As an undergraudate student, I was referred to the local public library – The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County in Ohio – for a job listing. The rest is, as they say, history. I became their Young Adult Services Assistant, and I had no idea what I was doing. But I loved it and worked hard to learn, eventually getting my MLS from Kent State University in 2002.
How long have you worked or supported libraries?
I have worked in public libraries for 19 years now, always working as a young adult librarian and either youth services or adult services. I have worked in 4 different libraries, each having a different structure, size, and level of funding. Leaving my last library and my teens at Marion Public Library was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, but the economy hit Ohio hard and my husband found employment in Texas so we moved. I now work part-time at the Betty Warmack Branch Library in Grand Prairie. And the only thing I can say that I have loved about the move is how it lead me to start my advocacy project, Teen Librarian Toolbox, and how it has resulted in my growing so much as both a librarian and an advocate.
How did you help the teens in your library or community?
Libraries are vital community resources that help provide access to a wide variety of important resources, whether they be books or technology. Research proves time and time again that libraries are essential to communities, to students, to teens. I am also a big advocate of the 40 Developmental Assets put together by The Search Institute. Again, research shows that the more assets a teen has in their back pocket, the more successful they are and the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors. You can go down the checklist of assets and see how many libraries support in the lives of teens. By simply providing well rounded collections and developmentally appropriate programs, we are helping the teens in our communities. In addition, things like Teen Advisory Boards and Teen Volunteer programs give teens a voice, a chance to develop leadership skills, and a chance to positively give back to their communities.
And sometimes, we make a difference by developing relationships with our teens. There is a young man, Anthony, who went through my library program with me for years. He is in college now but we very much keep in contact. Our relationship began when he was caught vandalizing the library building with a group of his friends. Rather than call the police, we made him come back and clean it up and he became a huge library advocate. When he would show up to programs with low attendance he would whip out his cell phone and get kids to show up. He never became a huge reader, but he came to our programs and is now working hard to put himself through college. I respect so much what he has overcame, what he is overcoming each day, to be a positive force in the life of others. I like to think the library had a part to play in it all.
Please describe your advocacy activity and break down how it was done, why, and potentially the impacts.
When I resigned from MPL, I knew that finding a new YA Librarian job would be hard because of what is happening in libraries around our country. I hearfar far too often of cuts in staff, funding, and hours of operation. I also knew that I couldn’t deny who I was – I am to my very core a librarian. So I began Teen Librarian Toolbox as a way to keep doing what I love to do. I figured if I can’t work in a library, then I can help those that do by sharing my passion. It has evolved over the past year and a half and has become a great forum for me to share my passion, programming ideas, my thoughts on the books I read, and more. It has also evolved into a community of 4 YA librarians including myself, Stephanie Wilkes (from LA), Christie Gibrich (who works in my library system), and Heather Booth (from IL).
Our thought is this: As we serve our teens locally, we can also share what we do and impact an even greater number of teens positively. And as we share, we learn, grown and are re-inspired daily by being involved in discussions with our fellow YA Librarians.
The big project that we kicked off at the beginning of 2012 was The 2012 Project. What I wanted to do was collect pictures of teens using libraries all over so that we can SHOW the world that teens do love and use their libraries. So all year long librarians Tweeted pictures, posted them to Facebook accounts, and sent them to TLT so we could try and put together a gallery. In the end, we probably did receive either 2012 pictures (our original goal) in one form or another – and we shared them throughout the year. The most recent sharing occurred when we were inspired by Kearsten at Glendale Public Library in Arizona. She put together an awesome display with her TAG group called #mustacheyoutoread and we really actively campaigned at TLT to help make the teens efforts go viral. A lot of Twitter people participated and supported the Teens at Glendale Public Library. If you look up the hastag #mustacheyoutoread you can see the pics.
I also write a variety of advocacy tips and articles at TLT to share with libraries. My favorite, Libraries are the Beating Hearts (of communities), has been shared by libraries all over as they seek to remind their local communities how important libraries are.
Teen Librarian Toolbox is all about serving teens and advocating not only for teens, but for awesome library services to teens. That means we have to work to make sure libraries are funded, that library services to teens are adequately staffed and funded within individual library systems, and that librarians have the passion and knowledge to keep moving forward. Hopefully, everyone finds a little piece of what they need at TLT.
Some of the various things we feature at TLT include: advocacy and marketing, teen issues, teen services 101, and, of course, book reviews and discussions of the issues we see in the book we read. We also share our program outlines and there are a little over 40 programs online currently.
TLT has really been a rewarding experience because it has challenged us to really articulate why we do what we do and why it is mportant, and in doing so, we re-invogorate ourselves to the cause daily.
Karen Jensen, MLS
Teen Librarian Toolbox