Lap-sit Queens, Pirates, and other Librarian Heroes

The librarian who writes Hi Miss Julie gets a big bloggy hug from Kid Lit Vulture for her recent post on why good libraries are good. They reach out.

They meet people where they are, whether in space, time, or humanity. As she points out, all librarians can learn from good children’s librarians:

“Children’s librarians are–whether by instinct, design, or learned behavior–are skilled actors. Perhaps its all the dramatic reading we do, but we know how to use our bodies and our voices effectively to provoke a response. We can soothe or excite depending on what the situation requires, which, in the realm of public service, is crucial.”

Some of my strongest personal connections have been with the children’s librarians who have been my own kids’ children’s librarians. In rare cases, the librarian knows of my affection. For the most part, I haven’t come clean about the ways I’ve learned from our librarians, been buoyed up out of the ditches of parenting day-to-day, or simply become a better reader or parent due to their unwitting ministrations. Since we’ve moved several times during my children’s childhood (and some of the librarians have been fired, hired, or quit) the workaday connections have been broken.

Not so for the internal connections. Elena, from our very first lap-sit, a library student at the time, had that superhero librarian quality that Hi Miss Julie describes in her post. Later, Connie was our librarian in the wilds of bad behavior, punctuated by soul-saving shared reading. She has her rightful place in my heart, too. Carol, another lap-sit queen, gave a piece of her mind to an irate older patron who opined that my youngest child was being too noisy in the library. Word up to Carol for that!

There are others in my bookish pantheon—a school librarian who knew that Reading Counts was more harm than good, a man with an occasional clown nose and pirate drawl, and the elderly bookshop owners who fed me oyster crackers in their warren of an office. Thanks to all of them and thanks to Miss Julie for her goad to her profession.

Postscript: Miss Julie, you really have no business calling a beetle a cockroach in your series on librarianship and outreach. Perhaps I’d lambaste you for that elsewhere. On the other hand, one must assert the right of cockroaches to dream of being a beetle (a glittery one at that), and beetles cockroaches.


KidLitVulture’s Must-Read Saturday: The KickAss Librarian

I’m liking— a lot—the new blogger I’ve discovered, a librarian by the nom de Web of Miss Julie. If you know me, you know libraries are one of the few institutions that warm the cockles of my heart and librarians are some of my favorite people. But, as in any other profession, librarians represent a cross-section of humanity. Miss Julie is the Lewis- Black-meets-Vivian-Gussin-Paley of librariandom.  I’ll have more to say about Miss Julie’s Blouevre* another time. For now I’ll give you a taste:

It’s easy to love babies and toddlers. They’re designed that way–big eyes, easy smiles, chubby limbs. It’s hard to love your average teenager. They slouch, they sneer, they argue–but they’re designed that way. They’re trying on personalities along with their clothes and hairstyles, and they’re trying to find out who they want to be in the world. Once they know who they are, they’ll find out what they want to do, and begin to take a wider interest in the world. Teens are designed to have an intense preoccupation with the self, because they are trying to figure out who that “self” is. And is there a better place to pursue this self-discovery than the library?

The best libraries and best librarians know these things about teens, mostly through observation. Just as it would serve children’s librarians better to take child development courses, it would serve teen librarians better to do the same. 2  Adolescence is a turbulent, fascinating time in human development, and if you don’t know what it entails and why it happens the way it does, you’re going to be confused, and that confusion will lead to anger, irrational behavior, and bad choices.

Erikson has a concept called “psychosocial moratorium”, which is a concept that adolescents need a time-out from “the sort of excessive responsibilities and obligations that might restrict the young person’s pursuit of self-discovery” What does that mean? Teens need time to hang out, without being told what to do, as a developmental NEED. They are not lazy; they are not stupid; they are not purposefully trying to ignore you; when they sit there, with their friends, being obnoxious, they are actually HARD AT WORK, BECOMING PEOPLE.

Steve Teeri 3 understands this, and is doing good work in Detroit supporting teens’ need to discover, push boundaries, and explore. He also makes a good point about remembering your own time as a teenager, and the stupid crap you probably did/said/wore:

Young adults are at a pivotal time in their lives. As they near adulthood, teens try on different personas and identities, in an attempt to figure out just who the heck they are. When I was a teen it was the exact same process. For me it was being preppy with my letter jacket and khakis one day. Doc Mart[e]n steel-toe boots with a black shirt and jeans another. Maybe a Hypercolor color-changing shirt and cut-off pair of jean shorts that we won’t talk about any further. Matched together with this quest for identity, is a rush of hormones and limitless teen energy. It’s enough to make any settled adult run for cover.

He also issues a challenge to those who are not passionate about the work, a gauntlet which I’ve tossed down so many times on this blog that my hand is starting to hurt:When speaking about our teens, I try never to say “the teens,” it is always “my teens” or “our teens.” I take full responsibility and ownership of their experience and growth as people when in my department. It sounds basic, but I have heard stories about YA staff who do not want to interact with their teens. If that is the case, hit the eject button and get out of YA immediately.

via #makeitbetter | Hi Miss Julie!.

*You heard it here first on KidLitVulture, in the first week of January 2012. Apologies to the French, who will put me in butter sauce for that.