Running a Book Club for teenagers: some thoughts

I’ve been in my current role as the Librarian at a Sixth Form College for over a term now, and for the last half term or so have
been running a Book Club for thirty minutes every Friday morning, one of two which the Library runs. It occurred to me just after I started the Book Club that there were, perhaps, some things that I hadn’t really adequately prepared for, and also that I know some colleagues struggled with. This being the case, I thought I’d write a quick blog about it, in case anyone else out there was thinking about starting one or has any pointers to help us improve.


My first point is the question of communication – how do you gain feedback and responses from students? We initially had lots of students sign up at our Fresher’s Fair, but trying to get students to fill in a brief questionnaire via email about their preferences proved problematic. So this was the first hurdle. While some of the students who had signed up were known to staff, and we could therefore ask them in person, for new students it proved difficult to further engage them. This led on to another problem – when should we timetable the Clubs? Thanks to changes in the College this year, there is no time in which all students have free time, making it virtually impossible to find a time which will suit both students and staff. In the Library we run a shift timetable, so we also had to find a time when it was suitable for staff to be out of the Library. We finally settled on 9am on a Friday morning, as lessons don’t start until 9.30, but obviously the somewhat early nature of this meant that some students were reluctant to come.


The second big issue was that of picking the book itself. Given our disappointing lack of response to the survey, we decided that the staff members responsible would pick the initial book. I picked Unwind by Neal Shusterman, which is the first in a trilogy; set in a dystopian future and focusing on the ability of adults to ‘unwind’ teenagers – letting their bodies be divided up into separate parts and used as transplants. My book proved popular, with all the copies quickly being taken out on loan. One of my colleagues picked a book recommended by one of the English teachers, The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter which unfortunately proved less than popular. Personally, I’m of the opinion that this is because the students saw it as ‘academic’ and not recreational, unlike the teen fiction book that I chose. Another issue with choosing books is the number of copies – being a Sixth Form College Library we do not have massive amounts of space, and so it’s hard to justify ordering multiple copies of the same book. Our original theory was that we could hopefully rotate books around the different Clubs, thereby reducing the multiplication of copies, but that obviously hasn’t entirely worked. Yet another problem is that of enforcing attendance – all of the copies of my book are out on loan, and yet several of those students don’t attend the Book Club. Should they still be allowed to have the book? And, perhaps more importantly, should they be allowed priority access to the sequels, despite not attending? I’ve ordered less copies of the sequels, thereby not allowing for students who aren’t attending meetings, but hopefully this won’t result in ill-feelings towards me!


My final concern with this matter is that of targets. So far my group and I have tried to come to a mutually agreeable target for reading a certain amount by the next week, which works in principle but not as well in practice. This then creates problems with students who have read further than others, and want to talk about certain developments but can’t due to this risk of spoilers for others. We’ve firmly agreed to avoid spoilers at all costs, but it does make the discussion more restrictive when some students aren’t meeting the agreed target. Is there some way I should be addressing this? I’m very aware that the Book Club is supposed to be fun, not work, and also that, as AS-Level students, they have large amounts of work to be doing anyway, which reduces their leisure time. It’s a delicate balancing act I think, and if anyone has any ideas then I’m all ears!


My last main thought on running the Book Club is that it’s a great opportunity to encourage students to read for pleasure, and to build positive relationships between staff and pupils (something that’s very important when you work with teenagers and therefore spend large amounts of time telling them off). I really enjoy doing the Book Club, and I’m hoping that I’ll encourage even more students to come along and join. Let the reading revolution begin!


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The life of a College Librarian

So I’ve been working in my new job as the Librarian in a Sixth Form College for two months now and I feel like it’s time I blogged about it. This is partly in case there’s anyone out there who’s interested in what it’s like (forlorn hope), and partly just for me to catalogue my own experiences for future reference. I guess it’s kind of a ‘Day in the Life’ post really. So, anyway, I’ve just completed my MA at UCL, and this is first professional post. First things first, I really enjoy my job, and it’s nice to feel justified in having spent all that time and money getting my MA. Having said that, I still don’t feel like I’m being paid enough to have really got value for money from my MA which is a bit depressing.


