Monday, November 19, 2007

Striving for the Ideal

In one of my classes this week, we spent a lot of time talking about school and public libraries collaborating. What struck me is that schools -- both teachers and school media specialists -- and public librarians have a lot in common. We both want to serve children and teens in our community. We both want to instill a love of reading a learning. There's also so much potential for collaboration and serving patrons in complementary ways. Yet at the same time, there is so much hostility on both sides.

In class, we discussed ways to start relationships between public and school librarians and with teachers to better serve teens in particular. I realized today, however, how intentional librarians -- OK, how intentional I have to be in this. I've been reading articles in preparation for tomorrow's class, and a lot of the articles so far are related to serving teachers by having materials for their professional development. For example, according to Patricia Wilson, "In the ideal situation a professional collection is centrally located in a special facility within the school district, and small collections of professional materials are located within each elementary and secondary school library" (17). My first mental response was, "Alright, but what does that have to do with me in the public library?" My collaboration skills at work, right?

So, what is the public library's role? Perhaps a better question is what could it be? Why not have professional development materials available? What about asking the schools what journals they provide, and buying one or two that the teachers or school media specialist suggests? This could either supplement their materials or be a "second copy" of a very popular journal title. What about being one of the satellite locations of smaller professional collections suggested by Patricia Wilson? After all, teachers are a part of the community too. If that's not reason enough, homeschooling parents would certainly benefit from that collection as well.

Obviously, schools and librarians could do a better job of getting along and working together. Instead of worrying what my role is and trying to define it narrowly as a public librarian, I think it's important to think about the bigger picture. What's the best way I can serve children, teens, adults, and teachers in my community? How can I best accomplish this? Collaboration is an opportunity that shouldn't be overlooked because of my own ego. I need to strive for the ideal instead.

Works cited:
Wilson, Patricia. "Professional Collections in Library Media Centers." Teacher Librarian. 27:5 (2000): 16-21. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Simmons College Library. 18 November 2007.

Blog Reading Level

cash advance

I originally found this through A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy. I'm not sure whether to feel smart or inaccessible.

Friday, October 12, 2007

What Makes a Reader?

The other day, I was talking with my dad about a book I'd taken out of the library. "I may glance at it," he told me, "but I don't really read anymore." I didn't say anything but my internal response was, "Huh?" My dad reads the paper regularly, reads information on the Internet almost daily, and often browses through books that I bring home from the library, even if he doesn't read the whole thing. Oh, and later that day, he started reading through a non-fiction book of mine. Only a few days later, he's over halfway through. While I don't think I've ever seen him read through a novel, he regularly reads.

I've read articles about people downplaying their reading when they don't read "literature," but this was the first time I saw someone do it. I've always considered my family a family of readers, but my dad was discounting the huge amount of reading he does because he doesn't read entire works of fiction. I wonder, if even readers would count up the amount of time and pages they read on books they didn't finish, how much time and how many pages would be represented?

Why do we count a particular type of reading as "real"? Who perpetuates ideas of "real" reading, and what can librarians do to provide services to people in the community who may not use the library because they aren't "readers," when they really are?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Favorites from the Summer

I meant to write more about books I've read, but unfortunately did not have time. School started today, so I'll have much less time to read. I'll post my final installment of summer reading to complete the list another time.

For now, here are some of my favorite of all the books I've read:

The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. Only going back one day before the semester ended, I could include the first book in the series, The Thief. I spend the first hundred pages of The Thief wondering where the author was going with her story. For the last twenty pages, I was realizing the author's brilliance. I love the political complexity of the imagined world, and Gen is one of my all-time favorite characters. His wit and humor are great. I want to reread these again soon.

The Chronicles of Chrestomanci by Diana Wynne Jones is one of those series that wasn't written in order, so I accidentally read it a bit out of order, though it didn't really matter. Each book stands alone well. These books, and the others I've read by the same author, suit my sense of humor. The world, or more correctly, universes imagined in these stories can be pretty complicated, but it's fun.

Austenland by Shannon Hale. Is this really the same author as The Princess Academy? I'm in awe of her ability to write such different novels so well. Austenland is about a single woman who can't seem to find true love. Why? Well, because boyfriends just don't measure up to Mr. Darcy. You know, the one played by Colin Firth in the 5-hour-long Pride and Prejudice. When her eccentric aunt sends her on vacation to Austenland, she just might be able to find true love -- or at least an actor who's willing to be Mr. Darcy for a few days. This was a really fun, quick read.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling. Though a bit boring in the beginning, I thought this was a fitting end to a fantastic series. I'm debating when I should reread the books in order.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. Probably one of the reasons I enjoyed this reimagining of Alice in Wonderland so much is because I don't really care for the original. In this version, Charles Hodgson got it wrong, and Alice Liddell is really Alyss Heart, princess of Wonderland. Inventive and fun fantasy, and I am looking forward to reading the sequel, Seeing Redd.

The Shakespeare Stealer, by Gary Blackwood is exactly the sort of historical fiction I like -- a believable premise, historical facts presented without changes to suit the story, and a good story that is not overwhelmed with historical facts. I thought this story was a great blend of facts about Shakespeare and theater. A young boy who knows a type of shorthand is sent by his master to steal the play Hamlet.

And lastly, sneaking under the wire is Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer by Laini Taylor. This is the only fantasy I've ever read about a faerie (yeah, it's spelled like that in the book) who travels with crows. Creative yet fully convincing through the details of history and legend in this imagined world, Blackbringer is one of my new favorite books, and was quite a satisfying end to my summer reading.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Unique Among Award Winners

Rereading my last blog post, I started thinking about Alex Awards I have read. My Sister's Keeper, as I mentioned in my comparison with The Floor in the Sky, was a title I did not originally realize was an Alex Award winner. In fact, I first picked it up because some teens who came to talk to one of my classes last semester mentioned that they had read and enjoyed it. The multiple copies in my library are constantly checked out, and My Sister's Keeper remains the only Alex Award winner that a teen recommended to me. Is this just a random anecdotal incident, or are there truly differences between My Sister's Keeper and other Alex titles, like The Floor in the Sky, Never Let Me Go, Anansi Boys, and The Thirteenth Tale?

The difficulty of identifying what makes a book popular is that every reader has a different reason for liking or disliking a story. The Floor in the Sky, for instance, might be more successful in rural areas than the suburbs, and My Sister's Keeper, though popular in my town, will certainly not resonate with every teen. At the same time, I believe there are characteristics that make this novel unique among Alex Award winners I have read.

