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Sunday Reflections: How the Language of Deconstructing One’s Faith Helped Me Understand Adolescence

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In the award-winning novel Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, the main character, Xiomara Batista, spends a lot of time questioning and challenging the very deep Catholic faith that she was raised in. She’s trying to figure out who she is and what she believes; she’s trying to make sense of her parent’s faith and find a faith that she can believe in for herself. She is deconstructing her faith.

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To be clear, this is a pretty normal part of adolescence. In fact, it is one of the primary tasks, to move into a more independent sense of self and figure out who you are, who you want to be, what you believe, and how you will move through this world. One of the most fundamental tasks of adolescence is to figure out a self-identity. And often, this involves the deconstruction of faith.

Deconstruction is quite literally a critical analysis. Metaphorically, it takes the pieces of something apart and takes the time to evaluate them each individually and then figure out how they fit together, or don’t, in the scope of one’s own life and belief system. And to parents, it can be terrifying in no small part because religion, matters of faith and devotion, are so incredibly personal and fraught. In the end, when you start talking about matters of belief, you are often talking about literal matters of life and death, and what happens to one’s mortal soul after death. It’s not an easy topic by any means.

In the book Heretic’s Anonymous by Katie Henry, we meet a group of teens from a variety of faiths who are at different stages of belief. Some are devout, some are questioning, some are atheist, and some are deconstructing. It’s not so much that they don’t believe, it’s that they don’t believe in it all the way the adults in their lives want them to believe so they engage in critical analysis to determine what it is the do believe and how they can incorporate that into their life. One of the main characters, perhaps my favorite, is a teen girl who very much loves her Catholic faith but is also a feminist. There’s a lot of tension in many faiths when it comes to embracing and upholding feminist ideals.

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Although I have been aware for a while that millennial and teens – and today’s teens ARE NOT millennials – have been leaving the church, I have only recently become aware of the concept of and language of deconstructing one’s faith. There are discussions online using hasthags like #exvangelical (which is about moving away from fundamentalist Christianity, with some choosing atheism and others just choosing a more progressive faith), #emptythepews (which specifically calls for an exodus out of the church), and a variety of other discussions about what it means to deconstruct one’s faith. I read and follow these discussions for a variety of reasons, both professional and personal.

Many teens (and millennials) are leaving the church because they do not find that the church practices what it preaches. They will argue that the church preaches that God loves all but then actively preach hatred towards the LGBTQ+ community. The teens that I have talked to see an underlying greed and corruption in the church, and they are angry at the way that the church has turned their back on both the Earth and their future by engaging in climate change denial. And as news breaks out that more and more denominations have spent decades covering up childhood abuse to protect their name and the adults around them at the expense of children, they are finding it harder and harder to feel that church cares about them at all.

In the book The Distance Between Lost and Found by Kathryn Holmes, the main character is wrestling with her continued participation in a youth group when the very teen who has sexually assaulted her continues to be embraced and lauded by her friends and family. She feels lost, lonely, rejected, terrified and unsupported. She finds herself in the wilderness metaphorically and quite literally as she wrestles with her truth at church camp. She is a proxy for every child, teen or adult harmed by the church who is trying to figure out where they still fit in at a church that wants to deny the truth of what has happened to them, leaving them vulnerable and alone. She is deconstructing her faith.

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As the mother of a teenage daughter, I have the opportunity to have a lot of hard and important conversations with my teen. And because we are a family that goes to a Christian church together, a lot of these conversations revolve around the Bible, the church and lately, a lot about LGBTQ+ issues. I have found that this generation of teens is the most accepting and open about their and other people’s sexual and gender identities and the topic is very important to them. We also happen to be United Methodist and our denomination recently voted to uphold traditional views of gender and sexuality and to prohibit same sex couples from marrying or being ordained. This is a topic that my teen was very aware of and chose to follow on her own. And she came to me heartbroken when the church voted to hold people she loves outside of the full fellowship of the church. If given a choice, I’m sure that she would not currently choose to keep attending church.

She also has spent time with me in my work with teens in various spaces. She has seen me love, embrace and support transgender teens, gay teens, queer teens, questioning teens . . . And she always seems surprised when I talk about how sometimes it is still hard for me to totally shake off what I have been taught for literal years by the church regarding LGBTQ+ issues. You see, deconstructing your faith isn’t easy and it isn’t a one time process. I feel like I’m always challenging, learning, and growing. But when we talk about it I tell her that I have one huge thing that I am always trying to keep in mind: I never want to harm a fellow human being. Which is not the same thing as saying that I never do, because I have, I do and I will continue to do so because that’s part of being human. I have chosen to be honest, vulnerable and open in my parenting in part because I want her to know that she doesn’t have to have all the answers right now. I know that I certainly don’t, and I’m 46.

It’s important to note that deconstructing faith doesn’t have to mean walking away from it entirely. It’s just a process of questioning and challenging what you are taught. If done correctly, it usually involves asking for spiritual guidance to help with things like discernment and guidance. It often involve letting one’s faith evolve and represent the more complex thinking that we develop in adolescence. It’s moving from black and white thinking to recognizes the various shades of grey that inhabit the reality of the world we live in. It’s taking the pieces apart, but putting them back together again in ways that make sense and affirm both the foundations of your belief system and full dignity and rights of your fellow humans.

To be honest, I think much of adolescence can be understood in the context of deconstructing. Teens are constantly in the process of deconstructing and then reconstructing who they are, what they think and feel, what they believe, and how they want to live in the world. Although it’s easy to look at a word like deconstructing and have negative thoughts, I think it really embodies many of the processes of adolescence. And remember, deconstructing almost always results in reconstructing, whether that be of faith or self. Deconstructing isn’t something we should fear, because in the end, it almost always results in a more honest, thoughtful, and healthy reconstruction of self.