Nonetheless, my job is good and it’s great experience. One of the things I like most about working in a College is that because the
Library is fairly small (in comparison to University libraries for example), there’s more scope for a broad range of duties, which is brilliant for a new professional like me. My duties, to name but a few, include sole charge of the catalogue (including cataloguing from scratch, importing records, and amending/merging/cloning records and authorities), generating statistics on a monthly basis, student disciplinary meetings, acquisitions, information literacy, acting as departmental link and staff performance reviews. That’s a lot of experience for my future career, all from one post. Plus, a big positive for me is that when there’s such a variety of tasks to do it’s harder to get bored, and therefore easier to enjoy what I do.


So, a typical day for me (if there is any such thing) consists of spending anywhere between three and six hours (depending on staffing levels) on either the Library desk, or supervising the computer room which is under Library control. Working on the desk and in the computer room is pretty standard Library stuff – issuing/returning books, dealing with behaviour, answering enquiries, selling stationary, fixing the printer, helping students work the IT software etc. Some of the duties are a bit more specialist to working in a College, such as proof-reading work, checking personal statements for UCAS, and it helps to have first-hand knowledge of teen fiction, but otherwise it’s fairly run of the mill stuff. The rest of my day can be spent in a variety of ways. I have sole charge of the catalogue so most days I do either some cataloguing from scratch (we have a lot of donations) or importing and amending records, as well as amending records that need it when I’m just browsing the catalogue. Similarly, most days I tend to have some sort of departmental duties. I’m the Departmental Library Liaison for the English, Film and Media and Social Sciences Departments, both of which are rather large. My work for them encompasses a huge range of things
including attending staff meetings, creating resources for sessions such as study help/reading lists/time management, acquisitions, processing new books, researching new resources and delivering sessions to students. I really like this part of my job, as it allows me to reach outside of the Library and demonstrate our importance and relevance to both staff and students who may not otherwise realise this. Other things that I might do on a typical day will be to help students with assignments, run reports from the LMS to determine cataloguing and usage statistics, Imageand analyse stock levels/resources within my departmental areas. I didn’t really enjoy cataloguing that much during my MA, so I never thought I’d take a job that involved a lot of it. I’ve been surprised by how much I enjoy it though, and by how possessive I feel about “my” catalogue now!


Further to this, there are always opportunities for additional involvement in both the Library and the College, which helps to keep the job fresh and interesting. We are currently setting up some Book Clubs, one of which will be run by me, with the aim of encouraging recreational reading among the students. Additionally, I am hoping to go on a School Visit, to promote both the College and the Library to potential students, in the next few weeks. So that’s my job! To me, the best things about it are the interaction with students (although they drive me mad at times), the feeling of positively impacting on the lives of young people, and the variety of tasks I have to do. So become a College Librarian, that’s what I say!Image

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CILIP New Professionals Day 2013: Eyes wide shut – an exploration of different sectors

There’s so much that I feel like I could say about CILIPNPD13 that it’s going to be hard to condense it into one blog post. I went to CILIPNPD12 last year, and one thing I liked about this year was that the focus was completely different. Last year’s was, I felt, more of a focus on me as an individual, while this year was more focused on giving insights into the profession as divided by sector. As someone who’s just started my first professional post, I found it really interesting to be introduced to sectors which I knew little or nothing about, and hadn’t really considered working in (until now, that is!). I’m going to give my impressions of the day in chronological order, so I’m starting with the Keynotes address. In an effort to reduce space I’m not putting in titles of talks etc., but the programme for the day can be found HERE, and the presentations HERE.

The main things that I took away from the Keynotes speech by Barbara Band were these:

  1. CPD is always important – we work in a profession which is always changing and we need to keep our skills and awareness current.
  2. Advocacy is a key trait for all information professionals – the profession is often misunderstood, and therefore undervalued, and we need to change this.
  3. Get involved in things, and say yes!

I thought these were all good points which can’t be reiterated enough, especially the advocacy one. In the changing world of cuts, we need to demonstrate our value to everyone, and to prove that we’re essential.

