Working in a library is an odd experience, especially if it’s a public library, and especially if you (like me) have anxiety about human interaction.
But this summer I actually worked with teens in a library, and if working in a library is your odd first cousin, working with teens in a library is that kid who used to come with your first cousin to Thanksgiving dinner and eat all the crescent rolls before punching you in the back of the head during the family touch-football game.
I want to be clear: I love teens. Love them. They are awkward and silly and inhabiting that ambivalent space between nebulous childhood and full-on, adult self-awareness, and being around them is freeing and joyful. But teens are also annoying and loud and like to, in administrative speak, “test boundaries,” which basically means: see how many times they can swear or how many snacks they can steal unnoticed. I’m not suggesting teens are aberrant or untrustworthy; rather, their boundary testing is one of their most endearing qualities, even though it is often also their most frustrating.
And sometimes being a Teen Librarian (or in my case, Library Associate) can feel a little bit more like babysitting than actual administration. Or, much more like wrangling the teens to pay attention for more than 10 minutes of “enriching activities,” such as group reading or crafting. Nonetheless, I don’t think I’ve ever learned more than I’ve learned working with my amazing kids. Here is what I’ve learned while wrangling this summer:
Never make cake
It is important to note that teens like snacks. No, they love snacks. If you want teens to show up for something, put out food. Theirs is almost a psychotic love because, as I learned through experience, they will almost certainly push old women and small children out of the way to get to, say, a bag of cookies. Once, for a screening of Red Riding Hood, I made a red velvet cake. Huge mistake. Instead of watching the movie, I spent the entire time swatting back sneaky attempts to get an extra piece:
“Miss Chelsea, can I have another piece of cake?”
“There’s one piece left.”
“I know! Can I have it?”
“There’s not enough for everyone to have another piece.”
“Can I have it?”
“I am not acquiring an advanced degree to deflect your cake greed! Back, back!”
Moral: Ditch the cake. Bottles of water are just fine.
Boys like to knit
Every week I would supervise our Teen Knitting & Crochet club. I consistently taught more boys than girls. Boys like knitting and crocheting, because it keeps their hands busy while allowing them to think they’re getting away with using sharp objects. The advantage to knitting with boys is that instead of learning things about knitting, one will learn about zombies, the approaching zombie apocalypse, and which super heroes and automated weapons are most useful for survival during said societal collapse.
Teens will forget your name until they need something
If you ask teens to turn down their music volume or give you their library card to use a laptop, the conversation will resemble this:
Teen Librarian: “Darrell, can you put your headphones in? Those girls at the other table are trying to study.”
Darrell: (blank stare)
But, if teens need a punch in their attendance punch card (which helps them earn points to win prizes during Summer Programming), a library fine forgiven, or some cake, the conversation will go something like this:
Teen: Miss Chelsea? Miss Chelsea? Miss Chelsea? Miss Chelsea? Miss Chelsea?
Teens do read. A lot
I’ll be serious now: I am blown away by how much these kids read. It is a myth that we need to trick kids into reading; at least, not all kids are preferring technology over Twilight (even though I have serious professional concerns over the validity of that series as literature). I mean, I saw kids taking out stacks and stacks of books this summer, coming into the library and reading for hours, and writing their own reviews. I’m proud of them, like a big sister. My teens read more than most adults I know.
Don’t underestimate teens
These kids are sweet. They may be shy, loud, and maybe a little bit selfish, but overall I am definitely sure I learned more from them than they learned from me. They are just looking for someone to talk to, who is not their mom, teacher, or coach. They gravitate toward librarians because librarians listen. I have gotten to listen a lot, help them find information, point them to books, instruct them on how to ask girls to prom, look up college application deadlines, and generally laugh a lot and be silly. How many jobs let you do that? Teens are cool, and so are their librarians.
( Feature photo: Teen Room, newly painted. Photo by Michelle Petrasek.)