Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: “There is no plan.”

On December 14th of last year, I sat in my library’s meeting room for a scheduled staff inservice on safety and security.  The police officer held a question/answer session, fielding library staff questions one by one.  The answer was almost always, “Call the police.  We’re the experts.  Let us decide.  Keep yourself safe.  Don’t worry if it’s a false alarm. Call the police.”

I work in a small town.  It’s very nice.  Quaint.  People frequently ride their bikes to the library, which is near the heart of town, and leave them unlocked outside, propped against the book drop.  It’s the kind of place that feels very safe.

On the other side of the country, in another quaint town that felt very safe, while we sat in the meeting room eating coffee cake from the local bakery, listening to the officer answer our questions, and looking forward to an early end of the day, Sandy Hook Elementary School was making national news in the worst possible way.

In the time since the Newtown, CT school shooting, I’ve been a part of a committee creating security plans and procedures for my library, and this past Friday, we all met back in that same meeting room again, this time to introduce the new security plan, and to be a part of an active shooter drill conducted by the local police department.

The procedure we were advised to use in the case of an active shooter is very brief.  It doesn’t include many specifics.  The main message is to make your best judgement and keep yourself as safe as you can, whether by hiding or escaping, notifying others if you can, but keeping yourself safe above all else.

The officer who ran the drill gave us one instruction:
This will feel very real.  Do what you would do if this were real.

Of course the questions followed.
“Should we sound an alarm?”
“Do we make an announcement on the intercom?”
“What if we can’t hear it happening?”
“What if we were with children, or in a program with teens?”  
“What if I’m near the exit but there are kids closer to where the shooter is?”

He repeated, “Do what you would do if this were real.”

I won’t lie.  It was terrifying.  It’s not that I felt that my safety was at risk – I understood intellectually that the shots fired were not harmful and that though they were loud, I wouldn’t be hurt.  But the mere fact that we were drilling for this left my stomach churning and my heart racing.  A situation as unimaginable yet as increasingly common as this has another layer of emotion for those of us who work with young people.

Who among us wouldn’t be torn about how best to evacuate or notify the teens in our building?  What is the difference between our motivations, roles, and responsibilities as individuals with hopes and dreams and loved ones of our own, as youth-serving professionals, and as good humans?

It’s heart wrenching and sobering to contemplate.  We are people hoping teens will come to us.  We hope we can earn and then keep their trust.  We craft our collections, programs, and spaces to make them feel comforted and welcome.  We care about them.  So when the answer to our questions was, “You’ll need to decide.  Do what you would do if this were real,” and the officer reminded us that we are all college educated adults and need to use our best judgement when faced with difficult decisions about life and death, escape and refuge, safety and heroism, it was hard to hear.

I wanted a rule, a procedure, a plan.  But there is no plan.  There is only a situation and our best judgement.  Unlike the officer’s reminder in December, that they are the experts, that we need not decide how best to deal with a potentially volatile situation, once the situation has flipped and the situation is volatile, it is up to each of us to act, using our own best judgement.

We can know where all of the exits and safest rooms are.  We can tuck hammers and fire ladders near high windows.  We can put panic buttons in easy to reach places.  But we can’t make our libraries 100% secure.  As the officer sagely pointed out, that’s not a place of learning and engagement; that’s a jail.

Before we adjourned for the day, a coworker with a son in middle school spoke up.  She pointed out that while we all are concerned with keeping children and teens safe, and those of us who work with them specifically may feel an additional layer of professional responsibility to do so, teens and children are being equipped with their own set of survival skills.  Unlike most of us adults who drilled in school for fire and weather emergencies, today’s youth are also drilling for the devastating possibility of a shooter.  And just as we carry the lessons of our early drills with us everywhere, “duck and cover” “stop, drop, and roll” “stay low and go,” so will today’s youth carry the tools of our modern situation with them.

We hope they never need to use those tools.  We hope we never need to make these life and death decisions.

How does your role as a youth services professional change your perspective on emergency response?  Does your library have an emergency response plan?


Bibliotherapy: What if we read more? (guest post by Amianne Bailey)

Because this is one of the best posts ever about aliteracy, and by an amazing friend of mine, we are re-running it today for Reluctant Readers week
This post originally appeared on TLT on December 20, 2012

“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” –From Wonder by RJ Palacio

I spent Friday, December 14, 2012, with all 757 students of my school in our first annual Polar Express day in the library. This is what I posted as my Facebook status after hearing the gut-wrenching news of the Connecticutshootings:

In light of the horrific events in CT today, I am reluctant to share this post. But I want you all to know that in an elementary school in Mesquite, TX, there was JOY today. We had 38 classes listen to The Polar Express and served 807 cups of hot chocolate. Smiles, joy, and gratitude swirled around my heart today, and I don’t feel guilty for these blessings. My fellow educators & parents, we must continue to teach and love our children with passion & joy & energy. When we live in fear, evil wins. Don’t let evil win.

One of my best days as an educator is juxtaposed with one of the worst days in our nation’s recent history. That incongruity does not go unnoticed.  