Here's what comes to mind:
  • The book is more of a standout on the shelf. Before a reader cracks the cover, he or she has to notice the book. The title and the cover (two teen girls leaning back-to-back) work well together and look more interesting than, say, a stack of antiquarian books a la The Thirteenth Tale.
  • The story is narrated in first-person, present-tense. A first-person narrator is more common in young adult literature, and while this alone is not unique, other stories like The Thirteenth Tale and Never Let Me Go involve an adult looking back on the teen years rather than teens telling their own stories.
  • The events of the story have immediate bearing on teen characters. Since the story is the present, not a memory, the events of the story do not explain how the past affected the present but how the present will affect the future. Furthermore, while The Floor in the Sky emphasizes the adult characters' decisions over Lila's, My Sister's Keeper spends equal time exploring adults' and teens' decisions and their complex effects on each other.
  • Finally, one of the major themes in My Sister's Keeper in the relationship between independence and dependence in a family. Anna's attempt to be more independent from her parents is central to the plot and resonates with teens who struggle to find a balance with being more independent but not being fully adult.

When it comes down to it, I think, as I've mentioned before, that adults just can't read like kids anymore. I don't mean to denunciate other award winners, because I have enjoyed every book I've mentioned in this post. On the other hand, I think we have a tendency to recommend books we think people should read rather than what really interests them. This is not only true of book lists for children and teens, but for adults as well. There's a marked difference between "best book" lists and best sellers across all age groups. It's too bad we can't often step back and see the good qualities in popular books more often.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Multiple Points of View

Recently, I have read two books that use multiple points of view to tell a story.

The first is The Floor of the Sky by Pamela Carter Joern. This title won an Alex Award for this year. In it, 16-year-old Lila comes to Nebraska to live with her grandmother, Toby, for the summer because she is pregnant. Because of her pregnancy, Lila is becoming estranged from her mother, much like Toby and Lila's mother have been for years. As the summer continues, some of the secrets that have kept each character isolated threaten to completely tear the family apart. The story is told from the perspectives of Toby, her sister Gertie, their neighbor George, and Lila herself. I had trouble with the style for awhile, because each perspective was told by a third person narrator in present tense. What I liked about the story was that the multiple perspectives highlight the isolation of each character, effectively and stylistically emphasizing a theme in this story. I also enjoyed reading about an area of the country I have not read about before, though this was also a troublesome spot for me in that I was originally not sure if the story was historical fiction or present day. Though I liked the story well enough, I personally had trouble relating to most of the characters because they were so much older than me and, by extension, had a very different take on life. As I learned more about the characters, their secrets, and their motives, I was more annoyed with them than understanding.

Personally, I found My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult to be a more successful use of multiple perspectives. This received an Alex Award in 2005, though I didn't know that until after I'd taken it out of the library. Anna Fitzgerald was literally born to save her sister Kate's life. Kate has a rare form of leukemia that she has been fighting since she was 2. Now Anna is 13 and her mother, Sara, asks her to donate a kidney in a last-ditch effort to save Kate. Anna balks and starts a lawsuit to gain medical emancipation from her parents. The story is told by Anna, her brother Jesse, her mother, her father, her lawyer, and her guardian ad litem. Each perspective is in first person, and each voice is distinctive. As I read, I found the story more and more heart-rending as I began to understand what each of the characters had been going through since Kate was young, and why each character had made the decisions he or she did. Though I can't personally relate to the tragedy this family goes through, I could relate to their struggles with love, obligation, choice, independence, and morality. The multiple perspectives begged the question, "What would I have done? Would I have felt differently? Acted differently?" I was able to become emotionally involved in the story, even tearing up at the end.

I generally enjoy stories told from multiple perspectives, because I like understanding each character's thoughts and motivations. Because I had trouble relating to the characters and situation in The Floor of the Sky, the story fell a bit flat for me. I wonder, too, if telling the story in first person would have made a difference. My Sister's Keeper successfully uses multiple perspectives, making me think about each character's actions from various points of view, and forcing me to ask myself if I could have done any better or worse or as well as any of them if I were in a similarly complex situation.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Summer Reading, Part 3

Too many books, not enough time. I've felt constantly behind this summer, despite my long list of books:
  • The Pinhoe Egg, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • That Summer, by Sarah Dessen
  • The Light of Eidon, by Karen Hancock
  • Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Death Note Volumes 6-8, by Tsugumi Ohba
  • Drowned Ammett, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Spellcoats, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Zatch Bell!, by Makoto Raiku
  • 100 Best Books for Children, by Anna Silvey
  • The Crown of Dalemark, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Book of Story Beginnings, by Kristin Kladstrup
  • Archer's Goon, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Skulduggery Pleasant, by Derek Landy
  • Wuthering High, by Cara Lockwood
  • Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen
  • Witch's Business, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Mixed Magics, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • First Impressions, by Marilyn Sachs
  • Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Austenland, by Shannon Hale
  • The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson
  • Finding Lubchecko, by Michael Simmons
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
  • Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  • "Puddocky" (fairy tale)
  • For Biddle's Sake, by Gail Carson Levine
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling
  • Nightrise, by Anthony Horowitz
  • Shield of Stars, by Hilari Bell
  • Masquerade, by Melissa de la Cruz
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling (this is the result of my failed attempt to re-read the series before beginning the seventh)
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  • Over Sea, Under Stone, by Susan Cooper
  • Deep Secret, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Falconer's Knot, by Mary Hoffman
  • The Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor

Currently reading: Code Talker, Ben and Me, and Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summer Reading, Part 2

I don't know how this escaped my notice before, but I suddenly realized last week that if I want to be a children's librarian, I should brush up on my knowledge of picture books. So here's what I've read (and re-read) so far:
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Mr. Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Freight Train by Donald Crews
  • Miss Nelson is Missing! by Henry Allard
  • Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
  • The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
  • 86 Years: The Legend of the Boston Red Sox by Melinda R. Boroson

I read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs aloud to my little sister. She's read it and heard it read before. This was a first time for me. I was rather gratified when, during my reading, she kept exclaiming, "This is the first time you read it?!" But no, she didn't mean that my reading was exceptionally good. She was just shocked at how behind the times I was.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Books I'm currently reading: 4
Books I have checked out of the library: 15
Books I have on my NoveList "books to read" list: 160

Something tells me there's a problem here.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Of interest to teens?

For most of the month of May, I was reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. To be perfectly honest, I started reading it because I was bored before class and saw it on display at my school library. I figured it would probably be good for me to read one of the books that won an Alex Award for this year.

It really surprised me when, one hour later, I was only 40 pages into the book. The writing style reminded me a lot of Wuthering Heights and (when I was further on) Jane Eyre. I wasn't at all surprised to learn that the auther has studied 19th century works. The "feel" of the writing for me was similar to that of classics I have read, which tend to make me read slower and take longer to get interesting. The first forty pages primarily describe the narrator's love of reading and the antiquarian book store her father owns. The plot starts out slow, getting going about one hundred pages in, and moving faster from there on.

