July Eureka Moments

School’s out, I’m no longer sick, and the blog is no longer down! In honor of the evolving focus of this column, I’ve changed its title and broadened my scope. But don’t worry; I’ll still be trolling the various databases for hard-hitting research, too. The first month of summer is usually the busy one, in which students are still finishing school, are already in summer school, or have begun to embark on busy summer adventures, like camp and travel. So the ideas I’m offering you are a bit more low-key or focused on the librarian, rather than the patron, since I gather that your patrons are not exactly in the mood yet for anything that requires a lot of commitment.

  • Last weekend, PostSecret put up a (trigger warning) postcard from someone who dislikes being labeled intolerant for saying that certain types of people are, maybe, hypocritical about oppression. That made me think of a tumblr I found once upon a time called Oppressed Brown Girls Doing Things, whose tagline, “Because we’re still oppressed,” is awesomely readable in a multitude of ways. You might just find this fun to read when there’s a lull in your day, but I know I’d love to see some of these posts find their way into a collage on a library wall, a bookmarks list on a library computer, or into the meeting of any group that meets in your teen room. While the content ranges from NSFW language to sarcastic gifs, the blog also brings up a lot of pertinent points about what it means to be a woman of color.
  • While definitely NSFW, I have to share this music video based on a Jay-Z and Kanye West song whose title I won’t put here. Two Brooklynites re-set the song to be all about how hard it is to be a cool, reading girl who can’t find a guy to keep up with her tastes or pronounce Proust correctly. If you have an advisory group or teen book club that meets, you might show the video to spark a conversation about what it means to be “nerdy,” who the video is aimed at, or what it means to take a genre so known for its subculture and turn it on its head by making it about something usually so “uncool.”
  • Judith Butler is widely known for her groundbreaking works on gender identity and the idea that gender is a social construct that is performed by members of society, not a biological, unchangeable aspect of a person like eye color. It is Butler’s ideas that so many feminists, media critics, psychologists, and other professionals grapple with when trying to understand how images and stereotypes in the media affect self image and self performance, as well as how damaging it can be to force someone to perform normatively. But in a fascinating ethnographic study, Olga Ivashkevich discovered that young pre-teen girls are much more willing to play with body representation, drag, and non-normative physical ideals than many researchers think. The girls Isvashkevich studied drew each other as various vegetables, allowing them to skew various parts of their bodies, and other anecdotes in the article reveal how even something as obviously “damaging” as a Barbie doll can lead girls to experiment in cross dressing, mutilation, and more. If you and your children’s librarian colleagues have been searching for a way to reach tweens, as well as younger teens, this might be your in. Try leaving a box of Barbies, paper dolls, fashion magazines, or other objects that support alteration and creation on the body, as well as relevant clothing items and art supplies, with a note explaining that patrons are welcome to experiment with the box and maybe even reflect on what they’ve done by taking a digital photo and writing about it for the library’s blog, or simply by writing more privately in their own journal.
    Ivashkevich, Olga. “I’m Gonna Make You Look Weird: Preteen Girls’ Subversive Gender Play.” Visual Culture and Gender, 6(2011), 40-48.
  • Summer is that awful time when all the good television shows are on hiatus, and you have to have cable or be a big fan of reality competitions to have something to look forward to. That is probably why so many people look to DVD collections of old TV series they might have missed. If you decide to highlight the teen-friendly DVDs you already have, or that you know to be available freely or inexpensively on websites like Hulu or Netflix, go a step further and display them in conjunction with your other materials, like non-ficton books relating to subjects in the show (books about vintage fashion for some of those BBC series, maybe? Resources on spirituality and the paranormal for “The X-Files?”), comic book series that continue long-canceled shows like “Buffy,” cookbooks relating to the location or theme, and more. If your library isn’t already doing a summer reading program, or if you’d like some other summer program to attract teens who aren’t big readers, consider making these collections a sort of game, where patrons can “major” in a series or two and check off items on a list and win prizes for perusing various media, from books to music to earlier or foreign versions of hit TV shows.
  • Then again, there are those patrons who just don’t want to say goodbye to the academics. Show them the lighter side of school by highlighting telenovela DVDs as a way to practice for Spanish class during the break. Make inexpensive copies of logic and math games like Sudoku, connect the dots, and KenKen, and leave them out in the teen area. Pull out some graphic novel adaptations of works by Shakespeare and Austen and graphic nonfiction history books as a lighter way to prepare for those AP classes.
  • Have a few dollars lying around in your budget that have to be gone by the end of the fiscal year? Consider buying some disposable cameras (yes, they ARE still around, if as ghostly as payphones) or borrowing the digital cameras your library might own and sending your advisory group out to take photos based on or inspired by their favorite books, a la the Real Fauxtographer, whose blog is all about the fun of photography and photo manipulation and the love of YA novels.
  • Hungry for professional development but can’t get your employer to cough up the money? The Edupunk’s Guide is all about learning 2.0, with resources for finding lots of learning opportunities that don’t require the usual venues, like community college courses or renewing that CPR certification. In addition to providing resources online, it’s also available for download as PDF or e-book, meaning that you can peruse it all summer and find something to do. I found it through a news article, and even though I’m in summer school, I’m really eager to try some of the suggestions. Who knew that you didn’t have to be a Foreign Service officer to use the US’s language learning materials? And did you know that Wikipedia provides learning opportunities? This is a great compilation of the web’s best offerings in learning, creativity, thoughtful discussion, social networking, and more.
  • Last month at ALA and my Spectrum Institute, one of the amazing things I got to do was listen to a presentation by a researcher from Pew Internet. Did you know that they, in conjunction with the Gates Foundation, are doing a lot of research on libraries and their impact on communities? Not only is this an extremely fun website to geek out on, but you should consider getting involved and offering your opinions, experience, or expertise.
  • A new children’s book about prison has the Internet up in arms over whether it’s good or bad to expose young children to the truths about incarceration. But a writer at Ebony argues that not teaching young people about incarceration is akin to teaching abstinence-only sex education, and he asks for everyone to open up a dialogue and be open and truthful about prison, crime, and statistics in the United States. An interesting topic, to be sure, but I noticed there was no mention of teens in the piece. Do some digging in your collection and see what you might have that addresses these issues, and consider reaching out to community partners like counselors, probation officers, and police officers to propose a program, outreach, or sharing of materials.
  • Blogs like Awful Library Books love to poke fun at the fact that non-fiction in libraries gets very dated very fast. It’s true, but what can you do about it? As I recycled a big pile of magazines the other day, and when I came across this Unclutterer post, I had an idea. Why not compile some binders or folders (physical and/or digital) of articles, blog posts, book reviews, and other timely publications on topics of high interest and high turnover rate to teens, like health, dating, and technology so that you have a non-fiction resource that’s guaranteed to always be up to date? If you’re already using Pinterest, start a new page. Otherwise, start signing up for RSS feeds and a Twitter account to grab relevant links and put them somewhere where your patrons can have easy access. Make sure you make note of this on your library website and perhaps in your physical nonfiction stacks as well. If you don’t have time to follow as many blogs as you’d like, assign a topic each to your interns, volunteers, or advisory board members. Not only are you providing a great service to your patrons, then, but it becomes a great exercise in how to do research, how to use technology or publishing tools, and how to gauge an article’s relevance and integrity.
  • What do you think of the new focus of this column? Please let me know of any questions or suggestions in the comments! See you in August.

    About Hannah Gómez

    School librarian in Northern California. MA children's literature, MS library and information science (Simmons College). Sometime scholar, sometime reviewer, sometime creative writer, always media-obsessed.
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