Part of what I do as a librarian who serves teen is to provide them access to the tools and resources that can help them in this process. I believe in the power of story and words to help us explore the world around us and the world inside of us so that we can deconstruct and then reconstruct our understanding. The power of story helps build compassion. Words enlighten, motivate, encourage, challenge, affirm and more. There are teens that I have had the opportunity to sit and talk with, teens I have watched grow from year to year, but there are also teens who have walked into my library that I have never seen and the simple act of providing the book that they needed when they needed it has helped them become the person they are today. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly.

Sunday Reflections: Let’s Update Those YA Lit Articles with Current Titles, and more suggestions for how we talk about YA lit in the media

Several years ago, I wrote a post to the media asking them to write their hot takes about YA literature differently. It was snarky and full of anger at a media that continued to denigrate YA literature and by proxy the teens that read it. At the time, their was a lot of pearl clutching about how dark YA literature was, without a real acknowledgment of how dark the lives of real teens can be, and often are. Recently, there have been a lot of additional articles about YA, with a lot of focus on the idea of “Toxic YA Twitter”, which as best as I can tell is really just people from marginalized groups asking for better representation in YA literature and calling out those books that they feel have harmful stereotypes and representation that may harm teen readers of color.

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But what all of these articles have in common is that they continue to discuss YA literature using books like Twilight, The Hunger Games and Divergent as their go to reference. One of the most recent ones did add The Maze Runner series to the list. The problem with this is, every single one of these books is around 10 years old or older and aren’t really representative of YA literature today. They are a small microcosm of YA lit, and in many places they are now a historic perspective on YA but by no means offer a good look at what is happening in the current YA lit marketplace nor do they represent what today’s teens – the intended audience for YA – are reading.

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For example, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas has topped the New York Times bestseller list for 2 consecutive years. Like the books mentioned above, it was made into a move. Angie Thomas’ most recent release, On the Come Up, debuted on the NYT Bestseller list and was a title that we had so many holds on before release that we had to order additional copies. None of the books mentioned above have appeared on my library’s hold list for years. In fact, given the circulation statistics of the Twilight series, I could easily have justified weeding them from my library’s collection, though I did not.

It’s interesting that articles discussing YA tend to focus on that handful of older titles and neglect to mention more recent bestsellers for several reasons. One, in the past few years the bestseller list has grown increasingly diverse, which is a good thing. But when writers focus on this handful of older titles, they are continuing to highlight white, cisgender and heteronormative titles. Both The Hate U Give and The Children of Blood and Bone, another long term NYT Bestseller, are written by women of color, but they keep being written out of the narrative about YA literature.

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Simon Vs. the Homosapien Agenda by Beck Albertalli is another NYT bestseller that got the movie treatment. It is the story of a gay boy trying to figure out who he is and is accepted by his friends and family. This is just one of the growing number of LGBTQ titles that are popular among teen readers and have been high circulating, NYT bestselling titles in the past few years. Yet the titles being mentioned in these articles fail to represent LGBTQ teens.

Twilight was a huge hit among teen readers, but the first book in that series was released in 2005 and the final book in the series, Breaking Dawn, was released in 2008. I’m not excellent at math, but that seems to be almost 11 years ago. While there are some teens today that still seek our and read these books, this series is by no means as meaningful to today’s teen readers or the landscape of what’s happening in YA as many newer titles. As a reference for discussion on YA lit, it’s now a weird go-to reference.

The same can be said for The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner series. What’s also interesting is that several of these authors haven’t really released a new YA title in many years. Further, the author of The Maze Runner series was recently accused of sexual harassment and if I am not mistaken, is currently without a publisher. Veronica Roth is the only author from this particular group who is currently and actively publishing YA books and her most recent series, Carve the Mark, has been criticized by people of color as engaging in racist and harmful tropes. The titles in the series have debuted on the NYT bestseller list, but they have not had the demand or circulation as other titles among my teen readers.

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It’s also interesting that these articles which seem to want to focus on older titles often fail to mention authors of color with longstanding careers, such as Walter Dean Myers. It is unfathomable to me that you can talk about YA literature in any form and not mention Walter Dean Myers, who was a prolific writer and was the first recipient of the Printz Award Medal in it’s inaugural year for his book, Monster. Sadly, Walter Dean Myers is no longer with us, but no discussion of YA literature seems complete without mentioning his influence on the category. By the end of his career, Walter Dean Myers had written over 100 books for children and teens.

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

TLT TAB member Lexi is a HUGE A. S. King fan

However, if you want your article to reference authors who have been publishing for a long time and are still publishing, I would recommend authors like Sarah Dessen, who writes popular contemporary books and has been in this business for almost as long as I have. Her latest book, The Rest of the Story, will be released later this year. Might I also recommend A. S. King, who writes mind-bending surrealistic fiction that recognizes teens as intelligent readers and challenges them to think outside the box. Her newest book, Dig, will be released on Tuesday, March 26th. These are just two of the authors that teen readers continually ask for who are still actively engaged in writing YA literature.

What I would like to see in articles about YA literature is some better and more current examples of titles that are of interest to today’s YA reader. Unless you are writing a historical perspective on the category, it seems outdated and out of touch to continue to use this small handful of examples that aren’t even the most popular titles with today’s teen readers. I also would like to see more diversity in the titles being used as examples to better reflect today’s teens. 40% of the population are not white, so shouldn’t the titles we talk about when discussing YA literature reflect the world?

