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Sunday Reflections: Rebooting YA Services

sundayreflections1The other day a patron came up to the Reference Desk to tell me that the public computer they were working on was glitching and I asked them if they had tried turning it off and then back on, rebooting it. This answer used to annoy me, but 90% of the time it seems to work.

It is, in fact, the only thing I know to do: turn it off and give it a second to sit and then reboot it. It’s the magical mystery tech solution to almost every PC problem I have encountered.

But can it be the magical solution to YA services? Can we reboot YA?

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There’s something about January and February that just makes you want to start over.

Perhaps it’s the weather.

Cold, dreary . . . it just makes you want to hibernate and start fresh in the spring.

In Ohio, we don’t do a lot of programming in January and February because you’re just as likely to have to cancel a program due to inclement weather as you are to have it. And even without the universe shutting down, if the temperature dips low enough you’re not likely to have a lot of attendees at your program.

So January and February are great times to really sit down and think about how and why we do what we do.

Last January, I started once again at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. And given the weather, and the fact that I was new in this position, it seemed like a good time to reboot YA services.

Pushing pause every once in a while to regroup isn’t such a bad idea it turns out.

Last year, we retooled how we approach summer reading and turned our Teen Space into a Teen MakerSpace. We thought long and hard about why we wanted to and in what ways. We made ourselves write it all down on paper so we were sure that we could articulate what we wanted to do and what we hoped to achieve in doing it. If we couldn’t give a good reason, a reason that in some way benefited teens, the community or the library, we scrapped it.

We tried new things. They mostly worked. We refined the things we were trying. We made changes along the way.

And here we are, with a rebooted YA services. And everyone – and every thing – feels fresh and re-invigorated. We feel like we are doing purposeful things in purposeful ways, so we are excited.

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I’m not going to lie, this is like my 22nd year of being a YA librarian. That’s 22 years of summer reading programs. 22 years of monthly programs. 22 years of statistics and forms and budgets.

Playing with the Green Screen Studio in the MakerSpace

Playing with the Green Screen Studio in the MakerSpace

And even though last year still involved all of those things, it gave us the opportunity to really stop and question the things we were doing and to change the things we wanted to do.

We didn’t have that many teen programs last year (in fact, we had 4), giving ourselves the chance to really investigate, well, everything. We took the time to get to know our community again. We took the time to look at best practices. We took the time to experiment.

One of those experiments were our Maker Mondays, which were wildly successful and prompted a complete re-design of our teen programming approach. It was the impetus of our Teen MakerSpace.

At last week’s Library Journal Maker Workshop Showcase many people asked about funding, how could we afford to do what we did? And one of the answers is this: during our reboot, we took all of the money that we would normally have put into teen programming and invested it into our Teen MakerSpace. And for us, this turns out to be a really wise investment. Last week alone I was in the Teen MakerSpace for 4 evenings and in this 4 evenings I worked with 38 teens. We made stuff with a 3D pen, we built with Legos and more. But also, I learned their names and they learned mine. We talked. We talked about books. We had positive interactions that may just have made the difference in how they view themselves and the library. In fact, twice that week teens came in the next day and asked for me by name at the Reference Desk because they had something else they wanted to try.

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On one of the days I had a very bizarre and hopefully impactful moment sitting in my Teen MakerSpace. A group of teens sat there and they were talking about doing drugs. One of the girls says, “yeah, this guy got so stoned he raped my best friend.” And then she laughed.

I was stunned. Stunned that they were so casually talking about this. Stunned that they were laughing. Just . . . stunned.

So we had a conversation. And the boy clarified that no, he hadn’t “raped” her. He had just gotten stoned and “dry humped” her. And of course he followed with, “it was just a joke.”

We then went on to have a serious conversation about how if what he said was true, he had in fact sexually harassed or assaulted her (I’m not sure what the legal definition would be) and that “it was just a joke” is never a real defense. We talked about consent and a person’s right to feel safe. We talked about sexual harassment and sexual violence and the fact that these things – not just “real rape” – were against the law.

The mood in the room became very sober, but it should have been. These teens needed to know that everything about this discussion was a problem. You shouldn’t joke about rape. If your best friend is raped or somehow assaulted, you don’t laugh when sharing that news. And if these events really happened, these teens needed to know that they were not only harmful to the young woman involved, but illegal and with very real world consequences.

This conversation happened in part, I believe, because we took the time to reboot YA services and we created a space where caring and responsible adults could spend quality time engaging with teens in meaningful ways in small groups. Large programs often don’t facilitate these types of discussions. Neither do short one-on-one booktalks in the stacks. And there is incredible value to both of those types of scenarios; I’m not dismissing the value of those at all. But in creating our Teen MakerSpace, we also created a space where one-on-one and small group learning and mentoring can take place. We created a space where teaching and exploration could happen. Sometimes that teaching is about technology, but sometimes it is about something else. This day, it was about consent and boundaries and being a friend and respecting one another’s bodies.

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Playing with the Ollie robot in the MakerSpace

Playing with the Ollie robot in the MakerSpace

Last year, we turned off our YA services computer and rebooted it. This year, we realize that it has made all the difference. Our reboot was successful. We integrated hands on STEM education into our already existing teen services and collections and we created for ourselves and our teens a place where trained and caring staff can work with teens in one-on-one or small group situations to learn and grow. We increased the number of 40 Developmental Assets our teens could check off their bucket list.

Sometimes rebooting is the only answer I know, but it hasn’t failed me yet.

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