Mainly because of the writing style and the fact that the plot takes a long time to really get moving, I question whether this was the best choice as an adult book that would capture a teen's interest. Personally, I enjoyed the story very much, but I wonder how many teens would? The narrator, after all, seems late-twenties to early thirties (my apologies if Margaret's age is told and I've forgotten), and she's writing the biography of a woman in her eighties. I read the last eighty or so pages in a day because of the gripping plot, but I spent three weeks before that getting to that spot. I don't think I would have stuck with it when I was in high school. I probably wouldn't have stuck with it even now if it hadn't been summer vacation. I would love to find a teen who has read the book (or tried) and get his/her opinion.

Setterfield, Diane. The Thirteenth Tale. New York: Atria Books, 2006.
Personal Opinion: brilliant; would definitely re-read.
Recommendation: for adults or (maybe) older teens who enjoy reading and don't mind a slow starter

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Summer Reading, Part 1

Now that I've recovered from the semester, rested up, and read a lot, here's a list of the books I've started (and finished) since school let out:
  • Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • FullMetal Alchemist (Volumes 1-4) by Hiromu Arakawa
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Yang
  • Physik by Angie Sage
  • The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
  • The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Death Note (Volumes 4 and 5) by Tsugumi Ohba
  • Runaways Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan
  • This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen
  • Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan
  • Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
  • Last Chance by Sarah Dessen (the British version of Keeping the Moon)
  • The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson
  • The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones
  • The Game by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Instead of Three Wishes by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Evil Genius by Caroline Jinks
  • Steady Beat, Vol. 2 by Rivkah
  • The Plain Janes by Cecil Castelluci
  • Castle Waiting by Linda Medley
  • Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Conrad's Egg by Diana Wynne Jones

I would love to write my reactions to each of them, but there's simply too much to try to catch up now. I'm planning on posting my strongest reactions to books I read over the summer, as well as an ongoing update on summer reading to remind myself of books I've read. I hadn't realized I was so heavy on the fantasy reading...hmm...I'll have to try to broaden that out in the next month or so.

I would post books I want to read, too, but that would keep me busy forever.

Friday, April 27, 2007

And a round of applause...

...for (in my opinion) the best book cover of the semester: Born to Rock. I love this cover (sigh). And -- tada! -- I figured out how to add an image all by myself!
Anyway. I enjoyed the story, too, and saw its relation to identity in multiple ways. First, and perhaps most obviously, Leo Caraway is trying to understand himself through trying to get to know his dad, King Maggot, formerly Marion McMurphy. In the beginning, he talks about "the McMurphy in me" (as a side note, I find that an interesting reference, since it made me constantly think of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) that rises up and causes problems. He sort of separates himself from these urges to do anything hurtful or distructive, even when he overcomes these urges, such as by remaining fairly calm with his avoidant mother when he wants to yell. Towards the end, he comes not only to accept these urges as his own, rather than blaming them on his birth father, he also accepts the turn off events that show his father is really Bernie, the sleazy manager. Instead of wondering if he's doomed to be like his father, Leo has already managed to accept himself pretty well, and even determines not to bring this up with his mother, a very kind act even allowing for her somewhat irrational puzzle method of avoiding uncomfortable subjects.

Another issue of identity is one that I thought of after reading "Identity Matters," in which Sarah McCarthey and Elizabeth Moje discuss their reluctance to mention certain identities, such as motherhood, in certain settings. I was reminded of the hard time a lot of people gave Leo for being part of the Young Republicans, which admittedly he was partly interested in because of a cute girl, but as he also says in the book, it was a cause he really believed in. Furthermore, some of his friends had an idea of what that identity meant, though their ideas were often different from Leo's own understanding of it. That happens a lot to both teens and adults who, as a result, become reluctant to disclose some identities for fear others will misunderstand.
Works Cited:
McCarthey, Sarah J. and Elizabeth Birr Moje. "Identity Matters." Reading Research Quarterly. 37.2 (2002): 228-238.
Korman, Gordan. Born to Rock. New York: Hyperion, 2006.

Identifying Others

"Identity Matters" by Sarah J. McCarthey and Elizabeth Birr Moje briefly mentioned a point that was especially important to me as a teen -- how others perceived me because of my identity of "teen." Describing people's reactions when she brought four teens to the mall, Elizabeth says, "Each of these interactions reveal something about how teens, in particular, are positioned on the basis of their identities: They are people who are challenging to be with (you lucky woman), people to be wary of (the wide berth), and people who are not typically sweet of nice (the ice cream treat)" (229).

When I was a teen, a local store instituted a policy of having only two teenagers inside a store at once. (If I was there with two friends, would they have kicked me out?) Recently, two local malls decided that after a certain time, teens have to be with an adult. (What should teens do if they need to buy a Christmas present for their parents and don't want them to see what it is?) It bothered me as a teen, and it bothers me now that the majority of teens gets punished by a few who cause trouble.

So what's the library's role in all this? I think it's important for librarians to avoid labels such as teens as "problem patrons." Even if we don't dislike teens as a group, we need to be aware of our own labelling, and what we expect different groups to be or act like -- the jocks, the nerds, or what have you. When someone identifies themselves as part of one of these groups, all of us have a picture in our heads of what that label means. Teens have their own ideas of the identity "librarian," and I bet it's one we want to change. Finally, by providing a variety of books and programs, we can expose teens to a variety of backgrounds and people groups, and in so doing we can work towards challenging the stereotypes they have of various identities.

Works Cited:
McCarthey, Sarah J. and Elizabeth Birr Moje. "Identity matters." Reading Research Quarterly. 77.2 (2002): 228-238.

My Identity...My Self

While reading the articles for this week, I was really struck by how complex an idea "identity" or the "self" is. I realized that another sign of my becoming an adult is that I haven't thought about my own identity in some time. Though I wouldn't have necessarily put it into these terms, as a teen I often thought about my various "identities," and how differently I acted in different settings -- for example, how I acted at work versus how I acted at home. I was very shy with co-workers and patrons when I first started as a page in my teens. On the other hand, at home I was talkative, often interrupting people without meaning to because I was used to fast-paced conversations with my friends.

As a teen, this behavior really bothered me because I felt that in some situations, I wasn't really being "myself." I think that genuineness is important to teens I know now, just as it was to me then. I wonder if they struggle, like I did, to define themselves and figure out the difference that Bronwyn Williams notes between "identity" and "self." He writes, "If my sense of self is internal and somewhat stable, my sense of identity is external, socially contingent, and performed. My identity is a shifting and contextual thing. I negotiate and adjust it depending on my social context and the social script I am expected to follow -- my identity may change from one context to the next" (179). I think one of the reasons I worred about my behavior in different social settings was because I wasn't making this distinction -- external vs. internal, social construct vs. integral to me as a person. I wonder if my stress came not so much from feeling like I was acting different from my "self," but from not knowing in which situation I was doing so. Was I really talkative and friendly, or shy and quiet? Which did I want to be? How much choice did I have?

