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Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Today, as the Mother of Daughters, is a Good Day for Geekdom

My Sunday Reflections are usually somber reflections on the world that I see around me, in part because there is a lot to be concerned about. But today, I rejoice.

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THE NEW DOCTOR IS A WOMAN!!

We are huge fans of Doctor Who in the Jensen household. The first thing we recently did upon returning to our Texas home after several weeks in Ohio is binge watch our DVRed episodes of Doctor Who to get caught up. We cuddled up in bed, the girls and I, and watched four episodes worth of our favorite show. We laughed. We cried. We bonded and rejoiced and lamented that we would have to wait until the annual Christmas episode until we saw the Doctor again.

And then today the announcement.

The new doctor is a woman! We called everyone we know screaming the news! To say that we are excited is an understatement.

But, it gets better. They also released the teaser trailer for the new movie adaptation of arguably one of my favorite childhood books. And it is glorious!!

This summer I also got to take my girls to see Wonder Woman and help it become one of the highest grossing super hero movies of all time.

With all the news about the assault women’s reproductive rights and healthcare and the walking back of protections against campus sexual violence, it was a good day in geekdom to get to be the mom of two amazing girls. There is a lot to be worried about, but today felt like a triumph. In what seems like dark times to be a woman, I’ll take any moment of triumph I can get.

Sunday Reflections: “These Kids Lead Dark Lives”, the Summer The Teen Learned about Privilege

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This summer The Teen has been spending a lot of time with me in the Teen MakerSpace, and it has been an enlightening experience for her.

Let me tell you some of what these teens have talked to her about:

One of our regular teens has an incarcerated father.

Two of our teens have fathers who have recently tried to kill their mothers, one of them in front of the teen.

One of our teens called 911 as her mother ODed on the front lawn.

Another teen has recently moved as she has been placed in a new foster home.

Many of our teens talk openly about the challenges of being poor and their struggles with their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Many of our teens have moved and moved again as they are in financially unstable homes so they move in and out of homes with relatives or have to find new apartments because the rent goes up.

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The truth is, the community that I work in is much different then the community that we live in. And although our family definitely has our challenges, we also have a lot of privilege and The Teen is coming to understand this. At the base line she has married parents who love each other and her. Right out of the gate she has a stability that many of the teens that I serve don’t have.

And as a feminist raising a feminist teenage daughter, she is aware of the challenges of growing up female in this world. But she is growing up white, middle class female which still has its own privilege. To make matters easier for her, she meets conventional beauty standards. Make no mistake, she personally and our family has our own personal challenges, including financial difficulties, a lack of healthy extended family, chronic illness, and more. But she is really gaining an understanding of what privilege is this summer.

So one night a few weeks ago I was tucking her into bed – yes she is a teenager and I tuck her in to bed every night and I will continue to do so until she asks me to stop or moves out of my home – and as I was turning off the light and shutting the door she asked me to come back and talk to her. This, by the way, is the very reason I still tuck her in, this is when our best conversations happen. She looked at me and said, “Mom, some of the kids you work with have really dark lives.” “I know,” I said, “That’s why I do what I do. I learned many years ago that the best service I could give to teenagers is to be a librarian, a mentor, and give them a safe place to come and read stories and get an education and find the tools they needed to make their lives better.”

The Teen making a T-shirt bag in the Teen MakerSpace

The Teen making a T-shirt bag in the Teen MakerSpace

I work in a state different then the state that I live in. I leave my children every few weeks to come and spend time with these other children. It’s a delicate balance of schedules and needs and emotions. I have a great staff that helps me serve these teens and we work hard to create the space and services that we provide. But I think this summer has better helped The Teen understand why I do what I do. These teens have dark lives and I have the honor and privilege of trying to be a light in it. It’s a responsibility that I do not take lightly.

Sunday Reflections: Who needs healthcare?

