Sunday Reflections: Nameless Wonder
Do you remember a librarian from your teen years? I do. One had kind of mousy brown hair and wore patchwork vests, and led a group of us in a radio play in which I did the sound effects. It was the first group of kids my age I spent time with after moving to a new town.
Then there was the librarian at my high school who, while I was working on a personal social justice project, helped me get the full text of a bill that was working its way through the legislature. She had it faxed to the school for me in this pre-Internet era.
Another was a bearded fellow who helped me navigate the clunky databases I needed early on in college, and later was a quiet presence, waiting to offer a hand, as I worked on the computers with an elementary school girl I was tutoring.
I don’t remember any of their names.
The first gave me a place in a group when I was new to town, painfully shy, and knew no one.
The second showed me the power of information and libraries as a place of democracy, and went above and beyond to get more than the answer to the question I asked – she got the information I really needed.
The third I remember mostly for his kindness and repeated, though never pushy, offers of help, suggesting simple adjustments that worked wonders despite my stubborn insistence that I would do it myself.
While being someone’s favorite librarian is nice, what we do is more important and longer lasting than who we are.
In teen librarianship, we talk a lot about community building, relationship building, being the person that teens can turn to in times of need. While not all of us have been the person to step in and find a crisis line, been supportive witnesses to a teen’s coming out, seen an insecure ten year old grow to a confident eighteen year old, most of us have been that person who found a teen a book she couldn’t wait for, or fixed a weird margin problem ten minutes before close so that a senior could print his last paper of the semester, or called out some homophobic language we overheard in the teen area. And this can be just as important and transformative for our patrons – even if they don’t know our names.
Don’t discount the work you do, just because you don’t share inside jokes with a TAB. Don’t underestimate your importance just because you aren’t invited to graduation parties. Don’t sell yourself short if the only way they know your name is if they look at your name tag.
You serve your teens by ordering diverse books that they can find at their leisure, without pressure. You serve them with welcoming gestures like relaxing and sharing a genuine smile when you see them walk in the door. You serve them by making eye contact with them and directing your follow up questions to them instead of their parents as they stand together at the reference desk. You serve them every day by demonstrating the most important tenants of our work: democratic, nonjudgmental access to information and the places where the information lives. You serve them by treating them like the people that they are: people worthy of your respect and efforts.
So wear your name tag, keep extending invitations to your programs, build relationships, connect with your community, and remember that your name is not the most important thing that they will learn about you.
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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