Part of being a teenager isn't just navigating identities, such as daughter, sister, student and employee, but also discovering the self - interests, beliefs, and desires for the future. If I no longer like what interested me as a child, where do my interests lie? Why do my parents/friends/teachers believe as they do, and what do I think? What career do I want? In some ways, a library is a great place to begin such an investigation. Books, both fiction and non-fiction, explore different people, situations, and interests. But I wonder if the library could do a better job in being a place teens feel they are being themselves. Are librarians intimidating or approachable? Does "Can I help you?" sound more like "Why are you here?" Sometimes unintentionally, we give teens the idea that the library is only for serious students and readers, and if they aren't like that, they may feel they have to be someone they aren't in order to be welcomed.

Works Cited:
Williams, Bronwyn T. "The Face in the Mirror, the Person on the Page." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 47.2 (2003): 178-182.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Confessions of a Former English Major

I think I was reading too much into Anansi Boys. Maybe it's partly because I was an English major in undergrad (it's only been a year...), but I was reading it with many thoughts in mind:
  • Do I like this story?
  • Would a teen like this story?
  • How does this fit in with the personal identity asset?

My answers:

  • I liked the story.
  • I'm not sure. I wouldn't have read it as a teen, and I couldn't find reviews on Amazon by teens.
  • Introverts are bad?

Like I said, maybe I'm reading too much into it. I'm interested in what other people in the class thought. I liked the book, the story of two brothers, Spider and Charles, who never met and eventually have to work together to survive, and how Fat Charlie started out kind of boring and embarrassed by his dad and really took control of his life. Though it was fun to watch his character change, I couldn't help but think, the way his character is described in the beginning, it seems like shy, introverted ("boring") people need to change. Being a rather introverted, shy person myself, I find this rather troubling. I had a sort of mixed reaction towards Fat Charlie, because while I enjoyed Charlie's change (I noticed, like a good English major, that at the beginning, he had his father's nickname for him, "Fat Charlie," but as his character changed, his name changed to Charlie in the narration), I couldn't help agreeing with him quite a bit at the beginning. His dad was kind of lacksadaisical, a poor father figure. I would have been embarrassed if my dad were like that. But I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, just a personality thing. Some people don't like the limelight, and get kind of embarrassed when people pay attention to them "by default," because someone nearby, like a parent or friend, is being, well, noticeable. Does it help or hinder teens' feeling about themselves if they think they need to change to be able to like themselves? I don't know.

So now that I've been extremely critical, I should say again that I really enjoyed the story, and I really am looking forward to hearing what everyone else thought. :-)

Deep Reading or Light?

I've been thinking about last week's discussion about "literature" vs. "fluff." The debate over what books children and teens *should* read is one that's been important to me for a long time. I always cringe when I hear parents tell their kids not to read the books they like because they're afraid the books aren't good enough, because it seems to me to discourage reading in general, as well as undermining the child or teen's interests.

Not being a parent myself, I can only say what I've observed as an outsider. It seems to me that people have a variety of interests, all of which could be constructive uses of time, that are not necessarily reading. I think of my own family: I was always the huge reader, one of my brothers is a huge music fan, and the other brother loves movies. We all read, though I read the most, and each of my brothers brings a depth to their interests in music and movies that I don't share with them. Not all children and teens will develop into huge readers. Some of them will never read classics. Some of them will not be interested in books in the same way as an English major. I think that's OK.

I don't think the point of having lighter reads is so that, eventually, a teen will move on to more in-depth literature. I don't have a problem with suggesting a classic I think someone will like based on their other reading choices, or offering it as one of many choices. But at the same time, I think that light reads should be enjoyed for themselves, not as bridges to the award winners. Personally, I do not think that award winners are always the best books. They often seem to me to be written, whether through subject matter or in-jokes, for adults. This doesn't mean that kids will never like them or read them, just that they won't understand the depth that seems to mean so much to those who hand out the awards. One example that comes to my mind is The Tale of Despereaux, a recent Newbery Award winner. One of the chapter names is a play on "The sandman cometh," and a rat is named Chiarascuro (in art, the interplay of light and dark). And yet, the cover of the audiobook says "For ages 7 and up"? It was a cute enough story, but...I don't know. I think adults have a tough time reading like kids.

Works cited:
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tale of Despereax. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2003.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Insert "Drama" Here

I said at the beginning of the semester that the one word I would use to describe my teenage years was "drama." The Hookup Artist by Tucker Shaw perfectly captures the sort of drama I was remembering. Who likes who, who might like who, who can't you talk to for a week because they're mad at you? For me, this was one of the most painful and awkward parts of being a teenager. For the most part, I really enjoyed my teenage years, but this whole aspect of it, the painfully conscious social interactions, especially those related to relationships...even as a teen, I really wanted to leave this behind.

So, as you may expect, The Hookup Artist would not have been on the top of my reading list as a teen. I would have preferred something like Avalon High, which I could relate to my own life in some ways, but could still feel like I was separated, like I wasn't reliving my own uncomfortable experiences. In class, we've talked about why certain teen shows didn't fly...I think it's because they were too real for most teens and adults that wanted to forget the more painful and awkward social interactions.

That being said, I can see why some teens would like a book like The Hookup Artist. As a teen, I really wouldn't have wanted to relive the emotions I was going through. I wanted to read about other worlds, other times, and experiences different from my own. But for some teens, just knowing that someone is going through the same thing, that these awkward circumstances and complicated feels are normal is a huge boost. Just knowing that someone else -- even in a fictional story -- went through it and survived is really supportive and empowering.

Figuring Yourself Out

That's actually what comes to mind when I think of social competencies. As a teenager, I had to figure out my role at home, at work, and in my group of friends. I had to get used to the questions every adult seems bound to ask a teenager --Where are you going to college? What are you going to major in? -- and learn how to answer "I don't know; how should I know what I want to do with my life now?" in a socially acceptable way. I had to figure out what my role was, what I wanted it to be, and how to articulate that.

In Avalon High, Ellie has to do the same. I think it's no accident that readers can figure out who everyone "is" by page 30. Ellie (Elaine), after all, has to be Lady of Shalott. It only makes sense. It's who her mother named her after, and what Mr. Morton -- and, to some extent, the reader -- expects. "Everything" seems to point there. The role is ready for her. She just has to step up and do it. The only problem is that she doesn't want it. She refuses to accept that she really is the Lady of Shalott, and in the end, that's why she succeeds. Because of her empathy for Will, she refuses to stay out of the way like she "should." As a result, history isn't repeated. I also loved that she refused to believe that she had to play a role. Even after handing the sword to Will and being revealed as the Lady of the Lake, she refuses to be defined by that: " 'I'm not the Lady of the Lake,' I said firmly....Besides, what if it is true? If you really are Arthur; and I really am Lady of the Lake. . .well, then this isn't how the story's supposed to go, is it? With us, I mean. Together. Like this" (287-288).* Elaine was a pretty independent character to begin with, but what she and the reader learn is that you don't have to accept the role that everyone thinks is designed for you. You need to make your own way.