In case you haven’t heard, this week the Senate Republicans released their ‘healthcare’ bill. I’m not here to analyze the changes this would make to our current healthcare system, but there is a good brief analysis here. I am here to talk about the impact this might have on our lives and the lives of our patrons.

To be honest, my views on healthcare were radically changed when I watched my best friend slowly die from cancer. Up until that point, I had taken health care for granted. I was privileged to grow up in a family where one of my parents worked for a company that provided the highest level of healthcare coverage (General Electric.) Having all of my wisdom teeth extracted cost my family $4. But watching Shannon fight and resist her eventual death caused me to reconsider all of my assumptions. What wouldn’t I be willing to sacrifice for the 18 extra months we had with her following her diagnosis? And what wasn’t she willing to do to have that extra time with her family, which included two internationally adopted sons with special needs? I remember watching her have a blood transfusion and going from deathly pale to her normal pink skin tone. I remember how uncharacteristically assertive I was when her husband was out of town and she called me to come advocate for her in the emergency room.

And still, her melanoma killed her. Was she not worth those extra 18 months? What about children born with life threatening conditions. For a political party to advocate against abortion on the pretense of being ‘pro-life’ but then refuse to care for the most vulnerable amongst us – how is that compassion? Refusing care even to those who have ‘brought it upon themselves’ (i.e.. drug addicts, etc.) ignores the responsibility we hold for generations of oppression and neglect.

And no, we cannot depend upon the ‘better natures’ of our society to correct these inequities on their own. One only need look at the statistics on charitable giving to see that most of it comes from those least able to afford it. If those who are ‘obscenely rich’ were willing to donate the amounts necessary to provide healthcare to everyone, they would have already made the effort to provide a livable wage to all of those under their employ. And so it becomes the responsibility of the government to enforce a basic level of care to ensure the health and livelihood of its citizens.

To put it pragmatically, a healthy and well educated citizenry contributes to the overall gross domestic product of a country. Why is this so difficult for some to understand?

Sunday Reflections: Celebrating Six Years of TLT

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Celebrating 6 Years of TLT!

I am a YA librarian. That is one of the core ways I define myself. I have spent 23 years working to be the best YA librarian that I can be. Yes, I have worked and love working with younger kids. Yes, I have worked and love working the Reference desk. But at my core, I am a YA librarian. If you asked me to define myself, it’s in the top five things I will say: Christian, mother, YA librarian. These are part of the things that make me me.

So in 2011, after the flood and after the job losses and after having to move, I worried about finding another YA librarian job. Full-time librarian jobs are hard to come by, YA ones even harder still. And thus Teen Librarian Toolbox was born. It was and is my attempt to be better at what I do and to stay connected to this field that I love and this important part of my identity. It has become a tool, a resource, a sounding board, and so much more.

Through TLT I have met amazing people, been challenged to expand what I think and how I serve, and developed a strong core group of fellow YA librarians/librarians who are not only professional peers, but personal friends. Heather, Amanda, Robin and Ally have helped me through deep personal times as well as having been a professional sounding board. I can not tell you the immense gift that these women are to me and my family. I value, respect and admire them, but more then that – I love them, they are my friends.

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TLT is both my most meaningful professional and personal accomplishment. With your help and readership, I get to model to my daughters the joys and hard work of building something from scratch and watching it succeed. And make no mistake, they too have benefited from TLT. They have met authors, been blessed by my fellow librarians, and many of you have sent them your positive thoughts in our darkest of days.

As I reflect on this, the six year anniversary of TLT, I say thank you. Thank you for reading. Thank you for discussing. Thank you for challenging. Thank you for supporting. I am a better person, mother and YA librarian because you take this journey with me. Thank you for six amazing years. I hope you will continue to be on this journey with us in the years to come.