For the first session, I attended Laura William’s session on media librarianship. I found this interesting, as I’d never really considered that librarians were even needed in the media sector. For me, the best things about it seem to be the possibility for becoming a specialist very quickly, the flexibility, and the ability to impact millions of people, just by doing your job. However, on the down side, there’s a lack of job security, limited opportunities, isolation and a feeling of being under-valued. For me, this last point really hits home. I work in the academic sector and have, in the past, worked in an institution where the Library was clearly under-valued. I hated it, and don’t think I could work somewhere like that again. Nonetheless, the sector sounds interesting, although I am surprised by some of the revelations. For example, most materials are still kept as physical copies on tape, instead of being digitised – something I find astonishing in this modern world.

??????They still use tape (maybe not quite this antiquated though…)!

The second session I attended was Nick Stopforth’s session on public libraries. This was actually really informative – I didn’t realise how much there was I didn’t know about modern public library services! The things I was most interested in include the idea of Universal Offers – keeping services consistent in 151 library services across the UK, which I think is a brilliant idea, and the ‘Bookmark your Library’ scheme, which is a national scheme to provide one online catalogue for users. They can then search for a title and find out which of their nearest libraries have the item available. It’s brilliant! It even lets you request ILLs if none of your local libraries have it. The last point I was most interested in was the fact that a pilot scheme has just started in public libraries whereby the ‘Big Seven’ publishers are trialling the lending of e-books. I’m really interested in this, as I think it would be a great addition to the academic library where I work, so now I know to look out for it and follow its progress.

Binary worldPublic libraries are modernising

The third session I attended (after a lunch of those amazing burritos again – CILIP certainly knows how to arrange an excellent meal!) was Chris Billing’s one on working in a prison libraries. I’ve always found prison libraries fascinating, and actually tried to get some work experience in one during my course but never managed to, so I was really excited about it. She didn’t disappoint. Some of the facts I found most intriguing are these:

  1. There are 132 prisons in the UK, and only 11 of those are for women.
  2. All prisoners have a legal right to 30 minutes of library access every week.
  3. Nearly half of all prisoners have no formal qualifications.
  4. The libraries are barely digitised. Prisoners are allowed no internet access, and staff access in restricted to computers in lockable offices. Additionally, staff are not allowed to have any mobile phones within the prison, unless they’re locked away.

In addition to this some of the benefits of working there include having ring-fenced funding, a captive audience (literally), lots of training and clear consequences for users who misbehave – and as someone who works in a Sixth Form College I can appreciate how nice it is when users are definitively sanctioned for bad behaviour. However, she did caution that you have to be aware of the importance of following procedures, being circumspect and not revealing personal details, and the idea that prisoners may try to ‘condition’ you – i.e. behave well and be nice so as to gain something from you in the future. While this also happens to a certain extent in academic libraries with students, the consequences are obviously much less serious. Furthermore, it’s fascinating to think of prison libraries in terms of reducing reoffending, and to hear about the range of schemes they run to improve literacy and rebuild links between prisoners and their families. I won’t list them all (there isn’t room), but I’ll just briefly mention ‘Storybook Dads’, whereby prisoners are recorded reading a book to their children, which is then sent as a CD to the family, along with a copy of the book. The job seems really rewarding, and I could definitely see myself taking a job in a prison library if one became available.

Row of Jail CellsA captive audience, indeed…

The last session I attended was on health librarianship, which was a real eye-opener for me. I literally had no idea about what is involved in working in this sector, and for this reason have never been interested in it. However, after Victoria Treadway’s talk, I would definitely consider it. The thing I like most about it is the idea that you can have a direct impact on the treatment of a patient, by providing doctors and nurses with advice on best practice. Additionally, I like that there is information literacy work involved, teaching staff and students to recognise the value of reliable sources and to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of research – I really believe in the importance of information literacy and I’m pleased to find that such teachings are being passed on to medical practitioners, for whom it can literally be life-saving. I was also interested to learn that all hospitals have a library service – something which as a librarian I feel I should’ve already known, but didn’t. Finally, a couple of tips I picked up from Victoria is the idea of ‘horizon scanning’ – sending bulletins to staff about upcoming research etc., and this website: – you can find out the truth behind the headlines on medical research which is really interesting and a great find, I think!

