Ghost Hunting @ My Library

February 7, 2013

ghost huntersI’m still settling in at my new job, so I thought I’d get back to blogging by writing about some of the things I wish I’d written about while I was learning and growing in my previous position. Since the post I did on the Minecraft competition we held still gets me a lot of questions about how to do the same, I thought I’d write about another unusual, successful-by-some-metrics program.

Like all libraries, my last library had regulars. A particular group of regulars formed my core audience when I started to spin up programs: they were the ones who’d come to drop-in gaming and movie screenings regularly, so when I decided it was time to form a TAB, they were the first ones I went to, and they were my most faithful attendees.

As they got older and our teen services offerings grew, their use of the library changed (once they started driving, they did a lot less just hanging out!), but they were still the kids I knew best and the kids I could count on to come to things.

But it wasn’t just me counting on them, I was encouraged to discover. One day, one of these girls came to me and said that she and her friends had formed a paranormal investigation team, and while they had the equipment they needed and had done some investigations, they were having trouble getting access to other locations because grownups weren’t really interested in a bunch of teens running around on their property after dark. They wanted to know if they could incorporate as a library club so I could help them talk to the adults at those places.

What I really loved about this was that they were already pursuing an interest and they realized on their own that the library could help them take that interest further. I’m really into the “helping teens grow” part of YA librarianship, so I found this especially gratifying and exciting.

I said yes, of course, but then it was time to figure out exactly what it’d mean for them to be a library club. The first thing we did was to draw up a code of conduct that included both “the library isn’t liable for you” and “respect the spirits and each other.” I think this might be one of the most fun things I ever wrote for my job.

After that was settled, it was time to help them secure locations. They drew up a list of places they were interested in, and their high school was on that list. The high school in town is really receptive to partnerships and generally to giving kids opportunities to do things, so I called up the principal and asked if they could do an after-hours investigation. After hearing that we had a code of conduct and that I’d be with them, he agreed.

We all met briefly before the investigation was to begin. The principal had all of us sit at a conference table in the office together, and he asked them about how an investigation worked, what locations they’d already checked out, what kinds of evidence they collected, and how they reviewed the evidence. He made a point of listening to them and asking questions and taking them seriously, and I really appreciated that. It’s easy for adults to blow off teens, and it’s easy to blow off teens who are interested in something like ghost-hunting.

He also asked if he could accompany the group on their first part of the investigation that night. He came along as the teens checked the temperature of stairwells, took photos in dark rooms, and collected audio evidence in different areas. Then he gave me a key to open whatever rooms we needed and went on his way. The teens did some more evidence gathering and after two hours or so, they were done. I returned the key to the custodian in the office and we all went home.

A few days later, I ran into the principal at another event and he told me that the kids were showing him their evidence the next day. I was so glad that they’d had a positive interaction with their principal, especially since they’re kids who tend to feel like they’re on the fringes and since the principal was relatively new. It’s definitely because he showed respect and interest during that first meeting — how cool is that?

The group continued to do investigations on their own not using the library name, and I continued to help them find locations around town to check out and accompany them there. I think the crowning glory for this librarian, though, was the time that they all met with me on a Saturday morning (!) to visit the local historical society library (!!) to do local history research to find new locations and people to investigate (!!!). The librarian at the historical society was so helpful in pulling files on different places and people around town and in showing us how to use the town assessor’s website to find out who owned different properties in town. This might be the most research-y research I was ever asked to help with during my time at that library, and it was a great way to explain to parents why we did something seemingly so un-library-like as having a teen ghost hunting club.

Turnout was never spectacular; it was only those kids and their friends, but they’d occasionally bring new friends they met through work or clubs, and attendance was consistent. But more than that, I had specific things I could point to as evidence for this being

  1. appropriate for the library
  2. a good way for them to develop their organizational skills, since I only helped rather than running the club, and
  3. something that could lead to increased use of the library by the kids involved.

When I left the library, the kids in the group were all seniors within a couple months of graduating, so they agreed they’d just go back to being an independent group not using the library’s name with the understanding that if they ever needed help with research or something similar, they could come to the library for that assistance.

I’m not really sure I can take credit for this paranormal investigation team as a program — it was more a partnership between those kids and the library. But I love that it’s such a good example of how teens can see the library as helpful, of how we can help them take their interests to the next level in a mutually beneficial way, and of how we can be part of our local community. But I can’t claim their successes as my own or anything; I just facilitated. But isn’t that often what librarians do?

If you have teens who are interested in the paranormal at your library, see if they’re interested in forming a club. While I was fortunate to have teens with their own equipment and an administration that was supportive of me doing off-site programs with them, you may not — but you could still help your paranormal investigators expand their skills and knowledge. Equipment can be expensive, but it can also be as cheap as a digital camera and a little audio recorder. You may not be able to go off-site, but you could have them investigate your library, or investigate their own homes and review evidence at the library. There are a lot of local paranormal investigation teams of grownups who would be happy to come talk to young people interested in the same thing. You can also ask for other groups to send evidence so your experts can review it — YOU could become the local group everyone turns to when they suspect a ghostly presence!

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