In the spring on This American Life, host Ira Glass presented a 5 minute essay on The O.C. Glass talked about how over four years he developed a relationship with the characters on the TV show. He talked about how watching the program was a weekly event for he and his wife. He talked about how he cried during the show finale episode. The message was that while “just” a TV show, the people in this show meant something to he and his wife.
Ever since this essay from Glass I’ve been thinking about how teens build relationships with characters from fiction and real people. Teen readers of Gossip Girl (a bit of an east coast version of The O.C) have a relationship with Serena, Blair, and the others. Teens who watch American Idol have a relationship with the contestants on the show. Teens who listen to Fall Out Boy have a relationship with the musicians in that group. Teens who visit the library (either face-to-face or virtually) on a regular basis have a relationship with library staff.
These relationships aren’t something that happens quickly. Viewers of The O.C. had to find something to connect with in the first episode and then have a reason to return week after week for four years. There was something compelling to fans of the show that made them want to know what happened to Ryan, Taylor, Summer, Seth, Marissa, etc.
Library relationships don’t happen quickly either. Teens and library staff have to build a relationship over time. A teen’s first entry into the library world has to be one that provides a connection and a reason to return. I was reminded of this when someone I know told me about a recent experience she had in a branch of a public library. This is a woman in her early 20s. She went in to do some homework for graduate school and asked the librarian at the desk for some help. The librarian was gruff and unhelpful and overall just plain rude. The woman didn’t let this deter her in terms of getting her work done. She took books off of the shelf and worked at a table. While working she heard two of the librarians talking about her, not in kind or friendly terms.
Imagine if this were a teenager and not a woman in her early 20s. What would the message be to that teen? Would a teen be able to build a relationship with those librarians? Would those librarians demonstrate support as outlined in the 40 Developmental Assets?
I realize this young woman’s experience is not indicative of every library in the country. But hearing this story reminds me how much work we still have to do in order to guarantee that libraries around the country support teens in their need to build relationships with people real and imagined. (In books, movies, TV, and in real-life.)