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Things I Never Learned in Library School: Training Staff to Work with Transgender Teens

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolIn 25 years of working with teens in a public library, it is only recently that I have served and worked with teens that openly identified as transgender. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in working with them and they have been gracious in helping me understand those mistakes. I’ve also had to work with admin to discuss policy challenges and work with general staff to provide quality customer service to these teens. So today, I wanted to share with you some of what I’ve been learning. Let me be the first to say that there is a lot of terminology and language used when discussing transgender teens that I am just beginning to understand and that I may use or may be using incorrectly. I am an older cisgender woman from a conservative Christian background who is just learning and I want to share what I am learning with others like myself. It’s vitally important that we talk with our staff about GLBTQ issues and customer service to make sure that every patron who walks into our library is afforded the same equity, respect and quality customer service.

The first thing you should know is that sex and gender are not the same thing. I wish I could explain this to you further, but it’s a concept that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. Boiled down to the very basics, sex is the biological construct while gender is the social construct. For more on this important discussion, I suggest doing some extensive research.

Sex and gender: Meanings, definition, identity, and expression

Sex and gender: what is the difference? | Journal of Applied Physiology

In addition, gender is not purely a chromosomal presentation despite what you probably learned in your basic genetics class. In the scientific community, they talk a lot about things like gender dysphoria, gene expression, endocrine disruptions, and more. However, I’m not a scientist and neither are most library staff. I feel like at the end of the day, the how, when, where and why don’t matter. It’s important that remember that the thing that matters is the person standing before us in our library.

It’s also important to keep in mind that language evolves. Transexuality, transvestite and transgender are all terms that have been used to identify members of the transgender community. Older members of the transgender community may refer to themselves in one way and younger members of the community may refer to themselves as a different way. Even a brief look into our MARC records reveals that the subject headings have changed. I have had some conversations with technical services about subject headings. I would love to see that catalog subject headings linked so that all titles would come up regardless what term a patron searches.

Transsexual, Transgender, Transvestite: Here’s what you should know

GLBT Controlled Vocabularies and Classification Schemes

In addition to talking with and respecting my teens, I have done a lot of research and reading on these issues to help me move past my own personal upbringing and biases to better understand and serve my teens. I’ve read a lot, for example, on the various things that they believe influences gender identity. From sex genes to endocrine disruptors to fertility treatments, there are a lot of environmental factors that influence gender expression. At the end of the day, none of this matters because what matters is the person standing before you asking to be treated with basic human dignity and respect. We owe it to our fellow humans to extend that basic respect to them and as a matter of good customer service, which every library should be striving to achieve, it’s the basic foundation: treat the person standing before you with common courtesy, basic respect, and with a full recognition that we’re all just fellow humans trying to make it day to day.

Source: https://imgur.com/gallery/unLhY

Source: https://imgur.com/gallery/unLhY

It’s also important that we recognize that there is a lot of hostility towards the GLBTQ community and that there are high incidences of homelessness, depression and anxiety, and suicide among GLBTQ teens. How we as teen librarians and how our staff as public servants respond to our transgender patrons is vitally important. It’s not an exaggeration for me to say that it can be a matter of life and death.

Pronouns Matter

When a transgender person “comes out” (and I’m not sure that is the correct terminology), they are making known to the public that they identify with a gender different from what they have previously appeared or presented on the outside. So although they may have presented or been identified as female, they have known for quite some time that they are male and at some point they make the decision to finally let the world know and live as their authentic self. From what my teens have shared with me, this is a very important and freeing moment. It’s very important to respect your teens and honor their requests to be called by the names and pronouns that they prefer. At some point, your teens may come to you and ask to be referred to as a different pronoun and this is vitally important.

What Are Pronouns? Why Do They Matter?

Why Pronouns Matter – GSAFE

I will be the first to admit that changing pronouns can be challenging. Not because I haven’t respected my teens wishes, but because of force of habit. On occasion I slip and when I do, I always make a point of apologizing. Try to use the correct pronouns and when you mess up, apologize.

They/Them Pronouns

One day, after another pronoun slip, I declared to one of my teens that I was closer to that I was just going to start using they/them pronouns for everyone. This teen actually declared that this was a really good habit to get into to help avoid misgendering people that you didn’t really know yet. Our cultural go to has always been to default to he/she, which has often led to those moments on the public service desk when you have just misgendered someone. Training staff to default to they/them pronouns helps to ensure any misgendering by avoiding any assumptions of gender.

Using They/Them to Avoid Misgendering People?

Where is the bathroom?

I have often worked in a library where there is a men’s and a women’s bathroom and they are in different locations in the building. A coworker recently shared with me that when she is asked where the bathroom is, she makes no assumptions and just answers the question by giving directions to both bathrooms. Again, we serve a lot of patrons and trying to determine what bathroom they may be asking about can be tricky. I admit to having that moment where I have told someone the directions to the women’s restroom after assuming that they were female only to learn that they were male and were asking for directions to the male restroom. Being in the common practice of just providing directions to both bathrooms is another way that we can stop assuming we can easily see how a patron identifies and provide quality customer service. When someone asks for directions to the bathroom, don’t assume you know which bathroom they need and just provide directions to all the bathrooms.

Nongendered Bathrooms and Bathroom Laws

I’m not particularly in the habit of paying attention to when and how patrons are going to the bathroom, so I didn’t really know that our transgender male teens were using the male restroom until a man complained. An older gentleman came to our management and expressed concern that a teenage girl had walked into the restroom and he didn’t want to be accused of taking her in there and doing anything to her. What this older gentleman didn’t know is that this teen was a transgender male. We then began researching bathroom policies and even met with an architect to determine if there were ways that we could change our bathrooms to make them non-gendered. I was surprised to learn that there are a lot of laws regulating bathrooms, including how many bathrooms you must have and how they must be labelled. These laws vary by state and it’s important that you consult with legal counsel to make sure that you are following the law and providing the best case scenarios for all of your library patrons. In part because of this bathroom issue, but also because of some other issues such as drug use, the library that I was working at eventually decided to have the bathrooms be locking restrooms where the key had to be requested at the Circulation Desk.

Transgender bathroom laws: Facts and myths – CNN – CNN.com

Let me take a moment here to add that having a family restroom or nongendered bathroom isn’t just a transgender issue, there are many disabled adults who may need assistance as well as children. Moving forward, every public space should definitely include inclusive bathrooms. If you can retrofit your bathrooms, please consider doing so.

Personal Opinions Don’t Matter When it Comes to Good Customer Service

For some of our staff, it was pretty easy to respect the teens wishes to be identified as they requested. For others, there was some real resistance. The issue of being transgender is very controversial for many people and there are some strongly held opinions on the topic. Though we can’t control what our coworkers believe, think or feel about GLBTQ issues, we can and should demand that they treat all of our patrons with equal respect and honor the wishes of our transgender teens in how they are identified. If a patron asks to be called a particular pronoun or asks to be called by a different name, it’s really important that our staff respect that. Demanding that our staff treat our GLBTQ patrons with respect is no different then demanding that they treat any and all patrons with respect. Failure to do so should be met with coaching and ultimately termination if needed.

