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YAM Bar: not sweet potatoes but no small potatoes either

July 2, 2006

Snacks, sodas, and Sony PlayStation2s @ your library?  Sure!

Since the library opened a Young Adult Media Bar in June, 2003, we have had lots of requests from other libraries for more information.  Just last week at ALA in New Orleans, Frances and Angela both asked for pictures and details. 

So what is a YAM Bar?  Restaurant booths line one wall opposite six Sony flat screen televisions and Playstation2s stocked with a selection of about 20 games of various kinds.

Youth are expected to play fair, share, and be cool with the volume!  Anyone can use the YAM BAR even thought the area is designed for teens.  Normal teenage behavior is to be expected but explicit language is not allowed.  All games are rated “E” for Everyone.  Now, snack as well as soda machines are located in the media bar.  Graphic novels, comic and magazine displays, a media room with Youth Services’ A/V circulating collection as well as the Teen Tech Lab are located nearby.

The YAM BAR has offered an opportunity for teen participation at the library, reached out to at-risk or special needs groups in Paducah’s downtown neighborhoods, reacted to social and cultural trends, and advocated free and equal access for McCracken County youth.  Gamer’s tournaments and pizza parties have proven to the kids that Youth Services staff are not “library police’ and have encouraged their participation at their library all year long for homework help and class project suggestions.

So, if you too want to know more about how to give and gain a little respect with the teens @ your library, check out why we decided to offer gaming, how we designed the YAM Bar, and who can provide support to help your library become a place for those teens to just be!  Click here for

Young Adult Media BAR
Snacks, Sodas, and Playstation2s
Conference Presentation
Kentucky Public Library Association/Kentucky Library Trustee Association
April 14, 2005
Bowling Green, KY

We aren’t going to get rid of the books.  Really!  But in McCracken County, our library does have a Young Adult Media BAR and we believe it is making a difference.  This revolutionary service did not happen overnight (it took three years).  It may not fill the needs of every community.  But, in our library, it has certainly provided a WOW factor, contributed to increased circulation and decreased problem activity, and helped us KNOW and understand our neighborhood a little better.

Since August 2000, when we seriously began to approach this new idea, circulation in the juvenile area has increased 64%.  JNF has seen the largest percentage of increase with 109% and Early picture books the smallest at 46%.  JF/YAF and videos have increased 81%, and 51% respectively.  That does not take into consideration DVDs, since we did not have those circulating five years ago.  Admittedly, weeding and staffing adjustments, along with other certainly significant factors, have played an important role.  But the YAM BAR is the major difference we see.  It is the only major change that has taken place during this time.  And that’s what I am so happy to share with you today.   Thank you for sharing this time with me!

So, how do you turn a kid into a customer, a teenager into a library user, and a patron into a fan?

In early 2000, the McCracken County Public Library realized two problems.  Juvenile circulation was slowly, but steadily, decreasing.  Some areas, Early picture books for example were stable, some months even slightly increasing.  Our focus on Story Hour and Summer Reading programs had sustained those users.  But we seemed to be losing those customers as they entered upper elementary, middle and high school.  Paducah is fortunate to offer many activities for children of that older age range.  Your community too probably has organized sports teams, arts and culture workshops, or scouting groups to support the extracurricular needs of these students.  We had tried offering programs for these age groups with limited participation.  We even offered $100 prize once to the 4-6 grader with the highest attendance to a Saturday Book Bunch program.  We averaged four kids in attendance over the fall session.  We just didn’t know what else to try to bring them in.

The second concern was a marked increase in incident reports.  These reports are recorded any time there is a disturbance, vandalism, theft, or other condition that negatively affects our customer’s safety and security.  We saw a pattern developing and it was repeating itself each year in October and April. You know those months after school has started and students have settled in with new groups of friends and routines, and again right before school is out for the year as those same students are  readying themselves to move on, grow up a bit at the end of the year, and are ready to test new limits.   We experienced the youth from our downtown community, often from poor single parent homes who lacked direction and guidance in their daily activities, congregating at the library.  They were looking for a somewhere to hang out, see their friends, and spend a little time off the streets.  The last thing they wanted to do was read a book.  But what could occupy their active minds and quickly developing bodies?  Boredom would soon set in and then the disruptions would begin.  Mostly it would start as normal teenage behavior; flirting, teasing, poking, playing.  Often times it would escalate as feelings were hurt, bullying took over and fights either on the floor or moved to the parking lot broke out.

