Teen Librarian Toolbox
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The Animaniacs guide to being a (Faboo!) young adult librarian

Remember how a while ago there were those books “everything I needed to know about life I learned in Kindergarten” or from Stark Trek?  Well, you may be surprised to discover that the Animaniacs are the perfect framework for discussing young adult librarianship.  For those of you who are young pups, the Animaniacs was an awesome but irreverent cartoon created by Steven Spielberg that appeared in the 90s.  They starred the Warner Siblings – Wakko, Yakko, and Dot – and featured their adventures on the Warner Brothers studios lot.  They were sarcastic, witty and full of snark (in other words: brilliant!).  Here are some of my favorite Animaniacs quotes presented to you as a true and accurate guide to the fine art of young adult librarianship.
How the Animaniacs Explain Teens

Yakko: “We protest you calling us ‘little kids’.  We prefer to be called ‘vertically-impaired pre-adults'”

Teens are not technically adults, but every day they are one step closer and they really hate being thrown in with kids.  That doesn’t mean they don’t like to sometimes act like them, because they do and they will. Sometimes on purpose even, so be sure to allow opportunities for fun.  But recognize this weird, hazy limbo land that teens are in and give them the respect they deserve, even when it sometimes seem that they don’t really deserve it.  They’ll appreciate the fact that you are meeting them where they are and it will help you build a good relationship.

Ned Flat: “Why are you acting like this?”
Yakko: “We’re not acting, we really are like this.”

In many ways, teens are easy to work with because they are honest about who they are and what you see is what you get.

Brain: “The workings of your mind are a mystery to me.”

The teenage brain really is different.  Scientific scans show that teen brains aren’t developed like adult brains so when they engage in reckless behavior it’s not necessarily that they aren’t thinking, it’s that their brains don’t think the same ways that ours do.  Take the time to study brain research and you’ll be that much better at understanding and meeting the needs of your teens.  Whenever possible, try to remember (and remind your staff) that we were all teenagers once and really – we did a lot of the same things. (NPR: The Teen Brain)

Dot: “Your breath is like the breeze off a land fill.”

I hate to mention the stink, but you know – it is often there.  Especially with middle school boys.  Those bodies are a changing, hormones kick in and they have not yet learned the fine, consistent art of showers and deodorant.  Most of them eventually figure it out.  But seriously, I have been in a program with like 70 teens and been called out for something.  When I walked back in, the wall of stench that assaulted my nostrils was enough to level small cities.

Dot: “Oh, oh, my heart aches with the sorrow of a thousand scouts. No merit badge. I mourn my loss.”

Yakko: “Say, those acting classes are really paying off.”
There can be so much drama in the teenage years.  Particularly it seems with middle school girls. I have the benefit of having been a middle school girl and I do in fact remember there being a lot of squealing (cute boys), phone slamming (fights with friends), and slammed doors (parents and siblings).  Like boys with b.o., a lot of the girls eventually figure it out.  But some people are just prone to drama.  The important thing is to acknowledge feelings and validate while sometimes helping teens put it in perspective.  When all else fails, give them a book – nothing helps put your life in perspective like a book.
Brain: “Promise me something Pinky. Never breed.”
Look, many adults – especially parents – want to pretend that teens don’t have sex.  I have spent enough time with teens to know that almost all of them are thinking about it, and far too many of them are doing it.  But here’s the thing, it’s kind of not surprising given biology.  These teens have these hormones raging through their body saying “sex sex sex sex sex sex sex”.  At the same time they are living in a world that says “sex sex sex sex food sex sex food sex”.  (I mean, apparently we have to sexualize and objectify women to sell a BBQ hamburger – I’m giving you the stinkeye Carl’s, Jr.) So I guess we shouldn’t really be surprised, and yet for some reason we are.  Be prepared, if you are doing your job right that means you are spending time with teens and if you are spending time with teens you WILL hear them talk about sex.  It’s best not to freak out about it.  You can, in fact, find ways to answer questions without 1) being overly personal and 2) saying anything that a parent will come back and yell at you for.  When all else fails, give them a book.

How the Animaniacs Explain the Key to Good YA Librarianship

Yakko: “But let this be a lesson to you all, wherever there is candy . . . we’ll be there a lot quicker.”

What is the secret to getting teens to show up?  Apparently it is food.  Even though I wrote an article for VOYA (February 2012) about the increase in food allergies in today’s youth and the need for food free programming, even I have to admit the power of food.  You have to say that in a really cool announcer voice in your head: THE POWER OF FOOD. Especially when it is 3:30 and everyone has just gotten out of school.  They may come for the food, but if you do your job right, they learn some things along the way.

