When Libraries Become a Refuge for Youth in a Post-Election World

Provided by Kyna Styes

Provided by Kyna Styes

On November 8, 2016, the United States of America elected Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. The campaign process and the election was both tumultuous and divisive. When the results of the election were announced, some people took to the streets to protest their anger and disappointment while others expressed hatred and bigotry in acts of violence, vandalism, and intimidation. Needless to say, our country is hurting and many of our patrons are living in fear for themselves and their families. In times like these, many assume that libraries must remain neutral and continue business as usual. However, for those of us who work on the front lines, we see the pain and we see the fear, especially from the youth. As young adult library staff, we can no longer remain neutral because it our responsibility to stand up for youth and convey to our communities that libraries are a safe space for all and we will not tolerate any behaviors that threaten the safety and the well-being of our youth.

Before we create a plan of action, we need to go back to the fundamentals of what it means to be a young adult professional. On June 27, 2015, the YALSA Board of Directors adopted the Core Professional Values for the Teen Services Profession (developed by YALSA’s Professional Values Taskforce) that outlines nine values that set the foundation for young adult professionals. Here are the nine values: Accountability, Collaboration, Compassion, Excellence, Innovation, Inclusion, Integrity, Professional Duty, and Social Responsibility. If you have not reviewed this document, take a few minutes to read it, especially the values that focus on: Compassion, Inclusion, and Social Responsibility. As young adult library professionals, some of us have already witnessed the backlash of the election as teens divulged their fears, shed tears, and made hasty decisions to do things that could harm them in the future. By upholding these core values, we have a responsibility to inform teens that they are safe in our buildings and that we, as library professionals, will help them in any way we can to make sure they have access to services and information to overcome any adversity they may face. More importantly, by demonstrating these values with our teen patrons, we have the opportunity to build, or reinforce, relationships where they know we care about them and that they are not alone. Here are some great ideas that youth services library workers are doing for their communities, post-election:

By standing up for our youth, not only are we modeling positive behaviors between youth services staff and teens, we are conveying to our non-youth services colleagues, fellow city workers, and community partners that we need to work together to ensure our youth is provided for, nurtured, and protected. In other words, start partnering with your city organizations to create a united front to convey to the community that we will stand up and protect the youth of our cities. More importantly, relay patron concerns to city officials and ask them to stand with us and our partners. As the Social Responsibility states, “[Social responsibility creates a] mutual trust between the profession and the larger public [by responding] to societal needs as they relate to teens and libraries” (2015).  YALSA has some partnering resources on its wiki that you may want to explore.

So what exactly can we do to support our teen communities?  One idea is to visit YALSA’s Wiki, which has an amazing selection of post-election resources that we can implement immediately to create a safe environment for our youth, and also promote positive change by creating a safe and inclusive space. In fact, this is a great opportunity to get teens involved in the creation of this space as well as signage that can be posted throughout the library:

With the recent string of violence and intolerance, it’s imperative that we initiate a conversation not just with our teens, but with our staff, administration, fellow city agencies, colleagues, and community partners. As previously stated, we need to communicate with each other what our stance is (when it comes the issues that our youth fear the most) and how we can collectively work together  to reassure our youth that we are here to support them. Along with these services, YALSA’s The Hub has an amazing selection of reading recommendations that we can use to initiate conversations about promoting social change and building empathy within our libraries and community.  Last, but not least, we need to provide extra support to our schools because teachers witnessed, first hand, the initial reactions of their students-post-election.  Here are what schools and teachers are doing to help their students process the outcome of the election:

Along with working with our staff, city agencies, teachers, and partners, we can also do things that speak louder than words such as re-evaluating our library policies to determine if they are inclusive, and, more importantly, re-evaluate, or create, a code of conduct/behavior policies. At YALSA’s Town Hall meeting on Wednesday, November 16, there was an awesome discussion about what we can do to make our physical buildings and policies more effective, and one member suggested we post our policies for our patrons to see. As the phrase aptly states “out of sight, out of mind” so let’s do the opposite and post our policies in plain view to remind patrons what the library considers acceptable behavior and what is not tolerated.

With our space and policies in good shape, it’s time to elevate our programming to include social justice and civic engagement.  The first thing we should do is invite teens to talk about how the library can help them feel not only safe, but empowered. Here are some ideas on how to initiate the conversation:

Although this conversation will be difficult, it’s important that we address the difficult issues and fears people are facing, even if the discussion leaves everyone in tears including ourselves. By giving teens the space they need to grieve, not only is it a healthy for them, but we can channel all of that negativity into something positive. For example, create a committee where teens can volunteer their time to help us re-evaluate our policies. If we are building safe space, this committee can give input and even have them create a press release describing the new space.  Another idea to engage teens in involve them in the programming and services planning process that will create an inclusive environment. Here are a few ideas:

  • Work with community partners to host events celebrating diversity in our communities
  • Host or create a Human Library event to de-stigmatize race, religion, gender, ability, and sexuality
  • Provide teens access to resources (print and online) that will help them learn more about their rights and how to advocate for themselves
  • Promote civic engagement by posting a list of volunteer opportunities where teens can make a difference in their communities
  • Teach teens how to respond to instances of bullying and give them the tools to report unwarranted acts of racism or violence
  • Feature materials in your library and online that provide a unique perspective on subjects such as racism, homophobia, religious fundamentalism, and discrimination
  • Invite local speakers from organizations to talk about the issues our communities are facing and how we can band together to stop the hate
  • Set aside time to listen to teens who just need to vent and stock up on tissues and chocolate

The list can go on and on, but it’s important that we acknowledge the needs of our youth by taking action that is going to uplift and support them in these trying times. As Julie Todaro, 2016-2017, ALA President, stated in a statement entitled “Libraries Respond”:

ALA believes that the struggle against racism, prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination is central to our mission. As an association representing these libraries, librarians and library workers, we will continue to support efforts to abolish intolerance and cultural invisibility, stand up for all the members of the communities we serve, and promote understanding and inclusion through our work (2016).

As we are preparing to  defend, support and empower our youth, we need to remember that we are also human beings who need time to rest and decompress. This election has not only left a lot of us deflated and angry, it is taking a toll on our physical and mental health. With that said, take time to care for ourselves and each other. I know how difficult it is to separate our professional lives from our personal lives, but we need to draw the line somewhere otherwise we will burn out. More importantly, we need to lean on each other for help so if you feel compelled to call on YALSA or state youth services library groups then sound the alarm. Lastly, if you find that some of your colleagues are resistant, or even hesitant to assist you, it’s okay because there is a plethora of us who will take up the charge. We are all in this together and, hopefully, we will withstand any political storms that may hit our shores. As Alexandre Dumas brilliantly stated “Un pour tous, tous pour un” which translates to “One for all, and all for one.”

If you would like to post the flyer that Kyna Styles made, you can download it here.

Note from Deborah:

I want to thank Beth Yoke a million times  for providing me with an extensive list of resources to read and refer to in this post. This is by far one of the extensive and intense posts I have ever written and I couldn’t have done it without you!

About Deborah Takahashi

Deborah Takahashi is a Branch Librarian for the Pasadena Public Library. Deborah has been working with teens and children for more than ten years and loves every minute. As a Branch Librarian, Deborah literally does a little of everything which includes collection management, programming, outreach, and much, much more!
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