Our Reading Lives

On Being a Ninja Librarian: Getting Teens Into the School Library

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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.

What’s a Ninja Librarian, you ask? Slow down! I’ll tell you!

I recently attended an awesome Librarian’s conference in Harrogate, UK where I met current School Librarian of the Year, Amy McKay. Amy ran a brilliant session on using creative ways to get teens reading and using the library in general. She’s sneaky in that many of her programs combine fun and learning, therefore she is a true Ninja Librarian.

I wanted to share her ideas and some of mine to highlight ways to make the school library fun for teens.

Winner!To help alleviate stress on the part of older students and to bring them into the library. Amy has a story time session for them.

Yes, a story time. She has them read and interact with picture books and even reads to the students (we’re talking 15- and 16-year-olds here). You might think this is a disaster waiting to happen but anyone who has children knows that there are hundreds of picture books out there that appeal to both adults and children. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen, for example. This is an idea that I hadn’t even thought of but something I might consider for the new year.

Zombie SurvivalAmy also runs a Zombie Survival Course. Think of it like Debate Club for the Apocalypse. Students decide on the best ways to survive a zombie infestation, how to kill zombies and what are the essential items needed in order to live through the event. Of course, only Amy knows all of the true answers and lets the students know which ones go on to start a new society and which ones are gnawed on by their own townsfolk.

One of my favourite ideas from Amy’s session is how, in July, she visits all of the primary schools with children entering her high school in Sept. All of these children receive a copy of the same book along with exercises related to the book to complete over the summer.

This way, when they enter the school in Sept, they already know who she is and they’ve all (hopefully) read the same book. This gives her a massive head start when it comes to interacting with the new students.

As for me, being a ninja librarian is what I strive to become on a daily basis. How to attract teens to the library that don’t normally come, I rely heavily on what I call Passive Programming. That’s simply when you create a place where students have control, like a display that they can interact with.

My most successful one was during well-being week when I asked students to write out messages of well-being that other students could take with them. Well Being Week

This worked out really well, better than I expected with students of all ages coming to the library to share their positive thoughts. Hosting our Comic-Con was another big event, this brought in loads of new students.

It was a nail-biter because I held it on a Saturday after World Book Day and I thought nobody would show up, but they did.

Getting teens into the library can be a challenge. Getting them to come back time and time again is even harder.

ComicconThe goal, in my opinion, is to make sure they know that the library is for them, that it belongs to them and that as long as they follow the rules you’ve laid out, everyone’s going to be happy.

I’d really love to hear the kinds of ideas you as a public or school librarian use to get teens into the library!