YA Lit: Reflections

So after cramming all three core courses into my first semester at library school, I decided to take it easy on myself and just take two “fun” classes the following semester.  I took YA lit and Web 2.0 (which was definitely a fun class but also extremely useful…I recommend it).

YA Books on a Bookshelf

I took YA lit because it’s one of my preferred genres.  I thought to myself, “just read books all summer, easy-peasy!”  What I didn’t think about was that I wouldn’t just get to read the books…I would have to report on them too.  What a lot of work!  It is one thing to tell someone “read the book, it’s good” and quite another to actually try to tell them why it’s good and to try to match books and interests.

But it was still enjoyable, just in a more “hard work and learning” sense.  We did an in-depth genre study on 15 titles, and a survey of 30 books (and media).  Doing the research for these projects really honed my search methods and made me look closer at how and why I choose titles. I’m still analyzing some of the books I read in the format we used in that class, because I think it helps me have a more comprehensive understanding of how to communicate about books.  I think I will always be a reading gourmand, rather than a reading gourmet, but I think I can learn to be an intelligible glutton.

We read about studies of the dynamism of teen brains, which gave me another way to look at things.  I still feel like science still has a lot to uncover about the way any brain works, but I think that considering teens from a developmental perspective might allow for a bit more understanding by the older, firmer brained people.

I was also pleased to think a lot more about book challenges.  Before the course began, my view of book challenges was pretty simplistic; I felt people should be free to read whatever they wanted and people who had problems with that should just be quiet.  The course taught me to take more of a professional, sympathetic approach.  I still believe people should be able to read what they want, but I think understanding and addressing concerns is a much better way to deal with challenges.  It seems like a lot of problems parents have with books may have to do with misunderstanding the details.

Emerging adults at the library – I read what I want!

The ALA’s Library Bill of Rights details the professional responsibility of the library to provide “resources … for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves” (2009). The Bill of Rights makes clear that materials are not to be censored due to content and that the patron’s “right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views” (ALA, 2009). Interpretations of the bill of rights argue that this responsibility is not only professional but legal. Libraries must not only provide unfettered access to information, but this access is part of a constitutional “First Amendment right to receive information in a publicly funded library” (ALA, 2009).
For teens, whose “reading experience … mirrors the stuff of everyday teen life: the struggle for independence,” (Anderson, 2004, p.106) the access to controversial literature can be an important ingredient in finding autonomy. There are two elements I see in a teenager coming into independence: the power to make choices, and a sense of identity- both in the teen figuring out who s/he is and in finding the self as distinct from others.
Making our own choices is one of the ways life changes as we grow to adulthood. When we are children, we are scheduled, fed, and advised on every matter under the sun. As adults we gain more power to make our own choices; to decide if we want to eat nothing but cheese and pears for dinner, or if we want to stay in our pajamas all day, or if we actually prefer a messy room to a clean one. Helping teens transition into these choices by providing access to books which may not be on any approved list, is one way the library can function supportively. Teens do not have to read the library’s controversial books, they may make the choice to not expose themselves to something that may not be in line with their beliefs, or they may decide to challenge the boundaries of their experience through literature.

For teens, especially those who may be marginalized in some way, literature depicting aspects of his or her own life may be key in self-acceptance. Bodart suggests defending controversial literature by “looking at the lessons it teaches, the problems or situations it reveals, and the information it contains about how to resolve them.” For librarians, this is valuable advice. For people who want teenagers to grow up to be healthy adults, this is a good reason to defend controversial literature. Teens should be given every tool available to learn how to deal with life, and literature is an even more valuable tool when there are not understanding adults or peers around.

But even for teens who are not marginalized, for teens who feel loved and accepted in their identity, who have not dealt with vicious treatment, and who happily fit in with the things that are expected of them, controversial literature may fulfill a purpose. As we grow we see the differences in others.  Our parents, for example, are no longer extensions of our own being.  No matter whether or not we embrace lifestyles that differ from our own, we begin to recognize that they exist. I think this is a very important stage of growth, and one that controversial literature can help teens arrive at, through realizing the breadth of the human experience.