Deadnaming

When a person comes out or transitions, to whatever degree they choose to transition or not, they will often choose a new name that better represents their true identity. For example, a teen perceived as female at birth may have been named Colleen by their parents but when they are finally ready to share with the world that they are male they may choose the name Cole. This example, by the way, is completely made up because as a librarian I respect patron privacy. Cole may not yet have legally changed his name to Cole, in part because minors have limited legal rights and also in part because there is a process and a cost to changing one’s legal name. However, it is important that all staff refer to Cole as Cole. Calling Cole by the name of Colleen is deadnaming and it is considered an offensive and very hurtful act of aggression.

How to Be Human: Talking to People Who Are Transgender – Healthline

Deadnaming: What Is It and Why Is It Harmful? – Healthline

If a transgender teen asks to be called by a different name, a note should be make in their library card status letting staff know about this desire. If you can, change the library card name altogether. But if you work with an administration that is a stickler for legal names, at least make a note of it and train your staff to call a patron by their preferred name. It’s not the same by any means, but I’ll use my husband as an example. His legal name is Timothy but he goes by the name Tim. I have only once ever heard someone call him Timothy and neither one of us responded because although that’s his legal name which he signs and appears on all of his documentation, he doesn’t go by that and it didn’t occur to him that someone was trying to get his attention using that name. My point is this: we allow people to shorten their names or go by nicknames all of the time. The first day of each new school year we allow students to tell us what name they prefer to go by when we call the first roll call. We can call our transgender patrons by their correct name, no matter what the legal paperwork says. It’s actually a standard practice and to not extend it to transgender individuals just reveals our own personal bias.

A Note About Transitioning

In some cases, a transgender individual will choose, or not, to transition to their gender. What that looks like is different for every person. For teens, it is even more limited in what they can do because they have to have parental support, financial means, and usually doctors will wait until a person is past puberty before hormone treatment or surgery is considered. That means that most teens have very limited ways in which they can control transitioning. Transgender male teens, for example, may choose to wear binders and cut their hair and buy all male clothes, but there are a lot of limitations to what transgender teens can do. I mention this only because I was in a meeting once with a coworker discussing our bathroom complaint and this co-worker said, “outside of cutting their hair, they haven’t really done anything.” The implication seemed to be that they weren’t trying very hard or putting in very much effort. It’s important for everyone who is cisgender to remember that coming out as transgender is a process, that there are a lot of cultural and financial barriers, and that transgender individuals don’t owe it to anyone to transition in a way or time that works best for anyone but themselves.

ENBY and Gender Fluid Teens

When talking about gender, we should also keep in mind that there are more than just cisgender and transgender people. Enby is a term that is used by non-binary individuals. An enby is a nonbinary person who identifies as neither male or female. The Teen is friends with an individual who is very femme (traditionally female presenting), has chosen a male name, and identifies as enby. This invidiual uses they/them pronouns. Other teens are what they refer to as gender fluid. They may fluctuate between genders or identify as any and all genders at once.

57 bus

I highly recommend to everyone the book The 57 Bus which has some good discussion of these terms within it. In fact, as we really began exploring these issues I requested from my administration that my staff be allowed to read this book on staff time because it’s an important and relevant book to serving our patrons and I don’t believe in asking staff to do something that they aren’t getting paid for.

Training Staff is the Goal

This is by no means an exhaustive look into any of the issues facing the transgender community nor is it a complete discussion of what public and school libraries need to know when considering serving the transgender community. What it is, however, is a reminder that we need to be having these discussion in the larger professional context but also at the local level. If your library hasn’t already, you need to go through your policies and procedures and make sure they are a good foundation for helping your staff know how to provide exemplary customer service to the transgender community. You need to be training staff in how to work with transgender individuals and reminding them that their personal opinions don’t matter when they’re at work, because I guarantee that you are employing some individuals that have very hostile feelings about the GLBTQ and transgender community.

This was not a thing that I had ever been trained about or discussed in almost 20 years of public library service, but necessity became the mother of invention. I am truly honored that my teens trusted me enough to share their journey with me, that they allowed me to fumble as I tried to figure out how best to serve them, and that I had the opportunity to advocate for them when issues came up. And make no mistake, issues came up and will continue to come up. I was forced to be reactive, but moving forward I will have the advantage of experience on my side and can now be more proactive. I highly recommend being proactive.

Libraries Respond: Protections for Our Nation’s Transgender Students

Serving Your LGBT Teen Patrons » Public Libraries Online

Inclusive Information for Trans* Persons: Public Library Quarterly

Supporting Transgender Individuals in Libraries

One final point I would like to make. Just as no group is a monolith, not all transgender individuals are the same either. I’m sharing with you here what my teens have taught me in our journey together. Take a moment to talk to and listen to a wide variety of members of the LGBTQA+ and keep listening. Language evolves, people change, and what we know about each other and the basics of good customer service are always evolving. Do the work and then keep doing the work.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Public Libraries, 3D Printers, and Guns – oh my

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolWe considered a lot of things when we were discussing adding a 3D printer to our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. These things included space, time, money and staff education. At the end of the day and after a lot of research, we decided that a 3D printer wasn’t right for our library for a variety of reasons, but none of those reasons included guns. It turns out, we should have considered guns as well. We were very naive about 3D printers many moons ago.

Like most librarians, I have been through active shooter training at my library multiple times. I’ve been taught where to go, what to do, and how to keep myself and my patrons safe should an active shooter come into the library. I was actually already working as a teen librarian when Columbine happened, and the landscape of what it means to work with teens has changed significantly since that day. Just this past year we saw teen led protests asking us to think about school safety and gun violence. Now, more than ever, working with teens means you have to think about gun violence, gun safety, and the second amendment.

Last week, the news began reporting that there was a possibility and a fight over whether or not plans for printing unlicensed, unregistered guns on a 3D printer could and should be released to the public via the Internet. Until I heard it on the news, I didn’t know this was something that I should be worried about, though of course it is. The distribution of these plans so freely on the Internet would change everything we know and talk about when we discuss the second amendment and a “well-regulated militia.” And as these guns are printed via plastic filament, they would be unrecognizable by standard safety equipment. This would literally change the entire discussion we are currently having regarding gun safety.

If you have watched the rebooted version of Lost in Space on Netflix, there is actually a character who prints a gun using a 3D printer, which becomes a significant plot point later in the episode. This gun is, of course, used by a bad guy to hold characters hostage and get them to do their will. As guns always do, this 3D printed gun changes the arc of the story and creates a new power balance.

