This post is an article from the Spring 2018 issue of the OYAN Review and has been edited slightly for publication on the blog. It was written by Julie Jenmard at the Cottage Grove Public Library.
I recently had a series of “Aha Moments” in regard to my life as a youth services librarian. It all started during the week of the OLA conference. I knew TLAB had a huge program the following week on Friday: a teen art show. Last year it was highly successful, but I was not yet at the Cottage Grove Public Library for the program. As of the start of the OLA conference, I had two art submissions; last year the two gallery walls were filled. Thus starts my panic. I heard rumors that the teens tend to wait until the last minute to turn in art, which was true as of the deadline; however, one week before the show this fact did not assuage my fear that the art show that teens had worked so hard and long putting together would be a flop. I personally wanted it bigger and better and not to fail under my guidance. So, I made a back up plan that turned out better than expected. I contacted the high school art teacher to see if I could go to her class to procure art. She responded quickly and invited me to all five of her art class periods. Tuesday did bring in about ten art pieces. Even still, those few pieces would not have had the gallery brimming with art.
The day of the visit rolls around, I have a bell schedule in my hand and I venture to the local high school for my first ever class visit as a youth services librarian. Aha moment number one: I am not nervous around a large group of teens. I have never had the opportunity to be around so many teenagers at once. Instead of feeling any ounce of trepidation, I felt my introverted self more energetic around their presence.
Aha moment two: No two teens are the same; knowing this in theory and seeing it is not the same. In an unstructured classroom (it was an art room), teens had the ability to strike up conversations easily with each other. Observing the differences was akin to a college psychology observation room. Coming from a mind keen on research, this was momentary utopia. Having the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about the library was awesome. Our conversations were short, yet I could tell they were receptive to my information.
Aha moment three: The teens knew about the art show. The notion was a vague concept to them though; out of sight, out of mind. After being able to talk to them directly, I saw multiple light bulbs turn on.
Which leads me to aha number four: If the teens are not coming to the library, I need to go to them. Ironically, I had told this to another librarian the week before. Today is Thursday. I will find out tomorrow if this belief is true. Either way I now have hope that I have a concrete tool to engage teens in the library. I also have about thirty more art pieces.
Aha moment 5: I attended the Understanding Autism preconference. One teen came up to me with his artwork. He told me that I probably could not read it but he read what it said. I responded that he could entitle the artwork to reflect the meaning of the words if he wanted. He then stood in the corner by himself listening to music. I took my newfound knowledge of what I learned at the preconference and decided to talk to him. I simply asked, “What are you listening to?” I waited for him to notice me. When he did, he took his earbuds out and asked me to repeat myself. I did and he told me it was trap music. The short conversation went on for me to find out he likes writing songs in music class and that he may or may not be interested in becoming a DJ someday. When I got back to the library, I read the title of his art, “Have a Very Merry Metal Christmas!”
Perhaps I avoided classroom visits because I thought I would be awkward and nervous around teens. Future classroom visits will now enthusiastically be in my library future. With a new love of my role as a teen services librarian, I am looking forward to the Art Show and furthering my role to increase attendance at all teen programs. Did I mention I love my job?