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Sunday Reflections: Wrestling with Local History

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This weekend, the city of Mount Vernon, Ohio is awash in the arts as we celebrate the annual Dan Emmett festival.

2018 Ohio Festival Schedule | OhioFestivals.net

If you’ve never visited the Midwest, the local small town festival is a glorious affair that celebrates, well, anything. In Fredericktown the celebrate the tomato, in Marion it’s popcorn, and in Circleville it’s pumpkin. But throughout the summer and fall, you can finally find a small town festival somewhere to celebrate something and it’s really quite charming. You wander from booth to booth, there are a few rides here and there, local talent shows, and my personal favorite, fried fair food.

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In Mount Vernon, we celebrate the arts and our local artistic claim to fame, Dixie song writer Dan Emmett. Dan Emmet is said to have written the popular anthem Dixie, though there are also claims that he stole the song from a local black family, the Snowdens. He also was a regular participant in minstrel shows, which were popular during the time but now (most of us) recognize that black face is unacceptable and that a lot of the popular art that we celebrate when we celebrate Dan Emmett is, in fact, really quite racist.

The first day of the Dan Emmett festival this year, a man came in asking for a print out of lyrics to the song Dixie because he wanted to prove to his wife that the song was racist.

Civil War songs: Dan Emmett’s legacy in Knox County

At the library, we have a display case up with a variety of items celebrating the life of Dan Emmett and the Dan Emmett festival. One of the items in that display is the very old sheet music to the song Dixie, which has a picture of four men wearing black face on its front cover.

Earlier this year, a local group exploring the issue of racism in our community met to discuss whether or not having a Dan Emmett festival is racist in and of itself.

Mount Vernon’s Blackface Minstrel – The Collegian Magazine

I currently work in a community which is 97% white. I previously worked in a community that was much more diverse, but was also at one time considered the headquarters of the KKK. That’s a lot of local history to wrestle with.

This weekend, White Nationalists met to reconvene one year after the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlotesville. Although they may not recognize it yet, this community too will have a lot of complicated local history to wrestle with.

The truth is, most towns in this country have a lot of local history that they have to wrestle with, and in the year 2018, we see this happening on a national level. I never imagined that I would actually live in a time where we discussed race riots as something other than in the past, but these past couple of years we have seen the resurgence of white nationalism, neo-nazis, racism, hate crimes and more. Make no mistake, these things have always been present, they have just been more well hidden in my lifetime to white people like me than they are now. Today, these issues are once again front and center, making it harder for comfortable white people like myself to pretend that we live in a just world or that racism is anything other than it is: real, hateful, and deadly.

Public libraries serve their local communities. We are steeped in local culture and history, we preserve, protect and celebrate it. But what happens when that history is full of racism?

In Mount Vernon, there are people who want to rename the Dan Emmett festival. Some people want to adopt a new name that incorporates the history of the Snowdens into the festival as well. Some people just want to drop any human from the name of the festival at all. I’m not going to lie, as we reflect on our country’s history and discuss things like statues named after Confederate soldiers, I see the wisdom in celebrating tomatoes and popcorn as opposed to people. People are complicated and even the best of us are not perfect.

I have walked the streets of the Dan Emmett festival. I have watched friends sing. I have eaten funnel cake and buckets of fries. I have felt that sense of community as I nodded hi to people that I recognized from the library or stopped to pet that cute dog on the leash. There are lots of charms to living and working in a small, rural Midwest community. In fact, Mount Vernon, Ohio has a rich and thriving arts community and it is definitely something to be proud of.

There’s also a lot of ugly history to wrestle with, as there is everywhere. And you would be surprised how often librarians are asked to do this. How do we preserve that local history? How do we talk about it? How do we present it or display it? Should we include Confederate flags or figures in our local history displays? Should we put up sheet music with black face characters on the cover? Should we ignore it? Pretend it didn’t happen? Put it on display without comment?

Working with local history can be a complex challenge because people are invested in their local communities. On a global scale, we have never figured out how to talk about the violent and racist past of United States history. We can’t do it on the macro level, and we certainly haven’t figured out how to do it on the micro level. This falls under the umbrella of things I never learned in library school. Where are those conversations about how to deal with local history in local public libraries?

Four years ago, on August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson. Protests broke out in the surrounding community. The Ferguson library became a haven for the local community, staying open. They are now tasked with preserving the history of that time in the local community. What they do in this project of preservation matters.

‘In This Together': Ferguson Library Stays Open Amid Violence

When we talk about the Nazis and World War II, we often reflect on how we personally might have responded. Racism today is no less urgent, those conversations are happening. I think often about what I want the history books to say about me, about who I am right now and the choices I am making. I want to be on the right side of history.

History, it turns out, doesn’t stay in the past. It’s time once again for public libraries to think about what it means to be neutral or not and how we engage in current events by how we talk about and present history in our libraries.

We have to wrestle with our local history because our local futures depend on it.

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes, If You’re Lucky, You Find More Than Books at the Library

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It is Friday night and I have just packed up all my stuff after sitting outside in the baking sun for a public library outreach event. I am pulling a wagon up a hill to load up my car and go home to binge watch some TV when I see them walking around town, a group of my library teens. I look over and say hi and they say hi back from across the street. As I see them there, this tight nit group of friends, my heart swells with pride.

Let me go back and explain.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

This teen space would soon become our Teen MakerSpace.

A little over 3 years ago, I first met a teen who would soon become one of my library regulars. At this point and time, there was no Teen MakerSpace, but proposals were being written and plans were being discussed. I didn’t realize at the time, but the TMS would change everything.

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That's TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

A view into the Teen MakerSpace through the windows. That’s TLTer Robin Willis making something in the Teen MakerSpace!

In January of 2016, the Teen MakerSpace opened. This one teen soon began coming quite regularly. Another teen started coming, he liked making stop motion movies and would frequent the stop motion animation station. And soon after, a teen here and a teen there started coming. Many teens have come and gone, but this small group of teens started coming quite regularly. And sitting in this space, conversations began.

