Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Happy Hour? When what we do is different than what we say we do

In case you missed it, Heather, Karen, Robin and I were on Twitter on Thursday night (and on email too but you can’t see the emails, poor you because they had way more sarcasm and snark) discussing the YALSA Happy Hour that will be going on in Chicago. 

Disclaimer: Heather and I are members of YALSA and have been since library school. Karen is an on again and off again member as finances allow.  We have worked on a variety of YALSA committees. We are BIG YALSA supporters here on Teen Librarian Toolbox!

The problem we’re having is not the Happy Hour.  Meeting and mingling and drinking with YALSA people is awesome and should be done more often – let’s start local meet-ups!  Our problem is with the evening’s “entertainment.” 

(Screen capture from the YALSA blog as of 6/22/2013 8:15am CDT):

Now, I know that the YALSA Office, President & Board always work hard to do fun things when the conferences and meetings come into town, and it’s a huge job. Trying to find a place to hold all of us is hard, trying to find a time that doesn’t conflict with the majority of YALSA meetings, and the things that we know in advance that publishers are doing is difficult, and trying to balance that with the non-existent budget and the fact that everyone is spread everywhere in the hotels all just makes you want to pull your hair out.  We appreciate the work YALSA, President Jack Martin, and the Board do.  Really.

Here’s where I have issues with the whole message coming across in this.


First, there’s the inconvenience.  Everyone’s coming from conference things on Saturday, so you want us to either wear what we’re going to wear to the fashion show ALL DAY, or run to our hotel and change then come to the fashion show. Um, yea. Then, there’s the fact that anyone who’s not local is going to have to PACK special clothing to be in the categories (because I don’t know a lot of people who wear GALA attire to conferences- actually, I don’t wear anything that would remotely fit any of the four categories to conferences, but that’s beside the point).  Karen doesn’t even own anything that resembles gala attire because she can’t afford it on a librarian’s salary.

Second, and most importantly, you’re telling me that AFTER I go to all this trouble, someone is going to go around and pick the best of the best based on appearance, and that if my appearance isn’t good enough, we’re all gonna know it in the extra special round. Now, I spend a LOT of time and energy telling teens that the need to work on their self esteem and not let their looks (and what they were born with) make them feel second best. That is part of what we do as teen specialists. We are on the battlefield of diffusing the hurt and confusion from bullying and name calling, and trying to stem the tide of suicidal thoughts, cutting, and other self harm because of body image issues, and yet my organization wants to have their event so that we can show off the best dressed and the prettiest, because that’s what a fashion show is.

Third, you’re stepping all over Librarian Wardrobe, which is actually fun and interesting and breaking ground, and something people opt into specifically because they are interested in the fashion angle. I wanted to go to the one in Anaheim last year but didn’t make the conference due to surgery recovery and hope to make their event this year.


I have nothing against drinking. I had a lovely time in college, did a number of bar bands (going around the night before games to the local bars and performing for alumni), I have wine with dinner, and I currently have limoncello and some other alcohols in my fridge. 

BUT.  Let’s look at the last line again:

Remember to bring plenty of cash for the bar. That way when Jack taps YOU to participate in the fashion show, you’ll be able to say an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Expect FUN and HAPPINESS at this always-exciting YALSA event!

I’m guessing it’s really trying to be a cute way of saying it’s a cash bar so bring money, but it comes across as slimy and gross and fits right into all the wrong things that we’ve been pointing out here on TLT. It acknowledges that we’re uncomfortable being judged on our appearance!  It points out that under normal circumstances, professional women and men aren’t tapped by the President of their professional organization for reasons so surface and irrelevant to the work we do.  It comes across like this:

Be liquored up so that when the President of the association comes around to tap you, you can say yes without any hesitation because now you’ll agree to do stuff you wouldn’t if you were sober!   