As an elementary school librarian, I cannot wrap my brain around this inexplicable tragedy. As a mother, I cannot fathom the grief and loss of these parents. Like so many of us, I feel powerless. I just want to DO something for our hurting world. In the face of horrific tragedies, I try not to ask “why?”  I don’t think we are capable of truly understanding such an evil act. Instead, I try to ask “HOW?” How can I be a better person in my little corner of the universe? How can I make a difference in someone’s life? How can I be a light in the darkness?

Amianne Bailey is a School Librarian
This is her Red Reading Chair

While countless people take to Twitter and fire off on Facebook, admonishing our country’s gun laws, mental health system, and absence of God in our public schools as reasons for the horrific shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I cringe. I cringe at our knee-jerk quickness to cast blame. I shudder at our self-righteous reaction to always look for a reason. Why can’t we mourn the loss of so many innocent lives and reach out to one another with love? Why can’t we step into the shoes of these grieving, hurting families and understand that they do not need reasons right now; they need our prayers; they need our compassion; they need our support.

The events of 2012 made me keenly aware of our society’s lack of compassion. From the Chic-Fil-A debacle to the embittered election, it seems that everyone wants to scream their opinion without giving much thought to how it will fall on the hearts of others. And it hasn’t even been ONE WEEK since the horrific killings in Connecticut, and people are already blasting theories and accusations via social media. The great irony is that in a world more connected than ever through the power of technology, we are truly disconnected from the hearts of humanity.

As a librarian, I can’t help but wonder–if we were a nation of readers, would our actions and our reactions be a bit kinder—a bit gentler?  Rather than condemn would we comfort? Rather than hurl opinions would we try to heal the hurt? Rather than spew hatred would we extend a hand in hope?

Honestly, my book-loving mind can’t help but connect our society’s lack of empathy to the fact that we are an alliterate nation. So many people can read, but they simply choose not to. Before you blow me off as some smug librarian, let me state my case. Like any librarian worth her weight in books, I have evidence to support my opinion.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons

Not Illiteracy, but Aliteracy
I recently read several articles that cite studies to support that “reading fiction improves understanding of others,” (The Guardian). An article in Forbes also points to a study that shows “reading fiction actually increases people’s emotional intelligence: their accurate awareness of themselves and others, and their ability to create positive relationships with others based on managing their own reactions” (Forbes). In “The Importance of Reading for All of Us”, Anna Leahy states, “When we read about fictional characters, we become better at understanding real people and real situations” (HuffPost). So reading not only benefits our brains, it is also good for our hearts.
aliteracy – when a person has the skills necessary for reading, but chooses not to

Over the years, I have read the works of JimTrelease, Kelly Gallagher, and Stephen Layne concerning the problem of aliteracy in our nation, and I can’t help but wonder if our lack of empathy is tied to our lack of a reading habit?

“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

Some of you might view this as hypocritical because I am just another voice entering the fray. I am not trying to blame our lack of reading culture for this senseless act. I am not naïve enough to suggest that reading more books would have prevented this tragedy from happening. I am not searching for a reason; I am offering an important observation–reading fiction makes us more aware and sensitive to the feelings of others. And I think we can all agree that our world needs kinder, more compassionate people in it. Even though it might sound trite, I think reading fiction can help us become a more empathetic, caring nation– to see past ourselves and into the hearts of others.

“Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”
Joyce Carol Oates

With the new year approaching, let’s all make a pledge to turn off our computers and tvs and read more fiction. What can that hurt? I am a firm believer that there is a book out there for every person. If you dislike reading, it’s because you haven’t found the right book. And as a self-proclaimed book-pusher, I want to make a recommendation—Wonder by RJ Palacio. It’s truly a book for every age and gender, and it would be PERFECT to read aloud to your children at bedtime. (The importance of the bedtime reading ritual is another post for another day.) This book can teach us all so much about what it truly means to consider things from someone else’s point of view; what it means to “be kinder than necessary.”

Yes, I am suggesting that books can change us. Why do you think Hitler burned books? Why do you think the Taliban fought to the death to prevent books from falling into the hands of the citizens of Afghanistan? It’s because books have the power to soften hearts, to open minds, to silence judgment. They have the power to increase empathy for our fellow human beings. And I think that our world could use more softened hearts and open minds and less judgment and blame.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Mortimer Jerome Adler

Here we are, a nation that enjoys the freedom to read and has access to books in every city, yet so many choose not to take advantage of this life-changing gift. That’s another irony that I can’t ignore.

As a life-long reader, I turn to books for escape. I turn to books for comfort. I turn to books to connect with the human race. If there ever was a time for Americans to turn to books, it is now.
“We read to know that we are not alone.”
Amianne suggests Wonder as a good place to start reading and working on developing empathy.  What other titles would you recommend? Leave us a note in the comments.
Read more from Amianne Bailey:
You can also read my thoughts on last week’s events and mental health:
Read YA author Sean Beaudoin’s post about Newtown at Salon.com:
Also, please read these amazong posts from YA author Robison Wells who talks about his struggles with mental health issues:
While I don’t think there is any immediate answer to the problem, and no one single cause, I like Amianne’s answer . . . let’s read more.  Let’s step into the shoes of another person through the pages of a book and learn to open our hearts.  Let’s choose kindness.