So what’s happening in the public debate? The Trump Administration recently settled a lawsuit which opened the door that would allow for the CAD plans on how to print 3D printed gun to be released via the Internet. This means that anyone with access to a 3D printer could print for themselves a gun and that this gun would be unlicensed and unregistered. It would allow any and all people with access to a 3D printer to bypass current laws and regulations. This would create a large number 0f guns in existence that could not be traced to any specific time, place or person. A legislator introduced legislation to stop the release of these plans, which had not passed as of last night. At the last minute, a judge moved to bar the release of these plans until more is known.

The battle to stop 3D-printed guns, explained – Vox

Here’s the things: some plans for printing a 3D gun are already available on the Internet, though they were reportedly taken down. But if you understand anything about the Internet, you know that things uploaded don’t really ever go away. In the discussion about this issue on NPR this morning they emphasized that if you wanted to, you could in fact still find the first initial plans for printing a basic 3D printed gun.

3D Printed Guns and the Library: A Reminder That Policy is Important

What does this have to do with libraries? Many libraries provide access to 3D printers and if you haven’t already, you need to be thinking about what your policies are and how you will respond to this issue. Because many libraries have active policies in place barring bringing weapons into the library, they also have policies in place about creating weapons in the library. I did an informal poll on Twitter and many respondents indicated that they did, in fact, have a no weapons policies in place. A few respondents indicated that they will need to bring this issue up with their administration. One respondent stated that in their state, Kentucky, it was against the law to prohibit a patron from making a 3D printed gun if you provide access to a 3D printer.

Library prepared for 3D printed gun technology | KATV

As a side note, it’s relevant, I think, to point out that even most cons which actively encourage cosplay have policies against bringing realistic looking weapons to the con. This is a matter of public safety and is, I think, good policy. It is public safety that we must consider as well as the law.

If your library provides access to a 3D printer, now is a good time to look at your policies and make sure they are current, relevant and accurate. Hopefully you have done the work beforehand and your policy does address things like making weapons. If not, now is a really good time to reconsider your policies.

Policies should be well thought out and articulated to the public and staff and consistent with public library standards. If you don’t allow weapons in the library, you can’t allow the creation of weapons in the library. And all staff should be trained on how to enforce the policy and how to handle any potential patron complaints. Remember, the discussion of gun safety is a very volatile discussion at times in our cultural discourse, it is entirely possible that staff will encounter some extreme emotions on both sides of this debate and they need administration help in knowing what to say and who to kick those complaints up to.

Library administration will want to continue to pay attention to this issue and keep their policies current. The issue of gun safety and rights isn’t going away and this just complicates that discussion. It’s the job of administration to be aware and pro-active. Public libraries fail staff and patrons when they are reactive as opposed to pro-active. We need to do our due diligence.

And in case you’re wondering, no I don’t think that patrons should be able to use 3d printers in the library to create weapons of any sort. It’s a matter of patron and staff safety.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Waiting for Reimbursement, aka Libraries Must Fund Their Programming

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolEarlier this week, a post about reimbursement came across my Twitter timeline proclaiming that reimbursement is not an equitable system (https://twitter.com/readitrealgood/status/1015776354074288128). Like many things that come up in my timeline, I hadn’t really thought about the inherent classism involved in reimbursement, even though I had lived with it myself in my professional career. The truth is, many people (most people) do not have the discretionary funds needed to spend their personal funds for work related expenses and wait to be reimbursed.

At one of the libraries that I worked at, and remember I’ve worked for four different library systems in two different states, we had to pay for all library programming out of pocket and wait to be reimbursed by the Friends of the Library, a process that could take more than a month depending on where in the month your purchase occurred. As a YA Librarian I was required to do YA programs, but the library had no budget line or mechanism for paying for these programs. It was all done via reimbursement from the Friends of the Library. The only exception to this was if you booked an author or a performer, which meant you must do so far enough in advance to get all the correct paperwork filled out to have a check made out directly to the performer. And if you do any teen programming, you will understand that a lot of teen programming involves things like having to purchase craft supplies and food.

At this library, the school was within walking distance to the middle school, which meant that we had the traditional problem of a large influx of energetic, hungry teens right after school and we had to find a way to meet their needs and maintain a safe, suitable environment for non-teen patrons who wanted to use the public library. Thus, our after school Teen CoffeeHouse was born. We opened up our meeting every Tuesday afternoon for teens wanting to play video games, do crafts and have snacks. Teens are very hungry after school. This program was one of my most successful programs ever, and in its height we would have near 100 teens on every Tuesday. This meant that every week I had to go to the local grocery store and use my own personal bank account to buy snacks for a library program and wait to be reimbursed. At the end of each month, depending on how many teens we had, I could have personally been waiting for anywhere from $200 to $300 in reimbursement.

This is the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. I am proud to say it is very supported by our admin and they have great mechanisms in place for purchasing supplies. I'm thankful every day.

This is the Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. I am proud to say it is very supported by our admin and they have great mechanisms in place for purchasing supplies. I’m thankful every day.

At every previous system that I had worked in, programming was expected and a part of the annual budget. There were mechanisms in place for purchasing supplies for programs. Not all of the different ways were easy or convenient, but they didn’t rely on me having my own personal funds in my own personal bank account. I can not stress to you what an unfair and undue hardship this was, expecting me to use my personal funds in order for me to be successful at the requirements of my job. I was barely making it before, then I suddenly found myself pregnant and raising an infant. I was no longer making it paycheck to paycheck, there were zero funds to do things like by craft materials and food for a library program.

I had always thought that this library system’s process was an anomaly. I campaigned long and hard to change the system, because it was simply unsustainable. Eventually, it was in fact changed, and I was forever grateful. But I was surprised to learn when tweeting about this story how many libraries still expect their staff to pay for work related expenses, including programming, out of their own pockets and wait for reimbursement. Many people tweeted at me or DMed me to let me know that they too had to do this at one time or another, many more to say they were doing this presently, and they were barely making it. Only one person replied that they had to do this but they didn’t really mind because they got a bunch of extra bonus points on their personal credit card.

This is an injustice to library staff that must be halted. I was disheartened to learn how many of my peers were be asked to suffer this very real hardship from their employers.

If libraries want to have programming, then libraries must fund programming in their annual budgets. The money has to be there. I understand that libraries have complicated budgets and a variety of laws that regulate how, where and why money is spent and how that spending has to be recorded. Money in libraries is a difficult subject in the best of times, and these are not the best of financial times for libraries. But the truth is, the library has to have a way to do the things the library says it wants to do up front.

Then, libraries must have mechanisms in place for staff to make any purchasing that may be needed to be the resources for programming. That means that library staff members must be able to order or purchase supplies at the onset using library funds. It is not reasonable to expect staff to use personal funds to perform the daily duties of their job. Staff are paid for their work, they should not be expected to turn around and use their hard earned personal funds to do the work. We’ll save conversations about how most library staff are underpaid and underemployed for a future conversation.

Even a simple craft program needs funding.

Even a simple craft program needs funding.

