I just had the chance to see the documentary Frontrunners.’ It’s the story of three students at Stuyvesant High School, in New York City, who run for president of the school’s Student Union.
Whenever I see a documentary with or about teens, I walk into the theater with a bit of trepidation.’ I worry that the filmmakers will have gone into the filmmaking with a hidden, or not so hidden, agenda. I worry the filmmakers want viewers to leave the movie with a very specific message about teens and the world that teens inhabit. Sometimes I leave a documentary about teens feeling like the teens in the film have been horribly used and manipulated.
I’m happy to say that Frontrunners didn’t use or abuse the teens profiled in the film. It instead succeeded at showing how just a few teens that attend a very competitive high school vie for high school political office. One of the things I liked about the film was that I don’t think it tried to make grand statements about all teens. It simply profiled a few teens and the world they live in.
Watching Frontrunners I did start thinking about teens and libraries. (It’s an occupational hazard I suppose.)’ I wondered, do these teens use any of the New York City public library systems or their school library? The teens in the film are obviously high achievers – they have to be to go to this particular school and to also run for school office.’ Do our libraries serve them well? How successful are we at meeting the needs of teens at all parts of the spectrum – underachievers, over achievers, and those in between?’ Should we be trying to reach these overachieving teens as much as other teens in the community?’ Or, are these teens the ones we are actually best at reaching and serving?
This might seem like I”m pushing an idea or point when there is no need to. Certainly Frontrunners’ wasn’t a profile of teens and their educational or informational needs. But, if I’m watching and learning about teens, I can’t help but wonder about whether or not there is a library to serve them, and if there even needs to be a library to serve them.
Thinking about the film after seeing it, I was reminded of an experience I had recently when talking with a group of high school students about a library project. (The teens I talked to are most likely not overachievers but are probably in the middle of the achievement spectrum.) The teens asked me, “Why would the library even try to connect with teens? There’s really not a reason for us to use the library – virtually or physically – is there?”
I wonder, do the teens in Frontrunners have this same question? I also wonder, what message do the libraries serving these teens send to the teens? Films and TV often send messages about teens. But, what about the messages we send to teens about libraries? How do we show teens that are Frontrunners, along with other teens, why we want to connect with the age group?
We don’t only need to pay attention to the messages TV and film send to adults about teens, but we have to be aware of the messages we send to teens about libraries and what we try to accomplish.’ We need to have a good answer to the question, “Why do libraries want to connect with teens?” And, it has to be an answer that will work for teens, not just colleagues, administrators, and adults in the community.