June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Teens at Heart: Making an Impact | Editorial

SLJ_CV_NOV2015There is a lot of joy in this special Teen Issue of School Library Journal: joy, and many stellar examples of professionals’ steadfast commitment to making a difference in the lives of young adults. That difference, delivered through many means, can be transformative, resonating into adulthood. In some 16 stories in this package, you will witness the innovative spirit and responsive program design bubbling up from public and school libraries, taking teen services to a new level.

“We felt that teens in particular needed some focused attention and a deep dive into YA and beyond,” says SLJ executive editor Kathy Ishizuka, during a conversation with the editorial team about the impetus and insights from this project. “We wanted to get at the complex aspects of this very critical time of life. We’ve each experienced it ourselves, but it’s different for teens today.”

SLJ’s dedicated issues (think Maker, Early Learning, Diversity) allow for robust exploration that is all too rare in print or online. They also allow readers to circle widely around a theme, looking at it from many angles. The features, for instance, kick off with an exploration of YA (young adult) literature, by Shelley Diaz, senior editor, reviews (also point editor on the SLJTeen e-newsletter). There you’ll find a nuanced consideration of a category that is almost as complicated as the audience it targets.

Digging deeper, the coverage illustrates just how far we’ve come from creating teen spaces to shield other patrons from the rowdy adolescents in our libraries, notes Luann Toth, managing editor, reviews. “In terms of driving home all of the services that libraries offer to teens, keeping the teen audience engaged—that’s what comes through here.” She adds that indirect services are also powerful, because teens won’t always respond to a direct approach. Or perhaps you could try love, according to author Kwame Alexander.

“One evolution you see here is that if you treat teens with maturity and engage them in challenging activities, they will rise to the occasion and do great things,” says Sarah Bayliss, associate editor, news & features. Case in point: The young activists guided by teen librarian Wick Thomas. She adds “negative and positive experiences can both have profound impacts on teens.”

Such exemplary librarianship gets at what teens need by involving them directly, and not by deciding for them what they need, says Toth. Indeed, across our reporting, Ishizuka sees an effort to reach out to teens, and not just those who are readers or known library users. This type of proactive service addresses the full range of teen experiences as well as the diversity in our communities.

Getting pragmatic about libraries themselves, Diaz says that it makes sense that teen services are growing, especially as public library programs rebuild after layoffs during the recession. The attention to teen services feeds the library user of the future as well. “If you don’t catch teens now, you can miss the opportunity to turn them into lifelong library users.”

Teens, of course, can be difficult. “There’s the challenge and the reward,” says Bayliss, pointing to an element she saw across the board: “These librarians have a lot of joy in their work.”

That joy may just come from creating a real connection and making a positive impact.


Rebecca T. Miller

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This article was featured in our free SLJTeen enewsletter.
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This article was published in School Library Journal's November 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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