A lot of what I've said so far can really be said for the next asset we're going to discuss, "Positive Identity," but I think that, especially as a teenager, these two are linked. Much of the way I figured out who I was and what I wanted to be was in my interractions with my friends. What did they expect of me? Is that what I wanted? Decision-making was partially wrapped up in what I wanted, partially in what everyone else wanted or expected. Resisting peer pressure is easier when you know who you are, or as in Elaine's case, who you aren't.

*Works Cited:
Cabot, Meg. Avalon High. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Accessible Information?

I was really struck by the chapter in Youth Information Seeking* about teens looking for information about drugs. It seems like they were bombarded with information that they learned since elementary school and didn't need anymore, but they couldn't get access to the information they wanted and needed. Perhaps worst of all, they were afraid to ask because of adults' assumptions that they were doing drugs, rather than just looking for information.

I had a similar experience on a smaller scale when I went to look for PostSecret and Peeps: A Candy Coated Tale this week. First problem -- they weren't available through the library system (only two copies of Peeps are, apparently, available in Western Massachusetts). Second, they weren't at the GSLIS office. So, as a last resort, I went to Barnes & Noble. Actually, maybe I should say the first problem is that I really don't have money, so I couldn't actually buy the books. I went to Barnes & Noble to go to the cafe and read them...and then put them back on the shelf. I searched and searched all through the store, thinking "where on earth would they classify these books?" (By the way, it turns out PostSecret is in "Cultural Studies" or something like that) So many much information...and I was scared to ask for help because I was afraid of what the staff there would think of me -- "She's just gonna read the book and put it back on the shelf? How cheap is this girl?" I know they have chairs and encourage people to sit and read, but I still felt awfully guilty (still did it, though!).

The experience just hit home for me how many information needs are out there that people are afraid to ask about. How can we better provide a service if we're not quite sure what it is? How do we make a safe enough place that someone could ask tough questions and not feel judged? I can definitely relate to not wanting to talk about certain subjects with my parents, or even read about them, because I was afraid my mom would think that I was struggling with the issue, even if I was just curious. While I was reading that same chapter, I kept thinking, "Go Ask Alice would really answer a lot of these questions." But then, how do I get a book or information into a teen's hands without making them feel like what I'm really saying is, "You need help"? Building up trust like that is hard work.

*Chelton, Mary K. and Colleen Cool. Youth Information Seeking: Theories, Models, and Issues. Scarecrow, 2005.

Friday, March 23, 2007

All about Attitude

I really didn't want to like Lord Loss. I'm not so good with gore, and even as a teen I wouldn't read Stephen King or watch horror movies (I watched one, and it freaked me out so bad I stayed far away from any others). And I didn't like it...till the end.

The first part I really liked was the chess match at the end. I found it ironic that such a nerdy (and I say that with love, my dad loves chess) hobby would become life-saving for the werewolves. What especially struck me was Grubbs' attitude, though. He figured out that to win, he didn't have to be good, he just had to play with a carefree, if not optimistic, outlook. His attitude was the reason he won, because it was unsettling to Lord Loss. It reminded me of one of the readings we had earlier in the semester, I think it was the chapters in Zollo's book, but I can't remember for sure. Basically, teens' attitudes wavered between really serious about the world in general and saying, "Hey, why not have fun while we can?" So I think Grubbs' attitude was really true to life, and what do you know? It saved the day. I think teen readers can really appreciate and relate to that.

The second part I had to like was the very end. I nearly flipped out on the last page when Grubbs was ready to call the Lambs, and I had to reread it to make sure of the ending. I had such an adrenaline rush from reading (I read most of it in one sitting) that my heart was still pounding when I finished, even though the ending was happy. I also got mad but still had to laugh at the uncle's sick sense of humor. So to get that sort of emotional reaction out of me, even though I really hated the beginning and the goriness, I still had to like the book in the end.

Wasting My Time?

I got sick earlier this week. I wasn't able to go to Boston on Tuesday, so I hung around at home and spent the time I could've been studying watching the Fruits Basket DVDs. Wasting my time. Or was I? OK, so I wasn't doing homework for half a day. I was enjoying myself. At the same time, I was learning about something that's very popular with teens now, giving myself a needed break, and laughing, which is beneficial to my health. Plus, I found something new that I really enjoy...when I got well, I borrowed the first 4 volumes from the library and finished the fourth last night. So, was I wasting time?

Unfortunately, I think we tend to think of our use of time as a dichotomy -- either we're working or playing. Either we're using time well, or we're wasting it. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Seems to me we're driven to use time in the most efficient way possible to get the most work done as possible. Maybe it's the culture, maybe it's based on personality. I tend to get nutty about schoolwork, for example. I really did feel a little guilty when I was using an entire morning to watch DVDs while I was sick. I'm starting to realize that I need to relax a little, take some time to unwind, and keep in mind that not all time apart from homework is "wasted."

I think in working with teens, I need to keep this in mind. It's easy to make blanket statements about someone's use of time, saying they're lazy or wasting time, without keeping in mind all the learning that's going on at the same time. I think that, in general, librarians have moved away from saying that providing popular books is not the library's job because the library is a place to learn. We have books, DVDs, and CDs in our collection to provide entertainment (even if some poeple look down on one use over the other, at least both are provided). I think that the way constructive use of time often comes up when we talk about how people should use the computers. Should people be allowed to check their email? IM? Play games? Even when it's allowed and there are other computers free, I've observed that a lot of people look down on using the computers for fun instead of more serious uses. I'm sure that there's a time and a place for making a judgment call when there's a line of people waiting to use the computers. But when there's not, why worry about it? And even when we see a teen playing a game...maybe that's not all they're doing. I used the library computers to write a long paper last year. I was there off and on for about two weeks, and whenever I got stuck on the paper, I would play an online Sudoku, sometimes for as much as 20 minutes. I'm sure at least one person just saw me playing the game, and thought I was using my computer time poorly.