Since the days of The Hunger Games and Twilight, YA publishing has exploded. I have read figures that state that the YA literature category has experienced an increase of around 400%. That’s a lot of growth and a lot of new titles to talk about. And my experience working in libraries directly with teens for 26 years has proven several things:

1. A majority of YA lit titles have a short shelf life and high turnover rate. Titles that my teens were begging for even 2 years ago can have a sharp and sudden drop off in circulation, demand and popularity. There are always exceptions to this rule, but it’s an important perspective to keep in mind.

2. There is often a huge difference between what adults readers of YA are interested in compared to what teen readers of YA are interested in. When discussing YA literature in the media, maybe we need to be more clear about what types of readers we are discussing. As the title of this blog probably informs you, I’m here for teen readers. I begrudge no adult who wants to read YA for whatever their reasons, I’m just personally dedicated to serving and advocating for teens and would like YA category to continue to be written with them in mind and I would like articles that discuss the YA category to be cognizant of teens as readers.

3. When discussing YA in the media, we need more data to help support our discussions. We need things like circulation data, bestselling data and feedback from actual teen readers. This will help us make sure that we are, in fact, talking about YA literature in ways that center factual data and actual teen readers. I’m tired of lazy articles that discuss what’s wrong with YA literature and continues to reference Twilight as THE teen book example.

4. When discussing YA in the media, I want some background discussion at the beginning of the article about a person’s qualifications to write said article. Are you an author? Are you a publisher? Are you a librarian? How long have you been actively engaged in the YA community? What are your credentials and why are you a knowledgeable, reliable and unbiased source of information? In a time when we are trying to inform the general public how to suss out fake news and seek out reliable news sources, we should be asking this information of every article written about teens and YA lit.

To be true to this above demand, let me take a moment to tell you that I have been a YA/Teen Services Librarian for 26 years. I have worked at 5 systems in 2 states in various types of communities, both rural and big cities. I talk with teens directly on an almost a daily basis about books and use circulation data and patron requests to help me purchase books for libraries and build inclusive collections of YA lit. I run this blog, write articles for journals like School Library Journals, and have spoken and taught at numerous conferences and webinars.

If you are a media entity seeking to publish an article about YA lit, please seek out reliable sources and actual data and make sure to talk about current titles that reflect the diversity of YA lit readers. I would recommend contacting a handful of YA librarians in public and school libraries and asking them what their teens are reading and asking them for some circulation data. Most librarians should have a way to go in an run a circulation report to tell you what the highest circulating titles in their YA collection are. In most cases they can give you historical and current data. You should also look at things like the New York Times Bestseller list which will also tell you how long a title has appeared on the list.

If you are a reader of these articles, please take a moment to look at them critically and ask yourself what makes them qualified to write the article, whether or not they have an agenda they are trying to push, and to examine critically the list of titles they are using to talk about YA literature.I would recommend immediately questioning the validity or intent of any article that is referencing older titles and seem to have no knowledge of current YA publishing trends.

If you are a publisher, author or YA librarian and you are asked to consult on an article being written, please take the time to answer thoughtfully and diversely, being respectful of and centering actual teen readers. Provide examples with data whenever possible.

Moving forward, let’s all agree to talk about YA literature differently in the media making a conscious effort to center teen readers and to more fully represent the breadth and scope of all that YA literature has to offer.

Sunday Reflections: The Okay Sign, a Game of Gotcha, and a Symbol of Hate, Why It’s Important to Stay Informed

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When I first began working as a librarian, one of my supervisors told me she felt it was important for her staff to read the newspaper everyday. To visit blogs. To thumb through magazines. It was built into part of our daily work because she felt it was important for her staff to be aware of current events, the news, and various moments of pop culture. Over the years, this bit of wisdom has served me well. Perhaps none so much as recently.

Many teens like to play a game where they make what looks like an okay symbol with their hands and if you look at it, they then get to punch you. I have heard this game referred to as gotcha. This hand gesture, the okay sign, has also been co-opted by the white nationalist party. Much like the Swatiska, which had a different meaning before being co-opted by the Nazi party, this hand sign has morphed in meaning. What makes it particularly insidious is that not everyone is aware of the various potential meanings of this hand gesture, which can put those of us who work with teens at a serious disadvantage.

Is that an OK sign? A white power symbol? Or just an online troll?

A few weeks ago, one of the teen library pages I follow uploaded a picture of their Teen Advisory Board. Brimming with pride, as they should be, this library shared this picture on Facebook and I was immediately alarmed to see a teen in the picture making this symbol now associated with white nationalism/pride. I immediately sent them a “just in case you aren’t aware” message, because I wanted them to avoid the media firestorm that could potentially happen. Just in case you aren’t aware, I told them, that hand sign is now considered a sign of the white pride movement and I would hate for you to keep posting this picture and possibly get into a lot of trouble for doing so.

The teen librarian and I conversed back and forth briefly. They had no idea that this hand gesture could potentially mean that and felt that her kids were just partaking in the gotcha game, which is of course a strong possibility. But the truth is, despite the teens intentions, sharing that picture far and wide on social media was inviting a PR nightmare. So the picture was edited so that none of the teens hands were showing.

A lot of things happened here. I just happened to be online when the picture was posted and saw it pretty quickly. I just happened to know the potential controversy that this picture could have caused. And when I privately contacted the librarian, they also just happened to be online right then.

Shortly before this had happened, there had been a couple of other incidents of schools posting photos with students engaging in white nationalist behavior and there was a justifiable firestorm that erupted as a result. Reading about these two incidents in the news made me aware of the hand gesture itself and I had seen first hand the very real social media push back that happened in their wake.