If you are a library who is asking staff to do x, y or z and using that rubric to evaluate whether or not they are effective at their job, then you must provide the necessary tools for them to actually be effective at their job. Evaluate what your library’s goals are, whether or not the tools are in place for staff to be successful in meeting these goals, and make adjustments if necessary. If you are a library who demands library programming but doesn’t have a way to fund that programming up front, then you need to either stop doing library programming or put the mechanisms in place to fund those programs up front using library monies.

And if you are a library employee who does programming, this is another reminder of why it is very important that library staff never use their own money or time to do library programming. Administrators need to have a true account and understanding of how much staff time and how much library funding is necessary to do successful library programming. When we take work home and do it on our own time or purchase supplies and donate them because we want to do a program that is bigger than our budgets, administrators don’t understand the true cost, have unreasonable expectations, and don’t provide the staff and funding we need because they don’t understand the real level of need. It seems weird to say, but donating our time and money hurts our patrons, because they don’t get the community investment from the library that they really need, it hurts our admin, because they don’t have the full picture to successfully do their job of developing budgets and maintaining adequate staffing levels, and it hurts our successors because we are establishing unreasonable goals that they will be evaluated by.

I know that libraries everywhere are facing money shortages and other challenges, I’m right there in the trenches with you. But our answers to these challenges can not be unfair to our staff, unfair to our patrons, and they shouldn’t cause more problems than they solve. Even in challenging times, we have to establish best practices for our staff and our community.

Summer Reading Chaos: How do we balance the needs of our community with those of our staff?

As my teethingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolns are counting down the days left in the school year, I find myself counting down the days until summer reading begin, but with very mixed emotions.

This is my 25th year as a YA librarian, which means that it is the 25th summer reading program that I have planned. I have worked in several systems and have experiences several different approaches to summer reading. And, of course, I have spent 25 years listening to my peers talk about their experiences in their library systems. I have to be honest with you, there is a lot that concerns me. I’m not sure we’re doing right by our staff when it comes to summer reading.

Many public libraries put a lot of emphasis on summer reading programs. It’s our bright shining moment. SRPs help prevent summer slide, a real thing. We spend a lot of time, money, energy and resources focused on this part of our programming. It’s stressful. It’s time consuming. It can be a make or break deal for a lot of library systems, which means its a make or break deal for a lot of youth services librarians.

A book with summer in the title

A book with summer in the title

There are, of course, benefits:

1. Helping with that summer slide issue is a real and true thing.

2. Especially during the beginning of summer, a lot of teens now have some free time so it’ can help them fill up that free time and get them into the library.

3. Parents are always looking for things to do with their kids during the summer to help fill all those newly freed up hours and it is no doubt good pr because it makes parents happy

But SRPs can be incredibly hard on staff.

Some libraries, for example, have really long SRPs and have a rule stating that youth services staff can’t take vacation during SRP. This means that if you are a parent of school aged children who also works with youth in the library, you can’t take vacation during the only time of year that your kids can take vacation. And this rule almost always only applies to youth services staff because most public library summer reading programs focus on children and teens (though, for the record, my current library system has a very strong and robust adult summer reading program as well).

Another book with summer in the title

Another book with summer in the title

I understand why libraries have these rules in place. Most libraries don’t have enough staff and trying to allow staff off for vacations during your biggest yearly event can be difficult. Of course, there’s also the flip side where you’re trying to beg your brother who lives in another state to please not get married in June because getting the time off would be incredibly hard. For the record, I did get the time off, but it was not easy and there were long lasting hard feelings. And goodness forbid someone have a serious illness or injury during the summer months because absolute chaos can ensue.

As staff begin to realize the very real limitations that come with summer and working in youth services, it can be one of the most reviled parts of the library system to work in. Staff starts defecting for other departments because everyone wants a summer vacation. Youth services staff become resentful because they realize that other departments are not subject to the same rules and restrictions. I know a lot of genuinely gifted and passionate librarians who have left youth services for other departments because of the stress and demands that are put on youth services compared to other departments. We have lost some of our best and brightest because of burn out.

I often wonder, too, about the amount of time and money that goes into summer reading program compared to the rest of the year. Some libraries spend literally thousands of dollars on summer reading and are forced to find ways to do programming throughout the rest of the year for little or zero dollars. There are, after all, only so many crafts you can do with all the toilet paper rolls from the bathroom. And I can’t help but think it has to be a let down for all those kids and teens to come out of an amazing summer reading program and then be asked to come back in September for a program where we make whatever it is we’re making with that discarded toilet paper roll. There’s a bit of an inconsistency in how we present ourselves to the public when we are pouring all of our time, energy and resources into only three months of the year and then trying to make ends meet the other nine months of the year. I’m not convinced that it sends the message we want to be sending.

Hey look, another book with summer in the title

Hey look, another book with summer in the title

And yes, I know not all libraries are the same. Some of them are better staffed, better funded, and are better equipped to do knock your socks programs all year round. Some are staffed in ways that allow vacation during the summer. But the reality is, for a lot of libraries, summer reading programs are where it’s at. But this presents some very real challenges for staff. They’re being asked to maintain a year round participation that is being elevated by an influx of money, resources and marketing for a yearly event. They are being asked to commit themselves emotionally and physically often in unrealistic ways for this three month period of the year. They’re being asked, often demanded, to forego family reunions and family vacations in the only time of the year when families can go on vacation. In many of our library systems, the stakes are too high for our youth services departments during the summer.

I am not here to question the need for or validity of summer reading programs. I understand their value and support all that they offer to children, teens, and local communities. I am, however, asking us to take a step back and evaluate their role in our year-round programming, the amount of staff time and money they take up, and the extra demands they put on our staffs. I’m asking that we evaluate how libraries can work to spread the burden out so that it’s not just the same staff being asked to sacrifice in the same ways year after year. And I’m asking if we are making youth services in some ways an undesirable department to work in and losing some of our potentially best people by the extra demands placed on youth services departments during these three months of the year.

I'm sensing a theme here

I’m sensing a theme here

I’m asking that we step back and find a way to balance the needs of our communities with the needs of our staff to find a way to better meet the needs of both, and year round.

All it takes is a few moments on Twitter or Facebook, or on a youth services discussion forum, to realize how stressed our staff are about summer reading programs. Maybe it’s time we asked ourselves if there was a way to make this better for them while still reaching our goals for our community.

A Wrap Up: Doing a Diversity Book Audit, more thoughts

Yesterday I was honored once again to present with School Library Journal about doing a diversity book audit. As always, there are questions afterwards which make you think about what you might do differently the next time. Here are some thoughts I had afterwards based on follow-up questions.

diversityaudt1

 

One of the topics that comes up frequently is that many people are overwhelmed with the thought of doing an audit for a larger collection. I think there are some ways that this can be done.

1. Do an audit of randomized samples of your collection and extrapolate the data

When you hear poll results, those polls have not actually polled all the millions of people that live in the United States. They poll a randomized sample of the population and extrapolate the data. We can do the same for our collection audits. Take randomized samples of a larger collection to get an idea, generally, of whether or not your library system is truly acquiring an inclusive collection.

