The other day I had a conversation with library school students on the topic of fear.’ It came up when I realized that several of the students said they needed to be careful about what they put on their teen library shelves because of the community in which they worked. The concept was, people in my community don’t want that. I know my community and that won’t meet their needs.
As I kept hearing this comment I thought about how some librarians use “I know my community” as an excuse for not purchasing controversial materials for the collection. For example, if I say that my community doesn’t want these materials for teens on the shelves then it’s OK that I don’t buy them.
There are at least two things to question within that framework.
- First, how do you know the community doesn’t want those materials on the shelf? Have you asked them? Or, are you making an assumption based on a fear that someone (maybe only one person) might complain about the item you’ve added?
- Second, even if there are some members of the adult community who might not want a certain item (or items) on the library’s shelves, isn’t it the role of the teen librarian to advocate and support teens by having materials that might serve teen needs while at the same time perhaps making others uncomfortable? Aren’t teens members of the library community who deserve to have materials on the shelves that they want, even if members of the adult community might not think what they want is appropriate?
While I realize that it can be scary to put something in the library collection that might raise some community hackles, the only way it’s possible to serve teens successfully is to provide materials that help them to grow up to be well-adjusted adults. That can only happen if there are books, CDs, movies, web sites, etc. in the collection that answer some of the tough questions teens have about sex, health, relationships, drugs, and so on.
A librarian serving teens has to be prepared for community reactions to items in the collection. The best thing for a librarian to do is to continually educate adults about the role of the library in a teen’s life and make sure adults in the community know why it’s important to have a wide-variety of materials available to teens.’ The Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets are a great resource for demonstrating the need for controversial materials in the library teen collection.
Take a look at the Assets and while you do think about an item that’s in the library collection that might be controversial.’ Ask yourself, how does that item help teens meet the assets outlined by the Search Institute? If a teen reads the book or listens to the music you are thinking of, will he or she gain social competencies? Will the teen feel empowered?’ Will you demonstrate support of the teen by making the item available?
Don’t let fear be your decision-maker when building your teen collection. Yes, it’s important to know your community. But, knowing your community means focusing on the teens who might have the library as the only place where they can access the information they need in order to grow up successfully. Be a teen advocate by giving teens the resources they deserve.