Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

RevolTeens: They’ve Never Needed Librarians and Libraries More… By Teen Librarian Christine Lively

If the last 20 months had been written as a series in a book, I would have thrown it across the room in frustration. How can nobody be doing anything substantial to stop this plague? It would be too infuriating to believe.

Yet, here we are.

I don’t know what will happen this year, of course, but I do believe that teens have never needed librarians and libraries more. Whether you work in a public library or a school library, our jobs are essential, and we are on the front line of survival. This is the time when teens will need us to listen and support them as they make life and death decisions. We can and must help them survive and endure this uncertainty as well as they can. 

Teens don’t have full authority over their lives. If they are under eighteen, they cannot decide for themselves to get vaccinated, however, they can make decisions about going out, wearing masks, washing their hands, and caretaking for family members and friends. Many families are struggling daily with the decision to go back to school in person or online. Some teens are weighing the decision to go to college, or stay home and try to stay safe. The list goes on and the stakes are as high as they can be.

While none of us will be advising teen patrons directly, we can help them to research the most current and reliable information about COVID-19, to evaluate the information, and then to use that information to guide their decisions about how to live. They may be helping their families make informed decisions, and will need to know that they are acting with the best information available. That’s what we librarians must do as they navigate this pandemic.

We must also provide whatever support teens need. In the time before the pandemic, games, crafts, and other activities may have been popular, and they may still be with some teens. Others may need a quiet space to think and be away from home, or a story to help them escape from the stress of school and illness. They may also need to talk and unburden themselves. Having an unbiased and open minded person to listen to them is essential for so many teens. It can be the difference between thriving and struggling. I know that everyone reading this is passionate about supporting teens as they learn and navigate the world. We have to keep this effort going, no matter the obstacles that shutdowns and quarantines put in our way.

If we’re going to continue to support and listen to teens, we also must take care of ourselves. It’s so easy to get caught up in helping others and taking on their burdens that we wake up one day sobbing over a cereal box and wonder what happened. This pandemic does not seem to be going away, and we need to take care of ourselves so that we can endure with the teens we serve. Take some time to think about the things that have helped you get through these last 20 months. Make an effort to seek out the hobbies, meals, movies, loved ones, and pets that have buoyed you. Make that time a non-negotiable time to feel better, safe, and loved. Our national and international pandemic has borne personal grief and loss. If we forget to take care of ourselves, we risk not being able to help those who need us.

We are in uncharted territory every day, but that’s what we’re trained to do – chart new territory, and help teens to build the tools and skills to lead us into an uncertain future. We can give teens a space and a face to help them find their way through.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.

Sunday Reflections: Things I Don’t Know if I Can Forgive You For, Part II, a Lament for a Year in a Deadly Pandemic

A year ago, I was spending Spring Break in California with my Dad. I remember the rumblings starting, the idea that we were in a deadly pandemic. And I started to get worried about my Dad. About getting home before they shut everything down.

I sat outside eating ice cream with Thing 2 and my Dad. There is a local ice cream place that sells this ice cream that we’ve never found anywhere else. When we go visit my Dad it’s the only thing on her list of things we must do. It’s their tradition. She loves her grandpa and that ice cream. So we sat there, eating ice cream, and I had no idea what the world would be like.

On a Saturday morning we went to the Los Angeles air port and said goodbye to my dad. It was nearly empty. I wondered if it would be the last time that I would see him alive. I held him extra close and extra long as I said goodbye that morning. Later that night, the news would show that there was chaos at airports all around the world as people were trying desperately to get home before everything locked down for real. Two of those airports were LAX and DFW, places we were just hours ago. As I looked at those pictures I knew that so many of those people would get sick and that we had dodged our first bullet in this pandemic.

After we got back from spring break, school didn’t start up again. They extended spring break. Then they extended it again. And then we learned that Thing 2’s favorite teacher had died. Just a couple of weeks ago she had sat and learned at his feet, basking in the warmth of a good teacher who nourished her brain and her soul. And now he was dead.

School went virtual. It was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because Thing 2 has ADHD and it turns out that going outside and jumping on the trampoline after she completed every subject really helped her. A curse because she also has dyslexia, and it turns out she really really really needed her dyslexia intervention and it just didn’t work over virtual.

In early April, I grew incredibly tired. So exhausted. My body felt a weariness in my bones that I could not imagine. And I coughed. I coughed so much. I kept trying to tell myself it was only allergies. But even my husband looked at me and said, your allergies have never been this bad before. I was sick for over a month. Just bad allergies I kept telling myself.

Riley also got sick. She developed a weird rash on her body. She got really bad diahhrea. She slept more than even her, a champion sleeper, could possibly sleep. And then the news started talking about how kids her age were sick in different ways then the adults around them. They started talking about having Kawasaki Disease like symptoms and it terrified me because as a young child, Riley had actually had Kawasaki Disease. And we began to realize that Riley and I probably were sick with Covid.

