The 5 Biggest Issues Teen Librarians are Facing Moving into 2024
Apparently, it is almost 2024. It’s not right around the corner, but it’s closer than I am ready for. I have been thinking a lot about 2023 and what issues will become, or are and will continue to be, pressing issues for teen librarians in 2024. Here are my thoughts.
According to the ALA and Pen America, these past 2 years have seen unprecedented numbers of book challenges and bans happening. Public schools and public libraries are constantly being forced to defend intellectual freedom and 1st Amendments rights while certain groups challenge books. The books being challenged tend to be books that center the LGBTQ experience or accurately discuss American history, particular the Black experience of racism in the United States. These challenges take up a lot of resources: personnel, time, and yes, money. They also have a tremendous impact on mental health and have, in some instances, resulted in outright threats and job termination. You can find more information and resources to help at PEN America, Every Library and Book Riot. This issue does not seem to be falling by the wayside even though reports show that a majority of Americans surveyed do not support book banning and it is just a handful of people doing all of the banning. This is one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Middle Grade Wasteland
Remember the song Teenage Wasteland? Right now, it feels like we are in a middle grade wasteland. No, I’m not saying that middle grade books are trash or a waste. What I mean is this: we used to live in a society that relegated the teenage years to some type of outside thing that we kind of hated. And that is still true. But middle graders, typically those aged 8 to 12, are also now being pushed out of society, especially when it comes to books. You can no longer browse shelves of middle grade books at Barnes and Noble. And Goodreads recently announced their yearly awards and kids books, including middle grade books, were nowhere to be found. This comes at the same time that we are wrestling with the fact that reading test scores for this age group are down and kids self-report that they aren’t reading for fun. It’s the exact worse time for us to make finding books for this age group hard. As we move into 2024, I hope that every school and public library will make a concentrated effort to reach middle grade and young teen readers.
I’m going to be honest, the pandemic is not over. In fact, as I type this Covid infection rates are climbing, and young people are some of the ones being hit hardest. I follow a lot of scientists now and the reports are very clear: we were wrong about how Covid is affecting kid’s health and well being. It is decimating our immune systems and making us more susceptible to other diseases. We do not yet fully understand what the long term impact will be, though we do know that currently about 1 in 10 people will have long lasting issues which are termed Long Covid. I am one of the 1 in 10 and I do not recommend. We have no idea what kind of health impacts we are setting the current crop of kids we serve up with.
To be honest, this is not a new challenge by any means. But it is still so pressing that we can not ignore it. We talk a lot about this issue here so if you are a regular reading you are used to hearing about it, but it is vital that we keep this in mind. Teens today are in a mental health crisis. And everything happening in the world makes everything that much harder. We need to act with grace, compassion, and knowledge as we work with kids and teens today. I mean, we should every day, obviously, but we need to understand the crisis these kids are in and act accordingly.
I would also say that vaping and drug and alcohol use fall into this category because a lot of people, teens included, engage with these risky behaviors in part to self-medicate. Others do so because of peer pressure and find themselves addicted. But I think we can not talk about the challenges teens face without talking about substance abuse and addiction and we can not talk about mental health without talking about this either.
Navigating the Role of Technology in Our Lives
I thought long and hard about how to word this one, but I think the role of technology is a huge thing we need to talk about in the lives of teens. From misinformation to bullying to learning how to navigate social media, we can’t escape technology. Teens are trying to figure out how to navigate group chats, social media, online homework and tutoring, and so much more. Technology is also changing what, when and how teens read. There is no aspect of life that is not touched by technology and this is true for teens. Librarians are trying to get teens attention while also respecting boundaries, and protecting themselves from a public that very much wants to label us as groomers. Those of us who work with teens will have to continue to be aware of changing technology trends and impacts all the while learning how to use and share technology in ethical ways. And misinformation and information literacy is and will continue to be one of the most pressing issues of our times. And you know how we talked about mental health just a moment ago, we need to understand the intersectionality of how technology can and does impact teen mental health.
Some of these issues are not new; I have been a teen librarian for 30 years and we have been talking about mental health and technology every one of those years. And honestly, at this point, we have been talking about the pandemic even for a solid 3 or 4 years. And this is not every issue, but a good overview of what I feel are some of the most pressing and important issues of our time.
Filed under: Professional Development
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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