2. Instead of looking at titles, look at subject headings.

You should be able to run a report of the number of titles in various subject headings from your collection. Compare this number to the overall total number of items that you hold in that collection. For example, here are a variety of GLBTQAI+ subject headings. Do a search of your ILS and find out how many titles come up for each of these subject headings. Compare that number of titles to the over all number of titles in your collection to determine whether or not you have very many GLBTQ titles in your collection or if you need to fill some gaps.

3. If you want to examine specific types of diversity, start with a comprehensive book list and see how many titles you have off of that list

This is how I first started doing a diversity audit of my collection. It’s not a comprehensive audit because the book lists you find online won’t list everything that is available, but it does give you a general idea of the state of your collection. I actually began with GLBTQ titles because many of our teens that come to the library regularly identify as such and were telling me we needed more titles. My quest began because my teens were requesting more GBLTQ titles. So I went to a resource I knew to be comprehensive, GAY YA, and began checking to see how many of the titles they recommended were owned in my library collection. So this is one approach that you can use to evaluate specific areas. It is made easier by the recent proliferation of lists being shared today online for various types of YA.

4. If you do storytimes or curate summer reading book lists, you’ll definitely want to do a diversity audit of those to make sure you are reading, sharing and recommending diverse titles

5. Even if you don’t start with a baseline and do a complete audit of your collection, start doing a mini audit of each book order so you know moving forward that you are purchasing diverse titles. Don’t go with your gut or assume you’re doing a good job, but be intentional and audit each book order. I print off each book order and make a notation in the margins of what type of diversity each title has. If you don’t have very many books with notes in the margin, think about how you can re-adjust each individual book order so that you are consistently and systematically building a diverse/inclusive collection.

Doing an audit, whichever way you choose to do it, gives us the data we need to be more intentional in our library purchasing and acquisitions. It takes helps decrease our tendency towards implicit bias and make us really confront data to determine whether or not we are truly and intentionally building diverse collections. As an added benefit, it makes us more familiar with our collections and better at doing things like RA and book displays. Diving deeply into your collections is never a bad thing.

After a few false starts I developed a way that allowed me to save a comprehensive shelf list that let me know more about the books on my shelf into an excel spreadsheet. Each time I choose to do a new audit, I can simply ask my ILS to create a new shelf list for me of titles purchased since the date of my last audit, so I don’t have to go back and start from scratch. It’s simply more data for me to work with when weeding, purchasing, and recommending books to and for my teens. The initial work was more time consuming, but the additional work is less so. I know my collection better, I’m better at serving my teens, and I’m making sure that they have a wide variety of stories to read that helps to make them better informed, compassionate and engaged human beings. At the end of the day, I feel that is a core value of my job: providing my teens with the best YA collection that I can to give them the greatest amount of access that I can.

What works for me may not work for you, and that’s okay. But I hope that you will use this information and the information that I found on my quest to develop a way that works for me, to find a way that does work for you. In the end, we all have the same goals: to build the best collections to serve our communities.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Toxic Masculinity and Teaching Boys to Accept No for an Answer, Even in Our Libraries

The first time I ever learned what can happen when you tell a boy no and was afraid, I was a Sophomore in high school. A friend has asked me out and I told him no, I didn’t have those types of feelings for him. Later that night I did go out on a date, with someone else. I know he knew because he called me later to tell me in terrifying and no uncertain terms that he knew because he had sat at the end of my street. He could tell me when I left, who I was with, and when I returned home. He told me what he saw as he sat outside my house and I realized that this boy, whom I thought was my friend, was angry and that I was in danger.

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It happened again at the age of 17 when I got my first job at a movie theater. This time it was my boss, a man over the age of fifty.

It happened again in college.

We live in a world of toxic masculinity which tells boys that they are entitled to women and that women don’t get to say no. We live in a world where men get angry when women say no.

You can search the Internet and find story after story after story of how a woman came to harm because she told a man no.

A couple of years ago, two local boys took something from my then 7-year-old daughter and they held her down. She came home crying, full of fear, as she explained to me that they had asked to play with her toy, how she had told them no, and they had taken it any way. I went to the home of one of the boys and explained what had happened to one of the moms and she looked at me and said, “my boys would never do something like that.” I went home and told my husband that she was raising a rapist. And sure, it seems like an extreme reaction to what can be construed as a normal childhood interactions, but it’s also what happens when we raise boys to believe that they can take whatever they want and that there are no consequences for their actions.

It’s what happens when we try to wave away entitlement and bullying and abuse with a simple expression: boys will be boys.

There is a lot to dismantle in that phrase. In it is the idea that we think that boys have no self control. That rough and abusive behavior is just the way that boys are. That of course a boy should feel entitled, that’s just how boys are.

Part of it is patriarchy. I come from a deeply religious background. I have an undergraduate degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college. Many denominations actively teach both boys and girls that girls are less than boys and that the female must be subservient to the men. That they can’t say no.

In Utah, the recently held a school dance where the girls were told they can’t tell a boy no if they asked them to dance.

In a recent discussion on the Teen Services Underground, there was a discussion about a boy asking a girl out in the library and how she had said no and he retaliated. The story is complex, but in the comments one commentor even suggested that the girl should say no but soften the blow by saying something like, “I’m just not interested in dating right now.” The thing is, though I don’t advocate being outright rude, girls don’t have to justify their no. They don’t have to explain it away and make it better. No is a complete sentence. And honestly, sometimes trying to soften the blow does more damage than not because the messages can get mixed up.

We have to teach our boys to learn to accept no as an answer.

This is something the media is horrible about, even the YA books that we read. We romanticize the notion of pursuit, of wooing. If a girl says no, you pursue her until she says yes. We celebrate those stories.

When I was young and just started dating my husband, we used to argue about Romeo and Juliet. It’s so romantic I would say. But they both died he would say. But they died because they loved each other I would say. But they’re both dead he would say.

I understand more now what it was he was arguing for. What we are taught is romantic is often part of the problem. I internalized those messages for a really long time. But then the behavior of the men I said no to really started to terrify me. I realized it wasn’t romantic, it was scary and my well being was in jeopardy.

You become afraid to say no because sometimes what happens after the no is worse than what happens when you just give in and say yes; sometimes saying no is more dangerous than saying yes.

This is part of the nuanced conversations people are asking us to have about sexual harassment and sexual violence.

But at the foundation of all of this is toxic masculinity and how men internalize rejection.

For more on toxic masculinity, please check out Amanda MacGregor’s excellent post here.

This is one of the reasons as a teen/YA librarian I am an advocate for having policies and procedures in place and enforcing them. The policies and procedures should be reasonable and help everyone receive a maximum benefit from and safety in the library. But having rules and failing to enforce them, that can do more damage then having no rules at all. It’s a delicate balance enforcing rules and knowing when to let them slide and give grace, but letting them slide can be damaging. The thing is, we have to do the work of making sure we have the right rules, for the right reasons, and consistently enforce them.