Over time, this regular group of teens began forming close friendships, the kind of friendships you read about in YA books. They started coming basically daily to the library and hanging out in the Teen MakerSpace. A few of them create art quite regularly. Some of them come in and read while waiting for the others to show up. Then they gather around a table, some creating art and some not, and they talk. They talk, they laugh. On occasion, they have fought. But what friendship has ever existed without the occasional fight? They have loved, laughed, cried and raged together. They are a bright light in a darkness that has existed in a world being torn apart by hatred and political discord.

I watched this summer as they came to the library every day and made stuff or read or just hung out. At some point each day they would get up, walk downtown together and share a $5.00 pizza. Then they would come back and hang out some more. Their friendship is the stuff of YA novels and John Hughes movies.

One day I sat with them as they planned meeting up the next day at the river to go swimming and tubing. One of the teens wasn’t permitted to go, but she brought sunscreen and made sure they all put it on before leaving for the river. She also packed them each a snack bag, making sandwiches cut out to look like butterflies. A couple of days later I got to hear them all talk about their glorious summer day at the river. It was, in a word, epic, the type of summer memory that many kids only dream of.

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Several of these teens have had a really rough summer. I can’t tell you what those challenges have been, because patron privacy is a real thing. But in the midst of this epic friendship, there has been a lot of heartache and very real life challenges. They have been there supporting each other through them all.

To be quite honest, they haven’t always liked me. One summer push came to shove and I had to kick one of the teens out of the library for a couple of weeks because they were being hostile to my staff and creating an unwelcoming library environment for all. I have had to enforce library policies and ask for changes in behavior that haven’t always been appreciated. But I always made sure to let them know that it wasn’t them I had an issue with, but specific behaviors. They kept coming back and I kept welcoming them back, because the truth is, I like my teens.

The truth about working in a public library is that it can be mundane. You know the work you do is important, that public libraries are important, but the day to day tasks of working in a library are, well, work. You put together collections of books to buy, you straighten shelves, you do research behind the scenes to plan programs, you buy the daily supplies you need. There is not a lot of glitz and glamour. There is politics and budgeting and helping the 100th person print off a paper or make a photocopy. There are opening and closing procedures. There are meetings and discussions and the gathering of statistics to discuss in these meetings and discussions.

But then there are the moments . . .

The moment where someone tells you that a book they read because you bought that book and put it in your collection changed their life in some way.

The moment where someone comes to a program and tells you that they had a good time or learned something new.

The moment where you see a group of friends walking around downtown and you realize that that group of friends exists because you created the exact right environment at the exact right time for them to come together and get to know one another.

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For three glorious years I have watched this group of teens grow close, support one another, and help each other find their voice in a world that often doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. I am proud of who they are, who they are becoming, and the very small part that I was honored to be able to have in all of that.

No matter what else has happened or will happen in my career, I will never forget the moment when I watched this group of teens walk down the street and I realized that in whatever small way, I helped them find what they needed at the library – It wasn’t a book or a movie or a computer, it was each other. And it happened at the library.

I am thankful that I got to be a part of this and so very proud of these kids, their friendship, and the small part my library played in bringing good into this world.

Sunday Reflections: The Reality and the Myth of Just Get a Job and Its Impact on Kids

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This Saturday marked a monumental moment for us in the Jensen household. For the first time in Things 2’s life – and for clarity, she is 9 and 1/2 years old – the Jensen family was able to get up together and have a family breakfast together around our table. The Mr. woke up and made waffles, eggs, bacon, and toast – yum. We then spent the day lounging around our house. We had friends over on Saturday night for a little BBQ and then we sat around and played games.

It was glorious.

Saturday morning breakfast as a family!

Saturday morning breakfast as a family!

This may seem mundane to you, but I have to emphasize an important point: this was the first time in my second child’s lifetime that we are able to have what is considered a boring and typical Saturday afternoon as a family. You see, The Mr. has been stuck working a weekend nights job for the entirety of her life. He spent the weeekend afternoons sleeping so that he could get up again and work from 5 PM to 7 AM. And if you have school age kids, you may understand what it means to have your 2 days off a week be during the regularly week and work every weekend. Here is just a short list of the things my second child has never gotten to do because of work schedules:

Go on a weekend camping trip

Go to a theme park on a Saturday with her entire family (we’ve gone, but I take them while The Mr works/sleeps)

Go with her entire family to a weekend movie, play or sporting event

Go to church with her entire family

Go out to dinner on a weekend evening as a family (sometimes early on he wasn’t so exhausted he could get up and eat lunch with us, but as the years progressed he needed more sleep and we also ate lunch alone)

I have strongly held opinions about work/life balance and work schedules because of the way that The Mr.’s work schedule has negatively affected our life. When he originally took the job that we moved here to Texas for, it was to get off of nights. But soon after we moved they put him on nights and just refused to take him off. Even after he started having extreme health issues. Even after new people were hired. Even after they knew he was looking for a new job. He made the night shift awesome and they rewarded him by never taking him off the night shift, and it hands down sucked for our family.

Look at us, snuggling on the couch and doing nothing on a Saturday!

Look at us, snuggling on the couch and doing nothing on a Saturday!

So look for a new job he did. For over 4 years. He has applied for thousands of jobs. He had a first interview for probably around 100 of those jobs. They always were for significantly less money than he currently made. They almost always told him that he was overqualified. They never resulted in an offer and he kept looking.

I am so excited and happy to announce that one month ago, he finally got a new job! And this weekend, we are laying around as a family doing absolutely nothing. But loving every minute of it. I have missed him. I have missed us. I had forgotten what family feels like.

I’ve been thinking about jobs a lot because I have a lot of librarian friends who are looking for new jobs. The library profession has been changing a lot over the last ten years and I can see that shift in the stories they share about their job searching.

For example, now, very few libraries are hiring YA/Teen librarians. In the early 90s that was a huge push to give dedicated teen services, but that dedication is eroding and teens are being pushed aside and absorbed into either youth or adult services once again. If you have paid attention to the name of this blog, you’ll know I have strong feelings about this. YA librarians are actually some of the most well versed librarians I know because they must work with both youth and adult services in ways that other librarians don’t because we get stuck any and everywhere and our patrons read up and down their age just as frequently.

Many libraries are posting job opportunities for MLS librarians with experience but only offering part-time hours.

Many of these people are going on job interviews and then hearing . . . nothing. They never hear one way or the other, they are just left dangling in the wind.

