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Remembering Samer

July 28, 2020 - 5:27pm

Rachel – Teen Services

It’s March 11th, a Wednesday night, and I’m sitting at the Teen Underground desk. The Library has been quiet lately and our teen space is unusually empty for a weeknight until Samer walks in. My mood brightens immediately upon seeing him open our door. He comes in smiling like he always does and walks right up to me; before I even have a chance to greet him he’s saying hello and asking me how my day was. This isn’t surprising for Samer, he always wants to know how people are and what they’ve been doing. You get the sense that he really cares about the person he’s talking to, he wants to know how you feel and he wants to share his own experiences with you.  

We catch up a bit and I tell him I’ve missed seeing him around. Whenever he’s absent from the Library for a couple days it’s because he’s doing something fun and creative at school with his friends and I can’t wait to hear about what he’s been up to this time. 

We eventually start talking about graphic novels because they’re his favorite type of book. He especially loves realistic stories about love and friendship, but he’s selective when it comes to the art style. Samer has an incredibly strong sense of self and aesthetic; he knows what he likes and he doesn’t compromise that taste for anyone. When it comes to graphic novels, the illustrations need to be in color. This is probably the most Samer thing about how he picks a book: everything needs to be as vibrant and bright as he is. It isn’t surprising that black-and-white pictures don’t cut it, everything he loves is colorful in the purest sense.  

Somehow we start talking about crafts. Even when we’re just talking at my desk, he’s always making something. I remember one afternoon Samer used a tissue, some colored markers, and his water bottle to make a tie-dye design. Just like that, he had an idea in the moment and he brought it to life. I hung his tie-dye tissue up on the wall after he left and people admired it for weeks. Tonight we have slime on our minds and I mention I have some slime-making supplies in my office. Samer gets excited and asks if we can make slime together. His enthusiasm rubs off on me like it always does and soon we’re standing side-by-side at a table creating brightly-colored slime. 

We both experiment mixing colors and making up funny names for our creations: “nacho cheese” for our marigold yellow, “shrek snot” for our lime green, “computer blue” for our soft powder blue. We were originally just going to make ourselves one slime each, but Samer asks if we can make more. He wants to give some to his teachers and other librarians as gifts. There is never a moment when Samer isn’t thinking about others, trying to come up with ways to surprise the people he loves with kind gestures. And so we make and package nearly six different slimes, the colors are chosen based on what he knows are each individual person’s favorite. We walk to the first floor together and give Miss Cate the “nacho cheese” slime because we know it’ll make her laugh. We take the “computer blue” slime to Pete in Digital Services because we know he’ll appreciate the joke. We talk the entire time. 

Eventually it’s late. The windows are dark and the Library is even quieter than it was when Samer first came downstairs. I can’t remember if he decides to go home on his own or if his mom calls my desk looking for him because this same situation happens all the time with Samer. He’s so happy to be with us in the Library that he doesn’t start walking home in time for his curfew, but his family always knows where to find him. We say goodbye, but I can’t remember if I told him to have a good night or that it was wonderful to see him. I wish I had known it would be our last in-person conversation so I could tell him how much we all love him and appreciate the light he brings into our lives. 

Our lime green slime still sits on my desk. 

This is just one memory of many that I have of Samer and I wish it wasn’t our last, but I know we all wish quite a lot right now. I could sit here and tell countless stories about Samer’s selflessness, his kindness, his sense of humor, his confidence, his creativity, his big heart, his independence, and his energy. I could talk about how funny it was to watch him film TikTok dances on his iPad almost every day or how much our other teens absolutely loved him. I could talk about the hours he spent volunteering for our summer reading program every year and tell you that he was, without a doubt, everyone’s favorite middle schooler to work with. I could go on about how excited he was to be in his school play and how happy I always felt seeing him in the Library energized by rehearsals, even when I knew he was supposed to be at home. I don’t know if I could handle telling all of those stories right now, but he’s touched more than just my life, so I’ll let some other librarians tell you their stories. 


Donna – Teen Services

As a 6th grader, Samer was always eager to listen to and share book talks when Mikey and I visited Culver. I didn’t see him as much last year, probably because he had other stuff going on. The older students  (6th-8th graders) tend to want to listen more and share less, but he always did both. There’s one visit I remember when the topic was horror stories, and he basically became the leader of the discussion, sharing books he’d read but then also asking about the books I had brought. He always seemed genuinely interested in the books, would ask questions, and was in general just very animated and actively engaged. He radiated energy throughout the room.

