Trendspotting: Know Your Weaknesses

1966 ... rec room party

Image Courtesy of James Vaughan

There is a famous line from the Lethal Weapon movies spoken by Roger Murtaugh: “I’m getting too old for this . . . .” It can be easy to feel this way when working with teens, who are constantly changing their minds. Something is hot one minute and cold the next, sometimes trends are equally hot and cold (ask a group of teens about Justin Bieber or One Direction and pay close attention to the split). It can be hard enough to keep up with what teens are into, but sometimes an age difference of a few years can seem like decades to a teen. Trust me, that divide seems just as vast to librarians. In music alone we have to keep up with J-Biebs and 1D, while deciding whether to give attention to flashes in the pan, such as Baauer. Will Taylor Swift continue to be relevant to teens, or as she matures as an artist will teens lose touch with her material? There are so many what-ifs in pop culture, and how teens relate to pop culture, that it would be so much easier to echo Murtaugh’s refrain and throw in the towel.

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Millennial Librarianship

I more or less live-blogged this, but of course now that I’m posting a day late the term “live” doesn’t really apply. I impressed myself with my stenography skillz, but then I realized I had created an extremely long blog post. Not for the faint of heart! I promise in the future I’ll be more brief, but I’m hoping some folks might find this “full transcript” (I did edit a little) useful.

Oh, and if anyone was in the audience and asked a question, feel free to leave a note with your name in comments–I’d love to attribute your wonderful questions to you!

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From Student Life to Real Life

As an instructor in a library school I’m always excited by the ideas and innovations that students bring to class discussions. The students I teach are great thinkers and are ready to advocate for teens through library programs and services, as well as within the communities in which they work (or may end up working some day.)

But, sometimes I wonder, what happens to that excitement and energy when a student goes from the somewhat insular world of library school to the world of real live libraries. It seems that once out in the real world the day-to-day policies and procedures of a library hinder, and sometimes even kill, what I was able to catch a glimpse of in the library school classroom.

So, that makes me think librarians that are in the world of real-life libraries need to better support students, both when in library school and when just out of that rarefied environment. What can we “old-timers” do? We can:

  • Give students and new librarians opportunities to try out ideas that might be outside the box of what is typical or traditional in the library. Instead of saying something like, “We tried something like that once but it didn’t work.” What about saying, “That sounds like a really good idea, let me know how I can help you make it happen.”
  • Work with library schools to make connections with students and find out what happens in library school classrooms of the early 21st century. Then begin to figure out ways to integrate those ideas into teen services today.
  • Just like teen librarians need to talk with teens about the programs and services teens want and need from the library, librarians need to talk to library school students to find out what those students want and need. Also, it’s important to find out what current library school students envision for the job they will end up in when out of library school.
  • Put yourself in the role of a student by taking classes either in a library school, through YALSA, or through another institution that focuses on teens and/or libraries. Find out what new ideas are out there. Get energized by the ideas and possibilities that current library school students are being exposed to.

Don’t forget that YALSA has a Student Interest Group that is geared to supporting the needs of library school students. The group can also provide a way for “old-timers” to connect with students and build relationships for the future.

Anyone interested in the Student Interest Group can contact me, lbraun@leonline.com, for more information. Students if you have ideas about how current librarians can help you as you start your new careers working with teens and in libraries feel free to comment here. Let us know what your thoughts are.

Giving Thanks for Teens

Dear teens,

You’ll probably never read this post, but that’s okay. I just wanted to write because I’ve been thinking about you lately. Today, Pittsburgh’s loomed with overcast skies and coated us in drizzle. I had some tofurkey with friends earlier, and now I’m back home on the couch, taking stock of my life. You see, I recently read Susan Beth Pfeffer’s Life As We Knew It. If you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest it. It’s an evocative–if not emotionally excruciating–account of what happens to a family after an asteroid hits the moon, knocking it out of orbit and toward the Earth. Natural disasters, extreme temperatures, and flu outbreaks ravage civilization, killing countless people across the globe. Meanwhile, the main character Miranda documents it all: the mad rush for food, the volcanic ash blocking out the sun, and the knowledge that anyone, no matter how much you love them, is at risk for death.

It’s a lot to think about. And it got me thinking that disaster preparedness isn’t just having the food, fuel, and tools you’ll need to survive. It’s about making sure that the people you appreciate are reminded that you appreciate them, because–well–you can’t predict the future.

That’s why I wanted to write this post. Because you, teens, are people I appreciate.

Never mind the sensationalized news reports. Never mind the heaps of bitter blog posts about you from librarians that don’t “get it.” Every day, I wake up inspired to serve you. I appreciate your energy. I admire your courage. I wonder at your fortitude. The challenge to hold your attention has had a momentous impact on library services across the board, and has kept me striving to keep up with innovations in how I deliver information to you.

Your questioning about our policies, services, and collections helps me constantly reevaluate what I do and why I do it. Sometimes, I have a good answer for you. Other times, it means I have an opportunity to improve the library. You give me somebody I can talk with about cutting edge literature.

I appreciate that you’re so willing to share. I appreciate your engagement, your care, and your concern for the world around you. I appreciate that no matter what you ended up doing while here (and how much trouble you may or may not have gotten for it), you at one point thought, “You know, the library is a place I want to go.”

So thank you, teens. Thank you for the weeks of long hours, stress, and hard work. Thank you for the excitement. Thank you for the exhaustion. And, perhaps above all, thank you allowing me to never hesitate when answering the question “How do you like your job?”

What else is there to say but “I love it!”

So while you may never read this, I just wanted to put it out there. I hope that the sentiment seeps into the ether, so that when you enter your library, you know that at least one librarian, somewhere, really appreciates you. And that thanks to the efforts of people from Margaret A. Edwards and beyond, there’s an awful lot more of us where that came from.

With gratitude,
Joseph Wilk

P.S. — While on the subject of Thanksgiving, I just wanted to give a quick shout out to Debbie Reese’s blog American Indians in Children’s Literature (see http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com for more information). Debbie’s been a critical voice in reminding us that the American Indian Movement is still alive and relevant, and that there’s a lot to consider when we’re presented with teen books featuring American Indian characters or themes. It’s no secret that many people celebrate Thanksgiving based on historical myths, and that many other myths continue to affect people’s perceptions of American Indians. Debbie’s blog will help you think critically about and untangle those notions, wherever they might exist in the literature that we promote to teens. Thanks, Debbie, for the resources! For answers to more questions about materials, services, and resources, check out the American Indian Library Association.