American Library Association. 2009. Privacy: An interpretation of the bill of rights. Retrieved July 14th, 2009 from
American Library Association. 2009. Library bill of rights. Retrieved July 14th, 2009 from http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala
Anderson, S. (2004). Serving older teens. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Bodart, J. R. (2006, Fall). Books that help, books that heal: Dealing with controversy in YA Literature. Young Adult
Library Services v. 5 no. 1 (Fall 2006) p. 31-4.

On Walden Cassette Tape. For teens.

One of the big things that reading about non-print materials has got me thinking about is the level of transience of resources being purchased.  With audiovisual items, not only does the library have to deal with the transience of the content, but also with the ever more swiftly outdated nature of the format.  In my textbook for my class on Materials for Young Adults, written in 2004, Anderson advises to “purchase on tape or compact disc” (p.191).  I cringed a little.

Books seem to me more constant.  One of my favorites is Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from Mars.  It was written in 1978, which was the year I was born, and by the time I found it, was the ripe old age of 13.  And I still loved it, and found it relevant, and I could see people who are teenagers now still reading it.  Granted, it is not an extremely popular book (and wasn’t even back when I was 13) but it has an Amazon sales rank of #144,605, so someone is buying it.  In contrast, the main musical act that was popular when I was 13 was New Kids on the Block.  They do have a reunion tour this year, and people are attending, but I don’t think they are being overrun with screaming teenage fans.  In fact I think their initial popularity lasted about four years, and they went swiftly downhill after that.  If a library is “plac[ing] more emphasis on popularity” for its non-print collection, it may be stuck with a lot of obsolete material quite quickly (Anderson, p.192, 2004).

So the challenge then, is to find materials which teens will like, which will not blow through the budget.  I think the increasingly digitized nature of information will bring up some interesting solutions.  One which has already been implemented is to use Netflix , which “supplements the collection and also can be used to screen potential library purchases”  (Blumenstein, 2008).  If Netflix works for libraries, there is also a business called Gamefly which offers a similar service for video games.  Granted this is not necessarily using the service exactly as intended, but “no one has seen any kind of ‘reminder’ from Netflix the corporate entity banning libraries from using this service” (Burchfield, 2009).

I’m not sure of all the parameters with adding digital music to the collection, I have a feeling there may be copyright issues, and I’m not sure lending would work.  The SFPL has databases which allow music to be streamed over the internet, but it seems as though most of its easily findable music is on CD.  Perhaps highlighting the digital music the library does have might be a good way to get teens to notice it.  I also think that providing MP3s (integrated into the collection) might be a draw to get teens to look at the other electronic resources the library offers (like the journals).

The other non-print format that I think is a great idea: board games.  Although how you would keep the pieces all in one place, I have no idea.

Anderson, S.  (2004). Serving older teens.  Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Blumenstein, L. (2008).  Small libraries start using Netflix.  Library Journal.  Retrieved July, 9, 2009 from http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6547075.html?q=netflix

Burchfield, N. (2009, April 15).  Netflix has a long tail. It’s true, I saw it in the library.  Librarian, Interrupted.   Retrieved July, 9, 2009 from http://librarianinterrupted.wordpress.com/2009/04/15/netflix-has-a-long-tail-its-true-i-saw-it-in-the-library/

The teen librarian and the cyberbully

I’ve posted regularly on a local music message board for the past few years.  Most people who post know each other by sight at least from attending shows, although they may not be real life friends.  For the most part posts are friendly, supporting, or funny, but there are occasions where things get really nasty- humor on the board is very edgy and sometimes someone will cross someone else’s line.   A major point in most of these fights is that the internet is not to be taken seriously.  People behave differently and accept different behavior online than IRL.