With statistics of both problems in hand, we prepared ourselves to address our Board of Trustees at a spring retreat planned to discuss long range planning for the library.

This is what we knew and shared with the board.

Our Youth Services collection was well developed.  Working since 1996, we had made retrospective as well as new material selection a priority.  We believed we had materials that our community needed and wanted.

We had developed an atmosphere which included technology and non book materials in the Youth Services area.  We thought we were big time with six public internet computers and a small lab of a few PCs with software supporting homework assignments.

We believed that our Youth Services staff wanted the students in the library and had the skills and desire to redirect their free time.

But we wanted more kids to come in a check out books and attend our programs.  We somehow thought that might override the problems we were having with youth already in our library on a daily basis.

Marketing in libraries had become a big word so we asked to have Paz and Associates, a book seller consulting firm at that time out of Nashville, to come evaluate our YS department to help develop a marketing plan.  Our goals were that they would meet with us and look for opportunities that were cost-effective and easy to implement in our existing space which would enhance the products and services already offered by the library in the juvenile and young adult areas on our second floor.  We did not anticipate any major reorganization of spaces, we hoped to leave current programs and circulation areas intact, but we wanted to create spaces that would encourage juveniles and young adults to spend more time in the library and utilize library resources to a greater advantage.  The board approved.

PAZ came, PAZ reported, and we went back to the Board.  The consultants marketing plan included changes in lighting, recommendations for improved traffic flow, but focused primarily on thematic concepts for the Young Adult area.  It was a bit much to say the least.  Looking back now, those concepts are not so hard to realize, but five years ago the thought of creating their proposed “Coffee Shop” “Living Room” “Screening Room” “Lodge” and “Computer Hub” was overwhelming to our trustees and I must admit, even to our Youth Services staff.

Coffee for teens?  Come on!  A living room placed BEHIND the JNF stacks?  Get real – we all know where that would lead!  A screening room for movies?  But the library is a quiet place!  A lodge designed with lots of pine and Adirondack chairs and trestle table seating in west KY?  I don’t see it!  But their computer hub made sense and that was the only thematic suggestion that we considered at the time.

This report offered us basic ideas.  They allowed us to visualize in our minds eye possibilities for rearrangement.  As with past reports from various consultants, there were options that we could choose to follow and others that we would ignore.  However, we received a new view from a consultant that had experience in creating spaces that people use and actually frequent.  I reminded the board of our focus here: to draw teens to the area, make them feel welcome to use the materials, and encourage them to return often with family and friends.  They said they would think about it.  And that was that.

The next year we built the computer hub.  It incorporated shelving we already had with few additions and easy modification and held the youth internet stations backed with their videos and new collection of DVDs.  We loved it, it worked (we could see every computer monitor from the desk area) and the kids were happy but we didn’t see new much change in their behaviour.  It did open up a space where the the A/V shelving had been and we left it empty while we thought and waited for a new budget.

About this time, VOYA began running a monthly feature “YA Spaces of Your Dreams.”  WOW, there were pieces and parts of all of PAZ’s recommendations happening at libraries all over the country.  So using those examples, we refined our plan and returned to the Board.

We explained that the three main reasons that youth visit the library are for study/homework help, for pleasure reading or to just hang out because there was no where else to go.  We reminded them of our neighborhood, who those residents were and about parents working downtown that might visit during lunches and on the way home from work but who weren’t impressed enough to want to make that trip back downtown with their children at night and on the weekends.  We asked them if Young Adults were a priority.  They are our future tax payers and their early library impressions will go a long way when funding is considered as they grow into adulthood.  With that question on the table, we made a new proposal.
Why couldn’t we give and gain a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T by creating a Young Adult Media BAR that truly encourages teens to spend more time at the library.

So how about a Teen POP Culture Quiz courtesy of VOYA?  We gave one to the board during that presentation asking them to rate their teen culture quotient by matching each of the musical acts with the summer of 2002 concert tour.  Well we didn’t really ask them to make the matches but we did implore them to take a look at these names and places and tell us

Who is Adema?
What makes Busta Rhymes a favorite?
Ever heard of Andrew W.K.?
Have you taken the MTV2 Tour?
Maybe you know about Ozzfest?
But where the heck is Area: Two?