Urban Dictionary: The Circle Game

One of the things that makes the hand gesture so insidious is that because they are co-opting an existing hand gesture, and something that is such a popular game among a lot of teens, it does put a lot of naive and innocent people at risk. It also gives offenders plausible deniability should they get called out. Take, for example, the recent picture from Baraboo. There were multiple students making the Heil Hitler salute, which has undeniable meaning to us. We instantly recognize it as being a form of hate speech. But also in that picture you see a young man making the “ok” sign below the waist. In context, it would be hard for him to say that he was playing a game of gotcha because everyone around him his doing the Nazi salute, but if you are posting a picture of a teen group standing with their arms at their sides and only one teen in the group is making the hang gesture, it’s hard to know what their intentions are. But it’s important that we know what the possible meanings of this are to help prevent us and our libraries from being accused of supporting or promoting white nationalism. One of the other important things that a previous supervisor taught me is that my goal is to make sure that I don’t set the library up for bad PR.

I’m not sharing the Baraboo photo here, because it can be upsetting for many to see the Heil Hitler. There is an article discussing the photo here that you can read.

Please note, Snopes currently lists the ok sign as a white power hand sign as unproven. Other online sites also list it as being unproven. But there is reason to believe that it can be a symbol of white power, and that alone should give us all pause in how we approach it.

I had several takeaways from this. One, my previous supervisor was 100% correct, we should make it a part of our daily mission to be aware of what is happening in the world all around us, it makes us better at our jobs. And two, we should make sure everyone on our staff is aware as well. It’s pretty common for libraries to post pictures of program attendees online as part of their promotions, but I hope that we are all doing our due diligence in making sure that everything about those pictures represents as message we are comfortable putting out into the public. Just a month ago, I would never have thought twice about the picture that I had seen, but with a little more knowledge and awareness, I was alarmed and wanted to help prevent my fellow librarians from the social media backlash that was sure to occur if they left those pictures up for very long.

ADL: Hate Symbols Database

One final thing I would like to note about this. On Thursday, a brutal attack on two Mosques in Christchurch happened. It was horrific in every way and resulted in the tragic end of multiple lives. Upon arraignment while entering a plea, the offender in these attacks was photographed making this very hand gesture. It is doubtful that he was referring to a childish game of gotcha. We all need to be aware of this and other symbols associated with white nationalism and make sure that we aren’t being unwitting purveyors of this hateful message.

Sunday Reflections: Are Teens Reading Less?

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I have come across several conversations recently on Twitter that suggest that YA fiction is selling less, which often translates to teens are reading less. It’s important to note that these figures are referring specifically to the UK sales figures of YA, so the data may be radically different for the US. And as always, the conversation is more complicated than it seems. Are YA sales figures down? I don’t know, and I don’t know that that data tells us what we think it does. But if you find yourself asking are teens reading less? The short answer is no. The longer answer is slightly more complicated then that.

As someone who has been doing this for 26 years now, the hand wringing over teens are reading less is not new. There is a strong sense of been there, done that in these conversations and the correct answer is often this: it’s not that teens are reading less, it’s that teens aren’t reading what adults wants them to be reading in the ways they want them to be reading it, and that is an entirely different argument. The teen reading landscape has changed several times in the last 26 years, it’s changing now, and it will change again and again. What causes that change, what it means, and how we respond it it are an entirely different conversation.

If we’re being completely honest, it is true that teens are reading very differently and I understand that these changes are causing some fear among authors, publishers, teachers, and adults in general. Because the shift in teen reading habits impacts those groups in several ways: in sales and income, in how we can (or can’t) measure teen reading, and in how we can (or can’t) influence, monitor and control teen reading. Everyone having these conversations have different motivations, and that matters too.

You see, it’s not that teens are reading less I find, but more that teens are reading differently, and digital media is a huge influencer of this change. Today’s teens typically have devices (newest Pew Center data suggests that around 95% of teens have a mobile device of some sort) and these devices give them access to a whole new world of reading opportunities, which teens are availing themselves of. Wattpad, online fan fiction, and free downloads via either libraries or places like Amazon make it easier for teens to get the reading content they want, with immediate gratification and more anonymity than ever. Today’s teens don’t have to ask an adult to buy them the books that they want, or ask a librarian to help them find the titles on the shelves. In fact, online reading helps teens cultivate teen friendly spaces with little (known) adult monitoring and interaction. There are pros and cons to this development, depending on how much you want to monitor teen reading.

In addition, in the early 2000s the YA publishing market exploded while research suggested that more adults were buying YA than teens, which pushed the YA market more towards adults than YA when developing new authors and titles. Over time, the YA market aged up, adults became proud readers of YA, and the pop culture references on the pages of YA became more and more dated and less teen friendly. Many teens felt like YA was no longer their space, and so they abandoned it for new teen spaces. And with the explosion of technology and online creative writing forums, this task was easier to do than it was in the past. So teens carved out for themselves new teen spaces and once again, the reading landscape is changing.

This is coupled with the fact that we don’t really have any real way to measure teen reading. We do testing, which really only measures how well a teen can perform on a test about reading. Sales figures tell us who is buying a book, but not who is reading it, or how many people read one book. The same is true for circulation statistics. These are all imperfect measurements that tell us more about who buys or checks out an item and less about whether they read, like or recommend an item. Let me be very clear about this: we have no real good way of making quantifiable statements regarding teens reading for pleasure. Many of us who work with teens can tell you a wide range of anecdotal stories that have value, but there aren’t any real facts and figures that we can talk about because our measurement tools are deeply, inherently flawed.

