What goes on behind-the-scenes in a library is a mystery to most of us. Some, who perhaps haven’t visited a library since their childhood, envision grumpy librarians sitting behind a desk shushing rowdy library-goers. Others imagine all sorts of secrets and adventures, leading such fabulous books as Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, Alcatraz vs. The Evil Librarians, and The Haunted Library series.
In the real world, today’s librarians work their magic for our children every single day. This winter, I had a great talk about inspiring kids to read with Joanna Nelson, Teen Services Coordinator and Librarian for the Pikes Peak Library District (PPLD) in Colorado Springs, Colorado. With 14 locations, PPLD serves a community of almost 600,000 people.
Joanna’s job includes:
- determining the vision and goal of the teen team
- planning district-wide programming (summer reading programs, author visits, etc.)
- teaching students how to research using library resources
- conducting 1-3 minute booktalks in the classroom
Q: Have you noticed any differences in the types of books that get read or in the popularity of reading since the explosion of ebooks?
A: Surprisingly, teens generally prefer paper books to ebooks. We have more than 640,000 eMaterials (ebooks, audiobooks, emagazines, movies) titles for all ages, but that is just 9.1% of the total number of items that check out. So, since the beginning of 2014 we have checked out 6,434,522 physical items. Since the beginning of the year 647,797 ebooks/audiobooks have been checked out.
Q: Do you have a recent favorite middle-grade book?
A: Wonder by R.J. Palacio blew me away. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman was written in 2012 and I really enjoyed that story. Another series I love, but is older is Alcatrez vs. the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson.
Q: Have you noticed any recent trends in children’s literature?
A: There are a couple of trends I’ve noticed in teen literature. First, teens LOVE series! They can’t get enough of the characters and stories that authors create. The characters become their friends and they want to know more. Second, dystopian is incredibly popular right now. I think this is because teens overcome huge challenges that they have to work to solve – and it makes their lives seem relatively better.
Q: You’re also an adjunct professor for the University of Denver Masters of Library and Information Science program. – What advice do you give your students about connecting with teen readers?
A: The class I teach at DU is the Young Adult Materials and Services class. Most of the students are going to work in libraries (school or public), but I do get a few students who will be English teachers.
Connecting with teens is about being honest – with them and with yourself. Teens can tell when someone isn’t genuinely interested in what is important to them. Teens appreciate straightforwardness and it is fun to banter with them, but it can be good to avoid sarcasm (not in all cases, but sometimes teens take things quite literally).
As far as Readers’ Advisory goes, it is really important to not pass judgment on what anyone (no matter the age) is reading. My opinion is that if someone is reading, that is excellent! Finding someone’s next good book isn’t necessarily about what they’ve read in the past. It is important to use a variety of interests to get teens a book they will enjoy. I encourage my students to read a variety of genres, watch teen movies, play video games – and know about books that are about sports, graphic novels, difficult issues and more. It is so important to welcome teens to reading no matter where they are coming from.
Q: How has the recent “We Need Diverse Books” campaign come up in your work and does it influences how you choose books for your classes?
A: Diversity in books is a huge issue. It does come up in our work regularly – even before this campaign started. The collection development team here at PPLD makes every effort to get good quality, diverse books. In teen services at PPLD, we create displays for minorities for Black History Month in February; Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15); and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May. We highlight fiction and nonfiction written by or about people of the respective ethnicity. For non-ethnic specific celebrations (Poetry Month, Women’s History Month, etc.), we include people of all ethnicities. We’re also working on building and updating more book lists that are diverse.
For my class, I try to focus on diverse issues and diversity. I only get to assign 5 books per class, which makes it difficult to touch on everything. So, the assignment requires that they read a variety of books on a variety of topics geared towards a diverse audience.
Thank you for your time, Joanna! And thank you to librarians everywhere who help us celebrate and appreciate books!