Heather Booth Reflects

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My first post for TLT was about a live action Angry Birds program I hosted in 2012. I was reminded of this just today when a colleague replicating the event asked for some details. “I think we used beach towels to fling the balls,” I told her. “I know it’s on TLT though, just check the site, I’m pretty sure there’s a materials list.” So what does TLT mean to me? It’s a record of my work over the past several years, the other half of my brain, and a reminder of the amazing support, awareness-raising, and mutual admiration that our profession is capable of. I’m glad to have a small stake in TLT and immensely proud of the compendium of information and perspectives shared here by librarians, authors, teens, and more. The output – at least one high quality post six out of seven days a week – is astounding for an unpaid staff the size of our group, especially since that group includes a slacker poster like myself! Thank you, Karen, for creating and maintaining this space, even when it was hard.

Amanda MacGregor Reflects

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Teen Librarian Toolbox has given me so much over the past three years (and the three years before that where I was a reader but not a contributor). A lot of those things are obvious. It has: given me a platform to talk about books and issues important to me; helped connect me with thousands of librarian/book/YA people on Twitter; connected me with publishers who make sure hundreds of books show up here each year for me to consider for review; and opened the door for me for other opportunities related to books and writing.

But TLT means so much more than just a place to write about YA books and advocacy for teens. I am grateful to have learned so much from being a part of TLT. Whether from my fellow TLTers, from guest posts, from the conversations surrounding books and posts, or from our various yearly projects, I have taken away new information, new ideas, and new ways of thinking about things. TLT isn’t just some blog I write for—it’s a community. The past 3 years have been filled with emails, texts, phone calls, and more with TLTers that sometimes have things to do with the blog, but most often do not. This past fall, when I met up with Heather at NerdCon, my son was flabbergasted that we’d never met in person before. When I told him I’ve actually never met anyone from TLT in person before, he was absolutely astounded. “But they’re your friends!” he said. And yes, most of our interactions are in virtual spaces, but these people are my friends. I’m not quite sure why Karen plucked me out of Twitter to ask if I was interested in joining TLT, but I’m forever happy that she did. I love TLT for the community, the learning, the support, and the many ways it challenges me to think harder and do better. Thankful for my fellow bloggers here at TLT, the legions of people who volunteer to guest post, and everyone who reads, shares, and talks with us about our posts.

Robin Willis Reflects

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Being a part of Teen Librarian Toolbox has been a true blessing in my life for a number of reasons. When I started contributing, I was struggling to enjoy a job where the moments I got to be a librarian (rather than tech support) were growing fewer and fewer. TLT helped me be more reflective and change my practice to serve the students at my school with more creativity and enthusiasm. It has helped open doors for me to join in the larger YA librarianship community and given me perspective on my life and work. Even though I now mostly work with the 5 and under set at a public library (finding a full time YA position is nearly impossible) I still feel connected to my work with teens through TLT. More than all of that, though, I enjoy working with a fabulous group of librarians who are always available to support me both professionally and personally, and who feel free to call on me for the same support.

 

We always love hearing from you, so if you would like to tell us what you like about TLT, what you would like to see more of, etc., please leave us a comment.

Sunday Reflections: I Did Not Succeed, but I Also Did Not Fail

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Yesterday I sat in my Teen MakerSpace with four teens and we tried to build a Lego car that would move by voice activitated LittleBits. We did not accomplish this task. In fact, we could not figure out how to attach the wheels in a way that would move.

As we built the car, the teens began telling stories using their Legos. By the end of the day they had built a regular Lego car and a house and were telling an eleborate backstory for Nancy and several other characters. They acted it out using Minifigs and the tale continued to grow as each teen contributed their part.

Later they sat down and colored.

But still there was no voice activated car that moved.

It would be easy for me to think that I failed, but I did not. Sure, I didn’t succeed in building the voice activated car, but I succeeded in several other goals. These teens were being creative in their own self-directed way. They took the reigns and started doing something else that they apparently wanted to do. And while they did it they were social, engaged, and building positive feelings about the libraries. They were in a safe environment with caring adults and engaging in positive behaviors with short and long term positive outcomes.

So no, I did not successfully build a voice activated Lego car. But I also did not fail.

