#makeitbetter

For most of my adult life, my jobs have called for me to work with children–adorable, slobbery faced babies, chubby cheeked, bow-legged toddlers, and loveable, chattering preschoolers. When these children fuss or act out or throw a tantrum, it’s vexing, but manageable–after all, they’re still small enough for the average adult to pick them up and carry them off, which is a strategy I heartily endorse when your kid is losing it loudly in public.

Yet as well all know, these little kids grow up to be bigger kids, and eventually they end up in that fresh hell of adolescence(1). They are taller, ganglier, smellier, stronger, and just as determined to say “No!” and push boundaries as any two year old. Unlike with a toddler, however, we can’t just pick up a thirteen year old and haul him out the door. We have to talk with him, just as you do a toddler, but at longer length, and with a conversation partner who can respond, question, and prod you with much more than just a screamed “No!”

It’s easy to love babies and toddlers. They’re designed that way–big eyes, easy smiles, chubby limbs. It’s hard to love your average teenager. They slouch, they sneer, they argue–but they’re designed that way. They’re trying on personalities along with their clothes and hairstyles, and they’re trying to find out who they want to be in the world. Once they know who they are, they’ll find out what they want to do, and begin to take a wider interest in the world. Teens are designed to have an intense preoccupation with the self, because they are trying to figure out who that “self” is. And is there a better place to pursue this self-discovery than the library?

The best libraries and best librarians know these things about teens, mostly through observation. Just as it would serve children’s librarians better to take child development courses, it would serve teen librarians better to do the same. (2)  Adolescence is a turbulent, fascinating time in human development, and if you don’t know what it entails and why it happens the way it does, you’re going to be confused, and that confusion will lead to anger, irrational behavior, and bad choices.

Erikson has a concept called “psychosocial moratorium”, which is a concept that adolescents need a time-out from “the sort of excessive responsibilities and obligations that might restrict the young person’s pursuit of self-discovery” (Steinberg p. 458). What does that mean? Teens need time to hang out, without being told what to do, as a developmental NEED. They are not lazy; they are not stupid; they are not purposefully trying to ignore you; when they sit there, with their friends, being obnoxious, they are actually HARD AT WORK, BECOMING PEOPLE.

Steve Teeri (3) understands this, and is doing good work in Detroit supporting teens’ need to discover, push boundaries, and explore. He also makes a good point about remembering your own time as a teenager, and the stupid crap you probably did/said/wore:

Young adults are at a pivotal time in their lives. As they near adulthood, teens try on different personas and identities, in an attempt to figure out just who the heck they are. When I was a teen it was the exact same process. For me it was being preppy with my letter jacket and khakis one day. Doc Mart[e]n steel-toe boots with a black shirt and jeans another. Maybe a Hypercolor color-changing shirt and cut-off pair of jean shorts that we won’t talk about any further. Matched together with this quest for identity, is a rush of hormones and limitless teen energy. It’s enough to make any settled adult run for cover.

He also issues a challenge to those who are not passionate about the work, a gauntlet which I’ve tossed down so many times on this blog that my hand is starting to hurt:

When speaking about our teens, I try never to say “the teens,” it is always “my teens” or “our teens.” I take full responsibility and ownership of their experience and growth as people when in my department. It sounds basic, but I have heard stories about YA staff who do not want to interact with their teens. If that is the case, hit the eject button and get out of YA immediately.

Yet when you consider that Erik Erikson considers young adulthood to last until forty (yes, 4-0, with 13-19 being more precisely “adolescence”), you can scarcely be a librarian period without working with young adults.

Which leads into Justin’s heartfelt plea for more teen librarians. Or librarians for teens. Which, sadly, is not likely to happen any time soon; it takes a rare kind of person to work with teens well, and there just aren’t enough of these people to meet the demand. However, what teen librarians can do is foster environments where all library staff treat teens with the same professionalism and courtesy that is accorded older adults, and the same indulgence and patience that is accorded to children. They can advocate for teen spaces, services, and programs and set an example for their coworkers to follow.