MedicalReal impact on patient health

So, I think that’s more than long enough for one blog post! Just to say that the CILIP New Professionals Day is also really good for networking and meeting new people (as well as catching up with old friends), in addition to being very informative and insightful. I highly recommend you attend. And, of course, there’s also the huge added draw of the infamous BURRITOS!

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To diss or not to diss…that is the LIS question.

The discussion I participated in on #uklibchat on Twitter last week (1st October – agenda here) got me thinking, not only about the value of the MA LIS in general (some of my thoughts on the course at UCL can be found below), but on the value of the dissertation. One of the questions explored whether it is relevant to employers whether graduates have an MA, MSc or PG-Dip and it got me thinking how important the dissertation really is. I completed the dissertation at UCL and therefore will (hopefully) be gaining the MA. To me the decision was easy – the dissertation is of value, in my opinion, not only to employers, but also to the student in question. What I mean by this is not that I think most employers will discount graduates who have a PG Dip as opposed to an MA, but rather that having the MA can help to increase your chances. One of my fellow students only completed the PG Dip and she now holds a professional post, so it clearly didn’t harm her career prospects. Nonetheless, I stick by my assertion that completing the dissertation is the better route.

My reasons for this belief that the dissertation should be an integral part of the qualification are this:

1.      Completing the dissertation shows dedication to a project, as well as relevant skills such as time management, working on your own initiative, and a variety of research skills which, in our profession, are highly relevant. I know that many of these skills can be developed through the assignments during the course, but the dissertation proves that students can go the extra mile.


2.      Undertaking the dissertation shows a dedication, enthusiasm and interest in a particular area or topic which can be highly relevant to your future career. Not only does it benefit the student by allowing them to explore a topic they are extremely interested in, but it can also help students, in the choosing of such a topic, to clarify for themselves in which area of LIS they are interested. The value of this cannot be under-rated on courses which are generally broad reaching. Furthermore, I think that if the topic chosen really is of interest to the student, then the dissertation can actually be enjoyable. I’m not saying I enjoyed every minute of mine – it was stressful at times, very time-consuming and at times I resented doing it, but ultimately I wouldn’t change my decision.

Businessman Carrying Pile of Files


3.      The dissertation could well (and I deliberately say “could”, not “will”) help you to land your first professional role. Applying for a job which you can show you are enthusiastic and passionate about, through a relevant dissertation topic, hugely increases your chances of success. I’m not saying that it’s always relevant, but, certainly in my case, I was appointed to my first professional post partly because the subject of my dissertation addressed the way in which the institution is hoping my role will develop. Similarly, one of my friends has just been appointed to a job based largely on the subject of her dissertation.


This is not to say that the dissertation is necessarily an essential part of the MA. I understand from the reactions on Twitter during #uklibchat that many people think the PG Dip is enough to gain a professional post, and if it worked for them then who am I to argue? However, I remain convinced, from the point of view of my personal career, that completing the dissertation was the right route to follow.


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The MA LIS – Term Two analysis

So, the teaching part of my course is long finished, I’ve finally handed in the last of my assignments (goodbye, Case Study), and now all that remains to do is my dissertation, which is due in at the start of September. I say ‘all’ as if it’s a tiny, insignificant piece of work. Not so, unfortunately! But this blog isn’t about my dissertation, it’s about my second term of teaching during my MA LIS at UCL. So here goes…

 I took three taught modules during my second term, and one untaught one. The two compulsory taught modules were Information Sources and Retrieval, and Management. The untaught module was Professional Awareness, and for my optional module I chose Manuscript Studies.

 Image  Information Sources

So first, the compulsory taught modules. Information Sources and Retrieval (taught by an external lecturer) was, I must confess, not my favourite module. For a start, it was first thing on a Monday morning which did not endear it to anyone, and secondly I found it too theoretically based for my liking. Although there were a few practical sessions, which were for the large part helpful, the taught theory sessions were, in my opinion, somewhat defunct. I felt that, having experience of working in a library, a lot of the information was not new to me and wasn’t particularly allowing for my having practical experience. That’s just my personal opinion though, I’m sure some of the other students really enjoyed it. Furthermore, the coursework was worth 100% of the mark, which stressed me out quite a lot, especially as I felt the guidelines were fairly broad. To be fair though, once I got started on the coursework, it wasn’t as complicated as I originally thought.