Sunday Reflections: The Long Term Effects of Trauma and the Kids We Traumatize

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We are driving home and it is dark. Thing 2 is quiet in the backseat. I realize that she has probably fallen asleep, it’s late and the drive is a little over an hour, but there is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if she has died back there. Maybe the seat belt has cut off her airway. Maybe she has fallen asleep in that weird floppy way that kids buckled into cars do. So I resist the urge for as long as I can and then I ask The Teen, “Can you please check on your sister in the backseat?” And she does. She is used to checking on her sister asleep in the car.

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When Thing 2 was five weeks old she stopped breathing and turned blue. She was sitting in one of those electric swings and The Teen and I are were doing something when I looked up and saw that she was turning blue. We would later learn that she had severe GERD caused by multiple food allergies and GI issues, that she had aspirated on the reflux causing her to quit breathing. That night in the ER she would be placed on a sleep apnea monitor that we used for months to help make sure that she didn’t quit breathing again in her sleep. We lived in a constant state of stress and fear.

One of the effects of this incident is that I became afraid to drive at night in the car with my baby. You see, with her turned around rear facing so I couldn’t see her, I worried that she would aspirate again. I had zero confidence in the apnea monitor. This was my baby we were talking about. My baby that I had fought through pregnancy loss and hyperemesis gravidarum and a separating placenta and fibroid tumors to bring into this world. My baby that I had already seen turn blue. So I stopped driving anywhere at night. And sleeping. I stopped sleeping.

My road to motherhood has been paved with a lot of trauma. I nearly died. I lost an early pregnancy in complicated ways. And then I finally gave birth to my second child after a high risk pregnancy complicated by hyperemesis gravidarum. I then suffered PPD and my baby had “colic”. It was a couple of years of constant trauma and stress. And last night, driving home in the dark, I was reminded of the long term effects. I think a lot about the effects of trauma.

There have been a lot of recent studies about childhood trauma (see additional information below). Childhood trauma literally rewires the brain. It is associated with increased rates of addiction. There is nothing good that comes from childhood trauma. I can assure you that at the age of 44 I still carry the effects of the sexual abuse I suffered as a young teen with me.

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Thing 2 is now eight years old. When she was two, our town flooded and we had to escape through knee high raging (and freezing waters). She doesn’t remember the house that we lived in when this happened. She doesn’t remember many of the people we knew during this time of our lives. But she does remember the night of the flood. She remembers being carried by a stranger through the water. She freaks out when she sees commercials for disaster movies with a tsunami or flooding. She should remember nothing, but yet she seems to remember the fear associated with the rising waters.

1 in 5 children in America goes to bed hungry. They live in a constant state of economic stress and financial insecurity. 1 in 4 struggles with a mental health issue. 1 in 5 will be the victim of sexual abuse. Many more will be the victims of or witness to violence. There’s a lot of childhood trauma happening all around us every day.

At the same time, we are witnessing what I believe to be our least compassionate moment in my history. We are willing to let sick children die if they are poor because apparently healthcare is not a right. We are willing to let children starve because they are poor because apparently food and water are not a right. We continue to let the children in Flint be subjected to lead tainted water. We want the right to harm children in the name of religious freedom. We want to strip away education and healthcare and food subsidies, the very thing that will get a lot of these children through their childhood so that they can become successful adults. We are causing trauma to our children in the name of political power and political parties and greed and prejudice. And yet I look at the results of childhood trauma and I can’t help but think, we’re not just hurting the children, we’re hurting ourselves, we’re hurting each other, we’re hurting our country, we’re hurting our future. Nobody really wins here when we hurt our children.

Our country is in the midst of one of the greatest opioid epidemics in our history they say. Addiction is highly associated with mental illness and childhood trauma they also say. What if the answer to our crisis is that we need to be more compassionate to our children?