Like in other fields, there are a lot of applicants for very few jobs and it is very competitive. You’re either under qualified or overqualified. Or you don’t have the exact same set of skills needed for the job, as though potential employers have forgotten how much a librarian has to be a jack of all trades and how most of us can do a lot of things and how those skills can easily transfer to a different skill set.

For the last 4 years, my life has been all about people getting a new job. The Mr. desperately needed a new job because we wanted to be able to do something – anything – on a weekend as a family and because we wanted to put him in a position where we didn’t keep going to the doctor with a variety of bizarre health issues that no one could figure out except that honestly sir, working nights takes a toll on the human body and you should get a new job.

Just get a job. Just get a new job. Just get the right job.

We live in a capitalist society that favors the rich and the corporations, not the people doing the labor that keep those corporations operating on a day to day basis. Many employees today lack benefits, work/life balance, career mobility, livable wages, and more. Yes, even in libraries.

This weekend, my family is celebrating because The Mr got a job that is better for his health and allows him to be home on the weekends with his family during the school year. This means that for the first time ever, we’ll be able to do those things that many people take for granted, like sit around on the couch on a Saturday night and watch a movie with the family.

I am a huge and vocal proponent for a variety of issues because I see the way they impact our kids today, and here I mean kids in the universal sense not just specifically my biological kids. Though I obviously care about my biological kids a lot. Ask any teacher or youth services librarian and we will be able to tell you about how hard it is in today’s world for a family to be a family, for a parent to parent, and the impact it is having on our kids.

And the lack of livable wages, that is devastating to our families. 1 in 5 children goes to bed hungry each night, even in homes where parents are working 2 and 3 part-time jobs.

Remember when we cared about kids and understood that working together to take care of our children helped to ensure us a bright and promising future? I miss those days. We have never been perfect, but we’ve been better. Though there are whole other posts about what it means to grow up as a child in a marginalized group and you should read those. However hard it has been and is for us, a privileged white family, it is so much harder for people of color.

I don’t have a great wrap up for this post. No pithy punchline or searing sentence that sticks the landing. I’m just both grateful and angry for the jobs situation in the United States. I’m personally grateful that The Mr. got a new job and I got to have the type of Saturday I could only dream of for years, and personally angry because I know how hard it was to get to this point and how many other people are still struggling to get there themselves.

I am also not unaware that it can be ripped away from us at any moment. There is a lot of instability in the world of employment today.

We’re supposed to be a great and rich nation full of wealth and opportunity, so why are our families struggling so hard just to barely survive? Maybe that’s the only wrap up I have. We need to do better for one another.

We went to church together as a family this morning!

We went to church together as a family this morning!

Now if you’ll excuse me, we’re off to go to church together as a family.

*Please note, for the purposes here I am referring to a family as any family unit, not just a family with two kids and two parents. Single parents raising their kids are a family. Single people. It doesn’t matter what a family is made of, all families deserve health, wellness, and the opportunity to thrive.

Sunday Reflections: Let’s Talk About INSATIABLE, Fat Shaming and Eating Disorders

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND EATING DISORDERS

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I am a 45 year-old anorexic inhabiting a fat body. Even though I am fat and I eat daily, I must admit that I am still an anorexic because I suffer from body image issues, disordered eating and the anorexic mindset. My therapist once explained to me that eating disorders are much like addiction, you don’t really recover so much as we learn to manage our issues. Mostly. There is no cure for an eating disorder, but there is learning to live well with one.

I present this image not as inspiration, I was unhappy and unhealthy in this body.  I have spent a lot of time trying to undo this toxic mindset and find ways to be happy and healthy in my body.

I present this image not as inspiration, I was unhappy and unhealthy in this body. I have spent a lot of time trying to undo this toxic mindset and find ways to be happy and healthy in my body. I was, quite literally, dying here.

My anorexia began for me in middle school. Middle school, high school and the college years are pretty ripe for developing an eating disorder. My eating disorder, like many, is tied in to many factors, including the fact that I was also sexually abused in my middle school years. There is a high incidence of eating disorders among sexual assault survivors. I also had some family members who were anorexic and not only modeled the behaviors, but practiced the fine art of body shaming. All of these factors came together in the perfect melting pot that produced Karen, anorexic extraordinaire. I would never wish any of this on anyone, which is why I have such a strong, negative opinion about Insatiable.

I spent all of my teenage years and a great deal of my twenties not eating. I was ravenous with hunger, but eating was my personal enemy. As I said, I have some very disordered eating patterns and the ways in which I think about food and my body are truly twisted and toxic. Living in a culture that both sexualizes and scrutinizes the female body does not help. We harm women every day in the ways we talk about the female body.

This is my family. They are a blessing. I try hard every day to guard these girls, my heart, from the toxic messaging of our culture.

This is my family. They are a blessing. I try hard every day to guard these girls, my heart, from the toxic messaging of our culture.

I am also the mother of two amazing daughters. I love them. A lot. I have 3 main parenting goals:

1) Raise happy, well adjusted daughters that contribute positively to society

2) Keep them safe from sexual abuse

3) Help them learn to love their bodies in ways that I never could

As you can imagine, these are not easy goals and it is frustrating to learn not only how much of it is out of my control, but how much of the world actively works against me to achieve these goals. Our culture is toxic when it comes to how we view, talk about, look at, and incorporate the female body. This is especially true when you consider media.

If you or someone you know is struggle with an eating disorder, please contact

Eating Disorder Information | The Center for Eating Disorders

or

NIMH » Eating Disorders: About More Than Food

Which brings me to Insatiable, a new movie debuting soon on Netflix starring Disney star Debbie Ryan, a girl that my girls grew up watching. As it has not yet debuted, I can’t speak about the movie itself. I can, however, talk about the trailer for the movie, which goes like this:

The MC is a fat girl who is bullied in school by her peers. She suffers a broken jaw, has her jaw wired shut and comes back from summer break newly thin, confident, and seeking revenge.

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It takes a pretty standard approach to how women are portrayed in the media:

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1. Initially fat, the MC is ugly, rejected – a loser. And in order for Debbie Ryan to portray this character, she has to wear a fat suit. Because fat suits are funny, get it.

2. She goes away for the summer and can’t eat (because she was injured and has to have her jaw wired shut, also funny and definitely has never been done before), so she has the magical makeover. This magical makeover, which includes her losing a ton of weight, changes everything for her. Losing weight magically changes everything. Tada!