"Constructive use of time" then, can be more complicated than it sounds. The library's job in supporting constructive use of time is not just about provided resources for homework, work, college, and serious study. It's about providing entertainment, too. At the beginning of the week, when I looked at the assignment, I thought, "How does YouTube fit into constructive use of time? Wouldn't that be wasting time?" Here's what I think.... Entertainment can be constructive. YouTube includes silly videos, but it also has some videos that have been in the news, like a football fight from a college game and the guy from Seinfeld blowing off his top, things that my brothers (a little older than teens, but close) both looked up. Plus, people can load their own videos, and have to learn or know something about the technology to do it. Recently, YouTube was also in the news for the political statement an individual made. In a statement, the guy who created the video said that he wanted to show how an individual can affect the voting process. YouTube, then, isn't just about entertainment, but can be a powerful tool and learning opportunity. And that's constructive use of time.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Teen Reading Article

Thought this might be of interest to the class:

Teens buying books

(Thanks to Kid's Lit for the link)

MySpace and Libraries

Recently Alternative Teen Services discussed libraries on MySpace -- does it invade a teen's privacy for a library to become a friend on MySpace? Is the library trying to hard to be cool to teens?

I think the questions are very closely related to the discussion we had last week about expectations. It cuts both ways: libraries expect teens to use MySpace (which, in turn, might bump up against parents' boundaries), and teens expect...what? What do teens expect of adults, and should we always fulfill their expectations?

Personally, I don't think that libraries should stay off MySpace altogether. It's good marketing, after all, and can be very successful, like the TeenSpace we looked at last week. I think that privacy and expectations come into play depending on the library's approach...if a library were to look up every teen in town and make them friends, without permission, that would creep me out. As a teen, it would've bothered me, and yeah, I would've felt like maybe an adult was invading my space a little (no pun intended) and trying to hard to be cool. Because teens (at least, when I was a teen, and I don't think this has changed) really don't want adults to be like them. They want -- they expect -- them to be adults, and if their interests happen to coincide, great! Adults can be friends...but when I was a teenager, there was nothing that annoyed me more about adults than trying to be too ingratiating and cool. If a library sent out a newsletter or flyers or told me when I came into the library, "Check out our MySpace!" I probably would've added them as a friend myself. The interaction would've been totally different, and I would have the freedom to decide for myself.

I thought the comment on Alternative Teen Services about getting the teens involved in the library's MySpace was a great idea -- what a great way to empower the teens and teach them and their parents about Internet safety (which has been a huge issue lately) at the same time.


"Victor," he asked. "what do adults do all day?"
"Work," Victor answered, "eat, shop, pay bills, use the phone, read newspapers, drink coffee, sleep."
Scipio sighted. "Not really very exciting," he muttered, resting his arms on the cold stone of the parapet.

Funke, Cornelia. The Thief Lord. Translated by Olvier Latsch. New York: Scholastic, 2002.

When I was about twelve years old, I went through a time of finding everything boring. Kid's games that I used to enjoy weren't fun anymore, but adult stuff was pretty boring, too. When I asked a friend, who was only two years older than me, what she did all day, she told me she did her schoolwork, read, played the guitar, checked her email, etc. Her list sounded about as boring to me as Victor's did to Scipio. When I was a teen, about the only thing that was constant was change.

I can remember pretty well what it was like to be a teen. That's something I really want to hold on to, being able to remember, even in just these generalities, some of the feelings and experiences I went through. At the same time, I've been realizing a lot lately -- and this is going to sound strange, but bear with me here -- that I'm not a teen anymore. You see, not much has changed since I was about 16 or so. Same home, same job, different schools, but only one semester since high school that I haven't been a full-time student. And that's one of the reasons I realized that I'm getting to be a "real" adult. I like to think I've matured some in the past eight years or so, but my interests have pretty much stayed the same. If my interests have been the same that long, I'm definitely not aware of what teenagers are interested in.

Thinking about that this week has made me realize how important it is to get teen input about teen services and collections. I started working at the library when I was sixteen, so sometimes the staff there would ask me for a teen's perspective...but I can't be that perspective anymore. I choose and read books I like with an adult's eye now. I still forget that sometimes (I've honestly been forgetting my age regularly ever since I was 19), but I'm going to try to remember the disparity between my point of view and a teen's.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Thoughts on the Hierarchies of "Good" Reading

I've been thinking a lot lately about the hierarchies we -- adults, librarians, teachers, parents, you name it -- attach to reading. What makes a book "good"? For that matter, what makes a book better than, say, a website or a magazine?

This train of thought all started when someone in my acquaintance called the Gossip Girls series "one step up from People" magazine. I've never read Gossip Girls (though they're so popular, I probably should). I've barely browsed through People. But her comment made me think. What sort of "reading hierarchy" have I created? The Lord of the Rings is better than Harry Potter is better than The Keys of the Kingdom, perhaps? Fantasy is better than realistic fiction is better than historical fiction is better than romance....

How does this hierarchy effect my service to teens, either in what books I would recommend to them or what judgments I hold about their reading interests? Do I really listen to what the teens enjoy and try to find titles that best meet their needs and interests, or do I jump immediately to the books in that genre that I read or enjoyed?

How about this hierarchy -- classics are better than popular fiction. We forget that many classics of today were bestsellers in their day. (Would that horrify people?) I think that this sort of elitism, or perhaps in a more gentle form, this "What I like to read is better than what you like to read" can be really damaging to customer service. We don't say it so blatantly, of course, but I think our attitudes are closer to the surface than we realize, and can come across in offhanded comments and in the recommendations we make.

I think that such attitudes on librarians' and other adults' parts can really hurt teens -- they may still read the books they like (under the covers, like I did when my mom didn't like a book), but they might be embarrassed about the genres they like or unwilling to talk to a librarian about their interests to find more books they enjoy. And let's face it, adults generally have a pretty different idea about what a teen "should" read than what the teen wants to read. Take the adult who saw the books I was using to interview teens this week -- he made fun of a book three of the five teens chose (not in front of them, thank goodness!), but really liked the non-fiction, educational selection from the Best Books list.

While it's important to have serious, non-fiction, classic books, it's important to have the fun stuff, too. I sometimes get embarrassed when I tell people I like to read YA books (I think it covers about 90% or more of my regular reading), but it's what I enjoy, and the "fluffy" ones are good for during the semester, between classes, when I need something that doesn't take a lot of hard thinking. Making a reader laugh serves a great purpose, too. And since when are all the books adults read the best books they could read, anyway? :-)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Same Content -- New Format

Teen-created content isn't anything new. As a teen, I wrote in a journal, wrote stories (including some that shamelessly stole the plots of my favorite books), and took pictures. One of my friends created scrapbooks, one wrote poems, one wrote songs. Sometimes we would share them, whether among ourselves or with a larger audience. Essay or story contests and photo competitions were just some of the means open to us for sharing content we created. We could participate or not, and there was always something special about reading or viewing something we knew another teen had created.

Blogging, message boards, and podcasts provide new opportunities for sharing content. I find it telling that in the study of teens who blog, 69% share content like drawings, stories, photos, or videos. The teens who share content online would share content even without the new technology. I think it's important for libraries to take advantage of technology and how tech savvy teens are. Besides blogs, teen book reviews, and podcasts, we can have teens teach adults the use of new or unfamiliar technologies. In a more informal way, we could have them teach us about blogging or podcasting, too.