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We arrived home safely last night and I put Thing 2 to bed. She chose to come snuggle with me as she slept and I held her close and kissed her head as I prayed over her, thankful that we made another car ride home in the dark and she kept breathing. And I prayed for all the children in our world. May the adults in our world choose to create a world with less childhood trauma so that our children can thrive.

We need to do better.

For More Information:

Effects of Complex Trauma | National Child Traumatic Stress Network

How Childhood Trauma Could Be Mistaken for ADHD – The Atlantic

Childhood Trauma Linked to Brain Changes and Addiction

Trauma and Substance Abuse – National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Sunday Reflections: It’s Hard to Get Out of a Town Like This

tltbutton5On the wall sits a small collection of test prep books. The ACT. The SAT. Nursing exams. Teaching exams. It occurred to me the other day that we should also pull out the financial aid and how to write your college application essay books and just call the section College Prep.

This shelf of books sit across from the Teen MakerSpace. So I turn my head and look through the window and today there is a group of teens working on whatever it is they are working on and I realize how many of my teens aren’t even thinking about college. College is not in the cards for them. So I look at my Assistant Director and I say to her, “it’s hard to get out of a town like this.”

And it is.

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My senior year of high school I did not fill out one single college application. Not one. Because I knew that college wasn’t really in the cards for me. Nobody talked to me about college. We didn’t really have the money for it, though we were by no means poor. It’s just that college was truly expensive and unobtainable. I took the ACT once on a day in which I woke up with a fever and none of it mattered anyway because I wasn’t going to college, so I did what I could and turned it in and walked away and never looked back.

I was by not, however, a bad student. In fact, I ended up graduating in the top 10 percent of my class and got a free two years at the local community college. That is the only reason I ever started college. I then moved, moved again to attend college, started working at the local library to help pay for college, and then went to graduate school to be a YA librarian. I will finish paying off my college loans the year that The Teen high school herself. There were a lot of lean years in between a lot of that, and some good friends who helped me out, and a metric ton of college loans.

But even though college seemed out of reach for me, it seems even more so for many of the teens that I serve. There’s a huge difference between my life as a teenager and many of the teens that I currently serve, and those difference make all of the difference in the world.

I wasn’t hungry.

I wasn’t worried about whether or not a parent was going to go back to jail or start using again.

I lived in a big town with plenty of jobs and I worked.

We could afford to buy me a crappy car that I could drive the 20 minutes out of town each day to attend a class at a community college.

We could buy the text books I needed to take the class.

Even though my parents didn’t really talk to me about college, they asked me about my grades and demanded that I do well.

I could go to the doctor or a dentist when I got sick and didn’t have to suffer with a throbbing, rotting tooth or a long term low grade fever that should probably get checked out.

I had a lot of things in my favor that these teens don’t have. They can’t even imagine having.

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The irony is that the town in which I work is the home to two private colleges. One of them is, in fact, the undergraduate school that I attended. But their tuition is astronomical and out of reach for most of my teens and most of the members of our community. And transportation is still an issue. And their families are still unstable. And climbing your way out of poverty is near impossible because you need money to do it. There are reasons we talk about the cycles of poverty.

And it’s not just college. It’s hard to move to a new town where jobs are if you don’t have transportation or the money for an apartment or a car to get you out of town. We’re a small, rural town and the closest cities with jobs are 45 minutes in any direction. All it takes is one breakdown in the middle of winter on a country highway to make you lose your job, if you’re lucky enough to get one. It takes money to make money.

Small rural towns aren’t bad, they have a lot of charm. There’s something to be said about running into your favorite aunt in the public library and having known your neighbors for generations. But small dying rural towns have a layer of dust and despair that covers those charms. The paint on the houses is peeling and the porches are crumbling to the ground, but no one can afford to fix that because they can barely afford food. Food insecurity is rampant in towns like mine.