When considering sales figures it’s also important to remember that as the economy shrinks, people have less disposable income and are less likely to buy books, which is not the same as being less likely to read books. In fact, overall public library use seems to be up, though many of my colleagues seem to suggest that while the circulation of physical items is down slightly, the circulation of digital content is up significantly. I myself am one of the last to adopt digital reading, but even I find myself reading more with a device in hand then a physical book in hand. It’s been a long time since I have checked out a physical book or a movie from my library, and I go there 5 days a week. Again, imperfect data.

We also have to look at a ton of other factors: competition for teens time and attention, our marketing and merchandising, the growing mental health issues we see in today’s teens and the amount of work causing it, etc. So. Much. Homework. And whether we like it or not, between Brexit and the growing white nationalism happening here in the US, which our teens *are* aware of and effected by, our teens are growing increasingly anxious, dismayed, and overwhelmed. Some teens are rejecting things like realistic fiction (too similar to their current real world experiences), while others are reading them with a fervor and choosing to be political;y active online and in the real world. Some teens are too busy marching to end school violence to read the latest literary tome that adults feel they should read. With growing incidence of racial and sexual violence, the under-funding of public education, and the fact that 1 in 5 kids and teens go to bed hungry, many people – teens included – don’t have the emotional energy or time necessary to read a book for fun, they’re too busy trying to just survive. The adults in the room are creating an environment that are putting up more and more obstacles for teens when it comes to having time for pleasure reading. So for those adults wringing their hands about teen reading I say this: change the environment, it will help a lot.

But even this is not a death toll for libraries, because though some libraries are reporting that the circulation of physical items is down, it’s not zero. And our libraries seem to be fuller and busier than ever. A majority of public libraries are thriving.

I think it’s good to have conversations about sales figures and circulation statistics and to try and figure out what those fluctuations mean and how they can help us better serve our patrons. But do I think teens are reading less? No, and in 26 years the answer has always been no when the question is asked. It just often means that we need to examine our practices and adjust to a new generation of readers and a changing market. In other words it’s not them, it’s us.

Editor’s Note: I did not link to the actual online conversation that started this discussion because it was problematic in many very real ways.  For example, the original article indicated that publishers should avoid publishing “issue” novels while having a primary graphic of author Angie Thomas. Angie Thomas is a women of color and the author of The Hate U Give, which has been on the New York Times Bestsellers list for now over 100 weeks. Using Angie Thomas’ picture contradicted their main argument and is probably a racist dog whistle. Though I did not want to link to the article that ignited this conversation, I did want to address the concerns about teen reading.

Some Additional Resources to Consider:

Sunday Reflections: My Wild and Weird YA Librarian Resume

I was recently speaking with a friend when it occurred to me she didn’t really have any idea what I did as a YA librarian. Spoiler alert: we do not get paid to sit around all day in quiet and read. At the same time, I was going through and cleaning up my “office” space, which is really the dining room, and started really going through a bunch of old notebooks and papers, which made me spiral down a black hole of statistics. Given the lowest numbers, I came up with the following:

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These are low estimates as they don’t account for the years where I had daily after school programs or the years that I had programs every Tuesday with anywhere from 50 to 110 teens in attendance. They don’t count the years I had a Teen MakerSpace that was open daily and on the weekends. It doesn’t include all the school visits and tours, outreach events, and more. It’s just a very basic beginning look of stats I put together to help my friend understand on a very basic level exactly what it is that I do and why it meant so much to me.

But then I got to thinking, if I was going to put together a realistic resume, I could include a lot of fun things.

For example, I can make or modify a t-shirt in no less than 22 ways.

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I can write my name in Lego form.

I can turn a toothbrush into a mini-robot.

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I can write an interactive murder mystery, from scratch.

I can make slime in no less than 10 ways.

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I can make my own board game.

I can turn a beloved TV or book character into a party theme, complete with character themed decorations and food.

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I know more than 10 creative ways to use Shrinky Dink film.

I can turn trash into art.

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I know all the lyrics to High School Musical, Hamilton, and many other musicals.

I can turn a simple fingerprint into an epic button.

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I can make a stop animation movie using a variety of artifacts, including clay, Legos and paper art.

I can turn a blank canvas into art in now less than 20 ways.

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In short, the life of a YA librarian contains multitudes. I’ve done a lot of cool things, learned a lot, and feel really blessed. If we were to truly make a resume that showed everything we could do, it would require reams of paper and would be a pretty creative document.

What unique skills would you put on your resume? I think it would be fun to see what we’re all putting on our next resume.

Sunday Reflections: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

We are very excited to share with you the first post by new TLT contributor Elliot in this Sunday Reflections. If you feel so inclined, please consider leaving them a comment below. Don’t know who Elliot is? Check out the bio at the end of this post. Elliot is a senior in high school who wants to major in journalism so they’re joining us here at TLT.

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The holidays may be known as “the most wonderful time of the year,” however that statement is not true for everyone. People everywhere struggle with debt, abuse, depression and so much more during this time of the year. The issues surrounding this wintery time are often overlooked and I would like to bring them to light.


To start off with, there are a tremendous amount of unspoken “requirements” for people to have a good holiday. Most of what is expected of people during the holiday times require a mountainous amount of money. Houses in poverty often can’t afford extravagant decorations, a feast fit for a king, clothes to protect them from winter’s frosty bite, or the stacks of presents that this time of year is often associated with. While some families are buying a new Nintendo Switch or a fancy little Apple Watch, other families are worrying whether or not they’re going to be able to even afford their December rent and food let alone presents or decorations. Workers will take on a ridiculous workload in order to even just attempt to reach their holiday goals. The holidays focus far too greatly on money and gifts rather than truly having a happy holiday.


