Friday, December 9, 2011

Judy Blume on NPR, and helping the YA audience


“I’m afraid today everybody thinks the sexiest, smartest thing to do is write for YA, and I worry about the middle grade readers, because if they don’t learn to love books when they’re middle graders, when are they gonna learn to love them?”

This, in a nutshell, is why I want to be a youth librarian.

Early on in my quest for Master Level Librarian (aka grad school), I was mostly undecided about where to focus in the public library realm. First off, MLS programs are incredibly expansive. Do you know how broad the library field is? Technical services, records management, digitization, preservation, archives, academic libraries, School Media Specialist, and yes, public libraries. I've known, since day 1, that I want to work where the people are. I love books, and I want to share that, not be closed up alone in a room with them. This pretty much leaves academia, public libraries, and school libraries, but academia bores me and it seems to me primarily information retrieval. I want to be an information guide and promote a love of reading, and I want the diversity of a public library.

Once you get in a public library, though, it's still divided—adult services, children's services, YA services. Do I go Adult where I can share what I myself enjoy reading? Do I go Children's because they're so cute and inspiring? Or the YA group that is probably the most challenging and the most reluctant?

Here's what I've decided. If adults are in the library to read, then they're readers. You just hit a point in life where you're either a reader or you're not. And kids have people encouraging them to read from every angle. Parents reading to you at home, read-alongs in class at school, summer reading programs, Accelerated Reader requirements—things that just encourage you to READ, doesn't matter WHAT you're reading. Then you hit the middle school/high school years and it just seems to drop. You're done with programs like AR; you're done with class visits to your school library to pick out some books; you're given six books you must read for English class that are usually "classics" and therefore pretty boring. And because you have to do it, you don't want to do it. So you start to resist reading. It's not fun; it's boring; books suck. You Google everything, and books are outdated. You develop poor research habits based on what's quickest and easiest, not the most thorough or accurate. Maybe, by some act of divine intervention, you'll pick up reading again in a few years before your adulthood habits and priorities are solidified. But most likely, if you lost interest once, it's gone.

And that's why I want to work with this fragile and underserved group. Yes, YA is the rapidly-growing hot reading genre, but you can't just produce the material. Spending time with teens, teaching them good research strategies and habits, inspiring in them a life-long quest for knowledge and love of learning, using their individual interests to motivate them—that is what I think teens need, and that's where I want to help.

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