Yesterday I read that the Minnesota house passed a bill that would lower the minimum wage, and I have heard a lot of talk about other places wanting to do the same. But in a town with nothing but medical or service industry jobs – think Walmart and Dollar General – minimum wage is the only thing that is keeping most of these families just barely surviving. We say that you need a college education to get a “good job” and don’t recognize the many barriers there are, really, to attending college. Even in a town with two of them. A minimum wage job won’t help you pay for college, especially if they lower the minimum wage.

So I walk back down to my Teen MakerSpace and talk to my kids. We talk about tv shows and popular culture. We talk about making. We talk about being moved to a different foster home or whether or not they are going to leave tonight to go to the local community dinner. We talk about their families and what it’s like to be poor. But we don’t talk about growing up and moving out of town. It’s hard to get out of a town like this.

Sunday Reflections: Thinking About Mental Health, a #MHYALit Post by Ally Watkins

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. For today’s Sunday Reflections my friend and frequent #MHYALit (Mental Health in YA Lit) contributor Ally Watkins shares a thoughtful piece about her own personal experiences. You can read all of the #MHYALit posts here, or click on the tag #MHYALit.

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I had my first panic attack when I was in the fifth grade. I was sitting at my desk in my classroom doing a worksheet, and everything was fine. Until suddenly, everything wasn’t fine. The lights were too much, the work was too much, the people were too much, and then I was sobbing. It was terrifying and humiliating. None of the adults present had any idea what was happening to me, other than thinking I was maybe getting sick. I don’t remember if my parents were even told about the incident. I wouldn’t fully understand what had happened for nearly 15 years.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Here’s something to be aware of: if you work with children and teens, you are going to come into contact with kids that have mental illnesses.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 teens live with a mental health condition, with half of those developing it by age 14. The CDC reports that among children aged 3-17, 3% suffer from anxiety and 2.1% suffer from depression. (Both sites have more information and reading available.)

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic

If you teach a class or do a class visit, multiple kids in those desks are dealing with these issues. If you have a large program, several of your attendees are living with mental illness. These kids may have had panic attacks like I did, or they may be despondent, or they may be overwhelmed and falling behind in school because of their health. They may not have any idea what’s happening to them.

Kids’ brains aren’t fully developed. They’re not making fully-informed rational decisions on the best of days, in the best of circumstances. And consider this: kids with mental health problems are constantly inundated by messages from their own brain that don’t line up with reality. A teenager with depression may believe that no one cares about them or that life isn’t worth living, even though that is patently untrue. A tween with anxiety may be in a constant state of panic, even if the stimuli in their environment don’t merit that visceral response. These things are hard enough to manage as an adult with a biologically more well-developed sense of reason and some years of experience under your belt. But take a minute to imagine how terrifying the world must seem to a child or a teenager whose perception is skewed by illness. Especially if that illness is undiagnosed.

Work In Progress – Adolescent Brains Are A Work In Progress

Inside The Teenage Brain | FRONTLINE

I wrote a post in the fall called How To Help which highlights a few practical ways that we can provide for kids dealing with mental illness. We’re not doctors. We can’t diagnose or treat, and we shouldn’t try to. But as librarians and/or as educators, we need to be aware of what’s happening in our kids’ lives and be sensitive to that. We can work to fight stigma and we can help spread the idea that mental illness, like any other illness, isn’t anything to be ashamed of. We need to work to create safe, inclusive environments for all of the children and teens that we serve.

I don’t know what I needed that day in the 5th grade. But what I do know is that it can never hurt to have more adults understanding what the kids in their schools and libraries are dealing with. Educate yourself.

 

Sunday Reflections: When There is No Village

What if I wrote a Sunday Reflections, but on a Wednesday? What if I couldn’t wait until Sunday to share my heart with you? Today is that day.

Canvas4Summer is coming. It doesn’t quite have the ring to it as Winter is Coming, but it’s true. And with the winding down of the school year comes all the end of year pageantry that schools can muster. End of year concerts, field days, field trips, awards ceremonies and more.

