least one craft for kids and an ongoing activity.
    • Story times are awesome, especially if the presenter is in costume.
    • Lego building is awesome too, and doesn't require a lot of setup or supervision from staff.
    • Some kind of scavenger hunt, drawing or coloring contest to keep the kiddies entertained for a good chunk of time. 
  • Some kind of interactive panel where people can win something. 
    • Trivia is great for this and can be done in a ton of ways. We've done name that tune style ones, Kahoot ones, pub quiz ones and more.
Other things that are cool to include:
  • Photo op areas with interesting backgrounds or props.
  • Special guests who are pros or semi-pros in their fields, such as well known cosplayers, local artists who do superhero or comics, voice actors etc.
  • A cosplay repair station somewhere in the building. 
  • Tabletop and card gaming areas featuring weird games you have at your library.
  • Demos from local historical re-enactors or live action role play groups. 
  • Panels on cosplay construction
  • Believe it or not, slide shows and presentations from staff members who have traveled to or lived in in Japan or Korea have been MASSIVELY popular for us. 
Of course these are just some of my personal ideas. The great thing about these types of programs is that the sky is very much the limit for what can go into your programming for the day. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Planning a Library "Con" or Pop-Culture Festival - Part 2: "Ok, So... Where Do I Start?

I suppose the first place to start is deciding what type of convention you want to host. Will you focus on pop culture in general? Anime? Comics? Sci-Fi? Will it be an all-ages event or will you be using it to try and attract a specific demographic? And how can you use the convention to promote your library, and most importantly, your library's services to the type of people who are likely to attend?

Start by reaching out to your entire staff and asking the simple question of whether or not they identify as part of geek culture and what Fandoms they are into. Staff is your easiest resource when it comes to ideas for panels and activities at your event, and you may be surprised at who comes forward.

Yes, your teen librarian is probably going to know a thing or two about anime or comics, but maybe the very buttoned up reference librarian is secretly a fierce and rabid Tolkien fan who might be able to host a killer pub quiz on all things LOTR (Lord of the Rings, for the uninitiated). Maybe the quiet guy from Periodicals has been collecting StarWars figurines since they were 5 and has a completely KILLER collection of items that would make an amazing display piece (under lock and key of course!). Maybe that fashionable new girl in circulation is an absolutely amazing seamstress who could do a teaching panel about how to read patterns, or basic sewing tips for beginning cosplayers. (BTW, I work with all 3 of the aforementioned people, and would never have known they had these skills had I not mined their brains for purposes of this program!)

Then, once you know the secret talents and strengths of the geekiest of your staffers, expand your circle of geekery to your volunteers. These are people who not only are likely to have cool hidden talents and fandom preferences, but also people who ALREADY love to help the library and might have some free time to dedicate to your endeavor.

Once you have secured help from within, it's time to head out into your town to find local businesses that might be interested in helping you with your event. Local comic book shops, gaming lounges, or anime stores are obvious places to go to, but think outside the box here too. Would a small local cafe want to sell themed treats to your guests? Would the local craft store be able to do a sewing teach or a jewelry making teach geared at a specific fandom? Would the party supply place down the street be willing to lend or donate masks or other items for a cosplay photo booth? Do you know a local photographer who might volunteer their time to take pictures or do so for a discounted fee? We have been lucky to partner up with all the aforementioned types of businesses in the past, and now, in our 6th year they are coming to us to ask if they can be vendors at our event.

Last but not least, hit social media to seek out local fan groups who are looking to recruit new members at an even such as the one you are planning. Do you have a chapter of the Madalorian Mercs, the Society for Creative Anachronism, Ghost Busters, or other historical reenactment groups? Do you have a group of local fiddlers who might enjoy dressing up as wizards, or jedis or whatever and playing a set for guests? Where are the local theater groups, the local live action role players, the local Dungeons and Dragons masters, the writer's societies, the artists guilds? No matter how small your town is there is always a group or two of aficionados of SOMETHING that would be interested in reaching a larger audience. It never hurts to ask them to take part.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Planning a Library "Con" or Pop-Culture Festival - Part 1: Why Do We Do It?

May 4th 2019 will mark the 6th year my library system has hosted a LibraryCon. Our particular event always coincides with Free Comic Book Day, mainly because when we first launched the event, getting free comic books was the major "draw" for the community.
Our city does offer its own festival of Geek culture, but we honestly feel ours is better, for a few reasons. First, ours is free while the city sponsored event costs $12 per person for a one day convention.

Yes, $12 is cheap when compared to the big, big conventions, like San Diego (up to $66 dollars per day and nearly impossible to get), Wonder Con (about the same as San Diego) or even the Phoenix one (our state capital, which is actually pretty "cheap" at $75 for the whole weekend) but when you consider that our county has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and many households have multiple children, that's pretty cost prohibitive for families with kids.

Second, community feedback tells us that the city convention has been declining in "bang for your buck" recently. Up until last year, the convention had been planned and run by city employees, including a couple of people who have worked for our library district before or since. They were able to bring a pretty good mix of vendors, panels and entertainment to the event. Actually, the first two years the city convention was held, our library participated with panels and booths. In fact, the last year we participated we provided the event its entire complement of child-appropriate attractions.  As of last year though, the city contracted the convention out to a third party and the decline was immediate.  Our governing board decided that our library could no longer participate in any event that charged an admissions fee, even if it was something as small as $1. This took us out of participating in the city convention, as well as our local Renaissance Faire and a variety of other events we had participated in previously.

Consequently, the city convention lost just about all of its child-friendly components. Feedback after last year's event was that there were very few panels, and the convention mostly consisted of a lot of vendors and people milling around in Cosplay taking pictures with not much else to do.

Finally, considering that this thing is basically planned by two people (myself and one of our reference Librarians) we have a much wider variety of programming to offer than the city convention. Offerings at our convention have included a Cosplay Contest (virtually mandatory for a convention of this type no matter WHERE it is held), guest authors, guest artists, Virtual Reality demonstrations, 3D printing and other technology demonstrations, children's story times led by "special guest" characters, skits, trivia contests, art shows, crafts and more.

So basically, the reason we host a convention (aside from showcasing our beautiful facility and all the cool stuff we offer our community) is that our community really wants and needs a free, fun, all-day geekfest for the entire family that gives them an opportunity to experience the library in a completely new and interesting way. Even the people who wander in not knowing the event is happening tell us they are amazed at how cool and interesting it is, and how glad they are they stumbled upon it.
But mostly, we do it because we're geeks. We're proud to be geeks, and GEEKS RULE ALL!