Last December, he came to the night photography program I did, and just surprised me by how excited he was. He brought his own camera and started talking about how we should start a photography club, and his enthusiasm for art was what got me planning a monthly art program for the summer (which eventually became the Teen Paint Alongs).

Ari’s the one who took most of the pictures of him. They took photos of each other playing with the lights and worked so well as a team they may as well have been old friends – I don’t even know if they knew each other before the program, but they would have stayed past closing if I didn’t tell them it was time to go. He took some goofy pictures of himself, too, looking up his nose and stuff, just for fun. He made the “Love” sign and was disappointed when the pictures didn’t turn out how he wanted. But yeah, he wanted to take photos that showed love.

Then, in February, he came to the Shrinky Dink program and made his own rainbow Shrinky Dink. So when I think of him, I think love, rainbows, his big personality, and his radiant smile.


Mary Ann – Youth Services

I am so, so sad to read the news about the beloved teen of our Library Sam Yousif. There are so many things I loved about Sam. I remember last year when I was trying model building and creativity by making a giant Dragon while staying quiet (invisible) in the Middleground, Sam observed aggression and negative behavior from a clique of kids that was making this very difficult for me. He distanced himself from the group. Next day as I was building, I noticed that he was by himself with his own agenda:  he spliced the same group by approaching me and the kids directly with questions like “Hey what’s up?”, “What are you doing?” with genuine enthusiasm and I believe that was an act he learned from Rachel and Donna! One by one he addressed each kid and was bopping in and out with his giant beautiful laugh and smile, and this really helped fix and enrich the experience I was trying to create.

I believe the Library was his place of happiness where he just started to grow into his own. I believe he gravitated to the Teen Underground because he felt extremely comfortable and accepted as he started to form his true self. Sam was one of the reasons why I couldn’t wait to work the Teen desk shift because he was just pure joy in every room he entered, and I learned how to be a better librarian just by being in the same room with him. 

After reflecting on Sam’s actions, Sam actually found a way to make kindness cool for middle schoolers and teens. What a wonderful gift he gave us!

Another memory/observation of Sam was the day he finished a painting (from school) in Middleground. (It looked like the picture was on display at school because it had a matte around it). Sam was full of “questions energy” and spent a great deal of time in Middleground painting. Through a series of questions, we set up a painting area of butcher block paper, brushes, and poster paints.

Anyway, what moved me was that he wanted to change it! The picture might have been an assignment and still had pencil outlines of unfinished areas.  Sam wanted to just change it- but not sure how. He kept asking me what to do. I was elated (freaking out inside!!!) and it took everything I had to not tell him what to do–(UGH!) instead be quiet and return the question with – it’s up to you… or you choose. I didn’t need to teach him but encourage him to do it his way. 

Sam took a detail-thin brush and dipped it directly into the black paint. Using a detail brush meticulously he started to add pure black (traditional water based painting I was taught to water down the hue/colors before applying… but that was not the case here.) – Next, I noticed he had a larger FLAT brush in his hand and finished the black background and then started to add bold colors to his design. To me, I was looking at this with new eyes. It looked like he was moving beyond the assignment and turning the school piece into something of his own. He took great care and took his time. The thought that ran through my head (in super s  l  o  w motion) was this kid just turned onto an artist! Right there in the Middleground! How cool is that! It truly looked like he was in the “Art Zone”! 


April – Youth Services

I remember sitting at the KidSpace desk and Samer would walk up, just beaming for no reason! This was his trademark; a smile that made you instantly smile right back at him without thinking. Oftentimes Samer was checking in for volunteering, or just asking to use the phone to call his mom and let her know he was safe at the Library. Without fail, Samer always left you filled with a little more positivity than before.


Cate – Youth Services

Samer saved my sanity in February of last year after a particularly raucous afternoon in the Wonder Ground. We were learning about air resistance. The goal for each kid was to build an aircraft out of craft supplies. We set up a fan pointed toward the ceiling to see if their aircraft would stay aloft over the fan for 5 seconds. Hosting this program was a rollicking good time and mess-making. This was what the Wonder Ground looked like at the halfway point: 

It got a lot messier. 