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For some families, the gifts and the money are all just a disguise, an excuse to cover up the dark truth in their homes. Abuse doesn’t just magically vanish during these “happy holidays.” In fact, according to national domestic abuse studies, the recorded incidents of abuse actually spike during the holiday seasons. Some explanations for why abuse might worsen over the holidays is an increase in stress, increased alcohol consumption, and more time for the abuser to be home with the victim. Abusers often feel as though they can cover up their abuse with presents and saying “I do/get so much for you.” However, the holiday presents can never cover up the scars that abuse can leave.


The holidays are obviously not always as joyful as the cheesy T.V. commercials make them seem. This season is often the most difficult time of year for those with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Culturally, people are pressured to do a lot of work, go to a lot of parties, and be around a lot of people. All of these holiday activities leave people with very little alone time and very little opportunities for self care. This constant activity leaves people drained and unhappy. The holidays make it to where people are expected to be happy, so when people with depression can’t find joy during these times, they often start feeling worse because they aren’t fulfilling society’s expectations for happiness.. It becomes a loop that constantly makes those who suffer from depression feel worse and worse due to the unrealistic expectations of holiday cheer.


The holidays are not always the joyful image that you see in the movies or in magazines. Like everything else, there is a darker side to these joyful times that should be taken into consideration because you never know who is experience the sad side of Christmas.


Meet Elliot, the new regular contributor to TLT:


I am currently a student at [Name redacted for safety reasons] High School who wishes to pursue a career in journalism. I have been an avid writer and a human rights activist for as long as I can remember. My goal in life is to help other people and I believe that one of the best ways to help someone in a bad situation is to share their stories. Sometimes the only thing that a person needs is a voice; however, not everyone has the opportunity for their voice to be heard. I want my writing to be a voice for all of those who are kept silent and I want my writing to make a difference in our slowly declining world. Although times are tough, I believe that there is always hope: you just have to find it.

Sunday Reflections: It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

This past week, I started a new job at a new library. I didn’t make a big announcement in part because I’m so very bad at saying goodbye. And although this new job is a great opportunity for me professionally, leaving my old job was harder than ever for me.

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I began my library career at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, where I worked for the first 7 years of my career. With another co-worker, I built that program from scratch at the tender age of 20. When I left the first time, I cried for an entire year afterwards. I didn’t want to leave it then and I didn’t want to leave it now. Getting asked to come back was one of the best things that ever happened to me. And professionally, turning the teen program into the Teen MakerSpace was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I had in many ways hoped to retire at this library, ending it all where it all began. Plus, it was an honor to work once again with my mentor and friend. She’s retiring at the end of this month and I wish her nothing but the best.

My library mentor

My library mentor

It’s not just the program that you come to love, it’s the people. Coworkers. Teens. I’m a very relationship oriented person and leaving a workplace can be difficult. And as you know, I genuinely care about the teens I serve. As a teen services librarian, you have to say goodbye every year to a small cohort of your teens as they go off to college or whatever comes next. There’s a lot of goodbye built into being a teen librarian.

I'm not gonna lie, I took a picture of my Teen MakerSpace manual and put it up at my new desk. I will miss you TMS manual! Though I'm already making a new one.

I’m not gonna lie, I took a picture of my Teen MakerSpace manual and put it up at my new desk. I will miss you TMS manual! Though I’m already making a new one.

This past week, I began a job as the Children’s and YA Materials Selector at Fort Worth Public Library. This is hands down the largest library system I have ever worked at and it in right in the middle of a big city. So there is a lot of change happening here. I’m going from a medium sized Midwestern rural library to a big big big city library system. I’m going from a position where I’m in charge of anything and everything teen related to being the collection development person. I’m going from being in charge of a staff to being in charge of, well, no one. And did I mention it’s big? Like, super big.

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Like I said, it’s a lot of change.

There’s a huge learning curve here. I have to learn new people, new demographics, new systems, new processes and more. I’ve already met a ton of people and, although they’re very nice and I will eventually make meaningful connections, those first few weeks or months when you are a stranger in a strange land are always so very hard for me.

Thing 2 helping me pack boxes of books to take to the Rowlett Public Library

In larger systems, everyone has very specific job titles with very specific jobs and very specific responsibilities. This is not always the case in smaller systems when you are just in charge of everything. In my new position, I’m a collection development librarian. Like many larger systems, there are programming or collection development librarians and I am working with collections. In order to help fulfill my desire to work with and serve teens hands on, I am also working with the local arts council to help create a Teen MakerSpace as a volunteer at the public library in the town that I live. So I will still get to do some programming. I will still get to connect with teens. I will still get to serve and advocate for teens in the area of programming as well. I feel blessed in that I get to learn and grow and still do all of the parts of teen librarianship that make me feel the most like me.

25 years as a Teen/YA Librarian. I've met a lot of people I love along the way.

25 years as a Teen/YA Librarian. I’ve met a lot of people I love along the way.

This fall I begin my 26th year as a Teen Services Librarian, and I’m beginning it at Fort Worth Public Library. It’s a new and exciting adventure that I am looking forward to taking. In my previous 25 years as a Teen Services Librarian I have started 2 teen programs from scratch, revamped 2, created a Teen MakerSpace, managed a small staff twice, built several collections, served literally thousands of teens, published a professional book, and started Teen Librarian Toolbox. It’s not a shabby resume and I’m looking forward to see what happens next. Let’s do this.

