Frustration.

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A group of my teens, Spring 2015. I know so much about each of them.

Life as a teen librarian is a fascinating/frustrating experience.

I’m not your parent, although I often know more about your interests and who you really are better than your parents.

I’m not your teacher, though I know your reading habits and what other skills & strengths you have outside of test-taking.

I’m not your sibling, though I’m often the person you come to with questions about STDs and other difficult issues you couldn’t find on Google.

I’m not your best friend, though I’m often one of the first people you come out to.

I’m not your social worker, though I know which of you have water and electricity and heat and which of you don’t.

I’m not your therapist, though I help you find books and information you need when your guardian won’t take you to a therapist. I put the suicide hotline number in your hands after I notice what you were looking at online, asking no other questions.

I know which of you suffer from emotional abuse and avoid being at home as much as possible, often skipping meals to do so and walking long miles to get to the safety of Teen Central.

I know which of you have learned to ‘play the game,’ becoming a different person depending on the group you’re in so you can better navigate the moods at home.

I suspect which of you are physically abused based on the long sweatshirts & jeans being worn in our sweltering high-humidity, 90 degree Ohio summer days.

I stand on the sidelines, wanting to help you break out of the violence and poverty that has been your life, but unable to do so when the college financial aid dance becomes too complicated and life on campus alone without the support system so many people take for granted gets too scary. Home might not be great, but at least it’s familiar.

I help when and where I can. But too often, I know you so well but am not a big enough presence in your life to help before it’s too late. I hear things through the grapevine; so-and-so’s back from college, they’re pregnant, he got shot. Social workers, parents, teachers – they’re told things. People let them know when tragedy strikes. But no one thinks to tell the teen librarian – she hears about it on news, stalks people on Facebook who neglect their privacy settings, desperately seeks information online.

Lately, colleagues ask me about Pokemon Go, if the kids are excited about Suicide Squad, if they care about the new Harry Potter book. I give these answers, but what I really want to know is what I’m supposed to do with my memories of the smart, hilarious, and sassy girl who left me a note on my desk two weeks ago just to say ‘Hey girly miss you lol’ after I haven’t seen her in months who shot her father last week.

What can I do for a former teen who is so smart and  been through so much who got shot in a botched robbery attempt, losing a lung and nearly dying in the hospital to infection? I was a wreck that month, but thankfully, he pulled through. Now he’s finding it difficult to get back to school to finish his double-major of chemistry and physics, what with his new disability and the knowledge that his shooter was allowed to walk free due to no evidence outside of his word.

How do I respond to a nineteen-year-old that I’ve known since I started who is excited to be a father but is panicking that his girlfriend might want to terminate the pregnancy?

I don’t know what to do for a teen who summons up the courage to tell her mom that she suspects she’s suffering from anxiety and depression and wants help then gets told to just get over it after laughing in her face.

I want to know how to help these kids get through more than a semester of college without the support system that I had.

I want to be as big a part of their lives as the knowledge I have about them, but I don’t know how. I know so many of these kids, give them a safe place to grow and explore and figure out who they are, and yet, nine years after starting, I still don’t know what to do about this big stuff. It hasn’t become any easier.

My life as a teen librarian is filled with gaming, the latest book-to-movie adaptation, lots of noise and tons of nerdy, awesome laughter; I know that. And I know that that’s what most people think of when they hear the phrase ‘teen librarian’. But my life is also filled with so much frustration.

My heart hurts.

A Summer Reading Reboot

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Teen SRP 2015 booklet - front cover

Can we just take a moment to reflect on the glory of the 2015 teen summer artwork? Oh, it was everything I’ve always dreamed of.

Anyways.

So every year previous, the summer reading program for teens was the ever-simple ‘fill out an entry form for each item you read’ sort of thing. Simple, I suppose, in that it doesn’t take a lot of work on (most) staff’s part, and it’s easy to explain. Annoying, however, in that counting how many entries were turned in from how many people was always an all-day, spread-out-throughout-the-room sort of day. So many piles! Not to mention the fact that I never really believed those teens who turned in more than twenty or so slips. In fact, to those teens, I want to say, if you weren’t just stuffing the box, please go outside and do something else! Watch some tv!

