Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

20 Questions: Teen Librarian 101 part 2 with Karen Jensen

Today we introduce you to a new TLT member and a new feature: 20 Questions. I am so excited to introudce you to Stephanie Wilkes, the Young Adult Coordinator for the Ouachita Parish Public Library in Monroe, Louisiana. She is also working on putting together the North Louisiana Teen Book Festival in April of 2013.  2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley is set to be the Keynote speaker.  You can read her complete bio on the Meet TLT page. On today’s 20 questions Stephanie and I each answer 10 questions about our experiences as a Teen Serivces Librarian and a reader.  Now it is Stephanie’s turn to interview Karen.  Be sure to catch the first part of 20 questions here.

Part 2: In which Stephanie interviews Karen

What made you decide to become a librarian?

Looking back, I always joke that I have a top 10 lists that I was destined to be a librarian. In the 8th grade, I wore a back brace for Scoliosis and couldn’t do PE so they had me work in the library. I used to take all my cassette tapes (yes, really, cassette tapes) and keep them wound to side one and I organized them on my shelves in alphabetical order by the title of the artist and then in release date order. I remember my junior year in high school reading a book called The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady, a true story, that completely changed my view of the world that I lived in.  All these little moments in my life seemed to be whispering be a librarian.
In college, I was working on getting my youth ministry degree and needed a job. The student services office suggested I apply at the local public library because they were looking for someone to work with teens and my degree seemed like a good fit. I got a job there and just knew that I had found my home. I started as a paraproffesional working with teens at the age of 20, barely out of the teen years myself.  I had the most amazing professional mentor there who is still such an important part of my life.  Every day I am thankful because I know I am one of the people in this world who gets to go to work and do what they were truly called to do.


What made you think twice…everyone has that moment.

I remember at one point horror fiction was incredibly popular. Here I was studying religion and I thought: can I put these types of books into the hands of teens? I remember having a real spiritual and professional crisis. Around that same time a professor shared with us that around 80% of decisions to follow Christ were made during the teenage years. I realized that in order for any life decision to be authentic, including spiritual ones, people had to have access to the information to make those decisions for themselves and truly own them. From that moment on I knew that I was in the right place doing the right thing. And I stand 100% firmly against censorship. People have the right to think and decide for themselves.
Name ONE, yes ONE, author and how they have influenced your library work.


I made these posters last year for Chris Crutcher
and you can find them here.

There are many authors that I love (including the lovely Lauren Oliver as you may have heard), but throughout my career I have been enbolded and inspired by Chris Crutcher. He really dives right in to the teenage life and tells their stories with honesty, passion and integrity. He understands that many teens are living truly horrific lives. He gives them a voice. He helps open eyes and build compassion and speaks truth, truth that many people don’t want to hear. He inspires me to speak the same truth, to love teens unconditionally, and to remember and understand how much the teen years can truly suck.

Favorite debut author?

This year is such a rich year for debut authors, but I read and loved The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez and I am hooked. As much as I love sci fi and fantasy, I also love contemporary fiction that speaks to the heart of teens. I loved and cared for Charlie as a character. I wanted him to succeed.  It’s been a couple of months since reading this book and Charlie still occassionally comes to mind.  That is the hallmark, to me, of a good contemporary fiction title.
Weirdest job you ever worked and how does it help you be a better librarian?

Before working in a library I worked retail, which is great because there is so much customer service involved in the public library. All those skills are necessary and translate well.  My very first job was working in a movie theater, which is of course just another form of storytelling.  It was a glorious first job and I worked my way all the way up to Chief of Staff.  It was kind of cool as a teenager to have a title like Chief of Staff.
Do you listen to music when you read?

I do not but the kids are often watching tv in the background so does the Backardigans singing count?  I am, however, fascinated with the idea of authors and their book playlists; how and what music they listen to as they write.  How the music helps get them get in the mood and sets the tone of a piece.  A lot of the authors I follow on Twitter will mention it and it truly fascinates me.
On that note, favorite bands/songs?

I will always love Duran Duran; they were that Middle School band that you seriously crush on and it just kind of sticks with you.  I am nothing if not loyal. And I love the Foo Fighters and basically alternative rock and pop.  I know I just moved to Texas but I am not a fan of country music (please don’t hurt me.)
What is your ideal teen space in a library?

I want a space with lots of slat walls and a chalk board wall. Technology is a must. The outer “walls” would be the shelves for the collection and inside there would be wicked cool seating, still to be determined. I am a huge proponent of teen invovlement so I want a space to display and rotate teen artwork.  At my previous library we were discussing buying a house near the property to increase the size of our parking lot.  I really wanted them to turn it into a teen branch where teens could have their own space and have a tech room and little performance stage where we could do reader’s theater, open mic and improv.  I often fantasize that I will one day win the lottery and build a teen library where all these amazing authors come visit every month.  Of course, I would have to buy lottery tickets for that to truly happen.
Most successful library program?

Like many teen librarians, I am forever grateful to the Harry Potter series for getting teens reading and for some great programming through the years. I have always had great success with craft programs, interactive mysteries, and video gaming. My hugest success has been the Teen CoffeeHouse.  This was a loosely organized drop in program where I would weekly have 50 to 70 teens drop in for this informal program. That is how I learned to value simply hanging out.  Here I could build relationship with my teens, talk to them as an informal teen advisory group, and even tap into them for some of my programs.  Ironically, years after starting the TCH, I began an Asset Builder’s Coalition and one of the things we discussed was teen programming.  Every group around that table indicated that they found through the years that what teens most wanted was a place to “hang out” and have choices on how they spend their time within that space.  Without a doubt the least successful programs I have always had were those that involved a speaker – not an author – on some topic that I think has value in the lives of teens but they just don’t want to leave school and come to the public library and hear someone lecture to them again.  For example, I once had someone come speak about teen dating violence; an important topic, but only 1 soul turned up.  I find that making a program interactive, giving teens choices, and making sure they walk out with something in their hands is the best way to get teens participating.
Where do you see YA services in 10 years?

Relationally, teens will always need places to gather and adults to relate meaningfully with them. Teens will always need access to information and story. We may see the vehicles by which they are delivered change, but the need will always be there. As librarians we must continue to be open to what is happening around us culturally and incorporate that into what we do. If we stay open to change and are responsive to the needs of our teens and our communities, we will be doing exactly what we need to be doing – exactly what we are doing now – just in different ways.  I think it is really important for teen librarians to advocate not only for teens, but for libraries.  Everyone seems to think that libraries are going away because of computers and e-readers, but I am reminded every day that there is a significant portion of the population that can’t afford these things and if we want them, and by extension our communities, to be successful then we must provide for them the tools they need to be successful by funding our public libraries.  Education and democracy demand access to information to thrive.

Be sure to check out Part 1: In which Karen interviews Stephanie. Also, want to have some fun with us? Leave your answers to any or all of the questions in the comments.

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