Sunday Reflections: It Was a Rough Week to be a Teenage Girl

Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault and Violence

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This past week, John Kerry said that Trump had the “insecurity of a teenage girl.” Are teenage girls insecure? Some of them are, perhaps in part because we continue to use being a girl and femininity as an insult. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be sexy, but not too sexy because then you’re asking for it. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be smart but not too smart because then they are intimidating. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told they have to speak up but no too loudly because then they are shrill and bossy. Or perhaps it’s because teenage girls are told that they have to be perfect and bear responsibility not only for themselves, but for the education of the boys around them (dress codes), for the future of the human race (pregnancy and maternal instinct) and for, well, everything it feels like.

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But if teenage girls weren’t already feeling insecure about being used metaphorically to take down a sitting president by pointing out their, well, insecurity, they were also told repeatedly by political, cultural, and spiritual leaders that their safety doesn’t matter. Especially if it means that we might have to reconsider our current Supreme Court candidate and have to put pushing a political agenda on hold to try and find a conservative Supreme Court candidate that hasn’t been accused of attempted sexual assault. That’s right, teenage girls got to spend the entire week hearing about how their sexual safety really doesn’t matter, which definitely won’t make them feel insecure, am I right? Boys will be boys and we just have to accept that, even if it means that we have to sacrifice the long term emotional well being of our daughters. Even if it means we have to place yet another alleged sexual predator on the Supreme Court. If the current version of the future plays out the way the GOP wants it to play out, that means that teenage girls will get to grow up in a world where two sitting Supreme Court justices have been accused of sexual violence and harassment. If that doesn’t make you feel insecure and fearful about your place in the world, I can’t really figure out what would.

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In the meantime, they got to hear elected representatives, including our own personal self-confessed sexual predator president, talk about how the pain of teenage girls doesn’t really matter. Of course, we shouldn’t find this surprising from the man who confessed that he liked to walk in on teenage girls changing clothes in the dressing room of the beauty pageant he owned. So I’m not going to lie, as a former teenage girl who was sexually abused, I don’t really care what this man has to say about sexual abuse and harassment. Self-confessed perpetrators don’t get to tell survivors of sexual violence how they should think or feel about what has happened to them.

Then the hashtag #whyIdidntreport started trending. It’s important to note that this is not the first time a hashtag of this nature has trended and it, most infuriatingly, won’t be the last. Why don’t victims of sexual violence immediately report their abuse? Because we know that 9 times out of 10 we won’t be believed and even if we are, the men who victimize us will pay very little consequences. Remember Brock Turner? There are thousands of Brock Turners who are serving too little time for violating us. And there are far too many people in our culture who worry about the effects of jail time on men like Brock Turner’s future then there are those that worry about the long term effects of sexual violence on the girls that men like Brock Turner rape. Maybe teenage girls are insecure because we keep telling them that their pain doesn’t matter and that they are the sacrifices we are willing to make to sustain the lives of men.

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When you think about the world that teenage girls are growing up in, and I mean really think about it, they are doing a bang up job in all honesty. They are out there marching, demanding to be heard, learning, growing, and more. They are rising up, as they always have, against a patriarchy that continues to claim that they are somehow lesser, so much lesser that even some of our most progressive elected representatives still find it far too easy to use them as a negative comparison to make a political point. Yes, I’m side eyeing you John Kerry.

It was a rough week to be a teenage girl, as most weeks are when you live in a patriarchy. I don’t blame teenage girls though, because it is the adults that are making life hard for them. When I marched in the Women’s March one of the signs I kept seeing was a sign that said, “I can’t believe I’m still marching for the same shit.” That’s what this week has felt like. Why are we still here? Why are we still willing to sacrifice our daughters for the sake of our sons political careers? It’s 2018, maybe we can find someone who hasn’t been accused of sexual violence to serve in the highest court of our land. Maybe, just this once, we can send a different message to send to our sons and daughters and let them know that character matters and female pain isn’t an acceptable sacrifice.

My daughters aren’t an acceptable sacrifice for your political agenda.

Sunday Reflections: Stop the Massage Train, we don’t need to be asking professionals to touch one another

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I often like to follow a conference tag on Twitter when I can’t attend a conference because I still tend to learn from them. I will screen shot tweets and send them to people I know who have been discussing the issue or save ideas for future consideration. This is what was happening when I was following tweets from #ASRL2018 the past few days. But then a tweet about staff development stopped me cold in my tracks:

I initially thought that this tweet was about doing this activity in a staff development training at the library, but this activity happened at the conference in a session about staff development and training. A group of people who paid to go to a professional conference were asked in a professional setting to engage in a massage train. I imagine given the way that these conferences work that this was also suggested as a possible activity for a staff library training or staff development day, though I can’t guarantee that it was as I was not there.

This tweet seems to be suggesting that asking staff or conference attendees to participate in a massage train is a good idea for staff development and team building. To clarify, this would mean asking your staff or conference attendees in a professional development environment to touch others in very intimate ways. This isn’t a professional handshake, this is reaching out and massaging the person beside you. I want to state this in plain and specific terms: do not ask your staff or other professionals to touch each other or put them in a position where they may have to publicly refuse to do so.