Heather pointed out that this is at least the second time IN CHICAGO that YALSA has had a fashion-themed Happy Hour. We are supposed to be the creative people- where IS that creativity?!?!?! I talked with That Guy this morning, and we came up with a list of things that could get people pulled up to award prizes that would involve little/no effort for bring materials and still make a Happy Hour fun. (forgive if they get geeky- That Guy was working, and I am off today, so we go to the engineer side a little)

  • Best Use of the Color Cerulean
  • Best Use of Scarves
  • People with Prime Numbers of Nametag Ribbons (those association ribbons people tag onto their badges like flags)
  • People with n Letters in their Names, where n is a perfect square (16 letters, 25 letters, etc)
  • People who are named after literary characters
  • People who dress after their favorite literary characters
  • People holding a book (not an ARC)
  • People holding an ARC (not a book)
  • Most extravagant shoelaces
  • Dress as your favorite author
  • People dressed as Doctor Who companions (could actually be anyone but the person choosing could say a Doctor quote and see if the person would actually go with them- thereby being a Doctor’s companion)
  • Most shocking/tasteful/colorful SOCKS
  • Best use of skulls
  • Best use of the current Collaborative Summer Reading Theme
  • Twitter/Blog bingo- make up cards with YALSA members twitter/blog info, and then people have to go around finding those people to win prizes
Or, ya know, we could do what other associations within ALA, or other non image based professional organizations do. Go to a location (bar, coffee shop, restaurant), rent out the back room, ask for donations, serve hors d’oeuvres, charge for drinks and let people pay for their own real food, invite the authors who are in town to come join us, and have a good time.  No demeaning gimmicks required.

Heather’s note: 

Am I a killjoy?  Probably.  But WOW am I tired of the librarian conversation rolling back around to what we as librarians wear & how we present ourselves physically.  The YALSA Happy Hour is probably the biggest regular informal gathering of YA librarians in the country.  I’m disappointed that we’ll spend it talking about how we look or don’t look — even in the professional attire categories that are listed — instead of what we do.  

What we do is exciting and diverse and innovative, and we can learn so very much more from one another than where we bought that scarf.  I would love to see YALSA focus the Happy Hour on encouraging the kind of sharing that is possible when you get a whole bunch of us together, and I’m disappointed in this focus on image.  

So hey, YA librarians out there – I don’t care what you’re wearing.  Are you comfortable?  Are you approachable?  Are you, um, not smelly?  Then I say you’re dressed just fine.  Let’s not further sort ourselves by those who match the folks on stage and those who don’t.  That is not what our profession is about.  I want to hear how you connect with your teens, what the last book was that blew you away, which app you can’t stop telling people about, how you handled that horrible situation at your library the other day, what that teen said to you that had you crying tears of joy the whole way home.  I didn’t get into this profession for the comfortable shoes or the cardigans, the colorful hair or the tattoos, the punny t-shirts or the tote bags.  Did you?

Karen’s Note:

I spend my time telling my teens that you are more than how you look.  That “It Gets Better.” That women and men are equal.  Now I am going to go to a professional conference where apparently I will be an unwitting participant in a fashion show, just by showing up.  This is part of everything that I preach against (even in jest or fun, because we can find ways to have fun that don’t emphasize looks or dress).  And to make it even worse, a man (YALSA President Jack Martin) gets to choose who will or won’t be in the fashion show.  That’s right, once again a man is deciding who is worthy.  I am sure that Jack is an awesome guy, but I am tired of living in a world where guys are the deciders, where looks, dress and appearance are primary motivators, and where a gathering of young adult librarians seems to focus on a message radically different than the message we are (I hope) preaching to our teens.  We spend enough of our lives worrying about whether or not we look right or “good enough”, having anxiety about whether or not we will be chosen (you remember picking teams in PE, right?) – I don’t want to pay to go to a conference with my PEERS and have to worry about these things all over again, as an adult.  As everyone tweeted about who wore what at the Oscars this year I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why aren’t we talking about these actresses accomplishments in the arts as opposed to judging what they wear?”  That’s what I want you to judge me by, my accomplishments as a librarian, not whether or not I have an awesome gala outfit.  

What they didn’t teach you in library school: burnout edition

Let me preface this by saying I love my job.  Really.  When I imagine a world in which I needed to choose a different job, even the same job in a different library, I end up just sitting there with a puzzled look on my face as if I didn’t understand the question.  I. Love. My. Job.



