Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Way way back in 2002: a look back at 10 years as a teen librarian by Heather Booth

This summer marks my tenth as a teen services librarian.  It’s far less than many in our profession, and a decade more than some.  But it’s a landmark to me, and it has gotten me thinking about time.  In particular, I’m thinking about how quickly things change when it comes to the teens that I work with.   So much happens in ten years when you’re young.  As we grow into adulthood, time just seems to change, and ten years can go by in the blink of an eye.  But at sixteen, six was a lifetime ago.  A teen generation is pretty darn short when it comes right down to it. 

Some perspective on teens, teen books, and time, with apologies to the Beloit Mindset List

·         Ten years ago, the sixth graders that just got their first “rah rah Summer Reading’s for teens too!” pitch were still toddling around in diapers. 

·         Ten years ago, the seniors that came to last month’s Exam Cram were just diving into chapter books. 

·         The sixth graders that I welcomed to their first TSRC ten years ago have just graduated from college.  Some are married. 

·         Ten years ago, teens were anxiously awaiting publication of J.K. Rowling’s fourth book, and the very first Harry Potter movie had just been released on DVD (And on VHS, remember those?  Your sixth graders might not.) 

·         Do you still think of Stephenie Myers as a new author?  Today’s middle schoolers have never approached the YA shelves not expecting to find a Twilight book on the shelf. 

·         If today’s rising seventh graders read Harry Potter, they never queued for the midnight release of an anticipated Harry Potter book.  They had just finished first grade when Deathly Hallows was released.

·         Ten years ago, high fantasy was big and if you wanted vampires (with a little romance), you read that teen phenom (now 28) Amelia Atwater-Rhodes.

·         Ten years ago, we were still booktalking Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, the first winner of the new Printz award, and catching teachers’ ears.

·         Ten years ago, most teens didn’t assume that their library had graphic novels.

·         Ten years ago, Holes by Louis Sachar was just a book, not a movie.

·         Ten years ago, Gail Giles and Kevin Brooks, new psychological suspense authors, had just entered the scene with Shattering Glass and Martyn Pig respectively, which helped feed the readers enticed by other compelling dramatic books like Counterfeit Son by Elaine Marie Alphin, The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci, and Robert Cormier’s posthumous novel, The Rag and Bone Shop*.

·         A scandalous new series, Gossip Girl, enticed readers at Midwinter with ARCs and lip gloss.  Five years later, when the class of 2012 was in 7th grade and the incoming 6th graders were still losing their baby teeth, it became a TV show.

·         Ten years ago we were wowed by the future slang in M.T. Anderson’s Feed and the concept of a constant feed of information actually seemed distant enough as to be just out of reach.

·         We were compelled by the potential power of the Internet to change society and allow teens to live alternate lives in The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian.

·         We marveled at the creative format and inventive layout in Walter Dean Myers’ Monster and the way it informed our interpretation of the text.

·         Humorous romance was big, and we couldn’t keep Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries or Louise Rennison’s Angus Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging on the shelf.

·         Historical fiction spread through word of mouth too.  Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go To Birmingham, 1963 and Witch Child by Celia Reese were titles with multiple copies and waiting lists among my teens.

Some of these titles are so ingrained in the YA cannon that we’ve replaced well-worn copies twice and would never be without them.  Some of them were more ephemeral and are being replaced by newer versions with updated pop culture references.  One of the above has sadly not circ’d at my library since 2007, despite my attempts at increasing it’s visibility and rescuing it from two weeding projects. 

So what does this mean?  To me, it means that I need to rethink my reader’s advisory perspective on time a bit.  What I think of as “newer” really isn’t any longer.  I need to release the books that don’t circ anymore when valiant attempts at creating a buzz have failed.  But more importantly, I need to bring some books back out of the shadows.  The books I no longer think to suggest, or consider and then set aside because, “Surely, everyone who’s reading The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavin has already read Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz,” could be fresh, new-to-me titles. 

I thought about this as I pulled books for my last booktalk of the school year.  When I ask teachers what they’d like me to talk about, “new” is usually top on their list.  But I think what they want is not new so much as attention grabbing.  Shiny and new grabs your attention, but so does a great story, no matter when it was written.   Since our budget only allows for so many copies of the newest, hottest titles, I decided to pull a few books with broken in spines that I knew were on the shelf to add to the mix.  Books that were on my list of “New and Hot for 2002” could get a second life in this new generation of teens.

If your budget is straining and your hold lists are growing long, try leading a teen toward a book with a comfortably broken in spine.   Your memory of the character’s names might be hazy, and you might need to do a quick skim to recall the city it’s set in, but a hidden gem might be hiding in that slightly worn hardcover, and the dog-eared paperback could become a fast favorite. 

Ask yourself, what are the blockbuster favorites that are being forgotten because of a once upon a time overexposure at your library?  Jurrasic Park the movie came out in 1993, based on the 1990 book – that was before today’s high schoolers were born!  There will come a day that a young patron walks into your library looking for an epic struggle between good and evil, with interesting characters, magic, and a vivid setting that they can relate to and you’ll have the thrill and honor of introducing him to Harry Potter.

What are your favorite golden “oldies” to share with teens?

*And here’s where my grey hairs finally make sense.  It’s not the mortgage, the marriage, the two dogs, or the two kids I’ve gained in the last decade.  The defining author of my own years as a teen reader passed away before next year’s sixth graders were born.

Heather Booth is the (wicked cool) Teen Librarian at Thomas Ford Memorial Library. She is also the author of Serving Teens Through Reader's Advisory (ALA Editions, 2007). Heather also started the Teen Programming in Libraries (a collaborative board) on Pinterest. You'll want to check there for more great teen programming ideas.  And now she is a regular contributor to TLT.  Welcome aboard Heather.


  1. Wow, this was a great reflection! I was 12 in 2002, and remember a lot of these events, and reading these great books. Now I'm feeling all nostalgic!!

    1. Thanks! Out of curiosity, what were *you* reading as a 12 year old in 2002?

  2. Awww, yay for nostalgia. Thanks for the comment. Out of curiosity, what were *you* reading as a 12 year old in 2002?