And somewhere in your community is a child who doesn’t have a special adult that can come and support them. Their single mom or dad can’t get off work to go watch them receive that math student of the year certificate. They have no grandparent to take in for Grandparents Day. There is no aunt or uncle or older sibling. They will walk across that stage to receive an award and there will be no one there to take a picture, clap, and beam with pride. On this day, this child or teen will be reminded of how alone they are in the universe.

Recently someone tweeted about how no matter what, your family will always have your back. But this is patently untrue for millions of kids all over this world. Some families are toxic, abusive. Some are broken. Some are isolated. Some are alienated. Some are just barely surviving. Some are struggling with sickness or grief. There are tons of reasons, but the the results are the same – many kids don’t have a village. Some kids don’t even have a person.

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In 2011 my family moved from the state of Ohio to Texas in order to have a job so we could afford to feed our kids. Food and shelter is important, but our kids continue to struggle with the lack of emotional bonds that many families take for granted. As I write this I am praying every day that my husband will be able to find a job in one of two other states where we do have family so that my kids can finally learn what it’s like to go to grandma’s house or to have that aunt who will take them to a movie on a Saturday night. My family is beautiful and blessed, but we are also isolated and alone. And my phone is not the exception, I see it all around us.

The truth is, it doesn’t have to be a blood relative. Any adult who can honestly love and mentor a kid will do.

Our kids are desperate for it. And when I say our kids, I don’t mean mine, I mean our nations. Because as a parent I finally understand what it means when we say it takes a village, though I fear that we are losing our villages. Everybody works too much to barely survive, social media has taken out of our in real life communities and we bond with strangers who can’t help us out in a pinch with childcare, and our kids don’t have anyone to sit on an uncomfortable school bleacher while they win an award or blow a whistle on a hot, dusty field day.

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But we, the adults of this world, can change that. We can make the conscious decision to be mentors. To be “aunts” and “uncles” or “grandmas” and “grandpas” to kids that we are in no way related by blood. But make no mistake, it has to be a long term commitment. Changing your mind somewhere along the lines can often be more damaging than having never said yes. Abandonment, betrayal, and just plain being let down can have far more lasting impacts than feeling alone.

The village is dying. Each person is looking out for themselves. We’re debating whether or not sick children deserve health insurance (they do), whether poor children deserve free lunches (again, they do), or whether we want to pay to support education (we should), in part because we are losing ability to care for someone other than ourselves and those we relate to by birth. We are for me and mine, but the neighbor across the street has to fend for themselves. We are moving away from being communities and the impact is devastating.

There are communal benefits to raising our neighbors out of poverty and supporting education, to name just a few of the issues on the table. Strong, healthy communities are supportive, nurturing, and work together to meet common goals. There is safety, advancement, and an overall wellness in healthy communities. Poverty and disenfranchisement can be linked to decreased health (which increases health care costs for all), increased crime, and things like decreased property values.

But it’s more than that, children who grow up with a lot of stress, poverty and trauma – their brains are literally remapped. There are long term consequences for the individual and society when our communities fall apart. Lonely, unhappy, unsupported, and hungry children aren’t just inhumane, they are bad for society.

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I work in public libraries with teenagers and I have the distinct honor of being a mentor to many teens. But I also have made the conscious effort to try and be a part of and build community outside of my job. And I would like to ask you to do the same. “Adopt” a kid in your church or neighborhood. Choose to be that adult mentor that a kid or teen can ask to come and blow that whistle on field day or clap as they walk across the stage to win an award. Sometimes it’s because their parents literally can’t as they work to try and put food on the table, other times it’s because, in all honesty, kids need more than one or two adults in their lives who value them. We don’t all have networks of healthy, connected extended families that meet together on Sunday nights for family dinner to help nurture a child’s soul. Geography, toxicity, death – these are just a few of the reasons. But the reason doesn’t really matter, what matters is the love. People need love and nurture and support. They need a village. Choose to be a village.