The first thing I want you to understand about this is that light, playful massage is often a grooming behavior of sexual harassers, assaulter and predators. Massage and “playful tickling” are chosen because it helps to break down barriers and it’s hard to accuse someone of assault when it can easily be dismissed as “a light massage”. If you Google Harvey Weinstein and the word massage, you will find stories that highlight the ways in which massage is used in workplace sexual harassment cases. You’ll find more of the same if you Google the words massage and grooming. This is a very common practice among sexual harassers and it should never be encouraged in the workplace, especially in the year 2018.A large number of woman have had to find ways to prevent themselves from being “massaged” by the skeevy coworker who wants to expert power over them and wants to touch them without their permission. There are very real reasons why massage is often the touch of choice and it behooves us all to spend some time researching why that is.

Let’s flip the script. Imagine you are that pervy person who is always looking for a reason to touch other people and now you’ve just been handed a buffet. What’s more, you have reinforced their belief that this is normal and acceptable behavior and fed into the foundational beliefs of a serial harasser or abuser. You have normalized what should not be normalized behavior. You are now complicit in this person’s ongoing harassment of their coworkers.

Many of our staff members and conference attendees are themselves sexual violence survivors. If we go by the most current statistics, 1 in 4 of them are. That means that many of the people we are putting in this situation will be triggered by this activity and they now have to figure out how to deal with it. Do they publicly opt out? If they do so, how will it affect their work relationships? Imagine you are the person in the room that your coworker has just refused to let touch them when everyone else in the room had no problem doing this activity. There are so many group dynamics and ramifications happening here. It’s not a good look for anyone.

It’s important to note that this is not just about sexual violence either. Some religions and cultures have very strict rules about touching, especially touching between people of differing genders. Other people just don’t like touching people period. Others have OCD issues and serious germ phobias. There are a lot of reasons why people may not want to touch other people and it is, quite frankly, completely unnecessary for us to ask our employees to do this.

But this isn’t just about employee comfort and safety, it’s about workplace liability as well. In the year 2018 and in the midst of the #MeToo movement, any workplace who asks their staff members to engage in this type of activity, even if we are suggesting that they can opt out if they wish to, can be seen as putting staff in a harassing environment. There is no scenario in which I would ask my staff to touch each other as a part of their job or job training because I don’t want to be sued for creating a sexually hostile work environment nor do I want to appear in the press for doing so. It’s a bad look.

It was suggested in the discussion that participants can opt out or in as they wish, but we all are aware that peer pressure is a real thing as are group dynamics. Even if someone is told that they can opt out, they may not feel genuinely safe to do so because they have to measure what the true social and professional cost will be to them. There is a social and professional cost to being the staff member who refuses to participate, especially publicly, in an staff training or staff development activity. Even if management claims it is okay, we all know that it is now possible that management has now internally labelled this staff member as an outlier, someone who is not team oriented or wants to cause problems. This sets up all kinds of potential internalized bias for a staff member all because they want to protect their bodily autonomy.

I can think of very few scenarios in which we should ask our employees to touch their coworkers or fellow conference attendees, and most of them involve saving their lives. But a massage train? It’s completely unnecessary. Whatever we believe may be accomplished by this activity can be done so in another way and in a way that respects our employees bodily autonomy and keeps us safe from liability.

Don’t get me wrong, I have hugged tons of my professional peers at a conference and sometimes even at work, but this is always because the other person and I choose to engage in this activity. We have full bodily autonomy and mutual consent, it’s not being privately or publicly suggested by a person in a position of power outside of the two of us, and there is no cost to us if we refuse to do so. In a professional environment, there is little reason to ask people to touch each other. Please don’t do this.

Sunday Reflections: The Fight for Our Children is Exhausting, but Important

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It seems like every day now there is a new assault to be concerned about. Some lawyers want to know, is literacy a fundamental right? My gut reaction is yes, but the more important question is what happens when literacy rates go down? Spoiler alert: one of the answers is increased crime and incarceration rates.

Many are once again trying to take away healthcare, especially healthcare that covers pre-existing conditions, from the American people. Not only is it generally in-humane, it once again puts communities at risk of higher poverty and crime rates. It puts children at risk.

Many people are complaining because the Houston ISD is offering free breakfast and lunch to all of its students because this is of course tax funded. But what happens when children go through every day hungry? It puts communities at risk for higher poverty and crime rates.

Hundreds of children are sitting in cages that will probably never be reunited to their parents because their parents dared to try and bring them to a better life for safety and hope.

Children in Flint are drinking poisoned water that will have life long health effects.

You probably see a theme here.

It’s especially hard because a lot of these assaults are at the expense of children and as someone who has dedicated their life to working with children, particularly teens, I know first hand the impact that poverty, poor healthcare, poor nutrition and a lack of community support has.

We are failing our children. And in failing our children, we are failing ourselves. No good will come from all of this hatred, greed, selfishness and a lack of caring and nurture for the next generations. None.

It’s easy to despair in the year 2018. I do so frequently, if I’m being honest. I can’t even understand what some of my dearest friends and family are thinking when I hear some of the things they are saying. As a nation, as a culture, we have seem to have lost our heart. We failed to learn from the past.

But there are many who are continuing to fight, and every day more are joining in because this fight matters. The fight for our children, for their health and well being and safety, matters. Not just because it is the humane and moral thing to do, but because it has real consequences.

I’m not going to lie, yesterday I never even got out of my pajamas. I took a day to do nothing, to recharge my batteries. Because it’s easy to read the news, to go to work and see the world around you, and to be completely overwhelmed. Sometimes I don’t even know where to start making a different, it seems like too much is wrong, that I don’t understand the questions, and that this is all so much bigger than me, bigger than any one person.

And it is. It’s bigger than any one person. Which is why we need to be in this together.

We need each other.

And our children need us, to work for them, together.

So I’m getting out of bed today and trying again. I hope you’ll join me on the days that you can.