3. Now everyone loves her, she’s confident. She struts through those same hallways that she used to wish she could disappear from.

It does add the revenge fantasy twist, and who doesn’t love a good revenge fantasy? I would, except for what it takes for our main character to get to the revenge part. I’m so sick of the way we present and talk about fat bodies. I mean, I would love to get some revenge on some of the people who were awful to me in life, I am down with a good revenge fantasy. But this trailer is toxic in an already toxic culture in the way it presents the female body.

What if we changed the way we presented fat bodies in the media? Here are some suggestions.

1. Include fat bodies and not have the stories be about how fat they are or their weight loss journey. Let fat people just exist because, well, they do. We can tell stories about fat people without it ever being about their weight.

2. Don’t make being fat be the joke.

3. Abolish fat suits.

4. Don’t let fat be the ugly before and thin be the beautiful after. Fat people are beautiful. Thin people often aren’t. The size and shape of your body is not the end all, be all of who you are.

5. Let’s move away from physical transformation stories to personal transformation stories, stories that show characters learning and growing and choosing to be something new and different not in how they look, but in how they approach the world and their fellow human beings.

My daughters are at the ripe age for developing an eating disorder. The teens I work with are as well. In fact, my youngest was in Kindergarten the first time she came home and cried because someone had bullied her because she was “fat.” I’ve seen both of my girls stand in front of the mirrors, turn sideways, lift up their shirts and examine the size of their bellies. I’ve heard my black belt teenager talk about how big her thighs are, as if muscle is just as toxic as the fat our society has taught her to fear. Trust me, our kids are picking up on all kinds of messages when it comes to their bodies, both the explicit and the implicit ones. They pay attention to the unspoken as much as they do the spoken. That’s why even this trailer is harmful, it is reinforcing all of the negative messaging they are already receiving.

I’m not sure what the overall message of this movie is, though I do know that those involved in making it say it is a dark comedy that calls out the way our culture talks about the female body. I do not think this trailer does what they claim it does. I feel it fails and is toxic. I do know that the trailer for this movie is harmful in that it perpetuates those very things that those involved in making the movie say they are wishing to address. The trailer engages in fat shaming. The trailer does harm in that it reinforces the message that fat is ugly, thin is beautiful, and all you have to do to get thin is stop eating for a couple of months.

Do you know what happens when you stop eating or eat too little? Your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs to thrive. Your hair thins. Your teeth decay. Your nails become brittle. Your skin does weird things. You sleep more. Your attitude and outlook on life changes. Your body starts to eat itself from the inside out. You will, eventually, die. Slowly at first, but then quickly.

As I mentioned in my introduction, those who develop eating disorders are never considered truly cured. They will spend a lifetime battling toxic body self-loathing, doing the work and then doing it again and again again. You don’t wake up one day and say, I’m done with this and I’m going to start eating normally and loving my body – tada! The work of healing is never done.

We have to change the way we talk about the female body in our world (and yes, men are body shamed and develop eating disorders at high rates as well). A great first step would be not making movies like this. It has the potential to trigger an eating disorder in a large number of pre-teen and teen girls who are already standing on the brink as they wrestle with what it means to inhabit a female body in this world. Insatiable is one Netflix movie that won’t be played in my house or any of my devices.

Sunday Reflections: Can Public Libraries Be Open to Hate and Be a Welcoming Place? A look at the recent pronouncement from the Office of Intellectual Freedom

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV.

Trigger Warning: This post discusses hate crimes and genocide.

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The day after the 2016 election, I walked into my Teen MakerSpace not sure what to expect. I personally had spent the entire night crying because as a woman who advocates regularly against sexual violence, I was gutted that our nation had just elected a self-professed sexual predator as its leader. To be honest, I’m never going to forgive any of us for that. Women, of course, were not the only group to be fearful of this election outcome as it was very clear that Donald Trump and his supporters were specifically advocating against the safety and civil rights of a variety of groups, including the LGBTQ population, people of color, the disabled, and Muslims.

So I walked into the space and there sat one of my LGBTQ teens and a handful of other teens. They started talking about the election results, as I knew they would. At one point, this teen looked the other group of teens right in the eyes and said, “Do you know what they want to do to me?” The GOP has been very vocal that they are anti-LGBTQ, and some members of the party even advocate for a process known as conversion therapy, which has been classified as torture by some human rights groups and is outlawed in several countries and in some states.

Library Meeting Rooms for All – Intellectual Freedom Blog

I have thought a lot about this girl and several of my other teens in the recent weeks as it was announced that the Office of Intellectual Freedom, a subdivision of the American Library Association, passed a resolution indicating that public libraries that have public meeting rooms must make those meeting rooms open and available to hate groups. I’m not sure what the impetus for this resolution was, but the specifically added the word “hate groups”, suggesting that hate groups are on equal footing as sports organizations and the local gardening club.

Since the 2016 election, there has been a documented increase in both hate speech and hate crimes against marginalized groups. We will all recall at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Heather Heyer was purposefully killed as she counter protested against a white supremacist group. Women wearing hijabs are having them forcibly removed on the street, Mexican men are being assaulted and told to return to their own country, and black people are having the police called on them regularly for merely existing in this world. And if you are a black person, you have a much higher chance of being killed by the police. There’s a lot of hate in our world right now and a lot of it is resulting in a violation of basic civil and human rights, and for marginalized people, it can be literally deadly.

Hate groups are different in that they specifically organize around their, well, hate and their goal is to oppress if not outright eliminate the object of their hate. The Nazis didn’t just want to sit around and talk about how much they hated Jewish people, they were in the process of practicing outright genocide. Now, the Office of Intellectual Freedom is telling public libraries that we must open our meeting room doors and allow these groups to come in and use our spaces to make their plans for genocide while the very people they are targeting browse for books or attend storytimes with their children in another part of the library. This doesn’t seem like it is just a free speech issue, it seems like it is a health and safety issue. And what does it mean if one group of people want to use their free speech to violate the civil rights of another group of people? What does it mean if they are literally making plans for a genocide?