Image Management (great picuture!)

The second compulsory taught module, Management, was, to me, far more relevant. I’m aiming to be part of a management team at one point in my career, so it was helpful having sessions which made me consider relevant issues such as budgeting, getting new staff, training etc. Some of the lectures, which were at times shared with Archives people, were somewhat irrelevant, but in general I found the practical sessions helpful. That’s not to say that I always enjoyed them – we were working in teams for most of it, and it’s quite frustrating trying to get a consensus from 7 other people at times! In addition to this, there’s a high workload of coursework to compile a portfolio, so my advice for any future students is to complete each task as a team week by week, so there’s less to do before submission. Nonetheless, I felt like it was, in general, helpful as a module.

 Image A librarian driven crazy by the profession!

The third compulsory module, which was untaught, was Professional Awareness. The assessment for this was 50% exam and 50% case study. I found revising for the exam quite difficult as the questions can basically be about anything that is a relevant issue in the profession – a very broad range of possibilities. Additionally, the exam was in a venue miles away from the main UCL site which made it more difficult to get to, and was three hours long. I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s a long time since I handwrote anything for three hours straight! My wrist didn’t know what had hit it! In addition to this, our exam date (not determined by the department, it should be noted) was in the first possible week, and in the same week as I had three other deadlines (some people had four), so was far from ideal timing. The department did move a couple of deadlines, but only after supplication from students, and after some delay. I don’t think it unreasonable to expect the department to figure out for themselves that giving students several deadlines and an exam in the same week might not be conducive to good marks…

Needless to say, I was not impressed! As for the case study, that was on an issue from work experience, which I enjoyed doing, but given the placement was so long ago now, it was quite difficult to remember some things. Still, it did make me recall everything that I liked about working at the House of Commons, so that’s good.

 Image Manuscript Studies

Finally, for the optional module. As I said above, I chose Manuscript Studies this term (taught by an external lecturer), mainly because it was something entirely new to me (I’ve got absolutely no experience in old books/manuscripts) so I thought I’d give it a try. Overall, I enjoyed the course. Some of it was incredibly challenging (being able to speak Latin would definitely have been a help!) but I actually really enjoyed the challenge of puzzling out the different scripts and deciphering them. That being said, I definitely didn’t enjoy the often breakneck speed of the classes, the lack of electronic aid (such as a Powerpoint) and only being given a five minute break in three hours. While I understand that I am there to learn, (and given the cost of the course, am eager to get my money’s worth) it is physically impossible for people to concentrate that long. Assessment was in the form of a transcription exam and an essay; my main problem with this was trying to find resources for the essay. Thank God for Senate House! This is one of the huge bonuses of UCL – it having so many libraries (and affiliated libraries) ensures that you can almost always get the book you need.

Anyway, that’s my assessment of the second term modules. I know I tend to criticise (who doesn’t?!) but I can honestly say that I’ve really enjoyed doing my course at UCL. I’ve made some great friends, had some brilliant lecturers and been given some amazing opportunities. Now there’s just the dissertation to face…

Images courtesy of Microsoft Word Clip Art

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Library student Day in the Life: Day Five

So, this is my final post for the Hack Library student Day in the Life project, as an MA LIS student at UCL.

Friday’s are my day off, and therefore my favourite day of the week! I have to confess that as much as I moan about being poor and having lots to do, I do really love the fact that I get a three day weekend. I genuinely don’t know how I’ll go back to full time work once I graduate!

Anyway, this morning I got woken up by the doorbell at 8.30am (not happy) but decided to stay in bed until 10am anyway – there have to be some perks to being a student after all! After that, I got up, showered and got dressed and then turned on my laptop. First thing I did was (you probably guessed this if you’ve read any of my other posts this week) check my emails and social media sites (Twitter and Facebook), before opening a word document and starting on my work for the day.

