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.

20 Questions: Teen Librarian 101 part 1 with Stephanie Wilkes

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.

Part 1: In which Karen interviews Stephanie

Why teen services? How, and when, did you know you wanted to be a teen librarian?
When I was working in my first library job, my boss handed me Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I was raised in a small Southern town and homosexuality was NOT discussed in my town. So, when I read this book, I read it with eyes wide open and an open mind. And I found that my world was so much bigger than what I had ever known and immediately began to wonder what else I had been shielded from. Two days later, as if by fate, a boy came into my office who served on my Teen Advisory Board, shut the door, and said, “Miss Stephanie, can you give me a book about…a boy that likes a boy? I think I like boys”. Never would I have been able to do that, in fact, I may have even have talked him out of it, had I not read Levithan’s book. So, I handed him Boy Meets Boy and it was right then that I realized that I wanted to connect teens with books and the right book. It was also then that I realized how imperative it was to enhance a teen’s world view by letting them read about far off places, about issues that they may not be familiar with, and about life in general so that they can find themselves and find a connection through literature. I still remember my teen as well and he is happily with his partner of 3 years and they live in Atlanta and we talk often. :)
What do you wish that your teens knew about you or what you do?
I wish my teens understood how much I care about them. Like seriously care about what is going on in their lives. Most of them talk with me and I talk to them but I go home and pray for them and I think about their drama throughout the day and I carry a piece of them with me wherever I go. I wish they knew how much they influence and inspire me to come to work each day and to be there for them. They really are amazing.
What do you wish that administrators better understood about teens or teen services?
I wish that administrators understood that you cannot just place someone into a teen position without them having an extreme love for teens. If you don’t like them or the books published for them, then you need to work somewhere else. Teen Services in a public library is special because we are not bound by the rules that school teachers and school librarians are and we can openly discuss things with these teens. That is a big plus for me because I can talk with them about real problems and give them real opinions and sometimes advice but you have to have the right person in the job. The wrong person can ruin your entire teen department and run it into the ground if they can’t make that connection.
What has been your most glorious moment so far as a teen services librarian?
Hm, I have two. My second year working in teen services and before I became an actual librarian I had a 200% increase in attendance for our summer reading program. That was when I knew I was doing something right. And I was only 20…so it was a glorious moment to pack a room at the end of the summer party and know that it was because of my hard work that kept these teens attending programs and interested in the library. Self-fulfilling but awesome.

Also, what I think many authors fail to realize, is that as a teen services librarian, when we find a book that we believe in, down to our core being, we feel as if we are part of that book. Obviously no where near as important as the author, after all they wrote it, but by putting the book in people’s hands and watching people connect with the books that we are passionate about. Recently, I had the honor of witnessing a friend win a very prestigious award for a book that I had been actively promoting throughout the library world before it was even published. I was one of the (many) librarians who nominated the book for the award. And, when I found out that the book won…it was a purely amazing moment to share that with someone who was a friend and with a book that I loved so much it felt like a friend. Kind of weird to explain. But seeing and sharing in that was an amazing moment for me.  

If you and I were trying to survive in the zombie apocalypse and running for our lives, we would have to pack and travel light so which 1 teen fiction book would you keep with you?
Seriously? Just one? First, being the librarian that I am, my thought is to pick a book that would be something I would want to share with the world if all the books disappeared…HA! Secondly, I would want to pick a book that I just could read over and over again. I think that book would be The Perks of Being a Wallflower with Looking for Alaska running in a very, very close second place. (Karen loves both of these books as well).
What are your future goals as a teen librarian?
My future goals…loaded question again. My dream is to have a library branch devoted primarily to teen services and college/job prep skills. I want a library that teens feel free to hang out, drink a coke, and talk about life. A library where they can learn how to use Photoshop and play guitar, destroy the high scores on popular video games, and feel as if they are not in the way. I also want this library to help ready the college-bound students for college and for those who aren’t college-bound, because let’s face it…college is not for everyone, to connect with area businesses and trades and learn more about how to train and proceed into the job force.  
You are currently involved in planning a teen book festival in Louisiana. What made you decide to take on this project?
After I attended the AMAZING Austin Teen Book Festival, I wanted my teens in North Louisiana to have that same type of experience. North Louisiana is 4 hours from New Orleans, 3.5 hours from Baton Rouge, and at least 4 hours from Dallas and Jackson. These are tour stops for authors. My teens do not have the same experience to meet authors and connect with them. So, I wanted to bring the book festival experience back to Louisiana, especially North Louisiana, and to put us on the map to the publishers when they are looking for places to send authors. (Shameless self promotion here: Visit us on the web at www.northlouisianateenbookfestival.com, follow us on Twitter @nlouisianatbf, and search for us on Facebook.)
What did you read when you were a teen? 
I was a voracious reader when I was a tween, so I had already devoured all of the Fear Street and Christopher Pike books, which was what was available for me in the ‘teen’ section. So, when I was a teen I read John Grisham. He was my all time favorite author and I still own every book he has ever written. I also liked biographies and memoirs of people in the entertainment industry.

If you were to write a teen fiction title of your own, what genre would it be? Tell us what it would be about.

It would be contemporary and a coming-of-age novel written through a young adult’s perspective looking back at the high school years and how it developed the character. I envision it would be small vignettes, or snapshots, of memories about high school from freshman year forward that would give a glimpse into my MC’s life and how she adjusted, what she would change (if anything), and how it made her who she was today.

If you could go back in time and visit your teenage self, what would you tell you?

I was an overachiever in my teenage years and I missed out on a lot of things. I would have told myself to not take life so seriously. To relax, live a little, and carpe diem…something that I didn’t learn until much later in life. That you don’t want boys to pay attention to you because of your looks but because of your brain, even though you may be lonely sometimes. That you will never see at least 80% of your high school graduating class and that your ‘friends’ aren’t really that awesome, just keep a few near and dear. ALWAYS go with your gut…if you have that ‘umm…idk’ feeling, it’s probably right. And that the tattoo on the lower back, while pretty, wasn’t the best of ideas. Especially the smiley face in the center.

Be sure to check out Part 2: In which Stephanie interviews Karen.  Also, want to have some fun with us?  Leave your answers to any or all of the questions in the comments.