Celebrating 9 Years of TLT! (in a global pandemic)
This month, Teen Librarian Toolbox is celebrating 9 years of talking about teen librarianship, young adult literature, and the world at large. It’s been an amazing experience and I am so happy that we’re still here doing this thing that I love.
But also, what a weird time to be celebrating anything. The world is very strange right now. I’m working from home and spending a lot of time trying to help my biological kids navigate a summer overshadowed by both a global pandemic and civil rights protests. There is no handbook for this, not a parenting handbook or a librarian handbook. We’re in uncharted territory here and most days, it feels like we’re barely able to keep from slipping under water and drowning. I never imagined that I would be taking my kids to protest in support of their friends and families and yet, here were are.
But through it all, there’s TLT. You have no idea how grateful I am to have this resource to work through my thoughts, share my experiences, and meet with my peers to listen, learn, grow and become a better teen and collection development librarian day by day. Who I am when I started this blog is wildly different than who I am now – and you are a huge part of what has made that happen.
And of course I can’t talk about TLT without talking about all the co-bloggers and contributors who help make TLT happen. Amanda MacGregor and Robin Willis have both been a part of TLT for 6 years or more. Ally Watkins and I began talking about Faith and Spirituality in YA lit in 2015. And this year, both of my children made the decision to become an official part of TLT, which makes my heart fill with pride and joy.
Lots of other awesome people help make TLT happen at this point. Cindy Shutts shares awesome programming ideas with us. Christine Lively highlights the works of teens around the globe. Lisa Krok joins us every once in a while to talk about teen librarianship. And we have had a variety of teens on our teen advisory board.
Perhaps because it’s our anniversary, or perhaps it’s because of the world we live in now, it’s hard for me not to be reflective of TLT. One of our major failings is that we are not a very diverse group of librarians here at TLT. We are and always have been a predominantly white group of middle age women and there are a lot of gaps and holes here. We have always made our platform available to anyone who would like to guest post, from other librarians to authors, and that has helped fill in some of those gaps, but it has never been enough and it is without a doubt one of our biggest shortcomings.
We’ve made other missteps and mistakes a long the way, to be honest. And I know that I have learned a lot and changed my mind about a lot of things in the course of the last 9 years. For example, I originally pushed back against the idea of a New Adult label for literature but now more than ever feel like it is very much needed and would help a lot of the current issues I see happening in YA literature. You see, YA books keeps getting aged up and real teens are being pushed out and I think that it would have helped if New Adult would have taken off years ago when the industry was pushing for it. Now, however, I see the correction taking place in middle grade. Middle grade is the new YA in a lot of ways.
As I reflect I can’t help, of course, but thing of the teens. Working with and helping teens navigate adolescence is the primary reason I became a teen librarian. And after 26 years I can tell you, I have never been more distressed about the world we are making for our youth. I worry a lot (and talk a lot) about things like childhood and generational trauma and its long lasting impacts well into adulthood. School violence, climate change, sexual violence, the eroding of LGBTQ rights, racism, increasing poverty – these are just a few of the issues that our teens are grappling with on a daily basis. These are just a few of the areas in which we, the adults in charge, are failing our youth. They were already experiencing growing mental health challenges and then – boom – deadly global pandemic. It’s a lot for anyone, but it’s especially a lot for our youth.
Last week my daughter, Riley, baked cookies and (safely) dropped them off at a friend’s house to comfort said friend as they recover from Covid-19. This friend is only one friend in a growing list of friends who are facing this new disease with unknown long term health impacts. At the same time they are now wondering what is going to happen in just a few short weeks when the school doors re-open. If more than 10 of them can get Covid-19 by attending a short summer camp together, what chances do they have going back to school a few weeks from now?
My youngest, Scout, is worried about school for entirely different reasons. She has dyslexia and an IEP and, if we’re being honest, virtual school was not the best educational path for her. She needs the discipline of a classroom and the intervention of teachers who have been trained to help her navigate her unique learning challenges. That doesn’t mean I want to potentially sacrifice her life to make sure she gets it.
And while my children are navigating these issues, there are other children out there navigating these same issues AND having to deal with systemic racism, systemic poverty, sick parents, abuse at home, and more. All the while the adults in the room often say things like, “the youth will save us.” It’s not their job to save us, it’s our job to save them – and I’m here to tell you, we are failing.
I realize this a bummer of a celebratory post. It’s just . . . 2020 has been a rough year. For everyone. And while I do celebrate TLT and I’m thankful for every moment, every reader, every conversation . . . it’s hard not to be honest and realistic about where we are at collectively in 2020.
So let me take a moment to share with you all some great things about TLT. Because we review books, publishers will often send us ARCs (advanced readers copies) of books. I am friends with a high school librarian who works at a Title 1 school. A Title 1 school is a school is a school that has demonstrated need because of high levels of poverty. Because of my work with TLT, I have been able over the years to donate more than 3,000 ARCs to this local high school. My friend hosts summer reading challenges and allows the teens to pick out and take these books to create a home library, which they don’t have the money to do on their own at this point in their lives. She has worked hard and created generations of readers and I have been so honored to be able to be a part of that and contribute to that based on my work here at TLT. Teens get access to books they would never have thanks to our work here at TLT.
Amanda frequently hosts giveaways and has helped stock classrooms, put books in the hands of teens, and done her part as well to help raise generations of readers. That work happens because of TLT.
And my own child, at the tender age of 10, saw this work and started her own effort called #OperationBB to help middle grade readers in need have books of their own. With your generous donations, she has given away around 1,000 books herself. And she’s only 11!
In the past 9 years I’ve created a Teen MakerSpace, started doing and promoting the idea of doing collection diversity audits, I’ve written written a professional book with Heather Booth, and I’ve written countless articles with School Library Journal, a journal I am very proud to be networked with. And as cool as all of those things are, the things I’m most proud of are the generations of teens we’ve helped to raise as readers, the friends I’ve made through this platform who challenge me every day to be a better person and better librarian, and just getting to share all of this with my two amazing daughters.
So if you are a reader of TLT – I thank you! You are a part of this journey with us. And although right now the journey feels especially hard, I’m so glad to have the honor of taking it and am thankful for everyone who takes it with us.
I hope I get to write about another celebration of TLT at 10 years, and that the world is in a better place when that happens.
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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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