But just because you love your job, just because you have found a niche that suits both your needs and interests, it doesn’t mean you won’t feel burnt out now and then.  And here’s the lovely Catch-22 that’s both the cause and the solution: when you love your job this much, it’s going to get to you after a while.  You can’t throw yourself into anything with complete abandon, day after day, year after year, and not hit a wall and feel burnt out eventually.

Unlike burning out on a hobby or a casual relationship, you can’t just put it aside or take a break and see if the spark is still there in a month.  Teen librarianship burnout requires you to power through. Here are a few strategies.


Coasting is not giving up or throwing in the towel.  Coasting is still moving forward, just relying on momentum and the things around you.  Don’t reinvent the wheel.  If you need a little more personal time, need to dedicate a little more mental space to other aspects of your life, or just aren’t bubbling over with great new ideas, it’s ok to fall back on what’s been done before.  Need programs?  Pull up a list of your best loved, most attended programs and do a “back, by popular demand” series.  Summer Reading got you down?  Use a prepackaged program that comes complete with graphics, lists, and logs like the Collaborative Summer Library Program or your statewide reading program.  Use the Teen Programs in a Box that you’ll find on this site.  Pull your book lists from this or other reputable blogs, libraries, or publications (crediting when necessary, of course).  People create these resources for you!  Use them!

Recruit help

Is your TAB ready for a little spark too?  Entrust them with program creation or summer reading themes.  Give them parameters to work with that you will be able to carry through on (no more than X programs/week, no more that X dollars/program).
Maybe there is a local library school or LTA program from which you could draw a skilled volunteer to make new book lists, design a logo and materials for a SRP, or puzzle out the particulars of an idea that you have but haven’t been able to make happen.
Alternately, recruit some librarian partners!  Maybe what you need is to be reinvigorated by librarians nearby, or by the ideas and innovations happening across the country.  Work on developing your PLN, or find a local, regional, or national library conference or meeting or book fair to attend.  It’s the difference between the 200th mile on a treadmill that same mile in a beautiful nature preserve.   It’s rejuvenating and opens new possibilities.

Take a break

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and if you’ve been months and months without a day off, now is the time to draw on that personal day, vacation day, or upcoming long weekend and totally unplug from the library.  Check back in with yourself.  Do you have a nonfiction book you’ve been meaning to read?  A recipe you’ve been meaning to try?  A project you’ve been meaning to finish?  We serve our teens best when we are whole, complete people.  Don’t forget that you are more than your work.  Your teens are out there pursuing their interests and that makes them the interesting people we love to work with.  Be an interesting person to them; don’t neglect your own interests.


Part of taking a break means unplugging from your job, but also from the library world.  That means take a Twitter holiday, force yourself not to check your work email, and don’t even check this blog.  One thing that can contribute to burn out is the constant social comparison we are able to do, that we do without even thinking, because of the ubiquitous access we have to other librarians and their successes.  It’s easy to feel inadequate when it seems that everyone around you is doing amazing things.   (Erfolgtraurigkeit anyone?) It’s easy to feel insufficient when your situation doesn’t allow for the big WOW FACTOR programs or prizes that you see elsewhere.   And it’s easy for those feelings to lead to feeling burnt out – that the small things you do just aren’t good enough.    But that’s totally not true!  Just think about all of the libraries that don’t even have a teen librarian, or even someone on staff interested in teen services.  You – just by showing up to work and sitting at that desk – are improving access and service to teens in your community.  Good job you!  Now stop paying attention to what you’re not doing and focus on what you are doing.


If you have tried your best to get out of your burnout funk and it’s just not working, think about what drew you to teen librarianship to begin with.  Is your life’s dream?  Did it just happen?  Do you need a change of scenery? Clientele? Work? … Career?  If your passion is really archives or teaching or fine art or writing or, gosh, gardening or accounting or roofing – you’re not serving anyone well, yourself included, by forcing yourself to love teen librarianship.  Our time here is too short to spend it languishing in a job you dislike (or is it too long to spend in a job you dislike?  It’s both.) so make it count!


