The past eleven or so years of my library career has been spent working with children. it has been a source of pride for me because I tell everyone that this is what keeps me young. On very few occasions do I feel truly old around the teens, and that's only when they tell me that my attitude is much in line with their moms and dads. Which in the whole scheme of things really isn't that harsh of a reality check. As much as I like to think that I have taught them something of value, I know deep down, they have taught me some very valuable lessons. Who says age has anything to do with being a teacher or sharing knowledge? I thought I would take the opportunity to share with everyone what the teens have taught me.
!. The more things change, the more the stay the same. Years have gone by since I was a young one in high school, yet when I overhear the conversations before the T.A.B. group meetings, the conversations haven't changed all that much. The girls talk about books, dances and boys. The boys talk about, cars, games, and girls. They make me smile, and realize that yes this is the generation that will be leading us soon but it is so nice to see them growing into their roles. They will make this world a better place.
2. Teens love to Share their opinions. Good golly do they ever. Everything from politics to sports to who will be kicked out on Big Brother. To write down all that they have to say would take years, but just like adults, everyone wants to have a chance to be heard. As adults in their lives, it is our responsibility to hear what it is they have to say and take it on face value.
3. Everyone wants a place to belong. This is what is so cool about the library. Everyone is welcomed. Whether you are a geek, athlete or straight A student everyone has a chance to explore, learn and grow at the library. Once in a while i will be listening to the radio's PSA ad that lectures on how teens need a place to go after school. It seems silly that everyone forgets that the best place to go is the library. It's a great hangout place. Which is why it is so important that libraries have the funding to not only keep the doors open but also to provide an alternate place for kids to call home. I love it when a teen plops down on the couch in the Youth area and starts to read. It's as if they own the place and that's okay with this librarian.
4. Out Of The Mouths Of Babes Comes Great Book Suggestions. Young Adults truly do have a way of seeing things differently than adults. The first cover of Pretty Little Liars made me think, "Great, another chick lit book! " Yet it was one of the TAB members that told me I had to read the book So did. Surprised was I that I actually not only liked the book but looked forward to the next books in the series. What drew the teen to the book? It wasn't the color scheme of the book jacket design, or the title itself. It was the premise of a not so ordinary mystery tale. Another case of not judging a book by it's cover!
5. Going with the flow. Teens have the spirit of spontaneity that adults have seem to lose when they get into the real world. At a recent teen book talk event at the library, I watched a teen describe a book in details with props. It was as if we were watching a one man play based on the book he choose to talk about. At one point I thought that perhaps I should stop the "performance" but decided not to because I saw how enthralled the others teens were and figured this is the time to go with the flow. The program ended a little bit late but the teens are still talking about how much fun they had that night. With the beginning of the school year just around the corner, these teens can become a walking PSA for the library to all their friends. Free advertisement! You can't beat that!
6. Never fear change or technology! Teens have taught me to embrace many new things that before I met them, I may not have tried on my own. Facebook, Myspace along with all the new gadgets did not thrill me when they first came on the scene. To be perfectly honest, the value of the 'new wave" looked more like wasting time than getting things accomplished. Boy was i wrong! This time, I'm glad I was wrong because now I see the potential of making the connection to not only my patrons but friends too! So with the teens help, I will boldly go where no librarian has dared to go before.
All these items individually, are wonderful but together they are the core to why teen advocacy is so important to libraries. Teens need libraries just as they need schools or hospitals. It's not just about educating or entertaining them. It's not even about giving them a safe place to hang our or an area that they belong. It's about providing for future leaders, parents and citizens who will one day understand the value of protecting their community by learning, growing and exploring together. The library is truly a portrait of a community. Invite the teens to be part of the portrait. They can teach others the same lessons they have taught this librarian.