Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

A Night of Firsts

Last night I was invited by Dr. Joni Bodart to speak to her MLS students.  Since she teaches on the West Coast (I miss you place where I grew up), I had to drop in via my computer.  It was a night of firsts for me.

The first thing you should know is that it was such an honor to be asked by Dr. Bodart.  She is a giant in the field, and has always been a huge inspiration.  I did my final MLS project on Booktalking.  As you know, she has written a variety of booktalking books – which I referred to in my research.  So, being asked by her, yeah pretty cool.

Outside of a few conference speaking engagements, it was the first time I had ever talked to MLS students.  It turns out, I have a lot to say.  I spoke about the need for advocacy at all levels.  If you work with teens, you know that often you have to advocate for teen services right there in your own building.  You’re fighting for funds, staffing, space.  That’s not always true of course, thankfully many libraries have understood and embraced the need for teen services.  But even those that do, they often weren’t originally set up for it in terms of space and teens need a space – a space for ya books, to get together in the library.  So yeah, I did talk about advocacy.  Some of my favorite pieces that I have ever written is about advocating in the library and the way that you can put the building blocks into place to get staff interacting with teens in positive ways.  Here are a couple of those pieces:

What does customer services to teens look like?
Marketing teen services to non teen services staff (advocacy)
The “Be”-Attitudes of communicating with staff (advocacy)
This is my favorite advocacy piece: Libraries are the beating heart (of our communities)

It was also a technology first for me.  As you know, a few weeks ago we had a Google Hangout session with the fabulous author A. S. King and our contest winner Bryson McCrone (more on this next week actually).  One of the things I mentioned in my discussion last night was the need for teen librarians to stay up to date on technology, so it was fitting that I learned a new tech tool while doing it – Blackboard Collaborate.  I get bonus points for two new types of tech in one month, right?  Blackboard Collaborate was really kind of awesome, but simple to use.  Because tech can be tricky – and quite fickle – this was the part I was most worried about.  Thankfully, all the tech cooperated and, once I figured out how to use it, it went pretty smoothly.  When using Blackboard Collaborate there is a chat window on the lower left hand screen that makes the experience interactive.  I am not going to lie, I found that little chat window both awesome and distracting; I liked the way it made the experience interactive, but since I appear to be easily distracted it pulled me away from my thoughts a few times.  I am sure it is easier to incorporate with more experience.

After I spoke I was invited to stay and listen as Teen Librarian JoAnn Rees from Sunnyvale Public Library presented a talk on graphic novels and manga.  You’ve heard me say it before, but gns/manga are my Achilles heel as a teen services librarian.  I did what any smart person would do – I stayed.  JoAnn gave an amazing talk on graphic novels and it was interesting to hear how passionate and knowledgeable she was about the format.  I’ll have to e-mail her and ask her if it is okay to share the Top 10 lists that she shared with the class with you.

So this is the part of the post where I pretend that you asked me, “So what did you talk about Karen?” Well, I’m glad you asked, even if it was only in my head.  Joni asked me to talk about why I was a librarian, things I thought you needed to work with teens, and some of the things they don’t teach you are library school.

Why am I a YA Librarian? Because I think it is meaningful work that I am called to do.

What do you need to be a successful YA Librarian?

We had a really good discussion about boundaries and protecting yourself from what I called “Elmo accusations”.  Some librarians have a different point of view, but as much as I love my teens (and I genuinely do), I don’t friend them with my personal FB account, I don’t text them via my personal phone, and I don’t email them via my personal email address.  When we communicate I do so via library channels.  That doesn’t mean we don’t have meaningful conversations, because we often do.  But you hear in the news way to often of boundaries being crossed and accusations being made with adults and teens and I want to protect myself – and the integrity of my library and all the hard work I have done – by making sure that there are appropriate boundaries in place.

But what about those things they don’t teach you in library school?  If you read here often you know that is an ongoing discussions Christie, Heather, Stephanie and I have.  There are some things you can teach, like creativity.  But I think you can develop creativity.  Other things I think we need to spend more time talking about is the day to day situations that we are facing: dealing with staff (many of whom may not share your passion for libraries or teens), dealing with the real life situations of your teens, and working with community leaders (and members of your community) where you have to speak in a language that is different than library speak.  Nonlibrarians don’t really speak in library speak.  I’ll get back to this point in a minute.

Our teens are at the heart of what we do.  It is them that we are serving, mentoring and nurturing.  Yes, nurturing.  To work with teens, you really do need to 1) care about them, 2) understand them (keep reading on adolescent development, and 3) spend some time in their world (cruise teen oriented pop culture sites, watch some of the shows they watch, find out what music they are listening to).  Businesses that succeed do so because they spend a lot of time researching their target audience and meeting their needs.  Librarians must do the same.
Things I Never Learned in Library School part 1, part 2
So, back to the dangling point I made earlier about communicating with your communities.  Let’s talk the 40 Developmental Assets.
The 40 Developmental Assets are an important tool because they help us plan and evaluate what we are doing in our youth services departments.  When planning programs and services, I know that if they help a teen meet a developmental asset than it has value.  Likewise, when communicating the value of my teen services it serves the same purpose. 
Let’s examine a standard marketing practice, shall we?  The yearly director’s report.
I can put out a report that says items in my teen collection circulated 5, 142 times and this is what the members and my community think: Compared to what?  I don’t know, is that good or bad?  What does that mean?
Or, I can say: Through a variety of programs and services the Karen Jensen Public Library helped teens in the Karen Jensen Community reach 27 of the 40 developmental assets including providing them with opportunities to have leadership roles and giving teens a voice through our teen advisory board, providing teens with opportunities to serve their community through our teen volunteer program, and supporting a teen’s commitment to learning by providing quality library collections, opportunities to engage in literature based programming and discussions, and homework support materials.
By using the 40 Developmental Assets as a planning, evaluation and communication tool, you help underline the value of libraries in your community.  See also, Asset Builders Coalition support materials.
So there you have it, my first experience as a “teacher” to library school students – but with a lot less “ums”.  Maybe one day after I get those “ums” under control I can be a teacher, it was pretty cool.


  1. What a great presentation! I hope you can continue giving it to more students. I don't think you mentioned this, but were the students you talked to in a YA services-based class or just some sort of general ed or foundations course? I like to think that a presentation like yours would be really great as part of an introduction to library school in general (coupled with similar presentations on what makes archives cool, what makes reference cool, etc, to introduce people to the variety of types of librarianship).

  2. It was a presentation to a YA services class. But thanks for the vote! That would be a great series. We should put it together.

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