Where Everybody Knows Your Name…. Thinking about Want Teens Need

I’ve been a fan of Connected Learning for a while- I really like their streaming learning environment, and their topics.  The one for March 21 was on HOMAGO spaces (Hanging Out, Messing Around, Geeking Out) which is an awesome concept (read our previous post called Don’t Underestimate the Value of Hanging Out), and takes what I do at my teen after hours and teen nights one step further by adding in a learning aspect, one that I’m going to try out this fall. I’m already doing the HO and MA parts, it’s the GO part that might take a little time (although to hear my Yu-Gi-Oh teens or one of my readers talk about their favorite book, we geek like crazy). If you haven’t seen it, here it is:

connectedlearningtv on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free

What got me thinking, however,  was when they said “youth spaces should be like “Cheers” where everybody knows their name.” Now, I grew up on Cheers, and remember watching it with my dad and Shelly Long was the girl that Ted Danson wanted and Woody Harrelson was not Haymitch but the weird dorky assistant.  Teens may not know Cheers, but they want to be known, even if they don’t say it out loud.
We hear in the news about what so many teens are going through: drugs, suicide attempts, depression, bullying (really, it’s abuse), and you never know when saying Hi and asking about their day might at least make a spark in their lives. Going the little bit to put faces with names and know little aspects of their lives aside from what they’re reading doesn’t take that much effort, but it can make a world of difference for a teen.
It goes back to customer service, plain and simple. I avoid places where I’m not treated properly: nasty tables or bad table service at a restaurant or fast food place, I’m not going back. Sticky floors, shelves stocked willy-nilly, horrible cashier- not going back. Treated like an outcast, not even looked at- not going back. It’s the same with libraries. We need to remember that even though we are teen specialists, we need to be aware of *how* we are treating them, and that they need that extra attention just as much as the sobbing 5 year old who tripped and got a boo-boo. They just may not be saying it.

I’m nobody! Who are you? Part 1 (Why us teen librarians should talk to one another)

I’m Nobody, who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!
-Emily Dickinson

If you’re the only teen librarian in your library, it can be a lonely job.  You plan programs on your own, or with the hopefully enthusiastic, but sometimes grudging or misguided assistance of a TAB, you order and read books that you might not be able to gush about with anyone else you work with.  You serve a population with distinct needs, and you’re on your own deciphering what those needs are and how to address them through your service.  Depending on when you’re on desk and where that desk is, you may go days without having a really engaging conversation with a teen patron, let alone another colleague who shares your passion and focus.  My library system has recently morphed from a regional system to one that encompasses half the state.  What were once fairly local networking meetings are no longer as convenient – or possible – to attend.

The irony of this is that our job is all about making connections with people, and connecting those people to what they need.

A lot is written and discussed about why and how we can better connect with teens.  But why and how should we connect with one another?

Just like attending a professional conference can give you new ideas and energy, having regular, informal meetings with other teen librarians can do the same.  Why is this important?  Think about your performance after you get home from conference.  Do you try new programs? Order  books you just heard about? Try new approaches at booktalking or reader’s advisory? Change your signage? Explore new websites or technology?  YES, of course you do!  Meeting the librarian down the street or three towns over for a sandwich or cup of coffee isn’t really the same as attending the YALSA YA Literature Symposium or PLA, but it serves a similar purpose.  It breaks us out of our own way of doing things and allows us to share our knowledge and ideas with each other.  It reminds both of us that while we’re doing this alone, we’re not really out there all on our own.

Start me up

Working with teens takes energy.  Some days, it takes lots of energy.  Some days, it takes all of your energy.  But we love it, right?  And for every night we fall onto the couch at the end of the day with our coats on and the keys still in our hand, there are going to be other nights we drive home with the windows down, singing at the top of our lungs because it was so awesome.  Not everybody understands that dynamic, but having someone who does, and with whom we can share these moments can pull us up when we’re down or use the positive momentum to push our programs or services in new and exciting directions.  Who else understands the frustrations and awesomeness of being an unofficial department of one like someone else who is an unofficial department of one?