Sometimes this will be a fairly easy task. Susan Kunkle, at the Forest Park Public Library, was able to reclaim a room in her Youth Services Department that was being used by an outside agency and turn into a teen space. She was fortunate to have the  support of her director, board, and staff, and most importantly, the teens.

Sometimes this will be a struggle, if you lack support, or funding, or both. My friend Gordon has limited hours and funds with which to make things happen for the teens he works with, but he does the most and best with what he can. Last year he garnered tremendous online support to win a free visit from author Kimberly Pauley, and I’ve gathered lots of anecdotal evidence from his online professional development that he cares about and understands his teens deeply. So no whining that without flashy gadgets you can never hope to catch and keep the attention of teens; all they really crave is positive interactions with adults (also a developmental need).

So the title of this post. Many of you might be familiar with make it happen, which is an attitude and an edict and a way of approaching your work and your life. I would like to suggest that once you start making things happen, you need to keep it going and look at how you can make things better–which, in my opinion, is what librarianship is all about. Everything you do and collect has the potential to make someone’s life better. By offering a photocopier and assistance in using it, an elderly man will be able to send in the forms needed for his disability card, which will make his life better. By giving a frazzled parent a copy of The Happiest Baby on the Block, you’ll make that parent’s (and that baby’s) life better. By offering free ESL classes and materials, you’ll make a non-native English speaker’s life better. By giving teens the time and space they need to become themselves, you’re making their lives better. By doing these things, you are a better librarian and a better person.

Know a librarian who is making it better? Tell us about it. I could use some good news.

Library Teen Centers, Notes from the Field by Steve Teeri
This is a Call by Justin Hoeneke

1: Ruby Oliver, the main character in E. Lockhart’s funny Ruby Oliver novels, calls adolescence “Mocha Latte”, which sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it?

2: Add Childhood by Laurence Steinberg and Roberta Meyer to your professional development bookshelf immediately. Easy to read, clearly laid out, and concise, it will arm you with information from infancy to adolescent with ease.

3: It’s hard to not type Steve’s name with a million Es, and in all caps.

make it happen: teen space.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I worked at Forest Park Public Library back in 2006/2007, and I must admit that every single time I worked a desk shift, I would stare balefully at the local history room. Not that I dislike local history, mind you, but because I like and care about teenagers more—and I could see, even then, that the teens in Forest Park that were coming to the library deserved a place of their own to hang out and be themselves. I wanted to take over that room that was being used by the historical society and put it to use for the teens. I was continually annoyed that this public library space was only accessible by appointment when we had a sizeable group of teens who would love to be able to sprawl out in a space that they could call their own. Being the rabble-rouser that I am, I would state my opinion on this topic to my manager at every possible opportunity. My manager indulged my rambling, but was wise enough to know that such a project would be incredibly involved and difficult and while I waxed philosophical, she bided her time.
Eventually I left Forest Park for other opportunities, but my strong feelings about those teens and that room persisted. So when, a few months ago, I saw an article about FPPL’s new teen space, I knew I wanted to hear more about, so I interviewed the current manager, Susan Kunkle, via email about the project.)

The Youth Services department in Forest Park serves birth-12th grade, which is an incredibly wide range of ages to serve in a space that is essentially one open floor with little division. This was a bit of a problem, Susan wrote, because “[t]eens like–and need–to work and socialize in groups and there was no carved out place for that. We had this open room, but no areas to just sit and talk without having little kids right there too […]. Our tables really only fit four to five comfortably. We would regularly have eight teens try to cram themselves in a small study room or one day over a spring break there were easily fifteen kids, who had just pulled chairs from everywhere out to the middle of the floor so they could all talk together. We would have to break them up for practicality’s sake because of noise, or to avoid people getting hurt, or because people couldn’t get around them—but they weren’t doing anything wrong. We wanted them to feel like it was okay to hang out. We just needed a better option. I was leading the Teen Advisory Board at the time, and I had really come to know and care about these kids and honestly, they really wanted to be there. We needed to give something back to them and show them that it worked both ways.” (Emphasis added).

