Label This! (tween, teen, YA and whathaveyou…)

“I tried to join a ping-pong club, sign on the door said all full up!’  I got nicked, fighting in the road an’ the judge didn’t even know…what’s my name…?!” – The Clash

Back in July, there was a rather sprited discussion on YAAC about the idea of reordering some of our most hallowed boxes of stickers.’  Much of the converstaion, it seemed, centered on the idea of service being provided to the 18 – 30-ish age bracket; whether or not we have a responsibility to help transition people to adult services, and how to collaborate in that area with the adult services department.’  I do agree there is a definite need for such collaboration, as little seems to be exist in libraries these days for this crowd.’ ‘ My esteemed colleague Alissa blogged about this very point just a few days past (most eloquently, I might add!).’  But the discussions began on a point of’ ‘ such seeming importance, one I feel like we get overly wrapped up in at times: what’s their label!?

So what do we call these 18 – 30-ish patrons, and if we call them something, then what do we call our 7th – 12th graders, and can anybody come up with something to call the 10 – 12 year-olds, and should we include 9 year-olds in that bracket and if we’re going this far, we need to come up with something to call other adults out of that age bracket, and, and, and, and…….

AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

I often find that librarians are afflicted with a terrible and rather crusty disease.’  I call it “Classificitus,” that is, the condition in which one must desperately apply a label to anything within 10 feet of oneself’ out of’ an innate fear of not being able to produce the right flyer.

I hate labels.’  I hate being labeled.’  I would prefer you just call me by my name.’  I think the same goes for most teenagers, and, in fact, for most people in general.’  Why then do we always seem to feel this desperate need to compartmentalize everything into such tiny little Container Store boxes?

Ok.’  I know your answer.’  “We need to be clear on flyers who the programs are for, and we need to make it clear where the books for different age groups are!”‘  Point taken.’  But still, many teens read adult books, and many adults these days read teen books.’  There’s lots of crossover in that gray area between childrens and (ahem…) YA.’  Those labels can become like little ameobas all squishing into each other, depending upon the patron we’re speaking to at the time.’  Frankly, in my experience, people mostly just want to know where “Item A” is.’  If we told them “Oh, yes, that’s in the Reptillian Archon War Council Stronghold Section on the third floor” they’d say “Ok!” and head off to the stairs.

Now, admittedly, we do need to use labels at times – even me!’  They’re a great help in keeping 70 year-olds out of my teen yoga classes (yeesh!).’  However, I just don’t believe that these labels can be applied in a broad and general manner to every library everywhere.’  In my library, my tweens don’t mind being called tweens, my teens ignore you if you don’t use their name, and if I had a dime for every time one of them asked me “what does YA mean?” (and they say it like a word, all drawled out: Yaaaahhhhh) I would have an awful lot of dimes.’  But that’s here.’  Your library and community probably differs greatly.’  Isn’t that always the way?’  In the end, it’s always our own patrons and communities who will dictate how we do things, what we call things, and where we put things on the shelves.

I guess I’m just trying to say that maybe it’s better if we worry less about what we’re calling people, and worry more about what we’re doing for them.’  Then the labels might just take care of themselves.

About Ken Petrilli

I'm the Teen Services Librarian at the New Rochelle Public Library in New Rochelle, NY, and I'm currently co-convenor for YALSA's Intellectual Freedom Interest Group and Chair for the Baker & Taylor Conference Grant Jury. When I'm not being a librarian I'm being a heavy metal guitar player, a hopeless otaku and a general all-around pop-culture junkie.
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