Samer must have heard the commotion from the Middle Ground, and came to see what all the fuss was about. When he saw what was going on his eyes lit up. I explained the project and even invited him to join us. He said he would let the younger kids have their fun, asked when the program would be over, and then went back to the Middle Ground. 

At 6, after all the kids had left, the room truly looked like a tornado had swept through the Wonder Ground. I was spent–completely exhausted–and a little disoriented from all the commotion. As I sat there trying to psych myself up to start cleaning, Samer popped in and offered to help. I almost wept with gratitude. 

With Samer’s help, we saved the supplies that could still be used for projects and got the room tidied quickly. But more importantly, I was able to distinguish the finished projects kids left behind from the random scraps. Samer treated each one like a treasure and wanted to know who made it, how hard they worked on it, and how it flew when tested. He helped me pack each one up for the next time the maker returned to the Wonder Ground. Just thinking about this day fills me with the joy and gratitude to have had a friend like Samer.


Debbie – Youth Services

Sam was a radiant young man with a smile to match, very mature for his age yet brimming with good humor and goodwill.


Leslie – Youth Services

I first noticed this smiling, radiant kid with the big personality and melting dark brown eyes full of sunshine and merriment when his mom started calling for him. She would always call and ask where he was which was amusing to me because at first I had no idea who he was but the phone calls kept coming and I learned who he was. He was always having fun and smiling and surrounded by friends when I saw him. He was sweet, funny and always spirited and very curious. He did not have any defensiveness and assumed the best about everyone. He was open to all — an open book.

One day his friends brought him to my desk and asked me to talk to Samer. They were worried he was too open and trusting in relation to answering personal questions from a bully. I told him he did not have to answer private questions from just anyone and could select who he told what and keep some things private. I was in essence warning him that not everyone is as nice and well-meaning and friendly as he was. He was so beautiful and pure he thought everyone was the same and he was ready to be friends even with people who were menacing or malicious. He smiled a deep understanding smile when I gave him my well-meaning advice to be careful. I did not want him to be hurt and I told him not everyone is trustworthy. I saw from the look on his face that he would consider my advice but he thought me and his friends were worrying over nothing. He could handle it-whatever happened. Most of all he just wanted to be himself even if that meant being vulnerable to bullies. I admired his bravery and told him that if he was my son I would be very proud of him. I wish he was still here so I could say it again.



This is how the Library will remember Samer: with love and joy, admiration, and appreciation. I know we only represented a fraction of Samer’s full life, but we feel truly and deeply lucky to have been in it at all.

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A Timeless, 1995 Gem of a Movie

July 14, 2020 - 6:10pm

Some things really are timeless. Even if they aren’t.

A contradiction? Not to one of the incredibly lucky persons who have seen Whisper of the Heart, a 1995 Japanese Anime movie adapted from a 1989 Manga comic book.

This is an impossibly charming (although somewhat predictable) adolescent love story. The “bibliographic record” (information about each item in the Library, which you can find in our database) for the video puts it this way: “A schoolgirl named Shizuku, who longs to discover her true talents, meets the mysterious Seiji, a boy who is determined to follow his dreams, and the Baron, a magical cat who helps her listen to the whispers in her heart.”

True, but incomplete. The real reasons to see this 25-year-old gem are as follows:

  1. It is sweet but wise in the way it depicts relationships between junior-high students, their parents, and their siblings.
  2. It is stunningly beautiful the way it uses artwork to display light, shadows, depth, clouds, landscapes, sunrises, and the streets and homes of western Tokyo.
  3. It cleverly weaves together subplots involving a real (and grumpy) cat, a bejeweled statuette of a cat, and other offbeat elements.
  4. The music is gorgeous, and viewers get to hear an old hit from yesterday in startlingly fresh and funny new ways—especially if you like the sound of the violin.
  5. This movie makes you feel really, really good—and hopeful about the future.
  6. It features a library. (Yay!)

Finally, it is fun to revisit that place in time: the early 1990s. This really is a time capsule: the municipal library in which Shizuku hangs out at is just beginning to digitize its collection and phase out its card catalog. Also, the sight of Shizuku and her classmates in crisp school uniforms probably strikes American kids as quaint. But these details don’t matter much: Shizuku and Seiji could have just stepped out onto the pavement of a bright Tokyo afternoon today, so fresh are their personalities and fears and dreams.