On the one hand, I do believe they are technically and legally correct. By definition, free speech demands that we must allow all people to speak, even if it is speech that we disagree with. On the other hand, this is far more than a free speech issue, as it is a staff and patron safety issue. Remember, hate groups don’t just sit around and discuss unpopular opinions, they are actively working towards oppressing and, in a lot of cases, outright doing harm to the targets of their wrath. I don’t want to be at work on a day like Charlottesville where the white supremacists are meeting at my library and they start attacking the gay teen walking into the library.

I have been doing a lot of research and reading on this subject in the past week as I wrestled with what this declaration means and how I can reconcile it with my personal and professional ethics. I found this document which discusses extremist groups and public libraries which was produced by the Anti-Defamation League. It suggests that libraries that have rooms don’t have to open those rooms to the public or that you can be strict in the rules regarding your meeting room spaces, as long as you are consistent in how you apply your rules. The OIF made a follow-up statement stating the same thing, public libraries don’t have to make their meeting rooms open to the public but if you do, you must be consistently open to the public, including being open to hate groups.

You can also find a lot of good discussion about this recent OIF proclamation by following the hashtag #NoHateALA on Twitter.

Several years ago I had the honor of working beside a distinguished librarian. She was knowledgeable, service oriented, kind, professional, and a powerhouse. It was a time of great transition in our system and as the administration made a lot of decisions that she could not agree with, she was lucky in that she was able to resign and walk away stating, “this isn’t what I became a librarian to do.” The direction that library was taking no longer coincided with her personal and professional ethics so she made the hard decision to walk away. I have thought about her, too, in all of this and wondered if push came to shove, if I was asked to do something that would make me complicit to something which I fundamentally disagree with, would I be able to walk away. I have a mortgage to pay and children to feed, but I think all of us have to wrestle with where the line is for us personally and when we may have to walk away from a job or choose to violate our own personal or professional ethics. (FTR, I am not here talking anything about the current library system in which I work and that I love, I’m just considering the larger professional discussion here.)

I am not here today with answers. As I mentioned, I’m not sure what is the legal response in this situation. I know that this does cause great concern for me in terms of staff and patron safety, and I feel we have an obligation to that as well. Then there is simply the matter of morality. I do not want to be complicit to oppressing or harming others. I do not want to look back one day and realize a genocide has occurred and find myself on the wrong side of history. I think about this a lot both professionally and personally. I do believe we are a critical moment in history here and when we come out of it, I want to be able to say I stood up for what I believed was right and have my children be proud to see that I fought the good fight against hatred and oppression. I want to stand before my personal God and have him say that I followed his one golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

What I do think needs to happen right now is that every public library should be talking to their boards and their legal counsel and training their staff. We need to have solid policies and procedures in place before we get the phone call from the local white nationalist group asking to use our spaces so that our staff knows what to say, who to refer to, etc. This is not the time to leave public services staff unaware and unprepared.

Sunday Reflections: Reproductive Rights ARE Teen Issues

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When I brought my teenage daughter into this world, I suffered from a horrific pregnancy ailment known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I would not, however, unfortunately know this fact until late into my second pregnancy, when I almost died. It was during this pregnancy that I stood at the edge of the abyss and looked death right in the eyes. It was also during this pregnancy that I learned that my baby was, in fact, already dying if not already dead. Unfortunately, because of a variety of laws that would have required me to wait a week to confirm that pregnancy was in fact no longer viable, I opted to have an abortion – which only required me to wait 24 hours – and save my life. There was a chance I could live another 24 hours, there was less of a chance that I would survive another week. I did the math, looked at my 4-year-old daughter and wondered what her life would be without a mother, and made a very hard by necessary decision for myself. I spent over a year being cared for my medical professionals to help fix some of the very real health issues created by that pregnancy.

I barely survived yet another pregnancy, which brought us the blessing of Thing 2. I was transferred into the care of a high risk ob/gyn who kept me alive by IVs and a medication cocktail that they give to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. I spent six months on bed rest and lost yet another year of my life to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I can not ever get pregnant again as the chances that I will survive are quit negligible. It is imperative for me to never get pregnant again. Everyone in my house uses 3,000 forms of birth control to help make sure that I never get pregnant again and have to face life threatening complications. Pregnancy still kills women.

I am the proud mother to two young girls, one of which is a teenager. It is now known, thanks to scientific research, that Hyperemesis Gravidarum is genetic. So my beloved daughters live with the unfortunate knowledge that they, too, may suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. It is imperative to their health and well being that they be able to have full bodily autonomy and be able to make their own health and reproductive decisions. They need access to affordable birth control. They need to be able to make the decision to end a pregnancy if it is killing them. And we are all too aware of how likely this is for them.

Upwards of 40% of teens will have sex in their teenage years. It doesn’t matter what adults think of this statistic or what adults want for teenagers, the fact is that many teens will and do have sex. Puberty begins around age 12, though earlier and later for many, and the body starts sending signals to their brains and sends hormones rushing through their bodies that make them think about sex – a lot. It’s new territory that they are trying to navigate and figure out. Even the teens that never have sex spend some time thinking about sex. Sex is just part of the teenage zeitgeist. Teenagers need access to accurate information about sex, sexuality, sexual health and more. They also need access to birth control and doctors that will help them make informed health decisions.

But reproductive health and access to birth control and, yes, even abortion isn’t just about sex. It’s about health. Many girls will have health issues related to their periods and reproductive organs and systems, and one way of helping them to deal with these health issues is by providing access to the correct birth control. Long periods, painful periods, endometriosis, PMDD – these are just a few of the very real health issues that women wrestle with that cause them to seek out birth control for reasons that have nothing to do with sex.

For my own personal reasons, I did not have sex until I was married in my early twenties. However, I started taking birth control in high school to help regulate a period that was causing me intense pain, profuse bleeding, and was greatly impacting my quality of life and my ability to function. As a teenager, I needed access to birth control for very real medical reasons. And I didn’t even know then about Hyperemesis Gravidarum and the impact it would have on my life.

Last week, Justice Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court, and those of us who support a woman’s bodily autonomy and a right to make her own medical decisions grew increasingly concerned. I come from a very religious background, I have a degree from a conservative Christian university in youth ministry. I am very aware of what certain parties think not only about abortion, but things like birth control and reproductive rights. I love a wide variety of single issue voters who are not even swayed by having watched me almost die. In fact, I have lost friends and family members who would rather have seen me die then support me in the decision to terminate a failing/failed pregnancy rather than die. I am all too aware of the perilous decisions that hang in the balance that effect a woman’s right to make informed health decisions.

