Sunday Reflections: Sometimes, If You’re Lucky, You Find More Than Books at the Library
It is Friday night and I have just packed up all my stuff after sitting outside in the baking sun for a public library outreach event. I am pulling a wagon up a hill to load up my car and go home to binge watch some TV when I see them walking around town, a group of my library teens. I look over and say hi and they say hi back from across the street. As I see them there, this tight nit group of friends, my heart swells with pride.
Let me go back and explain.
A little over 3 years ago, I first met a teen who would soon become one of my library regulars. At this point and time, there was no Teen MakerSpace, but proposals were being written and plans were being discussed. I didn’t realize at the time, but the TMS would change everything.
In January of 2016, the Teen MakerSpace opened. This one teen soon began coming quite regularly. Another teen started coming, he liked making stop motion movies and would frequent the stop motion animation station. And soon after, a teen here and a teen there started coming. Many teens have come and gone, but this small group of teens started coming quite regularly. And sitting in this space, conversations began.
Over time, this regular group of teens began forming close friendships, the kind of friendships you read about in YA books. They started coming basically daily to the library and hanging out in the Teen MakerSpace. A few of them create art quite regularly. Some of them come in and read while waiting for the others to show up. Then they gather around a table, some creating art and some not, and they talk. They talk, they laugh. On occasion, they have fought. But what friendship has ever existed without the occasional fight? They have loved, laughed, cried and raged together. They are a bright light in a darkness that has existed in a world being torn apart by hatred and political discord.
I watched this summer as they came to the library every day and made stuff or read or just hung out. At some point each day they would get up, walk downtown together and share a $5.00 pizza. Then they would come back and hang out some more. Their friendship is the stuff of YA novels and John Hughes movies.
One day I sat with them as they planned meeting up the next day at the river to go swimming and tubing. One of the teens wasn’t permitted to go, but she brought sunscreen and made sure they all put it on before leaving for the river. She also packed them each a snack bag, making sandwiches cut out to look like butterflies. A couple of days later I got to hear them all talk about their glorious summer day at the river. It was, in a word, epic, the type of summer memory that many kids only dream of.
Several of these teens have had a really rough summer. I can’t tell you what those challenges have been, because patron privacy is a real thing. But in the midst of this epic friendship, there has been a lot of heartache and very real life challenges. They have been there supporting each other through them all.
To be quite honest, they haven’t always liked me. One summer push came to shove and I had to kick one of the teens out of the library for a couple of weeks because they were being hostile to my staff and creating an unwelcoming library environment for all. I have had to enforce library policies and ask for changes in behavior that haven’t always been appreciated. But I always made sure to let them know that it wasn’t them I had an issue with, but specific behaviors. They kept coming back and I kept welcoming them back, because the truth is, I like my teens.
The truth about working in a public library is that it can be mundane. You know the work you do is important, that public libraries are important, but the day to day tasks of working in a library are, well, work. You put together collections of books to buy, you straighten shelves, you do research behind the scenes to plan programs, you buy the daily supplies you need. There is not a lot of glitz and glamour. There is politics and budgeting and helping the 100th person print off a paper or make a photocopy. There are opening and closing procedures. There are meetings and discussions and the gathering of statistics to discuss in these meetings and discussions.
But then there are the moments . . .
The moment where someone tells you that a book they read because you bought that book and put it in your collection changed their life in some way.
The moment where someone comes to a program and tells you that they had a good time or learned something new.
The moment where you see a group of friends walking around downtown and you realize that that group of friends exists because you created the exact right environment at the exact right time for them to come together and get to know one another.
For three glorious years I have watched this group of teens grow close, support one another, and help each other find their voice in a world that often doesn’t want to hear what they have to say. I am proud of who they are, who they are becoming, and the very small part that I was honored to be able to have in all of that.
No matter what else has happened or will happen in my career, I will never forget the moment when I watched this group of teens walk down the street and I realized that in whatever small way, I helped them find what they needed at the library – It wasn’t a book or a movie or a computer, it was each other. And it happened at the library.
I am thankful that I got to be a part of this and so very proud of these kids, their friendship, and the small part my library played in bringing good into this world.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
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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