Having and enforcing meaningful rules and boundaries helps our teens learn to accept a person’s no, even in libraries. Sometimes, our failures to have and consistently enforce meaningful boundaries for our patrons can contribute to our cultural problems. Sometimes telling a patron no and holding them accountable is the right answer. That’s not something we always like to talk about in libraries, but we should.

Sexual Harassment in KidLit

As a librarian, I don’t often feel genuinely a part of kid or yalit. I’m not an author. I’m not a publisher. I’m not an agent or an editor.

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But I am someone who regularly talks about books and puts them into the hands of kids and teens. So these last few days, I have really sat with and thought about what is happening with the MeToo movement in kidslit. And more importantly, what is my response as a human being and as a librarian.

If you need some background, Anne Ursu wrote a post on Medium sharing the results of a survey she did regarding sexual harassment in kidlit publishing. (Sexual Harassment in the Childrens Book Industry Anne Ursu)

In addition, School Library Journal, with whom this blog is networked, shared a piece about sexual harassment in kidlist as well. Then sometime yesterday the comments exploded and people began naming names of their harassers and there were a variety of discussions had regarding sexual harassment. (http://www.slj.com/2018/01/industry-news/childrens-publishing-reckons-sexual-harassment-ranks/#_)

We as a nation and, really, as a culture, are wrestling with sexual harassment. It’s a discussion we should have been having all along, and it’s an uncomfortable one. The most necessary and most difficult conversations often are. But just because it’s messy and uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be having it.

Previous Posts:

MeToo: Teens, Libraries and Sexual Harassment

Things They Don’t Teach You in Library School: Sexual Harassment in Libraries

As a general rule of thumb, this is where I stand on the issues.

1. Believe the victims

As a survivor myself, I can assure that there is nothing to be gained by coming out as a victim. Even in the midst of the MeToo movement, victims are still shamed, ridiculed, questioned and reviled.

2. Practice the fine art of listening

This past week I have spent a lot of time reading and listening. Yes, even as a survivor myself, it’s still important to listen. Not everyone reacts the same way, not everyone feels the same way, not everyone thinks the same way.

3. Keep in mind that anyone can be a harasser and anyone can be a victim

Although it is true that women are victims far more often then men, and men are abusers far more often than woman, it is also true that anyone can be a victim/survivor and anyone can be a perpetrator. Sexual harassment happens regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, and religion. It happens regardless of where a person is, what they are wearing, or how much they have had to drink.

4. The abuser is always responsible for their behavior

When talking about sexual harassment and violence, it’s important to remember that ultimately, the abuser is always responsible for their actions, their choices. At some point, the abuser must make the decision to engage in the behavior. They and they alone are responsible for their choices.

5. Survivors don’t owe you their stories

If, how and when people choose to share their stories of harassment and abuse are totally up to the victims/survivors. We do not get to demand of them their stories. They have already been violated once, we do not need to violate them again by denying their personal autonomy and demanding that they answer our questions, share the details, etc. Even if their abuser goes on to abuse 100s of other people, they don’t owe anyone their stories and they are not responsible for any subsequent abuse. They get to process their trauma on their own terms and in their own time.

I also have seen some discussion about what this means for us as librarians who work with kids. And I think that it is a good question, one with which we will wrestle with for quite some time. I know that what I may choose to do personally or as a blogger is different than what I will chose to do as a professional librarian. I purchase and put in my collection every day books that I don’t agree with by people I don’t like because I am a public employee and as such I am not building a personal library, but a community one. To hold the title of public librarian comes with a lot of responsibility to a community that is larger than just me. I am bound by community standards, board adopted collection development policies, and the teens in which I have chosen to serve. So while someone may be named as a serial predator and I will personally chose to believe the victims, I will probably not be able to stop buying their titles for my library. It also means that if I have reason to suspect that my teens will not be safe in the presence of said author, I will chose to invite someone else to an event as a speaker.

As a librarian and a reader, I believe in the power of words. I believe that what we say and what we do matters and helps shape the world that we live in. I believe that every person deserves to walk through this world with a reasonable expectation of respect and safety. I am keeping all of this in mind as I listen to the conversations we are having and trying to figure out when, what and how to say something.

I also want to remind us all that teens today have access to these conversations that we are having. They are connected in ways that previous generations never were. They are connected with authors, with the larger kid/yalit community, and with the news. They see and hear us talking about consent, sexual violence, and sexual harassment. They are listening. They are learning. Now, more than ever, what we say and how we say it matters. We are not just reckoning with our past, but we are helping to shape the future in terms of these issues. What is happening matters.

Everything I Thought I Knew About Furries is Wrong as I Learned from My Teens

I started to notice my teens’ interest in furries when one of my teens showed up to a downtown event wearing a panda suit she had bought online. She had scrimped and saved and was the very proud owner of this new suit that allowed her to walk around town looking like a panda character you might see at an amusement park.

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Then in October, right around Halloween, Wal-Mart and Target started selling full on furry heads.

And I noticed that my teens were talking a lot about the furry community.

I’m going to be honest here for a moment: Everything I thought I knew about furries I learned from an episode of CSI over ten years ago. The other day, I had a discussion with my teens about why this episode of television is so offensive. You see, in the episode, the furry community is shown as being all about sexual kink. The reality is, less than 20% of furries engage in sexual kink and there is, in fact, a large under the age of 18 furry community. The furry community is a safe haven for a lot of outsiders and does have a large population of LGBTQ youth, but it is also predominantly a creative community. In fact, part of the appeal is creating a character and telling their backstory. The identities that they create are called fursonas. As teens wrestle with their place in the world and try to figure out who they are, they find themselves drawn to this accepting community that is safe, welcoming, and creative.

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I have spent a lot of time recently asking my teens questions about what it means to be a furry and really trying to listen as they explained it to me. It’s very much about the magic of story and the ability to become someone else, in this case an anthropomorphic animal. Before you consider that weird, keep in mind that a lot of our favorite books, tv shows, cartoons and movies are all about anthropomorphic animals. Zooptopia, Mickey Mouse, Duck Tales . . . these are all stories where animals are given human characteristics and we have loved them for decades. One of my personal favorites is Winnie the Pooh. He’s a silly, willy nilly old bear that I love.

There are a couple of really popular furries on YouTube that all of my teens are watching, including Majira. There are furry conventions that have safe spaces and meet ups for teen furries. And there are online youth furry communities. Many of them make great attempts to keep their youth furries safe. In fact, that Austin teen furry page has a FAQ for parents.

Make no mistake, if you do research on furries you will also find a lot of anti-furry groups, particularly the parents of teens. And I think it’s important to read and do research on that point of view as well. I may be a teen services librarian, but I also work with parents and I have to be respectful of their points of view as well.

