Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door: Urban Teens, Street Lit, and Reader’s Advisory brought together the expertise of Megan Honig of New York Public Library, Beth Saxton of Cleveland Public Library, and Sofia Quintero, author of the YA novel Efraim’s Secret (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010).
Presenters Honig and Saxton demanded participants think critically about the definitions of “urban” and “street lit,” as well as admit, on paper, their biases, preconceived notions, and reservations about recommending street lit to young adults. The discussion and reflection segments of this pre-conference proved particularly valuable.
Honig demonstrated, through the words of actual teens, why street lit is valuable and relevant to their lives. While some librarians might have ideas about why teens are drawn to street lit, their interest in it may be as simple as the stories are accessible because of the language that is used, or that the novels are plot-driven and cinematic in nature. Some teens like the drama. Others feel that street lit tells stories that are real. Street lit as risk-free thrill (a reader can watch a character involve his or herself in risky behavior, instead of the reader engaging in those activities) brought a new way for librarians to assess the value of street lit. Honig’s comparison of Street Lit vs. YA Substitute (say, Teri Woods vs. Walter Dean Myers) illustrated how these types of books complement each other, sometimes, but recommending a YA Substitute to an avid reader of street lit is not always going to be successful.
Saxton offered practical reader’s advisory and RA-based programming ideas for librarians to take back to their schools and libraries. She then demonstrated a booktalk method in which she booktalked 30 books in 30 minutes (under 22 minutes, actually; quite impressive). She shared nontraditional book club activities that might help capture and retain new participants. One of the most engaging suggestions she had for connecting young adults with new books is a customized reading list – perfect for summer vacation or school breaks – where, through a questionnaire in which the teen describes his or her favorite books, least favorite books, etc., Saxton offers a ten book custom reading list. This engagement with teens is what makes lifelong library users.
Finally, author Sofia Quintero spoke about how her adult titles and new YA novel do and don’t fit into the category of street lit. She shared with the audience her work with young people and the ways in which librarians can dignify and encourage teen reading through reader’s advisory. She described reading aloud to people of all ages as, “a profound act of love,” and encouraged librarians to read aloud to their teenage populations. She also offered practical activities such as “Judge a Book by its Cover” during which teens gauge their interest in a book first by its cover, then by its flap copy, and finally by spending a few minutes reading the first page or two. Another activity she’s found success with is a book-to-film exercise in which a group will examine the film interpretation of a book and compare scenes from that film to the scenes in the source text. This, she said, demonstrates the richness and vibrancy of text by showing what is omitted in the film.
Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door offered a frank discussion about the practical implications of connecting teens with street lit. The presenters clearly demonstrated that having a solid knowledge of street lit, its subgenres, and its appeal, gets to the heart of librarianship, that is, meeting the needs of your readers.