Think literacy, not reading. Think content, not books. Think relationship, not supervision. Think participation, not outreach. Think “culturally responsive, information-rich, and technologically advanced environment” and not “teen room.” This is the paradigm-shift that is advocated in YALSA’s The Future of Library Services for and with Teens Report.
Reading this report as a school librarian, I feel like many of us have already felt this mind-shift and participated in its momentum. School librarians often work in “media centers” now, after all, not libraries. We talk about the achievement gap at every staff development day and already discuss “literacies” plural when we are teaching and creating curriculum.
But there is still a long way to go before all school libraries really become the ideal neutral, safe places where teens can grow intellectually, emotionally, and socially. And I think this is especially true in the school libraries of our youngest teens: middle schoolers.
Middle school can be a rough time. Navigating the transition from child to adolescent is tough, as we all remember. New interests and identities emerge (sometimes painfully) as 6th, 7th, and 8th graders face new challenges, meet new people and engage with new ideas. But middle schools also provide a chance for teen library staff to engage with teens right at the start of their teen years, forming relationships with them, helping them become critical thinkers and life-long learners, and supporting them as they become who they are. Middle school library staff can accomplish this by re-imagining literacy, diversity and community in the middle school library.