One is the loneliest number

We need to meet each other not just to vent and pat each other on the back, it’s really important for us to seek out the kind of camaraderie and information sharing that our colleagues in other situations come by naturally.  If there are five people in the Adult Services department, they have each other to bounce ideas to, get a second opinion on a resource, share interesting articles, teach new technologies, and try new services.  Working in a bubble will eventually lead to problems with our service.  Stale programs, missing new trends in publishing, changing the dates and then reusing the same poster session after session… it’s poor service and our patrons will pick up on it.

Tada- now there is more than 1
TLT is a collaboration and we have fun together, inspire one another, & steal ideas
I mean borrow – we borrow ideas!!!

Stop. Collaborate and listen.

Some projects are just bigger than you.  Consider what you could do if there were two of you, twice as many teens, twice as many locations, (and dare we hope twice the budget?), and twice as much energy for the last great program you had.  If you’ve seen programs or services offered elsewhere that seemed not possible because of the limitations of your own situation, think about striking up a partnership with another nearby library to make it happen.

If that’s an overwhelming thought right now, start smaller.  You could collaborate and share information on…

  • Book display ideas
  • Slogans and activities for your TAB
  • A joint book drive
  • Thematic book lists
  • Volunteer responsibilities and guidelines (it’s nice when there are consistent expectations across an area)
  • Excess craft supply or leftover prize swaps
  • What to do about all of these darn series?!
  • Best times for programs
  • Summer Reading Themes
  • What’s hot for teens in your neighborhood
  • Cross-promoting programs

Start by thinking about the areas of service that are difficult for you.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, areas we love and areas we only do because it’s part of the job.  Pick a part of your job that you wish you had a better system for, a better eye for, or a better understanding of, look around at what other libraries are doing in those areas, and make improving that aspect your goal.

So have I convinced you yet?  Ok, good.  Now you’re wondering how to do it, right?  Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll give some suggestions on getting your own local group going.

20 Questions: Teen Librarian 101 part 2 with Karen Jensen

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 and a reader.  Now it is Stephanie’s turn to interview Karen.  Be sure to catch the first part of 20 questions here.

Part 2: In which Stephanie interviews Karen

What made you decide to become a librarian?

Looking back, I always joke that I have a top 10 lists that I was destined to be a librarian. In the 8th grade, I wore a back brace for Scoliosis and couldn’t do PE so they had me work in the library. I used to take all my cassette tapes (yes, really, cassette tapes) and keep them wound to side one and I organized them on my shelves in alphabetical order by the title of the artist and then in release date order. I remember my junior year in high school reading a book called The Murder of a Shopping Bag Lady, a true story, that completely changed my view of the world that I lived in.  All these little moments in my life seemed to be whispering be a librarian.
In college, I was working on getting my youth ministry degree and needed a job. The student services office suggested I apply at the local public library because they were looking for someone to work with teens and my degree seemed like a good fit. I got a job there and just knew that I had found my home. I started as a paraproffesional working with teens at the age of 20, barely out of the teen years myself.  I had the most amazing professional mentor there who is still such an important part of my life.  Every day I am thankful because I know I am one of the people in this world who gets to go to work and do what they were truly called to do.

What made you think twice…everyone has that moment.

I remember at one point horror fiction was incredibly popular. Here I was studying religion and I thought: can I put these types of books into the hands of teens? I remember having a real spiritual and professional crisis. Around that same time a professor shared with us that around 80% of decisions to follow Christ were made during the teenage years. I realized that in order for any life decision to be authentic, including spiritual ones, people had to have access to the information to make those decisions for themselves and truly own them. From that moment on I knew that I was in the right place doing the right thing. And I stand 100% firmly against censorship. People have the right to think and decide for themselves.
Name ONE, yes ONE, author and how they have influenced your library work.

I made these posters last year for Chris Crutcher
and you can find them here.

There are many authors that I love (including the lovely Lauren Oliver as you may have heard), but throughout my career I have been enbolded and inspired by Chris Crutcher. He really dives right in to the teenage life and tells their stories with honesty, passion and integrity. He understands that many teens are living truly horrific lives. He gives them a voice. He helps open eyes and build compassion and speaks truth, truth that many people don’t want to hear. He inspires me to speak the same truth, to love teens unconditionally, and to remember and understand how much the teen years can truly suck.

Favorite debut author?