By this time we were coming out of it and healing, so we never did get tested. We’ll never know for sure. It was early on and it was chaos.

We tried to fill the times by making the day to day fun. We did sidewalk chalk drawings for people passing by. We went on car rides to find teddy bears in windows. We made zines and mailed them to strangers. We dressed up for a fancy dinner in our backyard.

And we tried to be safe.

I posted on message boards trying to find toilet paper. I facetimed my parents and asked them to keep safe. And I sat in my house. We binge watched comfort TV. We developed new rituals. And we tried to help our children deal with the emotional toll of living in a deadly global pandemic. I never imagined that parenting would involve navigating a deadly global pandemic. There were no parenting handbooks for this.

I went to a local Black Lives Matter protest but made my kids stay home, both because of the virus and the potential for violence. We spent a lot of time navigating what it means to be privileged white and anti-racist in this world, in this country. We talked. We prayed. We tried to figure out what we could do to help make the world a better place while keeping ourselves and the people we loved safe from a deadly virus.

At the same time, the election started to grow near. Even my husband began to grow anxious. We had seen the then incumbent President Trump lie and lie again about the pandemic and we knew we needed real, compassionate, honest leadership to help navigate the country out of this deadly quagmire. And the rumblings of Civil War increased. As Christians, we saw people we had loved and had broken bread with refusing to wear a mask. Kids I had taught in Sunday school went to church and came home sick. Their parents died. And daily we grew anxious. And disappointed. We no longer recognized this world we lived in, or these people who we had studied the Bible with. We haven’t been inside a church in a year now, but we haven’t stopped praying.

Riley turned 18 and voted for the first time. What a profoundly stressful time to be a first time voter and trying to navigate American politics.

Every night the girls and I would join hands and pray.

There were glimmers of hope. Biden/Harris won. Our family was staying safe. But the political rhetoric was growing divsive. Scary. Deadly. Anyone who was paying attention to the politics knew that our political environment was kindling and any wrong word could be the match stick that ignited it. In my 48 years of life I have never been so afraid.

On Christmas Eve, I talked to my Dad who told me with a cautious tone that my stepmother had gone to bed sick. We all knew what it meant that this woman who loved her family and loved Christmas had been too sick to do Christmas. It was the moment that changed everything for my family.

By the end of December, 13 members of my family had Covid, including my Dad. My Dad had lived through pancreatic cancer, multiple surgeries, and more and now he had Covid. How many miracles did one person get I wondered quietly.

On December 31st, I entered the New Year with tears, anger and anxiety.

On January 6th, I emailed Thing 2’s teacher and told her she would not be coming to school that day – they do a type of hybrid learning – in case the 2nd Civil War broke out. Riley opted to go to school that day, but she didn’t stay there. Sometime in the early afternoon a friend texted me and said, “Holy Shit.” I knew that what I feared was happening.

We live in a really conservative area of Texas where every one is boasting all the time about the guns they have in online message boards and rhetoric had grown scary. Our fear had been building. I had no idea what was going to happen next. No one did. I have never been so afraid for my country, not even on 9/11. Because this time, the danger was coming from inside the house and my neighbors could turn out to be just as deadly as those trying to kill the Vice President.

I spent January worrying about my country and waiting for the call to tell me any number of one of my family members living in Southern California had died. They took my Dad to the emergency room but there was no room to be had. A person was dying every 6 minutes from Covid and I wondered which time it would be someone I loved. January was the most horrific month of my life. I don’t even have the words to describe it. I lack the narrative skills to convey the fear, the anger, the resentment, the anxiety and the soul sucking sadness that pulsed in our home as if its very foundation was laid on a ground that wisped emotion like a fog that blocked us inside.

On January 20th, our first female Vice President was sworn in. I had wanted to watch this historical moment with my girls my entire life, but we did not turn on the tv on this day because I did not want the girls to see a live assassination. I sent my girls to school and set myself down and prayed. We watched clips of it afterwards once I knew that it was safe to do so. I showed them the clips of Amanda Gorman reading her inaguaral poem over and over again.

February came and several family members were still holding on. They still are. It seems now like they will survive, but the health effects have been long lasting. It’s been almost 3 months now and my Dad is still on oyxgen 24/7. Other people have other issues. It turns out survived is not the same thing as recovered. I fear that the true toll of this pandemic will take a long time to figure out, and so many people lied and tried to hide the truth at the beginning it may hard to ever fully learn it.

Then came the Texas storm.

Then came the difficult college news.

2021 is kicking our butts in the Jensen home. Though it feels like we are slowly starting to dig ourselves out of the emotional pit we spent most of this year in. It feels so deep, it’s hard to imagine truly ever climbing out.