Do yourself a favor: see this movie. Twenty-five years is long enough to have waited. You can pick up a copy of Whisper of the Heart at the Library by using our No Contact Holds Pick-Up.

If you’re a teen and you love Anime like this and other films and TV shows, join the Teen Underground Anime Club.



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Knowledge is Power: Books, Movies, and Documentaries to Further Education on Antiracism

June 10, 2020 - 4:25pm

“… ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.” – James Baldwin

I cannot overstate how significantly books contribute to antiracism. Understanding history beyond basic school textbooks helps us draw lines from the past directly to where we are right now. Educating ourselves adds invaluable depth to our antiracism and equips us with the information we need to speak out against hate. I’m not trying to get too corny here, but seriously, knowledge is power.

It’s not enough to know that anti-blackness is “bad” or respond to accusations of racism with oversimplified generalizations like “I treat everyone the same!” or “I don’t see color!” We need to understand how cultural racism informs our own biases and systemic racism sets people up to fail. I know this is a hard one, but we also need to get comfortable facing harm we’ve done and commit to doing better.

Ibram X. Kendi wrote that “Racist ideas love believers, not thinkers.” Refusing to educate ourselves is how we end up with insidious “all lives matter” slogans that redirect and undermine Black activism. If we don’t read books, we fall for these racist narratives. We need to read antiracist books with the understanding that we’re never done learning. We need to know that we’ll never come to a point where we know enough about complicated systems of oppression. We need to put the work into being thinkers.

I’d love for people feeling motivated by the movement happening right now to expand their understanding of racism and work on their own relationship with white supremacy. The books on our recommendation lists are great places to start. Thank you to the wonderful librarians who helped curate this list of antiracist books, movies, and documentaries.

Books for Adults:

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (Available on OverDrive and hoopla) A comprehensive history of anti-black racism that focuses on the lives of five major players in American history and highlights the debates that took place between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and anti-racists.

They Can’t Kill Us All The Story of the Struggle for Black Lives by Wesley Lowery (Available on OverDrive) A deeply reported book that brings alive the quest for justice in the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray, offering both unparalleled insight into the reality of police violence in America and an intimate, moving portrait of those working to end it.

Me And White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad (Available on OverDrive and hoopla) Based off the original workbook, Me and White Supremacy teaches readers how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (Available on OverDrive and hoopla) A Seattle-based writer, editor and speaker tackles the sensitive, hyper-charged racial landscape in current America, discussing the issues of privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement and the “N” word.

The Talk: Race in America (Available on Kanopy) This film documents the increasingly common conversation taking place in homes across the country between parents of color and their children, especially sons, about how to behave if they are ever stopped by the police.

Books for Teens:

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria: And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum (Available on OverDrive) Beverly Daniel Tatum, a renowned authority on the psychology of racism, argues that straight talk about our racial identities is essential if we are serious about enabling communication across racial and ethnic divides.

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds, Ibram X. Kendi (Available on OverDrive) This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.

Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults): A True Story of the Fight for Justice by Bryan Stevenson (Available on OverDrive) Stevenson’s story is one of working to protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society–the poor, the wrongly convicted, and those whose lives have been marked by discrimination and marginalization. Through this adaptation, young people of today will find themselves called to action and compassion in the pursuit of justice.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Available on OverDrive) The author presents a history of racial discrimination in the United States and a narrative of his own personal experiences of contemporary race relations, offering possible resolutions for the future.

The Last Graduation: The Rise and Fall of College Programs in Prison (Available on Kanopy) Researcher Barbara Zahm gives a brief history of the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion in which forty-three men died, and the college prison program which was initiated afterward. After interviews with prison inmates, “The Movement for College Programs of New York State Prisons After Attica” was formed. Zahm tells of her transformation after working with the inmates and her anguish over the Congressional decision to eliminate Pell Grants for prisoners, thus ending the program and leading to the “Last Graduation”. As of 1997 funding cuts had not been restored.

Books for Kids:

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson (Available on OverDrive and hoopla) Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, children and teenagers march against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander (Available on OverDrive) The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree. Originally performed for ESPN’s The Undefeated, this poem is a love letter to black life in the United States. It highlights the unspeakable trauma of slavery, the faith and fire of the civil rights movement, and the grit, passion, and perseverance of some of the world’s greatest heroes.

Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy (Available on OverDrive) A child reflects on the meaning of being Black in this moving and powerful anthem about a people, a culture, a history, and a legacy that lives on.

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramee (Available on OverDrive and hoopla) Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking.

The Vinyl Project: Black Panther Kids (Available on hoopla) The archival soundbites on this recording include chilling voices on repression and glimmering assertions of resistance. Voices include Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, Noam Chomsky, children in a Black Panther Liberation School, and many more. The Vinyl Project collective hopes these sounds will pollinate your beats, noise, melodies, and community.

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We Stand Against Racism

June 5, 2020 - 9:01am

A Message from the Executive Director

Sorrow. Anger. Worry. These are feelings all of us have experienced over the past few weeks following the horrifying and tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing response. The complicated situation makes it hard to know what the “right” thing to say is.

But as a library staff that deeply cares for the diverse community we serve, we want to state clearly that the Niles-Maine District Library stands against racism. We pledge to continue to help people see and understand different perspectives. We pledge to work on ourselves and our own shortcomings in being antiracist.

As children’s librarian Cate puts it, “We are committed to serving our diverse community with compassion and a deep concern for human dignity.”

We remain with another feeling—hope.

Susan Dove Lempke
Executive Director

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Teen Book Review: Hooper by Geoff Herbach

April 28, 2020 - 7:05am

Hooper by Geoff Herbach is a novel about prejudice, opportunity, and family. Teenage orphan Adam Sobieski, born in Poland, lives with his single-parent adoptive mother. He goes to high school in Mankato, Minnesota and excels in his basketball skills on the team. He is scouted by and joins a prestigious travel team in the state. He has issues connecting with other teenagers due to his lack of English skills, and has to deal with some racial tensions with his teammates because he is the only white kid on the team. During his time at high school he faces prejudice for his background as an immigrant from Poland, and rough relationships with his friends.

What I like about this book is how Adam deals with his problems. He must work throughout the book to prove himself to people on his team to trust him. I like Adam’s quality of persistence to fix his friendships and relationships with his teammates. I like how the book has a suspenseful feeling at the end of each chapter that makes me want to find what is going to happen next to Adam.

I think that this book is a good read for middle-schoolers since it is not too challenging to understand the concepts. The author has a good way of presenting the events and hardships in Adam’s life. This book is great for middle-schoolers also because of how they can relate to Adam’s life. Many students can relate with Adam’s academic skills, and sometimes his social awkwardness as he engages in a new environment in a different country.

By: Zach

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Teens Find Community in the Underground

April 14, 2020 - 9:49am

We visited the Teen Underground to see exactly what was happening. Here’s what we saw.

The scene is set: teen boys, aged 13-15, sit anxiously in front of computers. They’re playing Minecraft in the Lower Level of the Library where two librarians—Donna Block and Rachel Colias—have worked together to energize Teen Underground, a space where teens aged 13-18 can be together. “Teens have all the same needs as kids and adults,” Donna says. “They need a space to be able to do that safely and comfortably.” Donna and Rachel have done just that; created a space where teens not only feel heard, but also feel safe and understood.

Enter Josmi, a freshman at Niles West High School who has been visiting Teen Underground since the 7th grade. “I can literally open myself up here,” she begins. “This is our time to find out who we are.”

“Libraries are supposed to serve community members at every stage in their life, so providing a space tailored to fit where teens are developmentally and staffing that space with adults who understand their unique experience is not only invaluable, it’s mandatory,” Rachel adds.

And she’s not wrong. According to a study by the Young Adult Library Services Association*, adopting a continuous, year-round approach to library services, public libraries can give significant value to their community by supporting healthy adolescent development, providing safe spaces for teens to explore their passions, and preparing teens for college, careers, and life.

Having asked quite a few teens why the space is so important to them, many responded with the same feeling: “When I first came to the Library,” Tarilja, an 8th grader at Culver School begins,“I thought Teen Underground was about books, but it was more than that. You can meet friendly people, too.”

Natalia, Daniah, and Steven, all freshman at Niles West High School, sit together near the TV many use to play video games and watch movies. When asked why they love Teen Underground, Natalia sits up excitedly and says, “It’s like a second home.”

*“The Value of Continuous Teen Services: A YALSA Position Paper”, American Library Association, April 18, 2018. | (Accessed February 6, 2020) | Document ID: 49077794-ad7f-4ca1-9c14-633b25df0322

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