So here is your quiz.  You have a similar copy from VOYA in your packet but that shows the answers.  So the one we will take today is from a few months back.  And there will be prizes!

Kelly Osborne stars in the ABC show, Life As We Know It, which is based on which controversial teen novel by Melvin Burgess?

Answer – Doing It

Now lets do a little singin’ & blingin’.  Match this music with the artist
1985 – Bowling for Soup
Tangled Up in Me – Skye Sweetnam

And for nostalgia’s sake, what group had previously been the only musicians to have four top ten hits on a billboard chart at the same time.  You heard 50 cent as you arrived in the room today.  They have four top 10s on the chart now.  Who had done it before?

Answer – The Beatles

So how would we make those teens feel like the library understood their needs when many of us couldn’t even pass the culture quotient quiz?  We didn’t think we needed a lodge or a screening room and probably not a coffee shop.  And maybe here I had a little unfair advantage and a little inside understanding because I, myself, was exploring a new personal relationship with a new 20-something friend!  Now I am not recommending that you almost 50-somethings go out and find a 20-something roommate, but I will share a little of what I learned from him. 

He had grown up in a library in the Pacific Northwest.  He had been one of these kids without a lot of direction, left to roam and wander and find his own way.  He knew what it was like to be different and left out and often bullied, as well as labeled a troublemaker.  And he was an avid gamer.  He knew what was popular and appropriate.  He understood the value of a library that kids could call home.  And at his advice, I explored what it would take to add video games to our library.

Video games that maybe they couldn’t afford at home; a place they could play and enjoy each others company; and in the meantime hopefully absorb some of the original library’s atmosphere and opportunities while learning important skills such as taking turns and following directions, improving eye/hand coordination and picking up a few history and science facts without even realizing it.

We knew we had to try to break down the barriers to customer service and allow use of the library as a legitimate place for social interaction, a place for youth to interact with materials, computers and each other.

Librarians are not alone in their attitude toward youth.  Most adults consider teens “wild” and “irresponsible.”  Adult attitudes, even in retail, often create formidable barriers to good customer service.  If the business community, who expects its share of young adult money, can’t get past it, then how should we expect libraries to any different?  Ours cannot be a static relationship where any library user, let alone youth, must arrive interested and prepared, have a “legitimate” library purpose, know how to use the OPAC and not bother anybody or request any help.  Now close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  Who can recall the 1960s and what it was like to be 13, 14, 15, 16, 17??

remember – what it was like
accept – teens act the way they do, just because
project – yourself into that customer
and serve – as you SHOULD have been served

All there are asking for is a little respect… just a little bit… just a little bit….

The library board got it!  They got it so much that when we proposed a diner style area with booths and a media bar they asked were we going to add a soda machine too.  When I explained no, that was not in the plan, they asked why not.  And so much to our director’s consternation, a drink machine was added to the game plan.

Complete Food Service out of Louisville built our restaurant style booths to fit the area.  KPC Architectural, Dan Smith of Lexington, built the media bar without input from Dan’s sons who are gamers as well.  Circuit City put together a package of Sony flat screen televisions and PlayStation2s as well as a selection of about 20 games of various kinds.  Along with new tile flooring it cost us about $9000.00

Youth are expected to play fair, share, and be cool with the volume!  Anyone can use the YAM BAR even thought the area is designed for teens.  Normal teenage behavior is to be expected but explicit language is not allowed.  All games are rated “E” for Everyone.  Now, snack as well as soda machines are located in the media bar.  Graphic novels, comic and magazine displays, a media room with Youth Services’ A/V circulating collection as well as a computer lab are located nearby.

The YAM BAR has offered an opportunity for teen participation at the library, reached out to at-risk or special needs groups in Paducah’s downtown neighborhoods, reacted to social and cultural trends, and advocated free and equal access for McCracken County youth.  Gamer’s tournaments and pizza parties have proven to the kids that Youth Services staff are not “library police’ and have encouraged their participation at their library all year long for homework help and class project suggestions.