But reproductive health and access to birth control isn’t just a health issue. It’s a religious freedom issue, because not all religions feel the same about birth control and abortion and they should have the right to exercise their religious beliefs. It’s an economic and class issue, because pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing are expensive endeavors that effect a woman’s professional growth and opportunities, earning power, and ability to support herself and her family. It’s a woman’s rights issue because some religions and some men want to use pregnancy as a means to keep women in a submissive and more “traditional” role as opposed to seeing them achieve equal rights with men. Reproductive rights is about far more then what happens inside a women’s uterus and it has far reaching impact on the future for each teen with a uterus.

I talk and tweet about reproductive rights issues frequently, because it has very personal implications for me, not just as a woman myself but as a parent to people with uteruses (uteri?). Also, as someone who advocate for teens, an average of 50% of which have uteruses, I care about reproductive rights. My personal beliefs and choices don’t matter when it comes to other people utersuses. Because I understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood, and the huge financial cost of both, I of course want teens to abstain from sex. But the reality is, many of them don’t. Many of them are being raised in families that have different views about teenage sex then I do, and I have to respect that as well. Whenever I talk about reproductive health and rights, I’m always called out and challenged. But here’s the deal: reproductive health and rights ARE in fact a teen issue. And just like every other issue, my job is to provide my patrons, my teens, access to a wide variety of correct, accurate and unbiased information to help teens make their own personal decisions about both sex and health.

And I will never stop advocating for a teens right to have access to correct information and to make their own decisions about their health and well being. I believe it is imperative for me as a teen advocate and information specialist to champion these rights for teens. And I don’t just do it because I feel that it is my professional duty (it is), a moral obligation (again, it is) or because I care about teens in general (I do), I do it also because I want my daughters to continue to have access to the tools and resources they need to control their own bodies, health, future and general well being. I want my daughters to live, and reproductive rights will help increase their odds.

Reproductive rights ARE teen issues.

Sunday Reflections: In Which The Teen Writes a Poem About Sexual Harassment

TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT

I know it’s been a rough week in a lot of ways for us all between the mix of politics and loss, but it was also a really rough week at the Jensen household because of everyone’s arch nemesis: sexual harassment.

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On Friday, I received a text from my daughter explaining how angry she was about the sexual harassment she had received by a “friend” the night before. This friend got into her sports bag and took an item of hers and put it on himself. She asked for it back repeatedly and he refused. Finally, she approached him to take it back and he proceeded to say some sexual things to her that she says made her feel “scared” and “dirty”.

They are 15 years old. And I’m sad to say that this is not the first time she has experienced some type of sexual touching or harassment. But it is the first time that she has come to me so visibly shaken and expressed feeling scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. I just keep hearing this over and over again.

This is what sexual harassment does.

As we talked about it and processed it and tried to determine what we were going to do, she shared with me that she was so upset about it that she wrote a poem. She has given me permission to share that poem.

Are you done yet

Undressing me with your eyes?

Are you happy

Now that you’ve made me cry?

 

You’ve stared at me

It’s felt like hours

You’ve smiled smugly

Enjoying your power

 

It’s like you can’t see it

My hatred that churns

You can’t see the effect

That makes my skin burn

 

You make me sick with fear

But I won’t say a thing

I’m far too afraid

Afraid of what it will bring

 

I’ll keep my hatred inside

Put on a pretty smile

You’ll never see me break

My tears will stay in for a while

During our discussion of how she felt about what happened, she kept saying she didn’t want to do anything about it. At one point I said to her,” I know you don’t want him to get into trouble but he also needs to know that he can’t do this to others going forward.” To which she replied, “I’m not worried about him getting into trouble, I’m scared he’ll be angry and hurt me.” That was the moment the undid me because I am far too aware of how often boys and men do respond with violence and retribution in these instances. She’s not wrong.

As a mom and a woman, I’ve been incredibly angry and upset about these events, as you can imagine. I’ve seen this all play out over and over and over again in this world and my anger is compounded by the fact that this is my baby girl we’re talking about.

I don’t have any fancy resolution to this post. I don’t have a neat and clean way to wrap this post up. The truth is, this will keep happening. It will happen again to her. It will happen to her younger sister. It will happen to her best friends and worst enemies. It will keep happening until we find a way to seriously address the issues in our culture that allow this to keep happening. And we have to stop shrugging this off and protecting the boys and men who do this. We have to talk about the patriarchy and power and privilege and toxic masculinity and sexism and why we choose to protect men instead of their victims. We have to change the dynamics. All of them.

Until then, I’m just going to be over here raging because I had to listen to my daughter talk about how someone who was supposedly her friend made her feel scared and dirty.

I’m pretty mad at you right now world. I seriously am.

Sunday Reflections: Where are the children?

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When she was two, The Teen and I were shopping at Sears when Things 2 suddenly disappeared. In a panic, I began running around the store calling for her. Each moment that she was missing the intensity of my panic increased. I ran. I screamed. I shouted. I searched.

Soon, recognizing my distress, others joined in on the search. The store itself was just about to shut it all down and call a Code Adam when we found Thing 2 hiding in one of the clothing racks.

I’ve thought about this story a lot in the past couple of days as news came out that our government had lost almost 1,500 children. I thought about this story as I read about how ICE agents were separating children from their parents as they crossed the border into our country seeking asylum. I thought about the panic that I felt. I thought about the fear. I thought about the growing anguish. Please note, although both of these reports are about issues relating to immigrant children, they are separate news stories. It should also be noted that not all of this has just recently started happening, some of the reports go back to 2015 and 2016.

As ICE separates children from parents at the border, public outrage grows

I think, too, of a friend of mine that just lost their adult son in their twenties. I think about the incredible grief that they are experiencing. About the ways that their lives have shut down. About the ways their life will never be the same.

US lost track of 1,500 undocumented children

I think about the long term effects of childhood trauma. Of all the teens that come and visit us in the Teen MakerSpace and just the ways that divorce or having a parent incarcerated has and will continue to effect them.