After my departure from FPPL, it seems that the idea for having a teen space in the library really started to gain momentum. According to Susan, it was around a three year project, with “[t]he former manager Lindsey Dorfman and our Director Rodger Brayden really set[ting] down the groundwork, collaborating with our board, and feeling out the possibility. Our door counts and circulation were up, we were seeing a lot of growth in our program attendance and there was a lot of discussion in the community about creating more safe spaces and safe activities for teens, so it really felt like the right time.”

Susan, with the support of her director and board, was able to negotiate the Historical Society’s leaving the room so the library could resume its use. With that in place, the exciting process of bids, meetings, planning, and input began. Susan consulted with her teen advisory board regarding how the space would be used and how it would look. From a narrowed down selection of choices, the teens gave their input on fabric, furniture, and materials, and Susan was surprised with what they picked.

“I really liked their choices. So many times I think people are afraid to open themselves up from feedback from kids because they feel their suggestions are all going to be way out there or unreasonable, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in YS it’s that it always pays off to listen to them. Kids are more practical than we give them credit for sometimes and at the end of the day, don’t we want them to be invested in what we do?”

Yes, we do. Great job, Susan!

and in the end

Oh, summer, I hardly knew ye. When you weren’t hot as [redacted] you were raining cats and dogs/men/to beat the band. Only recently has the weather been nice, here at the middle of August, and the kids start school next week and the dollar store already has Halloween items out and prominently displayed.

Summer reading has now officially ended, and at my library our registration numbers for pre-readers (4 months-Kindergarten) and grade schoolers (1st-5th grade) increased dramatically. I believe that this happened because we dramatically simplified our program. Forget counting pages, books, or minutes read, and thank god, because how artificial is the minutes and pages way of keeping track? Who reads like that? Who sits down with a book, sets a timer, and then stops when the timer dings? Who starts reading, reaches page 100, and then shuts the book? If it’s a good (meaning a book you’re into) book, you’ll keep reading until your eyes hurt, you fall asleep, or you have to go to work, or some other pressing issue pulls you away. If it’s not to your liking, then you’ll stop after a few pages or a chapter, never to return.

So our requirements were to read a certain number of days for the summer, the number of days altering with the time you signed up. It was a weird percentage that my boss configured and I just accepted because I hate math and don’t want to ask about it.The basic gist was, “Read. Read most of the days of summer. Read whatever you want.”

We also had the same prizes for all ages: the omnipresent, themed, much loved rubber ducks. I love the ducks. They’re not a choking hazard, they have a collect-ability factor, babies love them as much as fifth graders, and they’re cheap. Love the ducks. Embrace the ducks. Be one with the ducks. (It’s hard to type ducks repeatedly without making a terrible typo.)

The book logs were formatted as calendars that had all of our programs listed on them. Attendance at programs counted as a day of reading, since all of our programs have a story/literacy component. On the pre-reader log, I listed the six early literacy skills, and while parents didn’t have to do anything with them, at least they were being exposed to them.

And that’s it! I think. My brain hasn’t been working so well the past couple of weeks. I personally think our program could be shorter, just to allow staff more of a mental break between OMG SUMMER READING and OMG SCHOOL IS STARTING.

shoo, fly storytime

In honor of the end of summer I presented a fly themed storytime for a visiting camp group today.

Tiny Little Fly by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Kevin Waldron

This book is absolutely gorgeous. I love the shapes and expressions of the animals, the colors, and the textures used throughout. As a large-group storytime selection, the text lacks a little panache, but it is still entertaining.

Old Black Fly by Jim Aylesworth, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

Gammell’s illustrations are delightfully creepy, and Aylesworth’s alphabetic text features some wonderful alliteration (which Julie Jeanette Jurgens always approves of).