In the last two years, since the YAM BAR opened in June 2003, the library has drawn an average of 1300 gamers per month to the library, made them feel welcome to use materials, and encouraged them to return often with family and friends.

We have had many many compliments.  Lots of folks say WOW!  Some shake their heads and ask, “What is the library coming to.”  But this following comment means the world to me and to the kids especially.  Kristina Zoehler, a patron, says, “I applaud you for providing the youth with PS2s instead of ‘leaving them out because they cause trouble.’  Teens need this media bar type activity to stay out of trouble.  98% of them are GOOD kids that are looking for something to do.  What better place for them to be than the public library!”

The media bar continues to grow and develop.  We still have incidents to report, but now we know the kids’ names and can relate to them better than by not having to describe them as the “tall black kid who always frowns” or the “rowdy group of white girls that are always so loud.”

They know our names too.  They grin when I sit down to challenge them in a game of SSX Tricky.  Word is out, Ms Iris can whup up on them with a higher score than most any of them can master.  They ask for homework help now.  And they know what their limits are if you only set them.

It is not always perfect.  Far from it.  In fact I had a 13 year old arrested a month ago for disorderly conduct.  The police came at my call, tried to talk him into reason, he offered so much resistance that they patted him down and cuffed him right there in the middle of everybody.  When it was over I cried.  I cried again when his mother came plead that we allow him back in the library.  But we didn’t and won’t sacrifice the security of all our customers for the one individual who just can’t seem to understand that the rules apply to even him.

We are reminded by Margaret Mead, the American anthropologist about raising children successfully in our culture, “We must have… a place where children can have a whole group of adults they can trust.”  We intended to communicate to our kids that we wanted to help them as they developed as students and members of our community.  And we had a lot of other help in this endeavor, not alone the twenty-something friend.

Voice of Youth Advocates.  VOYA means what it says and can guide you a long way.  Your packet includes a recent article on gaming in libraries.  There is also a new Library Gaming group on Google.  Their web address is in your packet as well.

Excellence in Library Services to Young Adults, Mary K. Chelton, Editor, will back you up and help your board get it too, as will the teens @ the library series book DO IT RIGHT! by Patrick Jones and Joel Shoemaker.  CONNECTING YOUNG ADULT AND LIBRARIES,  A HOW TO DO IT MANUAL by Patrick Jones, Michele Gorman and Tricia Suellentrop is a wonderful resource.

Finally, our library is also studying the Jim Collins book GOOD TO GREAT.  Part of what you have heard today has been presented as justification of our moving from being a good library to becoming a great library.

Your packet includes as well as a contact list of vendors and a bibliography, media reports on the YAM BAR, A Core Collection of web sites for you to study and help increase your teen culture quotient, a sample sign-up sheet for our media bar with a listing of games available on the back, and an important bit of information from the Search Institute outlining 40 Developmental Assets for adolescents.

Service to youth is both necessary and important.  Take a deep breath, remember what it was like, and give and gain a little respect… just a little bit.


Complete Food Service Equipment & Design
(502) 297-8049
11700 Commonwealth Dr
Louisville, KY 40299
Norb Kopp Phone: 502-297-8030 Fax: 502-297-8031

KPC Architectural Products Inc.
2591 Palumbo Drive. Lexington, KY 40509.
Representative: Dan W. Smith.
Phone: 859-269-3646. Fax: 859-269-3648

Paz and Associate, Donna Paz,
1417 Sadler Road, PMB 274,
Fernandina Beach, FL  32034;
904-277-2664; 800-260-8605; Fax: 904-261-6742.

A forum for discussion of gaming in libraries, including:  Circulating video games for PC & consoles, Game Collection Development, Gaming Programs (LAN parties and tournaments), Role-playing (pencil and dice gaming) & Card Gaming (Magic)
Online gaming, Gaming reviews & resources, News & Research (294 members)

James C. Collins
Good to great : why some companies make the leap– and others don’t 
New York : HarperBusiness, c2001

Patrick Jones and Joel Shoemaker
Do it right! : best practices for serving young adults in school and public libraries
New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, c2001

Patrick Jones, Michele Gorman, Tricia Suellentrop
Connecting young adults and libraries : a how-to-do-it manual for librarians
New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, c2004

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