Things 2 continues to grapple with the emotional burden of having loved and lost a teacher. Her favorite teacher died almost a year ago. She also loves his replacement and sometimes finds herself feeling guilty for that. She knows that this new teacher is only there because the old one died of Covid. I have told her that she can feel sadness about his death and feel joy with the new teacher. That she can love them both. That we are emotionally complex creatures and it is okay to have a lot of strong, sometimes even conflicting emotions at once. Sometimes at night she comes in and sleeps on our bedroom floor, and we let her.

The Mr. and Riley

Last year we all got our passports made. It turns out that my husband’s coping mechanisms were trying to figure out which country to flee to when the second Civil War happens so that he can keep his family safe and eating a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal every night. So we had our passports made, he researches where the best countries to be an expat are, and I buy Lucky Charms at the grocery store. I didn’t even know he liked Lucky Charms until this pandemic year. He’s eaten through a lot of boxes of Lucky Charms.

Riley has had her own challenges. We’re helping her navigate them. She has spent her senior year of high school in lockdown. She has struggled with some mental health issues. She voted for the first time. She reads YA books and doesn’t know now what it’s like to go on a college visit, or on a date, or to a high school party. She bakes a lot. She reads a lot. She prays.

It’s been one year since the pandemic started. It’s been one month since the Texas storm. It’s all sucked. We have not all had the same pandemic. Many have had it so much worse than us. Many have had nothing happen and don’t even think it was real. But so many of our kids are carrying around so much trauma.

I don’t care about my kids grades. I don’t care about my kids test scores. I care about their trauma. I care about their survival. I care about who they are becoming as they watch a world burn and see the adults around them be selfish and ugly and liars and killers and . . . my heart breaks for my kids.

It’s not just their physical survival I worry about, but their spiritual survival. Their mental and spiritual well being. A lot of truths have been revealed this past year about who we are, what we value, and the lengths we will go and what we’re willing to sacrifice and it’s an ugly truth. I wonder what the color of our souls is after a year like this and how we get it back to golden.

I don’t know how to forgive the people who refused to wear a mask and contributed to the death of people I love. I don’t know how to forgive the president who lied and cheated and tried to do an insurrection. I don’t know how to forgive the people who told me to love my neighbor as myself and then cheered as our neighbors stormed the Capitol and tried to assassinate the Vice President and members of Congress. I don’t know how to forgive myself for the fear and anger and anxiety in my heart.

But I’m trying to navigate this all, and lamenting a year lost in a deadly pandemic.

And we continue to pray.

Sunday Reflections: Of Course Parents are Sending their Kids to School with Covid-19, So Let’s Fix That

When The Teen was 4, she came down with a rare illness that we would soon learn was called Kawasaki Disease.

It began simple enough, I took her to the doctor on a Friday and they put her on an antibiotic. By Saturday, she had broken out into a weird rash and I called the office and they told me it was probably just a reaction to the antibiotic and put her on a different one.

I called again on Sunday, and they told me to bring her in on Monday.

I took her in on Monday, having to call off now for the second work day in a row.

I took her in again on Tuesday, having to call off again.

I took her in again on Wednesday, having to call off again.

On Thursday, I made yet another appointment and tried calling off. My boss said some things that let me know that I was in serious trouble. So I found someone to come sit with my child while I went to work for 4 hours at the library.

I had demanded to see a new doctor at this appointment and he sat me down and said, “I think I know what this is and you have to take her to Children’s right now, don’t even go home to pack a bag. But first, we have to do a test on her heart to make sure she will survive the time it takes for you to get her there or if we need to take her by ambulance.”

So I called my boss and said we were going to children’s and I didn’t know when I would be back and if she had to fire me so be it, but I wasn’t going to let my child die for a job. And I just hoped I didn’t get fired because not only did I love my job, but I needed it to survive and was really going to need it to pay for our medical bills.

We soon learned that she had a rare illness called Kawasaki Disease and her recovery was long and hard. If it’s not diagnosed within the first 10 days – and we were diagnosed on day 7 – it can cause permanent heart problems. We would spend the next 5 years taking her to yearly check ups to make sure her heart had no permanent damage. And the first few months right after treatment, we had to care her because the inflammation throughout her body was so severe it hurt her to walk.

I tell you this story because I’ve been thinking a lot about Covid. A recent headline indicated that policy makers – those who have chosen to open schools – were surprised to realize that parents were sending their children to school even though they had signs of or had tested positive for Covid. But I don’t understand why they were. This has always been happening.

Parents send their kids to school with lice, with fevers doused with fever reducers, and knowing that they spent the night throwing up their guts. Although some parents do this because they hate parenting or want a break or don’t believe their kids, a vast majority of parents do this OUT OF NECESSITY.

