My Road to the Library
I grew up in a home with a handful of books, an outdated encyclopedia, and battered Reader’s Digests. As a kid, I spent many afternoons at the small Maplewood branch of the Brooklyn Public Library tearing through books in quiet, reflective spaces. As an avid reader and awkward pre-teen seeking solace from the perils of middle school and divorce, I was desperate for literature, as well as new protagonists and perspectives to experience and escape through for emotional and intellectual support. I asked a librarian to help me find new books to read, and she misdirected me to the children’s department and gestured vaguely toward a row of juvenile books I had already read. When I explained my dilemma, she assured me I couldn’t have read them all and left me to assist another patron. I left that day believing I had read all the books available to me and felt utterly dejected. Several years later, I returned to the library as a teen seeking reader’s advisory help, and was eyed suspiciously and again treated dismissively. I did not return to a public library until my senior year of college.
The gap this left. The gap this leaves for so many.
Many teens lack either physical or virtual access to library resources and services that meet their developmental needs and assets. It has been recorded that teen library use drops off somewhere between ages 13-16. This is a crucial time when teens seek validation from the world for their beliefs, actions, thoughts, and feelings; essentially, teens want to be acknowledged for their unique contributions and for their individuality. Teens can be assets to libraries yet remain an underserved user group.
Professional Philosophy and Goals
As a YA librarian, I aim to involve teens directly by creating collaborative and reflective spaces for teens to both interact with peers as well as independently. Libraries have unique opportunities to make creative spaces for teens to create and collaborate. As content creators, teens feel like they’re in total control. They are the architects of their worlds be they sci fi/ fantasy; dystopian, or augmented reality games. These spaces will engage teens by meeting them where they are and fostering their individual talents and abilities. Teens need our trust and a sense of autonomy as well as a space to work and show their skills.
At the same time, I believe teens also require quiet, reflective spaces to both pursue their studies and read for pleasure. With the advent of the Internet, it is more difficult than ever to find quiet spaces to simply read and/or study. Libraries must maintain this core asset to remain relevant in an ever-evolving information age. My ideal teen library space would be large enough to allow both of these spaces to coexist relatively peacefully.
As an ardent proponent for teen rights in the library, I aim to provide a space where youth will be motivated to pursue their studies with rigor and excitement. To promote library services, encourage love of reading, and entice teens to utilize the library, it is necessary for teens to feel that they are respected and validated as young adults of purpose. The influence of even one attentive librarian is enough to dramatically impact the life of a teen. It is our responsibility as librarians to provide teens with access to literature, poetry, art, and other information resources and services that can help ease their transition to adulthood.
As an instructor at Balboa High School in San Francisco, I co-organized and co-taught poetry to a diverse body of students, ranging from honors to less-advantaged programs like ROOTS. This experience taught me a great deal about how to get through to teens and earn their trust. It was incredible to watch them gain interest in a subject they may have previously mocked, and become versed in how one can shape language to one’s desire. It was humbling to be trusted with their most vulnerable thoughts and emotions through their poetries.
With an educational and professional background in both visual and language arts, I aim to design YA programming and services to reflect myriad media literacies including gaming, poetry, music, prose, film, video, painting, and photography to promote interest in reading. I believe these team-oriented media will be instrumental in building supportive peer-to-peer learning communities for teens as well as foster lifelong learning skills. I am also excited to discover new ways to implement emerging technologies to best serve teen library needs. I think libraries should pair the best features of analog and digital programs, services, and collections to build efficient and fun library spaces.
It is also crucial for teens to develop information and media literacy skills to distinguish between veritable research sources. Advocating for teen services can determine whether a teen is prepared for college, and can galvanize their career plans. In this information age, it is crucial for teens to learn how to distinguish authoritative sources from the chaff, and practice their critical thinking skills when performing research, writing papers, and preparing for their future careers.
What is important to me are both a lifelong commitment to learning and due access to information resources and services. As a MLIS candidate, I have been preparing for my future as a teen librarian by incorporating teen library advocacy into much of my coursework, and have focused on teen resources and services in many of my classes. I have also been benchmarking various libraries throughout the San Francisco Bay Area to determine how funding for teen services compares with other departments. I am hopeful that teens can be better served in our communities with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work.
As lifelong learning advocates, library professionals are well-suited to the need for continual professional development. To learn from my environment is my daily goal. As a librarian, I aim to connect both locally and globally with other LIS professionals to expand my current personal learning network, and maintain a supportive infrastructure for sharing resources, information, advice, and camaraderie through these challenging and exciting times. I also believe it is my professional responsibility to listen closely and balance the needs of various library stakeholders. Navigating this line and remaining open to new possibilities may create unknown opportunities for creative solutions and positive growth in the library. As “growing organisms”, we must allow space for new life and breadth. (IFLA, 2005).
With a little ingenuity, libraries can be makerspaces, workshops, laboratories, and reading rooms. Libraries that seek to integrate traditional and emerging technologies to foster discovery environments for their collectives and communities convey that they promote access to all while also meeting a plethora of learner needs. Joining with an active and participatory community to create and share “content” allows all to collaborate in new ways of learning.
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions. (IFLA). (October 5, 2005). Retrieved from http://archive.ifla.org/I/humour/subj.htm
apoetlibrarian by Melissa Eleftherion is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.