Trump on Abused Immigrant Children: “They’re Not Innocent”

And I think of what it must be like to be a parent trying to bring your children to a safer country. To a country where you hope that you can escape violence or dream of a future where your child can get an education, a job, a house with a wife and two cars and a garage. But when you arrive there, strangers rip your child from your arms. They place your children in cages that resemble dog kennels at the dog pound. And then they lose them.

Abusive Conditions for Women and Children in US Immigration

Reports have said that some of these children are being trafficked.

U.S. Placed Immigrant Children With Traffickers, Report Says

Other reports say that some of these children are being sexually assaulted.

ACLU Report: Detained Immigrant Children Subjected To Widespread Abuse by Border AGents

All of these children are being traumatized.

The Federal Government Lost 1,475 Immigrant Children | Teen Vogue

Whatever is happening, all of these children are being traumatized. I said it twice because it’s really important that we understand what we are doing to a generation of children.

Childhood Trauma : Long-Term Effects and Symptoms

This is not the first time in our country’s history that this has happened. During slavery, children were ripped from the arms of their parents and sold off as property. Native American children were taken from their parents on reservations and placed into boarding schools to “tame” them. Japanese Americans and their children were placed in concentration camps during World War II.

No, the idea that we can be cruel to children is not a new one to our nation, and yet I find myself stunned at the recent news. I routinely read about bias and how even as young as kindergarten and preschool our nation’s children who happen to be anything other than white can be singled out, disproportionately punished, called on to participate less frequently and more. I don’t want to romanticize how our country treats its children. I don’t want to act shocked or stunned that this is happening. History has shown us who we are and what we are capable of doing.

And yet, there is something about this story that takes us to a place that I can not fathom. I can not fathom as a mother or a Christian or as a compassionate human being how anyone can rationalize ripping a crying child from the arms of a screaming parent, placing them into a cage, and then . . . losing them. I can not imagine government agents handing children over to traffickers. I can not imagine anyone doing the various things that I have read that our government and its agents are in fact doing to children.

I can not fathom as someone who has spent their lives learning about the development of children and advocating for their well being how anyone in a position of power that is supposed to care about people, represent the people, and put policies into place that provide for the well being of our country can think anything about this is a good or acceptable idea. These policies and practices will scar a generation of children and we will be left to pick up the pieces.

And please, do not suggest to me that since these children are not American citizens that we don’t have some type of obligation to them. Children are the most vulnerable among us and we have an obligation to all of the world’s children to do the least harm possible to them. Whatever is happening in the world of adult politics, if we can’t even agree to do our very best to take care of children, then we have genuinely lost the plot. The very basic tenant of very basic humanity should be that we do everything we can to nurture and protect children. It’s not even a selfless act, to be honest, what happens to each generation of children effects the adults they will become and the future of not just them, but our country, of our world. They will soon be our doctors, our lawyers, our teachers and our policy makers. What we are doing has immediate and long term implications. It really is that dire.

The long term effects of childhood trauma include physical health issues, mental health issues, substance abuse, and troubles bonding and forming meaningful relationships. It shapes their view of self and their view of the world. It impacts who they are and who they will become. There is both a high human and dollar cost associated with childhood trauma.

I thought we had all agreed that at a bare minimum, we all had an obligation to the least of these, the most vulnerable among us, our children.

Today I am celebrating 23 years of marriage to The Mr. All together, we have been together for a quarter of a century. That’s a really long time. We have had some really rough moments: we lost a child in pregnancy, we lost a house to a flood and an economic crisis, we’ve lost friends and family members, and there are times when we didn’t know how we were going to feed our children and pay our bills, but at the end of the day, I get to come home to this lovely man and two amazing children whom I richly adore. I can’t imagine any of the things happening to my children that I have read about in the last two days. And as my heart celebrates my blessings, it also aches because I look at what my country is doing to someone else’s children and I am angry, afraid, and heartbroken.

Today I will celebrate with my family and snuggle my children. Somewhere else, there are parents who had their children taken away by the U.S. government and its agents and no one can tell them where those children are.

This can not be acceptable for any of us.

Sunday Reflections: This is what happened when the The Teen asked me if .gov websites were trustworthy

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I’m sitting in the Teen MakerSpace when my phone beeps and I see I have a text from The Teen:

“Are .gov websites trustworthy,” she asks.

And before responding, I pause.

In the past, I would have said yes without that pause. That’s one of the things I have always taught my teens, one of the first things you learn in library school, how to determine whether or not a webiste is authoratitive, biased, etc.

.Com is a commercial website, so you have to consider a lot of factors before deciding whether or not it’s a trustworthy source. Who is producing the site? What are their goals? What type of bias do they hold?

.Gov is a website produced by a government organization or agency. Those sites have always been considered reliable. They are full of facts and figures and data. WHO, the FDA, the EPA, the USDA, etc. – these are all government websites that get cited and used frequently and have been considered reliable – trustworthy – sources of information because they are produced by government agencies.

But after my brief pause, I answered The Teen’s question with a no. Government websites aren’t a trustworthy source of information in the year 2018 because data is being scrubbed, whole phrases are being banned, and a very anti-science bias is being pushed.

These are just a few of the discussions that you can find regarding this topic:

How Much Has ‘Climate Change’ Been Scrubbed From Federal Websites? A lot

Breast Cancer, LGBTQ Info Removed On Government Website

2017 Was a Big Year for Scrubbing Science from Government Websites

A webpage about lesbian and bisexual health was removed from US Government websites. This is a pattern.

These important pages have already been deleted from the White House Website

So I told her no; no having a .gov web address does not make an informational web resource trustworthy. And then I thought about the implications of what that means for us as a country: we can’t even trust our government websites to give us complete and accurate information. The very agencies that are tasked with keeping our water safe, our food safe, and protecting our health and well being, are being forced to remove and stop discussing the very information we need to keep us safe and informed because of the political agenda of people in power and those with enough money and political clout to influence them.

As a librarian who regularly works with the general public to find and evaluate information, I no longer feel comfortable telling the general public – even my own teenage daughter – that they can find a government website trustworthy while doing research for a report. Her question was, is a .gov website trusthworthy and the correct answer in the year 2018 is no. In a government that is supposed to be by the people and for the people, the fact that the answer is no should worry us all.