Thelonius Monster’s Sky-High Fly Pie, a Revolting Rhyme by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Edward Koren

Before I read this book, which borrows heavily from the classic “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly”, I performed that rhyme using the monkey mitt and puffball characters. Since the crowd was a bit older, I joked that I wrassled a real monkey for my monkey mitt. None of the kids really laughed, but one kid did say that he could wrassle a monkey. (We both said wrassle. It’s how we do.)

I also sang the itsy bitsy spider with variations (huge enormous spider, very quiet spider, and the SILENT spider), the peanut butter and jelly song (because “the old lady swallowing a fly song made me hongry”), and “I’m bringing home a baby bumblebee.”

 

the ethical librarian

I started writing this post in October of 2010, and it’s an issue that still bothers me today. On a listserve recently there was a pretty brutal backlash against a teen librarian who essentially said he was burning out and that (I paraphrase) “So many teens suck these days and I don’t want to serve them.” Several librarians called him out and mocked him mercilessly on twitter and in other venues, and while it got very heated, I think that ultimately this sort of calling out is justified and, in the long run, can weed out the bad librarians.

And we’ve seen the bad librarians. Hell, sometimes we end up being the bad librarian, if we’re feeling tired or burnt out (I’m looking at you, end of summer reading program) or beaten down by circumstances beyond our control. But there is a big difference between having a bad day or week and being so fundamentally ill-matched to your position that you’ll never have a good day, because you either hate the work itself or you hate the people you’re supposed to be serving.

The institutions are at fault here. Coworkers who don’t call out their peers who are doing a bad job are at fault, and managers who don’t take the time to adequately hire, review, and fire employees if it’s warranted are at fault as well.

(Here is where the original post began.)

A [couple of years] ago I was thinking about ethical courage, conformity, and what it all means for me, my profession, and everyone else–you know, your usual fluffy [end of summer] thoughts.

[After I] listened to This American Life’s The Right to Remain Silent episode, it pissed me off. The first story pissed me off because the guy in it is an obvious moron and jackass, and the second story because the blatant quota pushing by the NYPD went on for so long and so few people spoke out.

Here’s TAL’s synopsis of the cop story:

For 17 months, New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded himself and his fellow officers on the job, including their supervisors ordering them to do all sorts of things that police aren’t supposed to do. For example, downgrading real crimes into lesser ones, so they wouldn’t show up in the crime statistics and make their precinct look bad. Adrian’s story first appeared as a five part series in the Village Voice, written by Graham Rayman. Schoolcraft’s website looking for other cops to come forward is here.

One of the more infuriating parts was the serial rapist who kept ending up back on the streets because his assaults kept getting downgraded and not reported. Eight or nine–the actual number isn’t known–women were assaulted because of the negligence of the police. No one said anything. Willful ignorance and blatant lying became the norm because people were afraid and, I think, lazy. (As an aside, it is incredibly hard to write this post without using a ton of profanity). Fear is sometimes understandable and sometimes forgivable. Laziness, however? Fuck that shit. (Sorry. You have to give me that one.)

It seems to me that ethical apathy is the new default mode for society. Isn’t that part of how our economy tanked, because no one balked and extending large amounts of credit to people without savings, jobs, or collateral? Didn’t the Gulf Oil spill become so terrible because people cut corners without considering the possible outcomes? And what about those miners in Virginia? Not to mention that poor guy in France getting hit so hard, while the big corporation that encouraged his bad behavior is getting off without any kind of punishment.

How does this relate to libraries and librarians? Well, seeing as all librarians are humans (so far, just wait until that arrow robot starts doing reference), we, just like all other people, have an obligation to each other to speak up when we see injustice, and take action when it is needed. Compared to an oil spill or a mine collapse, speaking out against tiny workplace injustices might not seem worth the effort, but every large catastrophe began as a small problem that, if nipped in the bud, could have stayed a small problem. When we allow small injuries to be left untreated, they will fester and spread until the entire organism is infected.