It is if, by creating an avatar and sitting in front of a keyboard you can become someone totally different, even to people who know who you really are.

For teens, who may not be totally adept at parsing what someone’s expression means, gauging and reacting to an online persona may be even more difficult.

What is appropriate, what the consequences of one’s actions are, and empathy for others are given a new dimension online-“it has a disembodied, anonymous nature” (Goodstein, 2007, p. 82).  This is why I think cyberbullying is a totally different issue than regular bullying.

I’m not sure what this means for teen librarians.  While certainly a librarian should not sit by if a teen started hitting another teen in the library, I think online behavior is a little outside the purview (for public librarians, I think school librarians have a different range of authority).  Perhaps programs for teens at the public library using digital resources or exploring social networking could incorporate bullying as part of the discussion – as they certainly should include a discussion of the public nature of online info.  Certainly the library’s own online teen pages should have a contract which mentions respectful behavior.

I think it’s also very important that librarians understand and become familiar with online culture.  As Goodstein (2003) discusses, “the tone of today’s most popular entertainment has gotten a lot meaner” (p. 80).  This is not to say that bullying or meanness should be acceptable, but I think there is often a disconnect between what young people think of as a joke and what adults see as one.  Kids should be given the tools to find their own way of being safe and happy online, which may be different than what an adult would want.

And just as an aside, I’m taking Web 2.0 this summer as well in which we talk a lot about the democratization/democratizing aspects of the online world.  I had never thought of this in terms of how “anyone can cyberbully…democratized bullying for any kid, big or small, male or female” (Goodstein, 2007, p. 82).  I always though equality was a positive force!

Goodstein, A.  (2007).   Totally wired: What teens and tweens are really doing online. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.

Brains! And teens.

The thing that strikes me the most about our brains is how little we know about how they actually work.  And we know even less about teenage brains.  Jay Giedd is a scientist who is studying teen brains using MRIs- he’s changed a lot of how we think about teen brains.  As Strauch (2003) explains, Giedd’s study of MRI images of 150 brains is “the first long term-look at a large number of teenagers.”   (p.16) (I would argue that one study, performed by one scientist, of only 150 brains, is not conclusive, although it may bring up interesting possibilities.)

Research seems to point out that “the brain continues to change-it is plastic-throughout life” (Strauch, 2003, p.140).  If the adolescent brain is in a state of flux, it may be even more difficult to pinpoint cause and effect from imaging.  Additionally, the brain is shaped by “synapse growth that depends more on the kind of experiences an individual has.”  (Strauch, 2003, p. 40)

Studies seem to produce conflicting answers about what sorts of experience may be helpful to the adolescent brain.  While studies of rats by Rosenzweig, Krech, and Bennett indicate that a “complex environments make rat brain synapses and dendrites increase,” (Strauch, 2003, p.39), Ruder “highlights a recent study showing how sensory overload can hinder undergraduates’ ability to recall words” (2008).

These uncertainties make it difficult to create a fool-proof strategy for helping, serving, and parenting teens.  Many techniques adults have already been using, (listening, patience, and clear boundaries), are recommended by people such as Pressed (2004) on his Avoiding Evil blog, generating a sense of scientific basis for generally accepted wisdom such as “teens may not understand the implications and consequences of their own decisions.”

Teenagers, like adults, are shaped by a myriad of factors.  Although studies such as Giedd’s can help us develop a richer understanding of the factors at play in the developing mind, teenagers and their behavior are too complex to be definitively analyzed.

Strauch, B.  (2003).   The primal teen: What the new discoveries about the teenage brain tell us about our kids. New York: Random House.

Pressed. (2004, January 13).  Blame it on the brain!  The mind of a teen… Retrieved June, 17 2009 from http://www.avoidingevil.com/blog/archives/000147.htm

Ruder, D. (2008, September –October).  A work in progress: The teen brain.  Harvard Magazine. Retrieved June 17, 2009 from http://harvardmagazine.com/2008/09/the-teen-brain.html.