Brain: “It proved that radio was a powerful tool. And now, Pinky, the advance of technology has brought us an even more powerful tool. Do you know what that is?”

Want to be good at your job?  You have to know what the next technology rage is.  Play and read online frequently.  Talk to teens.  Talk to techy people.  If there is one thing that has proven to be the archnemesis of librarianship over time it is this: technology.  We adapt to new technologies far too slowly.  We are snails in the technology adoption race people.  I mean, we’re still trying to figure out what we want to do with e-readers and soon technology will have advanced to the point where books are just being downloaded directly into our brains.  We need to change this, especially if we are going to work with the most tech savvy group of people out there – our teens.

Brain: “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Pinky: “I think so Brain, but where are we going to find a duck and a garden hose at this time of night?”

YA librarianship requires a certain “fly by the seat of your pants” ability.  One day Twilight is popular, and the next day it’s not.  Yes Heidi, young adult librarianship is kinda like fashion.  You want to jump on that bandwagon while it’s hot.  This means that you have to be adaptable, spontaneous, in the know and superman (or superwoman).  You need to be able to see a trend on Monday and have a program put together by Friday.

Ivan Bloski: “Shhh. Shhh. Do you know what that means?”

Yakko: “You got a slow leak?”
Librarians still have an image problem.  It’s cool to be the dog whisperer, not so much the library shusher.  I am not going to lie, I have shushed. But do so sparingly.  And if you must shush, approach with humor.  When all else fails, blame someone else.  “Look, there are some people around trying to do some reading, let’s keep it down so they can get their work done, okay?”  It’s not me, it’s them.

Mr. Director: “Oy! Too loud! Make with the whisper! Don’t with the loud-maker talk!”

I love programming because it means I get to hang out with my teens.  And then I go home, take some aspirin and crash on my bed.  There is a touch of performing that goes into being a librarian.  During a program, you have to be “on”.  Always be authentically you (they’ll know it if you aren’t), but in a program you have to be your best, engaging, often Oscar worthy you.  They don’t tell you that in library school.

How the Animaniacs Explain the Teen/YA Librarian Relationship

The Godfather: “I can have you all fitted for cement shoes.”
Yakko: “Could I see something in a perky pump?”

Be witty and have a thick skin.  You will not always be a teen’s favorite person.  Some of them will downright hate you.  Sometimes it’s a personality issue.  Sometimes it’s an authority issue.  Just remember: It’s not you.  It’s not even necessarily them.  Sometimes it just is.  Let is go right off of you and be ready with the witty quips.  For every dig, you will often get a teen that adores you as well.  And sometimes, we have those transformative moments and the teen who wanted to fit you with cement shoes is inviting you to his high school graduation party.  There is usually cake!

Dot: “Can we call you Dad-Doo?”

Then you get those moments where you really bond with your teens and build connections.  Christie’s teens call her Ms.  In public I often get “Hey Library Lady”.  But they are also thinking mentor and friend.  There are lots of rewards in working with teens, and these relationships are the best of them.

Mindy: “Ok lady, I love you, bye-bye”

You will watch so many teens grow up.  You will love them.  They will love you.  And even when you say good-bye, you do so with the proud knowledge that you helped to send them into the world informed, equipped and enlightened.  Some of them you will become friends with.  Some of them will name THEIR own children after you. (Okay, technically that has not happened that I know of.  But it’s feasible.)

And Finally, the Truth About YA Librarianship as Explained by the Animaniacs

Wakko: “Can you pull a rabbit out of your pants?”

Yes, you will be expected to be a magician.  You will be expected to put together amazing teen programs that have huge attendance with zero dollars, zero time, and zero support from anyone else in the building.  Sometimes, you will pull that rabbit out of your pants.  Sometimes, the rabbit craps on your hand.  But then those teens say “ok lady, I love you, bye-bye” and you remember why you are doing it.

Wakko: “Fabooo!!!”

And that is how I sum up being a young adult librarian.  It is “Faboo!”  And you are “Faboo!”

Please feel free to add your favorite Animaniacs quotes in the comments and tell us how they are a great guide to young adult librarianship.

The Animaniacs on IMDB

Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs, usually referred to as simply Animaniacs, is an American animated series, distributed by Warner Bros. Television and produced by Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. (from Wikipedia).  All quotes and images belong to those people.