This year is such a rich year for debut authors, but I read and loved The Downside of Being Charlie by Jenny Torres Sanchez and I am hooked. As much as I love sci fi and fantasy, I also love contemporary fiction that speaks to the heart of teens. I loved and cared for Charlie as a character. I wanted him to succeed.  It’s been a couple of months since reading this book and Charlie still occassionally comes to mind.  That is the hallmark, to me, of a good contemporary fiction title.
Weirdest job you ever worked and how does it help you be a better librarian?

Before working in a library I worked retail, which is great because there is so much customer service involved in the public library. All those skills are necessary and translate well.  My very first job was working in a movie theater, which is of course just another form of storytelling.  It was a glorious first job and I worked my way all the way up to Chief of Staff.  It was kind of cool as a teenager to have a title like Chief of Staff.
Do you listen to music when you read?

I do not but the kids are often watching tv in the background so does the Backardigans singing count?  I am, however, fascinated with the idea of authors and their book playlists; how and what music they listen to as they write.  How the music helps get them get in the mood and sets the tone of a piece.  A lot of the authors I follow on Twitter will mention it and it truly fascinates me.
On that note, favorite bands/songs?

I will always love Duran Duran; they were that Middle School band that you seriously crush on and it just kind of sticks with you.  I am nothing if not loyal. And I love the Foo Fighters and basically alternative rock and pop.  I know I just moved to Texas but I am not a fan of country music (please don’t hurt me.)
What is your ideal teen space in a library?

I want a space with lots of slat walls and a chalk board wall. Technology is a must. The outer “walls” would be the shelves for the collection and inside there would be wicked cool seating, still to be determined. I am a huge proponent of teen invovlement so I want a space to display and rotate teen artwork.  At my previous library we were discussing buying a house near the property to increase the size of our parking lot.  I really wanted them to turn it into a teen branch where teens could have their own space and have a tech room and little performance stage where we could do reader’s theater, open mic and improv.  I often fantasize that I will one day win the lottery and build a teen library where all these amazing authors come visit every month.  Of course, I would have to buy lottery tickets for that to truly happen.
Most successful library program?

Like many teen librarians, I am forever grateful to the Harry Potter series for getting teens reading and for some great programming through the years. I have always had great success with craft programs, interactive mysteries, and video gaming. My hugest success has been the Teen CoffeeHouse.  This was a loosely organized drop in program where I would weekly have 50 to 70 teens drop in for this informal program. That is how I learned to value simply hanging out.  Here I could build relationship with my teens, talk to them as an informal teen advisory group, and even tap into them for some of my programs.  Ironically, years after starting the TCH, I began an Asset Builder’s Coalition and one of the things we discussed was teen programming.  Every group around that table indicated that they found through the years that what teens most wanted was a place to “hang out” and have choices on how they spend their time within that space.  Without a doubt the least successful programs I have always had were those that involved a speaker – not an author – on some topic that I think has value in the lives of teens but they just don’t want to leave school and come to the public library and hear someone lecture to them again.  For example, I once had someone come speak about teen dating violence; an important topic, but only 1 soul turned up.  I find that making a program interactive, giving teens choices, and making sure they walk out with something in their hands is the best way to get teens participating.
Where do you see YA services in 10 years?

Relationally, teens will always need places to gather and adults to relate meaningfully with them. Teens will always need access to information and story. We may see the vehicles by which they are delivered change, but the need will always be there. As librarians we must continue to be open to what is happening around us culturally and incorporate that into what we do. If we stay open to change and are responsive to the needs of our teens and our communities, we will be doing exactly what we need to be doing – exactly what we are doing now – just in different ways.  I think it is really important for teen librarians to advocate not only for teens, but for libraries.  Everyone seems to think that libraries are going away because of computers and e-readers, but I am reminded every day that there is a significant portion of the population that can’t afford these things and if we want them, and by extension our communities, to be successful then we must provide for them the tools they need to be successful by funding our public libraries.  Education and democracy demand access to information to thrive.

Be sure to check out Part 1: In which Karen interviews Stephanie. Also, want to have some fun with us? Leave your answers to any or all of the questions in the comments.

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.