Recently, I had the pleasure of catching up with Laurie Doan, a 2017 recipient of the ALA I Love My Librarian Award. She currently serves as a Young Adult Librarian at the Tredyffrin Public Library in Wayne, Pennsylvania. One of only ten librarians to earn this year’s recognition, she was nominated for her extraordinary work in fostering educational opportunities for the teens in her community, and for encouraging a wide variety of creative pursuits. Among the countless projects she supports, an alternative theater program within the library has been wildly successful with teens and adults alike. We discussed this and other aspects of her work when we spoke earlier this month.
Tess Wilson: Have you always had a passion for serving young adults in the library?
Laurie Doan: When I was young I chased after my own dreams and bringing my own visions to fruition. It’s only in my middle years that I’ve switched to being involved in the process of helping teens bring their dreams to life. I’ve had some great guidance on my journey and now I want to give back.
TW: You once said that your goal “was not to build the greatest generation, but to build what might need to be the most resilient generation.” How do you work toward that goal?
LD: Libraries are in a great position to help build grit and resilience in young people! We have books like The Little Engine That Could to A Single Shard to Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.
We can help the next generation find their purpose by connecting them with mentors and giving them a sandbox (space) to create in. We can encourage them to try to do hard things and to finish what they start.
TW: What are some of the challenges specific to this philosophy of young adult service?
LD: The biggest thing is to know yourself and be conscious of your own traits. I always tended to be perfectionist which can make you risk-adverse. I needed to let go of that and embrace failure. I always tell the students, “It’s not always what you get that takes you far. It’s what you don’t get.” Our failures teach the most valuable lessons; mainly they teach us if you’re tenacious about a goal. Another challenge is the erratic hours. I made a pact with myself to try and always say YES! when I encouraged the teens to become the event planners here. It means a lot of rehearsals on Sundays and events on Saturday nights. I’ve learned to get my Sunday morning in on Monday morning.
TW: You say that you’re “still being taught…most of all by the teens themselves.” What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned through your work with young adults?
LD: Patience is the major lesson. We did a musical called Teen Brain: The Musical a few years ago that taught me so much about…well…the teen brain. The musical “entertains while dramatizing how the neural gawkiness of the beautifully mysterious, rapid-speed, impulsive teen brain often results in vexing and inconsistent behavior, occasional misfires and, all too often, tragic consequences.” This play made me realize that with patience and unwavering belief in our teens, we might not only help them grow but might save a life.
I’ve been taught by the teens the truth of the words from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I’ve also learned to apologize.
TW: I would love to hear more about the “Second Theater” program in your library. Is this a teen-directed program? What has the community’s response been?
LD: When I was first starting out, I took a literacy class with Dr. Ellen Scales, in the Education Department at Drexel University. She advised me that young adults in our community working on their different literacies were short of venues. Of the venues available within the community, many are unavailable to teens or cost prohibitive. Tredyffrin Library began to offer a venue to this underserved population. Dr. Scales’ wisdom helped us to set a course which eventually led us to many successful offerings at the library as a venue for teens to express their creativity.
The Venue is a flexible space that can be set up for movie nights, a meeting space, or (extremely popular) a coffeehouse. The standard meeting room equipment includes: microphones, computer, projector, screens, DVD Player, folding tables, chairs, and kitchen. Through careful budgeting over many years, the teen program also has amassed speakers, a mixer, pipe and drape, keyboard, amps, mics, and an electronic drum set.
We also have a portable lighting system which has been specifically designed for our versatile space and which the teens raised most of the money for!
The teens have directed shows as diverse as Little Women, Teen Brain, Runaways, An Ordinary Day, and The Hundred Dresses. In the beginning, I chose the shows and asked them what they thought. As we progressed, and teens saw what was happening here, they began to ask us to produce their own choices.
The community’s response has been positive. They appreciate that teens need a place to express themselves and to socialize. Plus, it’s a great opportunity for friends and family to experience quality performances in our own Strafford Park. No need to pay for parking, take the train, or purchase tickets!
TW: How do you balance your community involvement and teen fundraising efforts with the everyday programming and planning you implement in your library?
LD: Growing up I was drawn to books and television shows where the town they were set in became like a character itself. I always loved a community where people supported each other through the good times and the bad.
I make time to go to see performances at our local schools. I go to any party that I’m invited to. I love running into library patrons at the grocery store. Knowing that I live and work in such a welcoming community keeps me energized and affirmative. Since the teens do most of the programming and planning implemented here, some of our best ideas come from those on-the-fly meetings outside the auditorium after a concert or sporting event at the school.
TW: I understand you donated your award back into the library! Will those funds go toward a special project?
LD: We plan on buying a portable stage that we can set-up and break-down for productions. We’ve been borrowing one and picking it up with truck. We anticipate using the stage for other things as well, besides theater. It will give a much better view for our audience for most of our programs.
TW: What shifts or changes do you foresee for the future of young adult library services or the youth we serve?
LD: To figure that out, I’d have to be able to figure out the shift and changes in the young adults themselves. And even Madison Avenue doesn’t seem to be able to figure that out. I think the information coming out about the changes the teen brain goes through in this stage of development will have a great effect.
There is a new public awareness of teen’s mental health problems and less stigma making it easier for teens to talk about it. This year I was certified in Youth Mental Health First Aid which reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. We create the world these young people will live in, so I’m happy to see a shift in how we address their health and happiness.
TW: What new and awesome things are on the horizon for you and your teens?
LD: The teens I work with are extremely altruistic and generous. I can’t wait to see who they’ll be when they grow up! I know they’ll be awesome because they already are.
I don’t know exactly what awe-inspiring things are on the horizon but the teens are constantly introducing me to new things! Things like Dear Evan Hanson, Kahoot!, and their fresh and humorous puns. Every day’s a new day with teens!