It wasn’t until I was drafting my essay for my graduate school application that I knew what kind of librarian I wanted to be. Currently, I work as an academic librarian, where I tend to non-traditional students and their woes of returning to college. I enjoy my job very much; however, working with the youth, particularly teens, has been my goal since I began grad school. There are youth librarians all over the United States, all of them with varying reasons on why they wanted to work in this area of librarianship. For instance, they may have a passion for interacting with kids and teens, or perhaps working with youth keeps them young and vibrant themselves.
My reasons for becoming a youth librarian are probably the same as others, and I’ve got three of them. For one, I want to give teens a voice. Second, I want to show them how the library is still relevant to their lives, and third, I want to show them that as a person of color, we exist in all professions, including as youth librarians.
With social media platforms freely available, teens have multiple ways to voice their opinions. Even with Facebook and Twitter, not everyone takes teens seriously because some are treated like children; they should be seen and not heard. Sometimes, I catch myself dismissing my 14-year-old brother’s opinions, which isn’t right. As a future youth librarian, I’d like to ensure that teens can freely and safely express themselves. When they can share their thoughts and feelings, they have the agency and autonomy to make choices that benefit them. Teens of color need to be comfortable with expressing their views about the world. It has been my experience that they are silenced and punished for being who they are, be it through their natural hair, sexuality, religion, etc. As a future youth librarian, I plan to create programs and spaces where teens can be honest, and that’s enormously important.
Google has been the go-to for information and fast facts, leading some people to think libraries are irrelevant, but that can be furthest from the truth. Libraries offer various services and programs for patrons, such as Internet access, copying, printing, and scanning services, databases like EBSCO and ProQuest, and summer reading/learning programs for teens. Libraries still have a place in communities across the U.S. If we didn’t need libraries, I ask, wouldn’t all of them be closed by now?
Getting teens to participate in the library is a challenge, but as a future youth librarian, I’d like to show them how the library fits into their lives. Youth librarians offer tutoring services, movie nights, and even host their own Library Comic Con. Overall, libraries are environments that can foster socialization for teens, especially for those who are introverted. Libraries are relevant to them, whether they realize it or not. It’s up to youth librarians to show teens that, which is something I’d like to do one day.
Unfortunately, there are multiple industries where the workforce is overwhelmingly white. Libraries are no different; the majority of librarians are white women. As a black woman and as a future youth librarian, I’d like to show teens that they can exist in professions that may not always reflect them. They can break barriers in any field they chose and show up with curly hair and brown skin. The first black librarian I ever encountered was in elementary school. She was so encouraging and even gifted me with my favorite Judy Blume book. I didn’t realize what an impact she had on me as a little black child, but now that I’m 26 and more aware of the world, I realize how crucial it is to have someone look like me in the library field. Teens of color should be able to see themselves wherever they go or in what they watch. I’m proud to be that representation for them.
Youth librarians are needed, and it’s my hope, as a future youth librarian, that I can show teens that and how the library can be the place that offers them more than they thought.
-Annierra Matthews is a Research Services Librarian at Mercer University in Douglasville, Georgia. She’s currently reading Remembrance by Rita Woods.