Show Me The Awesome: Part 1

ImageBanner made by John Lemasney

I was mooching (one of my favourite words) around on a few blogs I follow and I discovered this:

Liz B:



If that was TL:DR, then here’s a summary:

These three lovely ladies decided that there are a bunch of things that we do in libraries that people just don’t get to hear about. Things that we don’t get to share with other people who are doing awesome things in their libraries that we never know about. So we’re going to talk about it and let the whole world know.

So here I am – showing you my awesome.


I am not a librarian, but I have been a Community Library Assistant (or CLA) for nine months now, in Cambridge (the UK one). I entered the library service during a period of intense structural change.  I just happened to be looking for a job in Cambridge at the same time, but it’s a much sadder story than that, a story of financial cuts and redundancies. A story which isn’t mine to tell.

I was part time at first, but managed to impress enough and wrangled myself a full-time position fairly quickly. How do I impress? A colleague once told me that I was getting a reputation for “throwing myself at the deep end”. And the thing is – I’m a really good swimmer. I volunteered for everything I could – stock work, story and rhymetimes, anything else that was on offer. My thirst for experience within the system was verging on limitless. Enthusiasm has always been a strong suit of mine. And I think it helps that I still have a very romanticized view of libraries. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing in the long run. It certainly gets me into some arguments!

I think I could write a book about my experiences over the last nine months, but this is about one thing:

The Idea:

I had been with the library for four months or so. I’d done my fair share of surprise Storytimes (when you turn up at 9am and there it is on the rota) and had my first big Children’s event in the pipeline (a Pirate Party). I can’t remember when the idea sparked, but I do remember talking to my mum about it and she said: “Just put up a poster and see if anyone’s interested.” So I did.

The thing is the library does a lot for children under 5 and a whole heap more for adults. But what about the teenagers? We have a Young Adults section in the library, but this is usually overrun with adults and university students who are just looking for a place to plug in their laptops. We also have volunteer programs. A lot of teens doing the Duke of Edinburgh award work with us and many stay on afterwards because they like it so much. But what about book clubs? How are we encouraging them to read? And for that matter, when I was a teenager, I desperately wanted a group of like-minded peers to discuss my creative writing with too. I never got that for myself, but I could provide it for others who might feel the same.

My management and Childrens Librarian were incredibly supportive of my idea, which as you can imagine took a lot of the struggle out of the project. I was also given a colleague to work with.

This was and still is a real test for me. The whole project has totally brought out the control-freak in me. Sadly, team work rarely gives me satisfaction, but I still try. My colleague was a good choice though – she had access to a lot of resources which I didn’t and because she’d worked in the library for a lot longer than me, she knew how to get things (i.e. proof copies of books). I had the idea and the drive, she had the actual physical things we needed.

Yes, we are a library and books are everywhere, but you need to have something to get them interested and coming back. Free copies of recently published books tends to garner a lot more enthusiasm that something already on the shelf.

She was also a bonus because she was absolutely 100% not interested in the creative writing side of things. This forced a separation of sorts between the reading and creative writing groups – advertised together, but held independently. I begrudged this at first – like I said, I wanted to be in control  – but soon realised that it was for the best. I was too inexperienced to handle both groups and no matter how enthusiastic we are, we only have so much energy.

Getting People Interested

For me, this is both the most exciting and most boring part of the process.

First, a poster had to be designed. I enjoy craft, but generally it’s for myself. Designing something that was targetting a specific group of people? Tough! Eventually I came up with something a bit like this:

Oi You - poster 1

This is actually a draft of the second poster (once we had organised a start date). Unfortunately, all my copies are at work, but it was basically this without the dates and times.

My first draft said: “Attention, teens!” which just felt stodgey, old and unappealing. The Oi! You! was actually devised by another colleague. I won’t take credit where it isn’t due – I was even a good little girl and e-mailed The Guardian to get proper permission to include the Chris Riddell illustration in the poster.

I put the poster up in the Children’s Library, Young Adult section and in the general vicinity of the book clubs list. And then I waited…

And I waited some more…

After about a month, I came to terms with the fact that it wasn’t going to happen, that there were just no teenagers like me around who were interested. Or some other institution was already providing them with a forum for it.

And then, one beautiful day, an e-mail came through, and all sorts of possiblities with it. One person, as you can guess, is not enough to start a group like this. But when they mention that they are homeschooled?

You might think it foolish of me to not consider these options. I’d ask to be forgiven because of my short time in the business, but at the end of the day, it is something that I should have thought of. I lived and I learned.

Inspired by that, we sent posters out to the local schools and got in contact with the local home school initiatives. I wouldn’t say the e-mails started flowing in after that, but we got a fair few.

This part was also where I began to appreciate my colleague even more: she would talk to people. I was stuck behind my desk, editing posters and sending e-mails. She was out there, talking to anyone who looked like they were the right age or looked to have the appropriate interests. She got me into it too. I wouldn’t say I was reluctant, but despite working in customer service for six years, approaching strangers is still not something I’m comfortable with.

It had been about two months since I had put up my first poster, but in February we finally had enough people to organise a first meeting.

And the special day was… Saturday, 9th March.

Lessons I learnt:

– Enthusiasm will get you just about anywhere you want to go.

– Always voice your ideas. You never know who will support you in them.

– Appreciate what a knowledgable colleague can bring to the table.

– If you want to bring people IN, you have to go OUT.

– Posters only go so far. Sometimes you just have to talk to people.

and probably most importantly:

– You can’t control everything. Sometimes, they just take their time.

See you in Part 2, where we actually get started and I probably learn more than the teenagers in the groups.


One thought on “Show Me The Awesome: Part 1

  1. Pingback: Show Me The Awesome: Part Two | Telegrams from Narnia

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