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How I Reached New People By Having a Poetry Open Mic in the Library

Lucas Maxwell


Lucas Maxwell has been working with youth in libraries for over fifteen years. Originally from Nova Scotia, Canada, he's been a high school librarian in London, UK for over a decade. In 2017 he won the UK's School Librarian of the Year award and in 2022 he was named the UK Literacy Association's Reading For Pleasure Teacher Champion. He loves Dungeons & Dragons and is the author of Let's Roll: A Guide for Setting up Tabletop Roleplaying Games in Your School or Public Library. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.

Poem in Your Pocket Day was a bit hit. For me, it was a great way to introduce the School Library that I manage to new teens and teachers.

The concept was pretty simple. The Library Assistant and I found a ton of cool poems that were around five or six lines long. Then we printed them onto due date slips and slapped the #pocketpoem hashtag on the bottom.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

The poems were rolled up and placed in the teachers’ pigeonholes a week or so before the event.

All 160 of them. Yes, it took a long time. Yes the Library Assistant probably thinks I’m insane. Yes, I probably am, but it was worth it. It always is.

Teachers find these mysterious rolled up poems and a lot of them, especially new ones, are most likely thinking, “WTH?”

It’s not until I explain things a few days later that they’re in the loop: Their job is to memorize their poem and perform it during our “Open Mic” in the library.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

Sure, not every teacher comes to the library to perform. However, it makes my day to hear teachers say “That poem was great”, or “I really needed that today!” All of which I have heard over the past few weeks.

And for the teachers who do show up to perform, they’re awesome.

There is nothing a student likes more than to see one of their teachers in a setting other than the classroom. Here they are, in the library performing poetry. It’s exciting and engaging and I get to connect with teachers that I don’t gPoem in Your Pocket Dayet to see very often because they are so ridiculously busy.

How do I get students to perform, you ask?

That’s easy, all I need to do is to let them know that they can do the following: Eat in the library and have their voices amplified. I also let them do original material. They can tell jokes, they can play an instrument, whatever, the floor is theirs.

Poem in Your Pocket Day

It brings in students that I typically don’t see, which is the point. Maybe they’ll come back for another program, maybe I’ll be able to get them reading a new author and get them hooked. it’s part of the book-pusher’s plan.

If you’re a school or public librarian I recommend an open mic program. It doesn’t have to be poetry, let them do their own thing. Give them a voice and they’ll give you their time in the library, which is what being a librarian is all about.