24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: youth services

Show Off: April Showers Bring Superpowers

Summer means blockbuster movies mean superheroes! Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 arrives in theaters next week, so what better time to feature some of the library’s materials on superheroes than now? I put together this board for April, which gave me the excellent opportunity for the “title” of the board — April Showers Bring Superpowers. While I featured a few graphic novels, I also included some fiction and nonfiction to give readers who might read exclusively graphic novels the option of something related, but in a different format. Although this door display is located in the teen section of the James M. Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Public Library system, some of the materials are located in the adult section.

At this library, teen nonfiction is interfiled with adult nonfiction (which is located on the other side of the library). I hoped that teens who might venture over for the adult nonfiction titles featured in this display might come upon some familiar YA stickers on the spines of the YA nonfiction in the stacks and realize those materials were available to them as well. Plus, the adult section of the library always felt so forbidding to me — perhaps if we specifically invite teens to that side, their transition from teen to adult fiction might be that much easier. Of course, the transition need not be a complete transition — my reading is still YA heavy and there’s no shame in reading YA as an adult. But for readers looking for something outside the usual YA parameters, this might strike them as an opportunity.

Take a look at the door below and let me know what you think!

And, for those of you who want to cry out, “You can’t include Batman! He doesn’t have a superpower!” Consider this: Batman’s superpower is being super-sad.

Show Off: Banned Books Week

There are, as you might imagine, a lot of rules around political involvement and being an employee of local government. Librarians and other library staff are often employed at the town or city level by the local government, making them subject to these rules. This means no speaking to patrons about personal political leanings, who you’re likely to vote for, or what your stances on particular issues are. This means no wearing t-shirts that proclaim loyalty for a candidate, disdain for another candidate, or anything else that might be politically suggestive.

What’s interesting to me is that libraries and librarianship are inherently political. Despite how we may be required to refrain from sharing our political opinions, libraries are — or, at least we try to be — democratic. We’re about equal and equitable access to information. We’re about standing in solidarity for the right to free speech and the reception of that speech (intellectual freedom). We’re about protecting privacy, as many libraries pushed back against the Patriot Act and its implications. And so, annually, we celebrate this with Banned Books Week in September.

This year, Banned Books Week begins today, September 25, and runs through October 1. Given the opportunity to put together a display about banned books in the young adult section of one of the libraries where I work, I got straight to planning. Teens are probably on the receiving end of book banning more than other populations. Sure, children’s books And Tango Makes Three and King and King among others have faced a fair amount of challenges, but teens encounter challenged books for both teen and adult audiences, the former frequently found in school and public libraries, the latter often used in the classroom. So, to promote awareness of Banned Books Week and intellectual freedom, I put up the display below in the teen section of the library, complete with bookmarks that offer further content in the form of eBooks available through the library.

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I’m happy to say the books have been flying off the shelves and have needed replenishing each day I’ve gone in. One of the important bits, I think, is to make sure visitors are aware that they can check out books on the display, so the bookmarks with eBook options were inserted into each book on display with “Check me out!” at the top. I used print books (both fiction and graphic novels) as well as audiobooks and the eBook collection. What are you doing for Banned Books Week?

Out and About: National Book Festival ’15: What It Taught Me about Youth and Literature

I have the great privilege of living in the greater Washington D.C. area, which provides me with many spectacular opportunities, not the least of which being the annual National Book Festival. Completing its fifteenth run today (as of four minutes ago, in fact), the National Book Festival brings together authors and their readers. This year, authors included astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Today meteorologist (and did-you-know mystery writer?) Al Roker, popular biographer David McCullough, television journalist Tom Brokaw, We Need Diverse Books co-founder Ellen Oh, YA author Jenny Han, and current U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera among many, many others.

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Courtesy of PhotoPin

But there was one group of authors who were not listed by name in the program. Students in fifth and sixth grade (and one high school student) had the opportunity to present their winning essays to a crowd of a few hundred during the Letters about Literature/a Book that Shaped Me awards ceremony. As my boyfriend pointed out, there was little point in watching the ceremony — we neither knew any of the kids who won nor have children of our own (except for Oopsilon, of course). However, I was interested in seeing books from the perspective of the population I’m most interested in serving: youth. The perspectives I was treated to today are, arguably, atypical. These essays were, after all, award-winning. I didn’t let that deter me. I still saw a shining nugget of value in this session and so we got in line until the pavilion was open and ready for a new audience.

Gabriel Ferris, the fifteen-year-old winner of Letters about Literature, chose to write a letter to biographer Walter Isaacson regarding Isaacson’s book on Steve Jobs. Ferris’ insight to Isaacson’s writing and Jobs’ life is astounding. His letter-essay, which can be read here, discusses the cost at which Jobs achieved his success and the mistake many fans make in their desire to emulate Jobs. While I haven’t read this particular biography, I can’t say that I would have picked up on this poignant understanding. I tend to read biographies as factual pieces of information that don’t necessarily require thought-provoking or critical considerations. Isaacson, who was present at the reading of the essay, responded to Ferris and his letter live on stage. He clearly appreciated Ferris’ interpretation and that Ferris took the opportunity to ask questions about the book and Jobs to himself. Isaacson noted that many adult readers did not achieve this level of reading and, instead, read the book and come away with a greater determination to become the next Jobs, despite the extreme personal costs.

Later, younger students took the stage to read essays on books that shaped them. As fifth and sixth graders, these students spoke on difficult topics such as loneliness and genocide. One essayist described her grandmother’s escape from horrors in Ethiopia, discussing the injustices in a calm and mature voice. The essayist’s efforts to go beyond the text of the book which meant so much to her and interview her grandmother about the experiences of her grandmother and ancestors shows a dedication to a topic many adults prefer to avoid. Her own history and that of her people became an important piece of her own identity thanks, in part, to a piece of children’s fiction. Another young runner-up talked about how Harry Potter helped her cope with a number of personal struggles as a method of escapism, of instruction, and of commonality between herself and her peers as she encountered the difficulties of making new friends.

We too-often imagine people younger than ourselves to be less-smart versions of ourselves. We imagine them to be unworldly and unwise. We do ourselves a grave disservice in believing these lies. Children and young adults are far wiser than we give them credit for. We must, as John Green often advises his readers and viewers, try to imagine people complexly, those who are younger than ourselves included and, perhaps, especially.

As library professionals, imagining youth patrons as lesser-than in one way or another or one-dimensional, we fall short in providing meaningful services and materials. The solution is to let younger patrons lead the way. Encourage them to become involved in their own futures at the library. This can be done in small and large ways — from picking which books that are to be featured during story time to doing the bulk of planning for an upcoming program. Youth members of the community have the intellectual tools to make these impacts and so many more if we only give them the opportunity.

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