Using technology to display teen-created content generally prompts the question from adults: "Isn't it dangerous because it's more public?" But doesn't that depend on how you use it? I know, for instance, not to put personal information on the internet and not to meet up with anyone I "talk" with online. I think it's too bad that this technology often gets overlooked or criticized by adults, because the technology itself isn't bad. It's just another way of sharing content. If we want to be relevant to more teens in our community, we owe it to ourselves and to them to utilize things like blogs and podcasts ourselves. As long as teens (and adults) are taught how to use such methods of sharing content safely, it's no more of a danger than getting your name in the paper after you win an essay contest.

Empowering Teen Extremes

Reading and listening to the teen-created content for this week, I was struck by the extremes in both subject matter and depth, often contained in the same blog, podcast, or book. I had forgotten how extreme emotions, thoughts, concerns, and depth in conversation can be as a teenager. A classmate mentioned in her blog that she thought "The Rose that Grew from Concrete" had some shallow poetry that wasn't anything special. Sure, some of the poems seem to be about small concerns, but others are broader -- freedom, being yourself, love. I can remember creating as a teenager, too, in the form of journal entries. Some of the entries, I admit, were really shallow, while others reflected a concern for politics, friends, the world. When I was writing, though, none of these concerns seemed shallow at all. They were important to me, and it's only now looking back on it all that I can say, "Yeah, that was shallow" because I have some of the larger concerns of adult life. In truth, I wouldn't be able to handle these larger concerns if I hadn't been prepared by smaller issues as a child, and then as a teenager.

I think adults are often too quick to dismiss children's/teenagers concerns as "shallow" -- and I'm guilty of this, too. It's important to remember that one teen's interests and issues can encompass a very wide range. We can't just focus on one end of the spectrum and ignore the other extreme. Empowering teens doesn't mean making them more "adult" and focusing on only those concerns we find acceptable or worthy or having depth. Instead, we should let them create and see content that runs the gamut from the "trivial" to the "important." In fact, it would be better not to make that value judgment at all. I think the podcasts from the Cheshire library do a fantastic job of this -- the episode I listened to had an interview with a teen about the Gossip Girls series, a comedy act a few boys put together, and a chapter out of a book that two of the teens had written. This library definitely shows teens that what they have to say is important, and this is really empowering and validating to teens.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Support Systems

As I was sitting blankly in front of my computer monitor this evening wondering what I could talk about, it suddenly struck my that in our reading for this week, Tyrell had a very limited adult support system. His father's in jail, and not the greatest role model. His mother's...well, she's hopeless and hopelessly useless to boot. Of all the useless adults in the book, she was the one who really made me mad. At least Tyrell's father had been trying to make a better life for his family, but I found myself getting so mad at an adult who would put that kind of pressure on her son. Really, the only adult in the midst of this that seems to care is Ms. Jenkins, his girlfriend's mother. Most of the support -- the sympathy and help -- that Tyrell gets is from Novisha (though, in the end, he's disappointed in her, too), Cal (who's dealing drugs), and Jasmine (who understands him, but has a lot of issues of her own). They're 14- and 15-year-old kids. I can remember what I was like at 14, and I sure wasn't ready for this kind of adult responsibility. It kills me that some teens have to deal with that sort of thing.

I wonder, too, if I would be able to be a support for the teens who came into the library needing an adult in that role. If someone like Tyrell came into the library and told me what was going on, what should my response be? I'm sure I could help someone look for a book or for information on a subject. Providing information is what librarians are supposed to do, after all. I guess what I'm wondering is when does helping a troubled teen become beyond what my job/role is? Is it "unprofessional" to start to know the teens and talk with them about their lives, their schools, and other non-library topics at the library? I'm struggling to define the support role that's appropriate for me to take as a librarian. Where do I draw the line between helping inform someone and giving advice inappropriately?

Friday, February 16, 2007

Misconceptions & Credibility

Before reading V for Vendetta earlier this week, I had never read a graphic novel before. Though I knew that a graphic novel was a story told in comic book format, and that there were many genres within this format, I still had one glaring misconception. Since I thought graphic novels were for "reluctant readers," I assumed they would also be fairly basic, straightforward stories with lots of pictures. Well. I was really surprised by V for Vendetta, which used both pictures and text to tell a really compex story in a way that I found fascinating. I printed off a list of graphic novels from the YALSA website so that I could try some more.

My misconception made me think about how my biases could affect services to teens. If I had continued to think graphic novels were only for reluctant readers I probably would not have suggested one to a serious or committed reader. If I had thought "graphic" referred to content, like my mother did up until a week ago, I may not have suggested one for young teens or children. Other misconceptions, either about the content of books or about teens that come in to the library, can really hurt the quality of my service.

Furthermore, if teens see me in action, operating under a perception they know to be incorrect, I lose credibility. Though I can't know everything, I can try to learn about whatever I'm unfamiliar with - graphic novels, indie music, etc. - and be honest when I don't know. By asking questions, I not only gain credibility, but I affirm the teen's interests, both giving and gaining respect.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Book Lists -- Help or Hindrance?

How helpful are book lists when helping a young adult -- or anyone, for that matter -- with readers' advisory?

If you look around our library, you'll find lots of lists: books for guys, fantasy authors, adventure books, trilogies, books made into movies, even a binder full of lists of adult books on all subjects and genres you can think of. YALSA has "Best Books" and "Quick Picks" as well as lists of audiobooks and teens' picks from the past few years of Teen Read Weeks. Personally, I love lists for my own use. They give my ideas of books to read or listen to next, sometimes leading me to books I might have overlooked. Lists of genres I'm not as familiar with, like science fiction and adventure, can help me broaden my reading and make me more familiar with the library's collection.

Perhaps this easy access to lists of all shapes, sizes, and interests is why it seems so easy to drag out a list when a teen asks for recommendations. It's easy to forget, especially when I don't personally read the same genre as the teen, how diverse one genre can be and how divergent people's interests can be even when they enjoy the same genre. In this way, looking at a list can be a lot like trying to use a readers' advisory site with few subject terms to match up "Read-a-likes." The result can sometimes be a very poor match, such as a search I once did on "What Do I Read Next?" I was looking for read-a-likes of an edge-of-your-seat mystery/suspense novel. This search resulted in only a few suggestions, one of which was a tearjerker about a young woman with cancer. The similarities between the books were the main characters were in their early twenties and Christian. If I hadn't read both of these books before seeing the list, I would have been in for a great surprise if I had tried the recommended book. So knowing what makes a book appealing is really important, but this aspect can get a bit lost when depending on a list. Good annotations can make up for this in part, but they cannot fully represent all the ways in which a book may catch someome's interest. Since I tend to use a list when I am unfamiliar with a genre, I am more likely to give a poor recommendation because I haven't determined why a teen likes a particular book or genre and I don't know which books on the list will catch their interest most. Instead of being dependent on a list, I need to be more familiar with the teen's tastes and the collection.