Once I was waiting for a bus. Near the bus stop, a couple was having a fight. The man kept moving close to the woman, and the woman kept saying things like “Get off of me.” She would walk away, and he would follow. It was around nine at night, dark, and a light rain was starting to fall. I stood under the bus stop shelter, listening to their argument, fretting about whether or not I should call 911. Chances were high that by the time the cops arrived, the couple would be gone, or that they were merely playing. My gut, however, told me that this was serious.

I called 911. I told the dispatcher the location, what was happening, and described the couple. My bus arrived. The couple began moving off. I watched them walking off as I rode away on the bus. Their body language was awful. He kept encroaching on her space and she kept edging away.

I don’t regret making that call. I only regret other calls I didn’t make. I regret all the times when I was growing up that no one noticed what was happening with me and my family. Or, rather, I regret that no one did anything about what they did see, because in retrospect, it’s all terribly obvious that things were not quite right. I lived so many years regretting the help I never got that I became a person who vowed to never let anything else like that happen again if I had any possible way of changing it.

Working with the public, we have many unique and terrifying opportunities to be confronted with problems and injustices that we don’t really want to deal with. We might be committing these injustices ourselves with discriminatory policies and practices. Children’s librarians might become the confidants of young patrons and hear stories about their home lives that they’d rather not hear, and really have very little power to do anything about. We might have to stand idly by while services and materials are denied based on a coworker’s prejudices, because we have no power to do anything else.

In my working life, as a teacher and a librarian, I’ve always made it a point to speak out about things that find wrong, unjust, and unethical. And sometimes–often times–this gets me in trouble. I’ve been escorted out of buildings after exit interviews for accurately using the words “censorship” and “emotional abuse.” I’ve felt sick to my stomach having to accuse parents of abuse. I’ve had to speak sharply to good friends who have told me “Why do you even bother? There’s not point and no chance for you to change anything.” But I’ve done all these things, because it’s the right thing to do. And loyalty to my ethical standards come before any loyalty to an institution or a profession, even one I love as much as I love librarianship.

Even though I love librarianship, I’m mad at libraries. And librarians. I see so many libraries (libraries here meaning specific library cultures) letting shitty librarians continue being shitty. I see teen librarians who hate teens getting to keep their jobs, or even get promoted. I hear from patrons about home libraries who refuse to offer storytimes in the evenings or on the weekends for working families. I see librarians who are too lazy and self important to help someone use the photocopier, or speak up for the user’s experience, who do the same damn thing day after day and year after year because they are too lazy to think of a new program or class or event. I want to be somewhere where it matters if I try; where excellence is expected & rewarded; where the dead weight is cut loose instead of shuffled around.

I’m mad at libraries, because I know they can be better than they are.

When you see bad things go down, document it. Get a witness if you can. To thine own self be true, because you’re all you have. Your identity as a librarian, as a teen librarian, as a professional, all of that can disappear in an instant– and if all that gets taken away, don’t you want to be left with the identity of someone who stood her ground?

reader feed round-up

Here’s some blogs that I’ve been enjoying recently:

  • Teacher Tom, a blog about early childhood and how kids learn and explore.
  • Maria’s Movers, a very niche blog about incorporating literacy in movement and vice-versa; a great resource for anyone who presents a program similar to my Mini Movers. Found via someone’s blog…I can’t remember, I read so many! But thanks!
  • Storytiming, a storytime-focused blog.
  • Ask A Manager, a great resource for manager/HR/job seeking/job retention type questions.
  • Judging a Book by Its Cover: just that, John looks at a book cover and guesses what the story will be about. “Dedicated to the unfortunate practice of judging books by their covers. A fresh look at Fantasy, Science Fiction, Horror and Urban Fantasy book covers.”
  • New Cover: Matt reads a book, then recovers it. Beautiful work. Reminds me of Travis’s recovering the Newbery project.
  • The Hairpin. Reminds me of old school Jezebel, Sassy in its heyday, and if ForeverYoungAdult applied its brand of critique to the wider world.