I have been doing a lot of reading and researching about the teen furry community and here are a couple of articles you may want to read:

What’s the Deal with “Furries?” | Psychology Today

How the Furry Community Became a Safe Space for Youth – VICE

If, like me, you are learning that your teens are into the furry community, I recommend doing a lot of research and really just sitting down and listening as they tell you who they are and why they like being a part of this community. It’s really just another type of fandom or con community. As someone who greets every stranger I see wearing a Tardis t-shirt with the you are my people exclamation, I can begin to understand what this draw to community means to my teens. And whatever your personal point of view may be, we still have to be respectful of the teens we serve. Also, let this be a reminder to us all, a television show is not a good source of information about any community.

Teen Politic: The True Politics of Being a Teen Services Librarian in Our Public Libraries

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolTeens, as a culture, are pretty maligned and misunderstood. They’re loud, they’re lazy, they’re disrespectful, they’re dangerous – pick your stereotype. They like to travel in rabid packs, that’s my favorite. I believe lots of adults sit around and visualize teens as actual packs of wolves in their minds.

Teens get a bad rap. In the media, in community planning, and yes – in our libraries. I am a teen services librarian. I have been for 24 years. And I love public libraries, hands down. But I’m not going to lie, there is a lot of politics in being a teen services librarian in part because we are always fighting against stereotypes and a general dislike of teenagers. Yes, even in our libraries.

A group of teens can come in after school talking, and it feeds into the rabid pack of roving disrespectful teens mythos. They can be standing right next to a group of mothers with loud toddlers who have just run into each other at the same entrance, one is leaving just as the other is walking out and they then proceed to have a loud “oh hey how are you” reunion right there in the doorway. But only one of them will be called out for it, because the actions are only reinforcing one type of stereotype. That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

Kids throw themselves on the ground and have tantrums, adults fume and threaten and yell at the circulation desk over ten cent fines, but one rude teenager continues to reinforce the firmly held belief that all teenagers are rude. It’s that one rude teenager that staff will often fume about behind closed doors (and it must be behind closed doors, never in a public space). That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

Being a teen services librarian is a constant struggle against harmful stereotypes, the personal prejudices of your coworkers, and a fight to get support and funding when, if we’re being honest, a lot of coworkers want you to fail because they don’t like having teenagers in the library. It breaks my heart, but it’s true. That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

When we talk about advocating for teens, what we often mean is that we have to advocate for teens inside the very public institutions which are supposed to serve them. We have to continue to put teen behavior in perspective, to highlight the positive, to cheerlead, to pep talk, and to re-form those damaging stereotypes. That’s part of the politics we have to deal with and navigate.

It often feels like our successes have to be bigger, our numbers have to be higher, and our teens have to be angels in order to justify the existence of teen services. Teens and teen services often seems like it is viewed through some type of skewed lens, in part because I believe that it is. 24 years, 4 library systems and 2 states have taught me that the hurdles are higher, the support is harder to gain and retain, and often our biggest enemies are not politicians or parents, but our very own co-workers.

So, what do we do? As we do in all jobs, we play politics. But what, exactly, does that mean in the library world? We have to be advocates, not just for public libraries, but for teens and teen services within our public libraries. And here are some of my tips for doing that.

1. Keep good facts and figures. At all times.

Be prepared to answer questions at the drop of a hat. I like to do a yearly infographic to help create a visual of what we did the previous year in youth services. Even if no one asks you for this, do it anyway so you have the information and can make it appear when someone questions teen services or when asking for increased funding. I kept separate YA circulation statistics for years in one position even though the library system I worked for didn’t. This information really helped when we got a new library director who was not very teen services oriented and helped me to get the support I needed from a director who was not predisposed to giving that support.

I even like to do a TLT Infographic to help us know how we're doing

I even like to do a TLT Infographic to help us know how we’re doing

Some of the statistics I recommend are: YA book circulation figures, YA program attendance, YA visits (if you have a way to measure this, we measure teen visits to our Teen MakerSpace), total spent on YA services, money spent on YA services broken down by category, money spent on YA services averaged to a per capita amount (so even if it’s a high total number, saying you spent $1.22 per teen visit helps it seem less daunting), and percentages of overall totals (What percentage of overall circ is YA circulation? What percentage of the overall budget is spent on YA services?).

If you can, find comparable numbers of other departments and other libraries. Numbers in themselves can be easily judged, but comparing them to other departments or libraries can help put them in perspective. Network with other area teen services librarians and share data to help tell your story and put it into perspective.

2. Share success stories

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And here I’m not talking about those facts and figures, but the personal stories we all have in our pockets about that one teen who said we made a difference, the one teen who we helped raise, the one parent who came in and told us what a difference the library made in the lives of their teenager. Everyone loves a good success story, and we’re full of them. If you don’t have success stories to share, then you are doing something wrong and should re-evaluate the what, why and how of what you’re doing.

3. Know key facts about adolescent development

Serving Teens in Libraries Infographic

When a staff member claims about behavior, help them put it in perspective. The teen brain is literally different then an adult brain, know how and why and be able to talk about it. We can talk about toddlers throwing temper tantrums because they lack freedom and choice over their lives and the communication skills to express themselves fully, and we should be able to do the same for teens. Understanding the why of teen behavior can often help us accept and deal with it.

4. Speaking of perspective, help staff maintain a positive one

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If I have 24 teens that come into my Teen Makerspace on a Monday and 1 teen gives staff attitude, I remind them that 23 teens did not. It is human nature to hold on to and emphasize the negative, but we can help remold the way we view our patron experiences, even the teen ones. Be their cheerleader. If you can’t be their cheerleader, you’re in the wrong job.

5. Share what other libraries are doing

Again, this is about perspective. The truth is, people compare libraries and library services in the same way that we talk about Target vs. Wal-Mart or Amazon vs. Barnes and Noble. Help put your teen services in perspective for co-workers and admin by talking about surrounding and comparable libraries, the reactions to those services, and the positive impact on local communities. This is where networking and being up to date is really important. Don’t work in isolation, spend part of your time each week reading about other libraries. It will inspire you, and it will also help you help your admin and co-workers keep what you’re doing in perspective.

6. Be intentional in what you do as a teen services librarian and be able and willing to talk about it in professional terms

Tada: The Stupendously Amazing TEEN MAKERSPACE MANUAL

Tada: The Stupendously Amazing TEEN MAKERSPACE MANUAL

Have measurable goals and talk about the impact of your services and programs on teens, on the library, and on the local community. Don’t do a program just to do a program and check it off of your to do list, do a specific program and be able to talk about why you did THAT program. Be able to answer the questions why? how? how much? and what did you accomplish? Talk about impact.

7. Have a strategic plan and a budget

Again, this goes back to intentionality, but having a plan and being able to talk about your plan is vitally important. Be able to talk about what you’ve done, what you are doing, and what you are looking to do in the future. How, what, why, when and how much are great questions to keep in mind and be able to answer. If your admin don’t ask, tell them occasionally any way.

