I've been thinking a lot, probably more than I ought to, about this entry in the YALSA blog: President's program: The teen third space. It's been bothering me a lot, probably more than it ought to, mostly this line: The best point, for me, that Bernier made was actually a very simple one. Libraries should move away from privileging the collection to privileging the social experience that libraries can support. Collections should be used to support social interaction.
Reading this makes me think I'm due for a career change, because I disagree with this on the most fundamental level.
Here's the thing: I'm all about getting the idea of third spaces out to my colleagues. I have been talking about the third space to my boss for a long time. I believe that having a welcoming teen space, no matter how small, is key in serving teens in a library successfully. (Seriously, the best teen space I've seen to date was at the Emerson Public Library...they have one half of one aisle, about 12 shelves, stuffed with up-to-date teen books and decorated by teens to the nines. It rocks.) I wholeheartedly encourage social interactions in the library, as anyone who's heard me speak about marketing Talk It Up! and Speak Out! knows. Why not, as long as everyone's behaving in a socially acceptable manner? Why not have gaming nights? Why not have non-book-related programming? Libraries are spaces for learning and exploring, and everyone has different learning styles and interests. I believe that having a space you care about shows teens that you care about serving them to the best of your ability.
But I also believe that without a well-weeded, up-to-date book collection, full of popular and quality materials, both fiction and nonfiction, everything else you do as a teen librarian is worthless.
Ask an average teen what comes to mind when asked to picture a library, and my money is on him or her describing a room full of books. Willow Rosenberg said it best: "The library... Where the books live?" Fact is, books are still important. Reading is still important. And perhaps this is a myopic view, but without teachers and librarians, where are teens going to get book advice? When was the last time you saw a reader's adviser in Barnes and Noble? Everyone who reads this blog knows that YA is the hot new thing. Even Cory Doctorow knows this. I feel lucky, even blessed, to be a YA librarian in a time when so much wonderful YA is being produced. It seems to me, however, that more and more it is becoming seriously not cool to become a YA librarian because you love YA lit and love matching teens and books. Granted, I've never been cool a day in my life so this doesn't bother me in and of itself, but what does bother me is the idea that in order to be a good teen librarian, you not only have to be knowledgeable about books and technology and have a good rapport with teens, you have to be a social worker, a gaming aficionado, a decorator, a confidante, a life coach, a social networking guru (Second Life? I don't even have time for a first life!), and many other things that I am simply not good at. I am great with helping people research and find books they'll love, but I am not a great social worker or life coach by any stretch of the imagination. If teens have troubles they want to tell me about, I am happy to listen but ultimately I am not equipped to guide them through their problems. I am, however, equipped to give them the resources they need, should they want. I think if you don't privilege your collection, no one else will, either. I think if you don't stand up for providing quality materials to teens in favor of privileging social interaction, you've got no right to complain when your materials budget is cut. Your collection, in my opinion, should lay ground for everything else you do. It should reflect your teens' reading interests, be they fiction or nonfiction.
I know this is a lot of tinhattery based on one YALSA blog entry, but that one entry has set off this chain of thoughts. I think I have fallen too far behind the times to keep up with what is expected of teen librarians nowadays. I am not a confidante. I am not a counselor. I am a librarian, and a good one, and one that today, feels really out of place in her profession.
Tomorrow will probably be a better day.
One Mixed-Up Night: Catherine Newman
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