I’ve worked as a YA Committee representative for my branch for a few years, and I just spent a few months working at a branch which does a lot of YA programming. I read a post on a listserv earlier today from someone who wanted to know how one becomes a YA Librarian. I gave some thought to what I would tell a new YA Librarian, and since I haven’t posted anything for a while, I thought I’d post my ideas here. I haven’t done all these things on this list, but I think they are all things to aspire to doing if you want to be a YA Librarian. It’s all just my .02, of course; your mileage may vary!
1. Subscribe to YA-YAAC or another YA librarian listserv. Instructions can be found at the listserv’s website. Why is this necessary? Go do it and just lurk. You’ll get so many good ideas and information as a passive observer that it’s obviously worth being on the listserv. If you’ve been avoiding listservs for fear of being overwhelmed by information, don’t worry. Every listserv isn’t as busy as Fiction-L, so that’s not a good reason to avoid them all. I recently ignored a list for over two weeks due to having to work to get my branch ready for reopening after a renovation, and it only took me about 20 minutes total to go through and read what I wanted to and delete the rest of the mails unopened.
2. Make a YA display area in your library & keep it fresh. You can’t underestimate teens’ desire to read stuff you post about them. They may ignore the space for a bit. Hang in there. Maybe post a trivia question there & mention that they’ll get a piece of candy or some other inexpensive prize if you really want to increase traffic at your display. Print off a Graphic Novel or Manga review from Noflyingnotights and hang it there. Or you can type up a list of titles you’ve recently added to the YA collection. Whatever you do, once you get them to read that display regularly, they will come back for more & then you can use it to advertise what you want them to see. It’ll work!
3. Read YA novels. It helps if you like reading them, of course. If nothing else, find YA novels of the type you might like to read anyway. I love fantasy and mythology, so I read a lot of YA fantasy and I find many of the books more enjoyable than fantasy written for adults. Lots of adult authors are dipping their pens into the YA inkwell, such as Alice Hoffman, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and Clive Barker. You can even try to think of adult novels that could cross over to teens. However you do it, read something that might appeal to teens and be ready to tell kids about them. If you know the literature, you stand a better chance of getting them excited about books and reading for pleasure.
4. Create a MySpace page. You know you want to! Recent media stories mention that teens tend to look at email as something that old people use. My experience with them validates this idea. Since most libraries probably can’t use the technology teens prefer (which is Instant Messaging and texting each other on their phones), try to reach them somewhere else they spend time: blogs and myspace. Be sure to advertise your myspace page or blog in the branch, on your library website, and even in their school if you can. Change the page as often as you can, even if it’s just to take a Quizilla “Which character are you?” quiz for a popular TV show and put it up. Teens will notice that you’ve noticed where they like to be, and even if they think it’s funny that the library guy or lady is there, you will score points for being smart enough to set up the page and for having the guts to do it.
5. Try to get an “in” at school. Teens spend hours there every day & walk past the same old signs every day. Think back: you noticed a new poster or sign in the stairwell, didn’t you? Try to get your fliers and information into the schools. Begin with the school media specialist. They’re a librarian, too. He or she might be happy to help you out. If one school can’t help you, move on to another in your area (if possible) and try again.
6. If you feed them, they will come. Even if it’s just grocery store brand soda and cookies, food will draw teens to you. Everyone likes a cookie, even people who shouldn’t eat them for health reasons. If you have a strongly health-conscious population, try serving smoothies or other fun healthy snacks. Kids will learn to check in with you to see if you have something to eat. Even when you don’t, you can use that moment to talk to them about what you are doing.
7. Personally straighten the YA section every day. If you walk down the YA shelves and straighten the books, even if you just hug the shelves tight, you’ll learn things about your teen patrons. Do they trash a certain area a lot (like graphic novels)? Maybe that means you need to add more of those titles to your collection. Do you find candy wrappers tucked in the shelving? Check the brand of candy. Maybe you should try giving out that brand some time. (If you find wrappers for the candy you already give out, maybe you should remind them to eat outside the library or put out trash cans closer to the YA area.) Even knowledge you might assume is silly can actually be helpful.
8. Dress well. I don’t mean wear a suit every day, and I don’t mean try to match teen’s styles! But when you go to the store to choose clothes for work, be sure to try on new styles if you can. Try to avoid getting stuck in a fashion rut forever. Teens watch us all the time and I think they notice if we look like we’re in a time warp. If you seem inflexible and not open to change, I think you’ll have to work harder to build rapport with some teens.
9. Smile! I probably don’t have to elaborate on this one too much, but I will say–don’t stop with just the teens! Smile at everyone, even when you don’t feel like it. You reap what you sow with smiling, and we talk to an awful lot of people every day. Some people seem to assume that the library is a forbidding place filled with cranky employees. Smiling helps more people see their visit as a pleasant experience, and I’m all for pleasant experiences! Aren’t you?
That it! You may go. 😉