Monday, March 28, 2011

Identifying the Teen Reader

In library school they never taught future librarians what to expect when working with teens. How could they? They are a diverse population that to identify what teen readers are looking for would be to identify what adult readers are looking for in their books. The fact of the matter is, there isn't an easy way to identify the teen reader. Sometimes it's a matter of observing them while they visit your library. Having said that, there are a few tips that can be passed on to the new YA librarian.

Expect the unexpected. At one point, I had a supervisor who had been in libraries for years tell me that boys do not read books. As a matter of fact, there was no sense in purchasing fiction books for an academic library that served an all male school population. My first reaction was to remind my supervisor that reading fiction, as they do in English Literature class, increases vocabulary, awakens the curious nature in the reader and stirs the imagination to be open to the possibilities of "what ifs" My argument may have been well thought out and academically correct but what took me by surprise was when a young student spoke up at an Open House event to "brag" to a prospective student that the computers were cool but the fiction section was cooler. The Lesson to be learned here: Teens say and do the unexpected at the opportune time! They are paying attention to the collection and will give kudos when they see what they like. Just like adults!

Never Judge A Teen By The BDon't ooks they Read Another stereotype that I have often heard librarians and teachers profess as gospel truth is that the Graphic Novel reader tends to be into goth and will not read traditional books. They are in a class by themselves. Hogwash! This thought is suggesting that teens who express themselves differently in the way they dress or wear their hair are not avid readers. It may surprise many of these professionals in educations that straight A students who love are avid readers love the Manga series and graphic novels. It is clearly a different way for them to escape or another type of entertainment. Consider this question: Would your friends be surprised by some of the "guilty pleasures" you have in your television viewing habits? As for the Goth Teens, just because at this point in their lives they love one particular genre does not mean they will stay with it foe rest of their reading lives. Eventually, they will move into other books, as educators and librarians we should be prepared to help them find the books that will inspire them.

Don't Tell Them What They Like, Ask Them Too many times as educators, the assumption is made that students must be dictated to in their studies and reading materials. Not true. The best "role" for the educator/librarian is to be the guide. Ask teens these questions to get a sense of where they are in terms of reading for pleasure. What was the title of the last book you read? Name an author that you absolutely loved? Name an author that you absolutely loathed. These are just a few questions that can help teens to find the right book for them. It's no different than asking them what kind of music they like or what was the last movie they viewed? Actually these questions could help in find the right book too. In a nut shell it is all about getting to know them better.

Don't Assume Social Media Dominates Their Lives Having said this I know that there will be hoards if not hundreds of parents, teachers and the like who will swear that they can not tear the teens away from Facebook or MySpace. To some that is very true. Which is why I recommend that librarians are familiar and use Social media. Having said that, it is equally important to understand that for some teens the lure is just not there because they feel they have nothing to share, or parents have forbidden the use of such sites. Another important factor is that in tough economic times, not everyone has access to the Internet at home. The ease of use is not applicable. When getting the word out about programming to teens, the old fashioned way channels such as snail mail, flyers on bulletin boards are as effective as modern tools. In the case of teens, using traditional methods mixed with the new is always the best route.

The one rule of thumb that YA librarians can always count on is that teens just want a place to be accepted and be comfortable for who they are. Isn't that the same with all of us? The best way to identify a teen readers is anyone who walks into the YA area looking for a book, magazine graphic novel and of course the Internet computers. Now the "secret" has been revealed to you, go out and guide those young adults who are waiting to find the right book.
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