Today’s work began with my dissertation proposal – it’s due next week and has to have a title, aims, justification, methodology and a bibliography. As it turns out, it’s not as complicated as I originally thought. After Tuesday’s meeting with Lucy I feel a lot more certain about my focus, which I’ve decided is the changing role of the librarian, so I managed to write the title, aims and methodology without too much stress. I then had to search the library catalogue and some databases for appropriate sources (with a few breaks for social media, naturally).

work station My somewhat messy way of working – I like to spread out!

This took me up to a late lunch, where I took advantage of being at home by having a bacon sandwich (so, so tasty). After lunch I watched TV for half an hour (you may be realising that I’m a big fan of taking breaks) and then started on another piece of course work. This time it’s a personal reflection on our groupwork for the Management module. It’s not due for another couple of weeks but I’m trying to get it done so I can start on some bigger assignments which are due in April. I finished half of it (I’ll finish the rest on Sunday – I like to give myself either Saturday or Sunday off most weekends and not do any work), spoke to a friend on the phone for a while and have now written this blog. It’s a bit early today because I’m going out tonight for a friend’s birthday so I need to get ready and then leave. Brick Lane and delicious curry, here I come!

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my HLSDITL posts this week – please continue to visit my blog for further updates on the life of a Library student at UCL, and to get more insights into the course.

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Library student Day in the Life: Day Four

So, here comes the fourth instalment of the Hack Library School project. In case you haven’t read any other posts/information about it, it’s all about getting a snapshot into life as a Library Student – I’m studying for my MA LIS at UCL. It’s now Thursday, so here’s what’s happened in my life today.

I was working again today – I work Wednesdays and Thursdays every week in my part-time job at an academic library. I was working 10-6 today, which is nicer because I get a longer lie-in in the morning, but is annoying because I have to work later than everyone else in the office! I’m very lucky though, as my job is really flexible, and I can basically work whenever I want to, as long as I do my fifteen hours a week and it doesn’t clash with the other assistants.

My day started off badly today – I attempted to get an earlier train than usual so that I could go to Waterstones before work (which is handily nearby) and buy a Mother’s Day present, but the train was full, as was the next one, and the one after that was twenty minutes late. Grr. I finally arrived at work fifteen minutes late and with no present. Not happy. I started the day as usual with emails, then moved on to the reading list that I’d started yesterday. I think I mentioned that it was largely not in English, so it wasn’t the easiest of tasks as it required a lot of cross-checking. I continued with the list until lunchtime, with a few breaks for Twitter and chat with my colleagues. As a side note, I was never really that interested in Twitter before – I’ve had an account for about a year but have only really started using it a lot in the last few months. I mainly just follow library-related people and I’m finding it a really good tool for maintaining current awareness as well as making some new contacts in the business, so I’d recommend getting into it if you’re not already (and follow me, of course!).

late! Time a-ticking as I get to work late

After lunch (leftover takeaway curry – yum!) I decided that doing any more of the reading list would drive me crazy and so I decided to file some Law looseleaf instead. As I think I’ve said before, my manager is brilliant and is totally happy to let me decide when to do things, as long as there’s no time constraint on them. To those of you who have experience in looseleaf, it may not seem as if it’s that much more interesting than checking a reading list, but I actually quite enjoy it. It’s not fascinating work, but there’s something satisfying about having a job well done at the end of it. Today it was a mammoth task, so it took up a good few of hours of my time. I then did a bit more of the reading list before I went home. One of the (often good) things about working part-time is that if I don’t complete a task then I just email it to my manager, and it often gets passed on to one of the other assistants at the start of next week. This week I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have to see that one again! In case you’re wondering why I haven’t finished it yet, that’s because it’s fifteen pages of pure text, with no spaces – that’s a lot of books! Not my record though – I had one in January that was thirty-seven pages!

After work, I finally managed to get to Waterstones where I spent a happy half hour wandering around (I’m a typical librarian – surround me with books and I’m happy), before buying something for my mum and then running for the train. Once I got home I cooked dinner, had a catch up with a friend and then wrote and uploaded my part of the groupwork for my Management module (which was started in class – you can see Tuesday’s blog for more detail). And that’s it! I’m going to watch TV now and relax for a bit.

I’ve also realised that I completely forgot to take any photos after the first one, so I apologise for the somewhat text-heavy format today.

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March 7, 2013 · 9:31 pm