This isn't to say that lists don't have their place. Though I read a lot of the fantasy books in our young adult collection, I sometimes go to the list of fantasy authors to help my recollection of what I've read and what else is available. A list can also be helpful for the middle-schoolers who come in to find a book for school -- one of the teachers assigns a genre, so several teens will come in looking for science fiction one month and historical fiction the next. Again, though a list is helpful, understanding the teens' interests and the collection can help in finding a book that the teen will enjoy (or at least not hate too much!) within that genre. For example, some historical fiction novels are more action-oriented, while others are dominated by historical fact, and still others involve time travel. Short annotations on a list simply can't make up for a lack of knowledge of the collection.

While lists can be a starting point, I think it's dangerous to become too dependent upon them. In my experience, teens tend to prefer a recommendation that I have personally read or can talk about knowledgeably instead of a list. If I can show an interest in their preferences and find a few books they might enjoy, I've gone a step further than simply handing them a book that fulfills their school requirements. It shows that I care about their interests and that I'll listen to them. If I can do this, they're more likely to come back and ask for help another time.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Respecting Teens

Do adults remember what it was like to be a teen? I'm rather at an advantage, because I'm not that far removed from my teenage years. I haven't had time to forget what it was like, and to a great extent I find myself relating more to teens than to "real" adults. I won't consider myself a real adult, you see, until I have my own house and am thus financially independent from my parents. This feeling of being not quite adult puts me in rather a unique position as a young adult. In many ways, for example, I still feel the tension teens do with their parents for autonomy and respect, and to be quite truthful I read many more young adult novels than real adult novels.

So perhaps it should not have been such a surprise to me that I still related to a lot of the teenage attitudes explained in Peter Zollo's book. After all, I was still a teen when some of those surveys were done. And I have to say, for those who might read this and think, "Are teenagers really like this?" YES. His surveys and insights very accurately reflect what I myself was like as a teen and (what sort of scares me) what I still feel like to a certain extent as a young adult. Reading his book, I was completely transported back to my 16-year-old self.

In my opinion, one of the most important points he brings up is the need teens have to be respected and taken seriously. I think adults, including myself, have a tendency to forget the actual maturity level of children of all ages. I remember reading some books about kids my age, thinking, "I don't think like that. That's dumb." Adults tend to forget how mature a 9-year-old, 12-year-old, 16-year-old, really are, and they tend to think of them as younger. This isn't always the case, but I've found that it's often true in my own experience. The fact that college-age kids play teenage kids on just about any sitcom doesn't help, because then a girl who looks her age is mistaken to be younger. Talk about embarrassing!

This isn't to say that adults are entirely at fault for not taking teens seriously or respecting them. Sometimes teens read into what adults are saying. One argument I've had with my mother was and is when she reminds me to do things: "Don't forget to load your dishes in the dish washer," she'll say as I'm on my way to do it. Why does this annoy me? Isn't she simply reminding me so that she won't have to clean up behind me? Well, yes...and no. Yes, because there's nothing innately disrespectful about what she's saying. No, because what I'm interpreting is, "You're just a child who needs to be reminded. You won't remember on your own." This is why I answer, "Mom, let me forget before you remind me!" In her book You're Wearing That?!, Deborah Tannen discusses the caring vs. criticizing dynamic between mothers and daughters in conversations similar to this. Though she's mainly discussing adult daughters and their mothers, this dynamic applies to teens and parents, too. Apparently innocuous comments like "Load your dishes" or "Are you sure you want to wear that on an interview?" can become an argument out of nowhere because a parent thinks it's a caring comment, and the teen thinks it's criticism. Really, there's an element of both. Add to this a teen's desire to not be treated like a child, be respected, and be independent, and you've got yourself an argument in the grand parent-teen (or parent-young adult) tradition.

I think this need to be respected and taken seriously is why teens want to be older than they are. I found it really interesting that young teens want to be 17 and even 18 and 19-year-olds wanted to be 20. These numbers match up almost perfectly to the desires teens have for their future -- getting their license for young teens and graduating and going to college for older teens. The age teens want to be ranges only from 17-20: old enough to be responsible, independent, respected, taken seriously, but not old enough for "real adult" responsibilities.

Works Cited:
Tannen, Deborah. You're Wearing That? : Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation. New York: Random House, 2006.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Teen Marketing Gone Wild

"The Merchants of Cool" rings a lot truer than I wish it did. I'm not that far removed from my teen years, so I can relate to that constant pressure to be "cool," and knowing that once cool became mainstream, it wasn't cool anymore. Teens are pretty savvy, though, and they know when they're being manipulated. Remember the response to the Sprite ads? A teen basically outlined the whole plan of the ad campaign to sell Sprite by saying, "Don't listen to an athlete being paid an endorsement" while telling you to listen to the athlete after all. At the same time, conversely, there is this "giant feedback loop" of marketing listening to teens, creating a product like the mook and the midriff, and (some) teens getting the idea that that's what "cool" teens are like, which in turn causes marketing to ratchet it up further looking for the next "pop."

This sort of pressure to perform comes not only from advertisers, but also from other teens. I remember my sister refusing to carry her gym clothes in an old plastic bag from Stop & Shop. It couldn't be just any bag. It had to be American Eagle or Old Navy. Even her cast-off bags for gym clothes had to prove she shopped at the "right" stores.

So where does that leave us? Are teens doomed to the downward spiral of advertising and peer pressure? I don't think so. I think a lot of teens have higher standards than we sometimes give them credit for. Not all of them rebel against marketing in quite the form as the fans of rage rock. My own "rebellion" was (is) to not wear t-shirts that advertise a brand across the front and to buy what I like on sale and because I like it. A lot of the teens I know don't have an interest in Spring Break-like escapades, but really care about values, people, and what their parents think (I always thought I was a "unique" teen, but it turns out to be a trend in teens of my generation). Every summer for the past few years, I've travelled to Workcamps with about 35 other teens and adults (mostly young adults) who would give up a week of their summer vacation, sleep on a classroom floor, eat cafeteria food, and work on a stranger's house with five other people they've never met before. They don't get paid; it actually costs around $400, not counting the cost of food on the way there and back. Yet it's one of the most popular events our teen group has.

I began this post saying that teens are savvy to marketing. This relates to libraries, too, because aren't we trying to promote our programs, books, etc. for teens? I think libraries and librarians can be different in two ways. First, we can give them what they actually want instead of finding out what they want so that we can sell them what we want. Next, we can ask them about themselves -- likes, dislikes, books they want to read, things they're interested in -- because we care, not because we want to repackage it and sell it. They will notice.