Sunday Reflections: Helping Our Teens Plan for an Uncertain Future, or, what about jobs?

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Yesterday I was driving when they announced on NPR that the unemployment rate had hit a new low of 3.9% and then they followed up that bit of news with the rejoinder that this was in part because many people had simply given up looking for jobs. The trouble is, many people will look at the number and think everything is fine, without paying attention to the caveat. I’ve been thinking a lot about jobs for a variety of reasons, one of which is that The Teen, now almost age 16, is being asked to start planning for her vocational adult life and it’s complicated.

I’ve also been thinking about jobs a lot because The Mr has been searching for a new job . . . for almost three years now. He actually loves the job he currently has, but while other managers are put on a rotating schedule he has been forced to work weekend thirds for the past six years, and as a family with school age children this means that we get to do exactly nothing as a family unless it’s the summer and we do the very delicate work of coordinating schedules. Also, working nights has proven to take a very real and personal toll on his health. The most recent job he applied for told him that they actually took the posting down after a mere 48 hours because they had almost 400 applicants in such a short amount of time that they were overwhelmed. The posting was supposed to be up for 2 weeks because they took it down in less than 48 hours because they had too many applicants.

The Mr and The Teen steal a rare moment together because he's not working at night or sleeping during the day.

The Mr and The Teen steal a rare moment together because he’s not working at night or sleeping during the day.

In 2011 the library that I was working with at that time laid off several staff workers, including a dear friend of mine. It took her 3 years to get a new job in the library field. Three long, hard years. She is happily employed now, but I will never forget the dark valley of unemployment that she walked through and the torment and toil it took for her to find a new job in a profession that she loved that is constantly shrinking and less willing to hire professional, full-time staff. I have several other friends currently looking for new librarian positions and the outlook isn’t proving any better for them.

So it’s not enough to look at an unemployment number, because there is more to the story. How many of those people are employed at full-time hours with a livable wage and benefits? How many people are underemployed and working multiple jobs? How many people have simply stopped looking? The economy and the health of our nation is about more than a simple number. As someone who currently works in a community with a high poverty rate, I see the stories that this number fails to tell you.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about jobs because, as I’ve mentioned, I work with teens and they are being asked daily to plan their vocational future. What will you be when you grow up is a more pressing question when you are just a couple of years, or even a few months, from being that grown up. The other week on Twitter I followed the hashtag #CILDC, which was a live tweeting of the professional conference Computers in Libraries. At one point several attendees tweeted this statement:

“42% of today’s workforce will be affected by automation within the next 10 years; 85% of jobs in 2030 haven’t been invented yet.”

Did you see that? 85% of the jobs in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet. 2030 is a mere 12 years from now. That means that teens today are tasked with trying to plan for careers that don’t even exist yet. How do you plan for the unknown job market? Many of our teens are planning for careers that will cease to exist or radically change shortly after they enter the job market. That’s a huge task to ask of teens, and the librarians and educators who are tasked with helping them. We are being asked to help teens prepare for a future that is so radically unknown and by all accounts unknowable.

Don’t get me wrong, the future is always truly unknowable, but it does feel like were are living in a time with rapid change and incredible insecurity when it comes to career planning. And yes, we can look at other periods of time and see this happening. But the task seems daunting when you are in the process of filling out college applications and choosing majors. What if my field ceases to exist? It’s not a question I ever considered in my teen and young adult life, though I suppose I should have.

Random pic of The Teen because people like pictures in posts

Random pic of The Teen because people like pictures in posts

For me, even as a librarian, I have seen incredible change in my field in the last 25 years. In the beginning, there was considerable trust in and support for public libraries. But over time, we have culturally witnessed a slow shift away from public entities, especially if it involves using tax monies, and the idea of community good. Some parties have worked hard to instill a distrust in anything community natured while at the same time working to undermine things such as support for teachers, unions, and a wide variety of institutions and professions that were once seen as both necessary and beneficial. Every year librarians convene in state houses to beg for state support as the ALA and other organizations lobby members of Congress for national support. Every year librarians are asked to do more and more with less and less. And if you are a librarian who is searching for a job, you may have to be prepared to move great distances and start completely over because the professional jobs market appears to be shrinking.

It’s even worse if you are a librarian who wants to specialize in young adult/teen services. In the early 90s there was a tremendous push for and recognition of the need for YA librarians. Teens, we began to understand, were a unique age group with specialized developmental needs who deserved trained, dedicated staff who would meet their needs and help retain this age group as both present and future library users and supporters. But it turns out, teens in the library are challenging for some staff and when budget cuts need to be made, this is often the first place administrators will look. It doesn’t help that culturally, teens are often and easily reviled as difficult, abrasive, and rude so cutting teen services has far less impact then cutting things like children services; we still on the most basic level agree that we have a responsibility to take care of our children, and the younger and cuter they are the better. And don’t get me wrong, I love children of all ages and love being involved in children’s services, I just hate how expendable our culture views teenagers in comparison to the regard, esteem and responsibility we feel towards our younger citizens. Teens, although they are loathe to admit it, ARE still children who need nurturing, support, guidance, boundaries and more.

See, I like kids. Especially this one, because she's my other precious baby.

See, I like kids. Especially this one, because she’s my other precious baby.

So this idea of teens and jobs comes full circle. It’s both about the job of being a librarian who works with teens and about helping teens plan for an unknowable future.

So jobs, I’ve been thinking about them a lot. I currently know several highly regarded, passionate and experienced librarians who are looking for new jobs for a variety of reasons and the professional field out there is not pretty. Then I hear facts and figures like almost 400 people applied for a manager job in less then 48 hours. And then I hear the news that 85% of the jobs just 12 years from now do not currently exist. At the same time, I hear our country’s leaders celebrating a unemployment number that has an asterisk by it and see the teens in my community leaving to attend the daily community free meal and I can’t help but think, this is funny math.

A healthy economy and a healthy community is more than just a low unemployment rate and it’s hard for me to celebrate this report when I still see so many people around me sincerely and genuinely struggling to find good paying jobs that aren’t killing them emotionally and physically, that allow them to truly parent their children, and allows them to put food on the table with any sort of regularity.

How do we help our teens plan for such an uncertain future while they live in such unstable times? This is the question that haunts me.