Relational Reading Revolution: How you can change the landscape of reading
It began simply enough, a teen walked in and told me that she loved a certain book or series, and I tweeted a picture of said teen to the author. Occasionally, the author tweeted back. All of the sudden I became a super hero with magical powers. I brought them into contact with someone that seemed inaccessible. And with that, I became someone of greater import in the life of this teen. Tweet by tweet I began building relationships with teens. (I’m in a new library system and, honestly, this relationship building method has proved faster and more effective than I could ever have imagined). (See Don’t Underestimate the Value of Twitter)
But it wasn’t just happening for them, it was happening for me, too. You see, I am a reader and a librarian, which means that authors are my rock stars. I geek out. I have fangirl moments. It’s not always pretty.
My journey, as you may recall, into this Relational Reading Revolution began with Lauren Oliver. I stayed up reading Pandemonium the night it was released and that night, as I lay in bed, I kept writing a letter to her over and over again in my head. I’m obsessive like that, I don’t want to lose the right words. So I finally threw the covers back, sat in front of my computer and just poured my heart out to Lauren Oliver. I was figuring this Twitter thing out and tagged and just took my chances with the universe to see what would happen. Then a couple of weeks later HarperTeen tweeted that Lauren (see, we’re on a first name basis *wink*) was going to be at a bookstore just 45 minutes for me. I made my entire family go to meet her. I mean, how rare is it to meet your hero; plus, I have a tween and I thought she would recognize the epicness of it all. For the record, she did take her signed copy of Leisl and Po in to school the next day to share with her teacher.
Then, I began asking authors to do guest posts for the TLT blog. Suddenly, I feel passionate and bold and fearless . . . but the amazing thing is, so many of them say yes. And every time, it is such an honor. But I also have really been reflecting on how blogs and Twitter and even Facebook are changing the landscape of reading, causing what I am now dubbing the Relational Reading Revolution.
Counteracting the Culture of Celebrity
You see, we live in a culture that is overly obsessed with celebrity. We put these people up on a pedestal and give them such importance that we diminish ourselves and those around us because we can never be like *them*. Teens are growing up being told that the best thing they can be, the best goal they can achieve, is to be rich and famous. Not a good person. Not a smart person. Not a good citizen or friend or the person to change the world in meaningful ways. Just rich and famous. But when authors reach out to readers, to me and my teens, they break down that barrier and change the message. They change the goals. By allowing themselves to be more human, more accessible, they show us all that they are just like us – just ordinary people who have the ability to write. What a powerful message this is to our teens. It is so powerful it can counteract the culture of celebrity that teens grow up in and allow them to embrace themselves, no matter who they may be.
Extending the Story Through Relationship
In addition, by entering into relationship with readers, authors open the doors of dialogue. The story doesn’t have to end when you turn the last page. No, now you can read how an author researched elements of the book, why they choose to write the stories they write, and how you can go about doing it yourself. They invite readers into the creative process and encourage them to open their eyes and see the layers in the process. There is such an educational richness in this.
This relational readership allows us to feel that we are part of not only the story, but of the author’s life. Because I feel that I have relationship with authors like Lauren Oliver and A. S. King (the second author who made me stop everything I was doing and write a letter write away to bare my soul), I become a dedicated reader. When they write a book, I will read it. And I see this in my teens, too. When Heather Brewer called my teen a minion, she created a minion for life. They now had a relationship based on respect.
The Value of Time and Effort
But to be honest, when Heather Brewer called my teen a minion, she was also sending her a very important message: you are worth the time and effort to engage with, you have value. Teens don’t often feel like the adults in this world really value them. One simple act of kindness, a 140 character tweet or calling them by name while signing a book, helps them know that they have value. As much as the story in itself is a gift, so are those precious seconds when someone they look up to takes a moment to engage them.
Different Pathways, Same Goals
Here’s the thing about authors and librarians – in some ways, we have a lot in common. We are both trying to get teens reading. One of my best tools is to build a relationship with my teens. As we talk and share books we love they come to me and ask what I recommend. And I am coming to understand that one of the greatest tools an author has is the same, relationship. As we share stories, and share our love of stories, we are building a Relational Reading Revolution. I like to call it the new 3 Rs of Education. (I call trademark!)
So let me take this moment to thank every author who has answered a Tweet, answered an email, signed a book, written a blog post, and just taken the time to engage their readers in relationship. You are part of an important revolution. It is an honor to work with you in this reading journey.
So how can librarians participate in this Relational Reading Revolution?
1. Talk to your teens honestly about your experiences as a reader. Share what you love, and what you don’t, and why. Always ask them what they are reading and loving. Of course, you need to read ya for this first step to even happen.
2. Follow your favorite – and your teens favorite – authors on Twitter or Facebook, subscribe to their blogs. Share updates with your teens.
3. Seriously, give it a try – Tweet a message to an author from a teen. Or encourage them to write a fan letter (most authors have an e-mail on their webpages). Say thank you – and have teens say thank you – when an author does respond. Be sure to remind teens that authors are busy, they have lives and families and tech issues like the rest of us, if they don’t respond.
4. Have teens get involved with the story – and authors – by creating artwork based on their favorite books. A lot of authors tweet some of the fanmade artwork they receive (or share them on blogs, tumblr, etc.) and I know it enhances the creative journey for all. Imagine how excited your teens will be to get a response from an author about their artwork. (See the TPIB or The Real Fauxtographer or The Library as Incubator Project or this Teen Art Gallery for ways to do this)
5. When new books from your teens’ favorite authors come out, know who reads what and place holds for them and give them personalized service. Talk up pre-releases when you hear about them. Keep your teens excited about books and reading. Share booktrailers, movie news and more via your social media sites and keep connected with your teens.
How can authors participate in the revolution?
1. Do that vodoo that you do so well: write good stories.
2. Remember what it’s like to be a teen and look up to and crave the attention of your heroes, and respond accordingly. Mike Mullin says he tries to make it a point to answer Tweets whenever he can; it’s a good motto to live by.
3. Extend the story, and a relationship, by sharing content via Twitter, Facebook and personal web pages. Let teens step behind the curtain and find the world of literature more accessible.
4. Share fan created artwork with enthusiasm; bask in the glory of knowing that you touched a teen so much that they just had to run out and be a part of the creative process with you.
5. I have always found that when a teen checks out a book from the library and loves it – they must own it and will go out and buy it. Libraries are like test drives. So remember, we are partners working towards the same goals, even if our pathways are different. We’re all Team READ!
Filed under: Relational Reading Revolution
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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