Sunday Reflections: Renegade Library Thoughts
Like all professions, library land is full of its own sacred cows. Today, I reflect on some of them as I wrestle with what I think of those sacred cows.
Not everyone a reader, and that’s okay
When a teen says they don’t like to read, librarians have a tendency to say things like “You just haven’t found the right book yet.” But you know, I have never found the right sport. That’s right, I hate sports. I do not watch them. I have seen at least one of each sport live and nope, it didn’t make me a fan. I think the reality is that some people are just not ever going to be pleasure readers – and that’s okay. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that everyone should know how to read. Literacy is an important goal and key to life long success. But at the end of the day is everyone going to walk into their house, throw their keys down on the table and pick up a book to spend their evening reading? No, and that’s okay. We still have the information that they need to meet their needs when they get a new diagnosis at the doctor’s office, or they want to research the best new car to buy, or when they want to learn how to garden or sew or cook. Libraries have value beyond book circulation. It breaks my heart when someone doesn’t love reading the way I do, but I am coming to accept that for some people, reading will never be their “thing” and that is okay.
Reading by any other name?
I am a huge advocate of audio books. I have listened to them in my car while traveling and driven past my destination to finish the story. When parents ask me how to help their tweens and teens be better readers I always suggest having them listen to an audio book while reading along. But if you are listening to an audio book, is it in fact reading? Let’s look further, shall we.
I propose that listening to audio books without reading along is definitely engaging in story, which has its own benefits and rewards – including developing empathy, learning new vocabulary words, etc. – but that it is not the same physical act of reading. There is no real point here, just that I am not sure we are 100% accurate when we call listening to audio books reading. But I am sure you are going to tell me your opinions in the comments, and I am totally open to them. And like I said, I think there is tremendous value in audio books and I am in fact a connoisseur. As I write this, I am listening to Gone Girl on audio. I think perhaps it is just a matter of semantics.
Overprogramming the already overprogrammed
I am a huge advocate for teen programming in libraries and I have written about them extensively here at TLT. In fact, I regularly share program outlines for us all to use (see TPiB). But (and isn’t there always a but?), I worry that we are putting too much emphasis on programming to an already over programmed audience. Yes, programming can help get teens in the library. But let’s not put such an emphasize on programming that we set us all up to fail, even our teens. If traditional library programming doesn’t work in your community, that’s okay. What matters is that teens are coming and using the library and having successful library experiences.
Let there be shushing (and cake)
I am a loud person. There is no real explanation, but I talk loudly. And frequently burst into song. I am not a stereotype. Many a patron has complained to me that the library should be a quiet place and I have explained to them why it isn’t: people studying in groups, those spontaneous meet and greets at the door, babies crying, cell phones ringing. Having said all that, I don’t think there is anything wrong in occasionally asking a patron to quiet down or take their cell phone conversation outside. The whole library doesn’t need to know about enlarged prostates and your personal finances. There’s nothing wrong with a little gentle reminder that we are in a shared space and a little common courtesy goes a long way. While I don’t mind shushing, I do mind unequal distribution of shushing. If you are going to shush, make sure you do so fairly and without bias. Don’t tell a group of teens to quiet down while a group of adults are standing in the entry way having a loud conversation about how mad they are at the school system, or whatever. And do so politely. Admit it, you have shushed. (I just really like cake so I thought we should put that in there, that part had no real point.)
Totally Tech Teen Space? No!
Here’s my disclaimer: I am not a stodgy ole’ librarian who poo-poos technology. I own, use and love a lot of tech. But let’s not get rid of all the books quite yet. Let’s not even get rid of the focus on books in our teen spaces. The library is still the #1 place for kids to find pleasure reading materials according to a recent survey, and 2/3 still prefer print books. We want to make sure that we are on point with trends and staying ahead of the curve, but it doesn’t seem like today is the day to walk away from one of our core values and services. Our patrons are still reading print books, so let’s keep making them available. Also, let’s remember that 1 out of 5 children are going to bed hungry, so they probably aren’t worried about how they are going to get free e-books for their e-readers. There is still a large income disparity in America, growing larger every day, and we need to serve them all.
Sources: Where do kids find books, PEW report on the rise of e-reading
So, what about you, what are some of your renegade library thoughts? Please share in the comments. And feel free to flame me, I no that people will disagree with me. That’s okay, I am open to conversation and find that my opinions shift and evolve over time. Just like everyone else, I am a work in progress.
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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