But perhaps that’s just me.

2015 become the year we finally Changed. We had wanted to turn our summer reading program into more of a summer ‘learning’ experience – which I am very much in favor of, since I think a teen needs to learn from many things, not just re-reading the 70-some issues of One Piece for the chance to win an iPad. Plus I think it’s far more fun to earn a prize rather than to try to win one.

The Teen Advisory Board was also on board, even though it meant the prizes had to be something small – there was no way each teen could get a t-shirt. This is what we talked about while creating our very first learning challenge:

  • There needed to be some sort of reading minimum – it didn’t seem fair to win everything just through the ‘experiences’, which I’ll talk about in a moment. They said that you should have earn at least two points in each box by reading – that way someone doesn’t just do a bunch of other stuff to start, and end up not reading anything.
  • Earning ‘points’ had to be reasonable, but still a challenge. They came up with 20, and you earned a prize after each five.
  • ‘Experiences’ needed to be varied – it didn’t seem fair to only reward those doing science experiments, when there’s plenty to learn from a nature hike or starting a Youtube channel. And they couldn’t all require money or transportation, as both are scarce in our community.
  • Some experiences could only be earned once (ie; you could only create one Youtube channel.)
  • Five manga should count as one book.
  • Prizes:
    • Five points: food coupon (Chipotle was by far the most popular)
    • Ten points: deck of playing cards
    • Fifteen points: drawstring backpack
    • Ten points: book and invitation to a special after-hours event

In the end, the TAB came up with or approved all the experiences, and the ‘reading experiences’ was completely their idea – after all, expanding your reading horizons is as important as anything else! The first time you completed a reading challenge, it was worth TWO points, meaning you could actually complete the entire learning challenge having read only four books (which was a big selling point to some of the more reluctant participants). That proved to be the hardest to explain to both staff and participants alike, but having someone walk away after registering asking ‘What’s a good audiobook to try?’ was fabulous.

The experiences:

  • Attend a library event
  • Attend a concert or play
  • Write/draw a graphic novel & enter our contest
  • Go on a nature hike
  • Visit a museum
  • Start a blog and create 5 entries of original content
  • Get a library card
  • Take a 5-10 mile bike ride
  • Write a book review and submit it to teencentral@wtcpl.org
  • Volunteer in your community
  • Conduct a science experiment
  • Visit a comic book shop
  • Watch a documentary
  • Create a Youtube channel and upload two original videos

Reading experiences:

  • Audiobook
  • Historical fiction
  • Poetry
  • Non-fiction
  • Graphic novel
  • Biography

In the end, we added a few experiences we hadn’t thought about: attending a festival, and watching ten episodes of subtitled anime (which we included as reading). Pictured at top is the cover of the summer  challenge booklet they received upon registering, while below is the inside and back cover.

Teen SRP 2015 booklet - left

Teen SRP 2015 booklet - right

Teen SRP 2015 booklet - back

All in all, it was a success. It was bit hard to determine what the participation would be, and therefore what prizes to purchase, but our numbers were up across the board, so I am happy! We’ll definitely be continuing it this year.

So the secret is out…

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voya

The traffic over here has EXPLODED, and I’ve discovered that it’s because the news is out! I’m going to be taking over Get with the Program in VOYA Magazine! My first article should appear in the April issue, and I look forward to sharing everything I know with you. To say I’m excited and little bit terrified is an understatement!

In other news, I’ve been doing some much-needed housekeeping – deleting a few posts that weren’t really relevant (who cares about the 2012 summer reading artwork? Why did I use this as a platform for whining about that?) and adding some past presentations that I didn’t realize I’d neglected to post. So if you receive an email or something from 2011, don’t panic!

[edit] Turns out that due to technical difficulties, my first column won’t appear until the August issue. Ah well.