Sunday Reflections: Doing the Heavy Lifting at the Library, Working with a Hurting Public to Find Healing

sundayreflections1I am sitting at the Reference desk when a patron walks up and asks me for help. She was displaced after Hurricane Katrina and needs some information. She knows she was adopted and now has a name and some basic information about who her biological mother was. Can you help me track her down she asks, she doesn’t know what happened to her after the hurricane.

I spend some time digging around and for some reason my search leads me to the Social Security Death Index. It is here that a find that a woman with that name and around the age presented passed away in the last few years. I look up this woman, tell her I’m sorry, and tears come to her eyes. That’s okay she says, thank you for telling her, she would rather know than not.

It’s another day and another Reference desk, but a woman is standing before asking for a book on how to deal with a difficult spouse. There is a newly forming bruise above her eye. I find her the information she is looking for, but I also quietly pass her information about how to contact the local domestic violence shelter. I don’t know if she ever uses it, but I did what I could in that moment to let her know that there are local options available to help her.

It’s another day and I answer the phone at the Reference desk. A woman has just come from the doctor’s office and received a diagnosis, but the doctor didn’t give her enough information. She has more questions and needs more information. What, she asks, is the average life expectancy with this disease. I look it up and see the words on the page . . . 6 months. It’s okay she tells me, I know it’s bad, just read it to me over the phone. So I do. I read her the entire passage over the phone as she asks and remind her that we are not doctors and that she should talk more to hers. I feel like I have just told this woman that she has 6 months left to live and she thanks me, because I did my job, I did what she asked me to do.

Yesterday my friend and mentor was sharing with me a story about a patron who had recently come in and asked what to do now that his spouse had passed away. The found a checklist with the AARP that would help this man navigate the legal loopholes that he would now have to jump through as he tried to manage his grief and get his personal affairs in order.

“There was a lot of heavy lifting today,” she told me.

That’s what she calls it, doing the heavy lifting. Sometimes, we do a lot of heavy lifting at the public library. Parents trying to navigate divorce and fight for custody. People trying to find jobs. People trying to navigate complex medical diagnosis. People trying to navigate loss. The heavy lifting is hard, emotional work. Sometimes you help a patron and then you step into the office and cry.

There is a lot of joy and celebration working with teens in the public library. But there is a lot of sadness as well. We are often the only lifeline community members have as they try to find aid and just barely survive whatever tragedy life has just handed them.

I have sat with teens who have lost parents, watched their houses burned down, or just learned that their best friend died Saturday night in a car accident. There’s a lot of heavy lifting, a lot of emotional work, in dealing with people. We don’t often talk a lot about the heavy lifting in librarianship. You’re job description may say that you have to be able to push a cart full of heavy books or lift a box, but they often forget to ask you about this other type of heavy lifting. What will you do when you learn that the teen who comes in every day after school was sent away to live with a relative because their single parent now sits in jail?

As my mentor told me this story of the grieving widow and reminded me about the heavy lifting, I thought about the current attacks on library funding. Since I work at a library in Ohio, we are receiving attacks at both the state and federal level as both the Ohio PLF and the Federal IMLS are currently under threats of cut or total annihilation. But the public library is one of the few places where people can go to get started in getting help. We may not be the final agency that helps them, but we are often the place they come to find out who that agency is because they have no idea where to begin searching. That’s what librarians do, connect people with information and resources.

It’s not just that the library is a place that provides you free wifi or a DVD, we work every day with community members who need help getting help but don’t even know where to begin looking. There may be a grant to help them start their own business, a shelter to help them get back on their feet, or a specialist to help them navigate a complex medical diagnosis, but they often don’t even know where or how to begin looking for that information. That’s what we do in the library, connect people to the information and resources they need.

Today I was driving in the car with a new friend who asked me, what exactly do librarians do. And it’s these stories I always want to tell. We help people. Sometimes that help is helping them find help. But to that widow that is grieving, that help is a precious gift. That is the heavy lifting.