Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

20 Questions: Teen Librarian 101 part 1 with Stephanie Wilkes

Today we introduce you to a new TLT member and a new feature: 20 Questions.  I am so excited to introudce you to Stephanie Wilkes, the Young Adult Coordinator for the Ouachita Parish Public Library in Monroe, Louisiana.  She is also working on putting together the North Louisiana Teen Book Festival in April of 2013.  2012 Printz Award Winner John Corey Whaley is set to be the Keynote Speaker.  You can read her complete bio on the Meet TLT page.  On today’s 20 questions Stephanie and I each answer 10 questions about our experiences as a Teen Serivces Librarian.

Part 1: In which Karen interviews Stephanie

Why teen services? How, and when, did you know you wanted to be a teen librarian?
When I was working in my first library job, my boss handed me Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan. I was raised in a small Southern town and homosexuality was NOT discussed in my town. So, when I read this book, I read it with eyes wide open and an open mind. And I found that my world was so much bigger than what I had ever known and immediately began to wonder what else I had been shielded from. Two days later, as if by fate, a boy came into my office who served on my Teen Advisory Board, shut the door, and said, “Miss Stephanie, can you give me a book about…a boy that likes a boy? I think I like boys”. Never would I have been able to do that, in fact, I may have even have talked him out of it, had I not read Levithan’s book. So, I handed him Boy Meets Boy and it was right then that I realized that I wanted to connect teens with books and the right book. It was also then that I realized how imperative it was to enhance a teen’s world view by letting them read about far off places, about issues that they may not be familiar with, and about life in general so that they can find themselves and find a connection through literature. I still remember my teen as well and he is happily with his partner of 3 years and they live in Atlanta and we talk often. 🙂
What do you wish that your teens knew about you or what you do?
I wish my teens understood how much I care about them. Like seriously care about what is going on in their lives. Most of them talk with me and I talk to them but I go home and pray for them and I think about their drama throughout the day and I carry a piece of them with me wherever I go. I wish they knew how much they influence and inspire me to come to work each day and to be there for them. They really are amazing.
What do you wish that administrators better understood about teens or teen services?
I wish that administrators understood that you cannot just place someone into a teen position without them having an extreme love for teens. If you don’t like them or the books published for them, then you need to work somewhere else. Teen Services in a public library is special because we are not bound by the rules that school teachers and school librarians are and we can openly discuss things with these teens. That is a big plus for me because I can talk with them about real problems and give them real opinions and sometimes advice but you have to have the right person in the job. The wrong person can ruin your entire teen department and run it into the ground if they can’t make that connection.
What has been your most glorious moment so far as a teen services librarian?
Hm, I have two. My second year working in teen services and before I became an actual librarian I had a 200% increase in attendance for our summer reading program. That was when I knew I was doing something right. And I was only 20…so it was a glorious moment to pack a room at the end of the summer party and know that it was because of my hard work that kept these teens attending programs and interested in the library. Self-fulfilling but awesome.

Also, what I think many authors fail to realize, is that as a teen services librarian, when we find a book that we believe in, down to our core being, we feel as if we are part of that book. Obviously no where near as important as the author, after all they wrote it, but by putting the book in people’s hands and watching people connect with the books that we are passionate about. Recently, I had the honor of witnessing a friend win a very prestigious award for a book that I had been actively promoting throughout the library world before it was even published. I was one of the (many) librarians who nominated the book for the award. And, when I found out that the book won…it was a purely amazing moment to share that with someone who was a friend and with a book that I loved so much it felt like a friend. Kind of weird to explain. But seeing and sharing in that was an amazing moment for me.  

If you and I were trying to survive in the zombie apocalypse and running for our lives, we would have to pack and travel light so which 1 teen fiction book would you keep with you?
Seriously? Just one? First, being the librarian that I am, my thought is to pick a book that would be something I would want to share with the world if all the books disappeared…HA! Secondly, I would want to pick a book that I just could read over and over again. I think that book would be The Perks of Being a Wallflower with Looking for Alaska running in a very, very close second place. (Karen loves both of these books as well).
What are your future goals as a teen librarian?
My future goals…loaded question again. My dream is to have a library branch devoted primarily to teen services and college/job prep skills. I want a library that teens feel free to hang out, drink a coke, and talk about life. A library where they can learn how to use Photoshop and play guitar, destroy the high scores on popular video games, and feel as if they are not in the way. I also want this library to help ready the college-bound students for college and for those who aren’t college-bound, because let’s face it…college is not for everyone, to connect with area businesses and trades and learn more about how to train and proceed into the job force.  
You are currently involved in planning a teen book festival in Louisiana. What made you decide to take on this project?
After I attended the AMAZING Austin Teen Book Festival, I wanted my teens in North Louisiana to have that same type of experience. North Louisiana is 4 hours from New Orleans, 3.5 hours from Baton Rouge, and at least 4 hours from Dallas and Jackson. These are tour stops for authors. My teens do not have the same experience to meet authors and connect with them. So, I wanted to bring the book festival experience back to Louisiana, especially North Louisiana, and to put us on the map to the publishers when they are looking for places to send authors. (Shameless self promotion here: Visit us on the web at www.northlouisianateenbookfestival.com, follow us on Twitter @nlouisianatbf, and search for us on Facebook.)
What did you read when you were a teen? 
I was a voracious reader when I was a tween, so I had already devoured all of the Fear Street and Christopher Pike books, which was what was available for me in the ‘teen’ section. So, when I was a teen I read John Grisham. He was my all time favorite author and I still own every book he has ever written. I also liked biographies and memoirs of people in the entertainment industry.

If you were to write a teen fiction title of your own, what genre would it be? Tell us what it would be about.

It would be contemporary and a coming-of-age novel written through a young adult’s perspective looking back at the high school years and how it developed the character. I envision it would be small vignettes, or snapshots, of memories about high school from freshman year forward that would give a glimpse into my MC’s life and how she adjusted, what she would change (if anything), and how it made her who she was today.

If you could go back in time and visit your teenage self, what would you tell you?

I was an overachiever in my teenage years and I missed out on a lot of things. I would have told myself to not take life so seriously. To relax, live a little, and carpe diem…something that I didn’t learn until much later in life. That you don’t want boys to pay attention to you because of your looks but because of your brain, even though you may be lonely sometimes. That you will never see at least 80% of your high school graduating class and that your ‘friends’ aren’t really that awesome, just keep a few near and dear. ALWAYS go with your gut…if you have that ‘umm…idk’ feeling, it’s probably right. And that the tattoo on the lower back, while pretty, wasn’t the best of ideas. Especially the smiley face in the center.

Be sure to check out Part 2: In which Stephanie interviews Karen.  Also, want to have some fun with us?  Leave your answers to any or all of the questions in the comments.

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