8. Be a team player, but thoughtfully

At the end of the day, we all work for the library and are working towards a lot of the same goals, so being a team player is important. Support your colleagues as you ask them to support you. However, I have been in situations where I kept getting pulled into other departments, in part because the work of teen services isn’t seen as valuable, and it can be hard to know when to draw the line. But sometimes you have to remind admin that if you keep getting pulled into other departments and projects, then knowing is doing the important work of teen services. Finding balance is hard, but stand up for your teens by insisting that they deserve qualified, dedicated services.

9. Don’t donate your time or money

I know this seems weird to say as someone who is saying we must advocate for teens, but donating your own time or money is harmful in the long term. Remember up above where we talked about having good facts and figures? Donating our time or money skews those facts and figures and harms teen services in the long run. Administrators making budgets and determining staffing levels need to know how much teen services actually requires to be successful, so don’t skew those numbers by donating your time or money. If you leave and a new person is hired, you are setting them up for failure because they will be expected to do the same with what you had not realizing that a lot of it came out of your own pocket and on your own time. Just don’t do it, be the opposite of Nike in this one instance.

10. Take pictures

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People respond to visual images, so make sure you have images to share. Do an annual report and include positive pictures of teens using the library, attending programs, making art and more. Do a highlights reel, share memos after big programs or dramatic changes, and yes, even take pictures of teens just reading that graphic novel quietly over in the corner. A picture really is worth a 1,000 words. The pictures don’t even have to be public or have names attached to them, sometimes you just need a visual to share with admin or the library board. Be sure to follow whatever your library’s policies are regarding pictures, but take and use them to help tell your story.

In truth, you’re not just doing this for your admin and you’re coworkers, you’re doing it for you. Sometimes the politics of being a teen librarian can be overwhelming and discouraging, so use this information to not just advocate but to motivate. Keep yourself fueled for the fight. You’re doing great, keep going.

What other tips do you have? Please share them with me in the comments. And keep advocating.

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Menstruation is a Biological Function and the De-stigmatizing of the Female Body

thingsineverlearnedinlibraryschoolOn Monday night I sat at a table with other moms and one single dad while our 9 and 10 -year-old daughters attended a Girl Scout meeting in another room.

“When do you start telling your child about her period?”, one mother asked.

“25% of girls now start their period when they are nine,” I pointed out. “So now, now is when we start telling our daughters about their periods.”

This isn’t a problem in my house, because I am the mother to a teenage daughter and we are not squeamish about periods. Even her dad will talk about her period with her. Not in an I understand what you’re going through way, because he doesn’t, but in a this is a part of who you are and it doesn’t bother me at all way, because there is no reason for it to. She will lament when she is on her period. She will discuss her feelings about having a period. She will ask for love and support and, yes, ice cream and chocolate, when she is on her period. And her father has gotten up and gone to the store and gotten her chocolate or pads because he’s a good dad. He’s a weird dad, but he’s also a really good dad.

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The thing is, society is horrible about the way we talk about and deal with the female body. We can laugh and joke about male erections and wet dreams and take male masturbation as a basic fact of life, but girls are supposed to hide their period supplies in secret containers and walk with their head held down to the bathroom in the middle of the school day.

As the mothers all sat around and talked about their periods, the single father to a daughter squirmed like he was caught in some type of trap. I felt for his daughter because I had a dad like this. He couldn’t look me in the eye and ask me when he went to the grocery store if I was going to need any feminine hygiene products. I remember having to walk to the local corner store once after scrounging around in the couch cushions to find enough money for a small supply when my period came one day in the 8th grade and I had run out of product at home. My dad, a single dad, would always ask me if I needed any “stuff” in the most awkward way possible.

Once every few months someone will ask on Twitter why the girls in YA never have their periods, and this is a really good question. A couple of weeks ago when someone asked, I retweeted the question with a “yes, let’s talk about this more to de-stigmatize it” and was met with some push back. Periods, someone pointed out, are boring. So is driving a car, walking down the hallway, doing homework, eating dinner, and yet another a boy woke up with some morning wood scenes, but they all appear in YA literature. However, we can read entire books about girls and never once do they lament that it is their time of the month. Girls can be stranded in an arena (the Hunger Games), stranded in the past (Historical fiction), or even just spend day after day in high school, and never once do they mention their period or wonder how they are going to find the products they need.

There are exceptions, though. Thank goodness there are always exceptions. Though in the case of periods, they are few and far between.

Period Fantasy: On Mentions of Menstruation in YA – Book Riot

No Not the One in Sentences, Talking About a Different Kind of Period – TLT

7 Amazing YA Books About Periods That You Have To Read | Gurl.com

Once Upon a Bookcase: The Lack of Periods in Fantasy Novels

PERIODS in YA – Queen of Contemporary

Why Menstruation in Young Adult Texts Matters. | canyafiction

It’s That Time of the Month — @lizb A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

Are you there, YA readers? It’s me, your period. – Stories are Good

Things Never Mentioned in YA Books – Book Bratz

One of the biggest examples, and most classic, is Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. This book was invaluable to me when I was in middle school. It talked to me about this thing when no one else would. I remember all of my friends reading it and being anxious about starting their periods.

areyoutheregod

Of course the female body is about more then just periods and menstruation. Over at Book Riot, Elena K. Arnold shares the story of an encounter she had with an older male at a recent book event. In it, she reads a snippet about a pap smear and the man asks why he should read about that. The why is simple, the human body is not a shameful thing and things happen to it. Woman have pelvic exams and pap smears. It’s just a thing that happens. Men have prostate exams, I know because I have read about them in fiction and in papers and talked with the men I love about them. It has to go both ways, men should know about women, their lives and their bodies, in the same way that women are expected to know about men, their lives and their bodies.

This week our healthcare is once again under attack. I won’t get into the specifics or the politics of it except to say this: time and time again recent healthcare plans want to almost criminalize the female body. Women, legislators proclaim, can be charged higher healthcare costs because of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be considered a pre-existing condition. Maternity care and even new born care is being put out the curb with the rest of the trash, in part because we are taught and been taught for generations that there is something icky and gross and sexual and less than about the female body. And this is where that dangerous rhetoric has left us.

The other day a teenager was telling me about a gross discharge she was having. I asked her if it looked like cottage cheese and she said yes. Don’t worry, I said, you have a yeast infection. Go home and tell a parent and there are some really easy things you can do to take care of it. She had no idea that a yeast infection was possible. No one told her because we don’t talk about the female body. Well, we do, but only in really objectifying and sexual ways. We’ll rate them. We’ll catcall them. We’ll talk trash if they don’t meet our standards. But in the meantime, girls are suffering from yeast infections and shame because we can’t even be bothered to mention the basics of what it means to have a vagina in a book about people that have vaginas.

Maybe that should change.

Check out the hasthag #YAHonest on Twitter for recs of YA lit that deals honestly with menstruation