Most American workers have little if any paid sick leave. Most Americans are working multiple part-time jobs with no benefits and they are desperately trying to hold on to those jobs to keep their families alive and safe.

And even if you do have paid sick leave, many workers are still punished by their bosses for taking it. I had paid sick leave and my boss made it clear that she was most displeased with me. Though she did change her tune when she learned that my child had been close to possibly dying without prompt medical treatment.

Capitalism, greed, and the selfish bent of American culture makes it very hard for working parents to take care of sick kids. And kids get sick. Especially in a global pandemic.

So no, I’m not surprised that parents have sent their kids to school sick with Covid. I can’t even be mad at them for it, not really. But I am mad at our culture which makes it a necessity for parents in America to have to make hard decisions like this. I’m mad at our government that hasn’t helped our families during a deadly global pandemic. And I’m mad at the selfish individualists who decry wearing a mask when a simple act could help to protect our children from a deadly virus.

The year 2020 has exposed a lot of our faults and fault lines. So moving forward, I hope one thing that we will do is work to institute paid sick leave for everyone because you know what, sometimes people get sick. And they deserve a chance to care for themselves or their loved ones while knowing that they can come back to their jobs and continue to care for their families by providing financial support.

Also, look at what other countries have done to address that pandemic compared to the United States. They locked down. They provided more significant and long term financial support. They had more testing and contact tracing. They have affordable (or basically free) health care. In comparison, we had no national lockdown, no mask mandate, testing was hard to come by, and adults got a one time check of $600.00 for each adult. It’s been 6+ months now and we have the highest number of cases and the highest number of deaths in the United States. We’ve crossed the 200,000 death mark. And parents are sending their kids to schools with Covid because in most cases, THEY HAVE NO CHOICE.

We need to create a world where these parents can choose to keep their kids at home and attend to their health. We always have, but especially now.

Cindy Crushes Programming: 11 Tips to Help Us All During Pandemic Programming, by librarian Cindy Shutts

Here are some tips I am doing with myself and my programming.

  1. Be kind to yourself: This is easier said than done. Everything is hard and draining. You have to realize you will not get the same amount of work done as before because you are working through basically an active trauma.
  2. Do not make programs too hard: This is really important because you do not want to overwhelm the teens or yourself. Having programs that are too hard can make you and the teens feel like failures if you both do not get the desired result.
  3. Do programs you care about within reason: This makes the work easier. I got back into Animal Crossing this year which made my life easier. I was able to do a whole series of programs around it. I add within reason because you want to make sure the teens are interested also.
  4. Look at social media to see what teens are interested in: I got a tik tok over the time I was sheltering in place and saw a lot of things that teens are following such as the resurgence of Twilight, Animal Crossing, plants, crafts, and a lot of social activism. This is giving us a chance to see what teens care about. I will warn you not to be creepy. Please keep healthy boundaries between you and your teens.
  5. Keep costs low: Right now attendance is very different than it was before. You have no idea what the attendance of programs will be. We can not hold ourselves to standards that are pre pandemic.
  6. Put Yourself First: This is very hard for people in our profession. We want to help everyone and do everything we can to help our patrons. You can not do your job if you do not keep yourself first. When we came back to work I had a lot of questions for our supervisors and thoughts. They allowed me to help me make my own way back to work. I work on my safety first. If I have concerns about my safety or feel like something is going wrong. I talk to my supervisors. This has been very helpful. I feel much more in control by setting boundaries
  7. Try New Things: You are having a chance to start fresh. Try new program things that you have always wanted to do but could not. We used Kahoot for trivia last week and it was super fun. We have always thought about doing virtual programs and this time has allowed us to use new platforms such as Roll 20, Jackbox Game, and of course Zoom.
  8. Be prepared to have changes: We are working on doing programs that if we had to work from home we could run them. We do not know what the next few months will bring so be prepared to change how you do your program. You have to be flexible when the time comes. My county just got more restrictions and our positivity rate is going up so we are looking at upcoming programs to see if we can adapt them if things get worse.
  9. It is okay to cancel a program: Sometimes things do not work out how you planned them. It is okay.You might have thought your craft was going to be in person but now it is a take and make and it does not work as a take and make. Cancel. You can not control the pandemic.
  10. Let yourself have feelings: It’s okay to be disappointed a program did not work out or no one came. You can feel that. It does not make you weak. This is a horrible year. I am just going to say 2020 is the worst. Your feelings are valid. You are in an active trauma.
  11. Protect Your Teens: There are new dangers in the virtual world. Make sure you practice kicking people out of your virtual program. Use a setting that lets you be in control of the room so that you can protect the teens from harassment. Zoom booming could happen so we use a waiting room and we are using our patron policy in the virtual space. Learn from others who have had issues. We require registration to come to most of our programs.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.