Review of Voice of Youth Advocates – I. Soorenko
Alternate Literacy and Teens
We all know that literacy is an essential skill to have, if one is going to function effectively in life. People who are lacking basic literacy suffer a very large disadvantage over their literate peers, unable to take part in important discussions, both because they lack the knowledge to contribute to them and in some cases, because they are unable to access the discussion at all. What is literacy, though? At its core, yes, it is the ability to read and write, to interpret symbols on a page as recognizable information (i.e. words) and to then be able to reproduce them in a way that they are intelligible to others. That’s the Merriam-Webster definition, or at least the first one. The second definition that Merriam-Webster offers is “competence or knowledge in a specified area”. It’s this second definition that people do not often think of, and why the struggle to promote literacy in the young men and women of this generation can often be frustrating for parents, teachers, and librarians. Of course, it’s important for young adults to be literate in the sense of being able to read and write, and have more than a basic grasp of these skills. Reading is good for everyone, teens and adults alike. However, recognizing that there are alternate forms of literacy is a very important issue when one is providing library services to the teens of today, because literacy is more than just printed words on a page, and teens know it.
I chose to review Voice of Youth Advocates, published by Scarecrow Press. It publishes 6 times a year, and is a journal focused on youth services librarianship. I surveyed the span of 2010 and 2011. For the most part, the articles seem to focus on public, rather than school, libraries, with most of the professional contributors coming from that particular field, but there was at least one article in the range that I looked at that dealt with school libraries. However, many of the articles and the information contained in them can easily be applied to school libraries and programming. A bulk of each issue is taken up by book reviews, but often there is interesting commentary accompanying the reviews, and the specific genre choices speak loudly to the current – and, most likely continuing – issues facing youth services librarians when dealing with teens and creating collections and programming for them.
As you might imagine, the subject of technology is one that crops up often in the journal, although not quite as often as I expected. The articles that did were a mixture of topics, some focused on furthering technological literacy in teenagers, but with quite a few focused on educating professionals on various technological tools that they might be able to use in connecting with teenage patrons. (And then, of course, passing those tools and knowledge on to teenagers.) There were actually quite a few of these latter articles. Articles like “Blog It!” and “The Tweeting Librarian” give professionals practical advice – “Blog It!” even has a step-by-step process – on how to use the technology that their patrons are using in ways that will engage them in a way that is relevant to the library. The authors are all very positive about the usage of technology by librarians and by patrons as well. In “Signing the Technology Fight Song” (part of a column for the journal called ‘Man Up’, focused on how youth services librarians can encourage male usage of the library), one of the two authors says that he has had pressure from administrations to begin limiting access to the web during afterschool hours, with the reason given that “They’re just hanging out wasting time looking at girls on Facebook.” (Rockefeller and Welch, 538) He rejoins with “Blah blah blah. A few years back, I heard: “Those guys are just wasting time arguing about comic books”. This is an argument that ties in well with another trend that I noticed in the publication, which was the defense of other forms of literacy, and other forms of reading. Comic books, graphic novels and manga are now fully recognized genres of reading, at least in the world of the youth services library and by the contributors to this journal.
In the October 2011 issue of the journal, which focused on programming, there was an article on a library that has hosts an annual anime convention, one that has been running for 3 years. The author states in the beginning of his article that “Some years ago, a teen stood at my desk wearing a shirt with the words ‘I LOVE ANIME’ printed in bold letters across the front. At the time, I had no idea what anime was, but that boy convinced me that many teens were interested in anime, that an anime club was something our library should offer, and that I needed to start buying plenty of anime and manga for our teen collection.” (Delaughter, 338) Delaughter took notice of this, as have many other youth services librarians, and started an Anime Club as part of the programming in her library. Another library in South Field, Michigan also hosted a comics convention, with the one of the library staff saying that the convention was meant to let “people know that libraries support getting comics into the hands of kids and teen and that libraries are current, cool, and fun places!” (392, Fesco). Comics and manga are something that young adults want to read, and for librarians not to recognize that fact means that those young adults are going to be less likely to frequent the library, where they have to potential to be introduced to other forms of reading. Youth Services librarians recognize this, and are making efforts to tailor their services and programs to teenagers. One article that came from further back than my span, but that I found very interesting, was one describing the Youth Area of the Oakland Public Library. In an effort, I imagine, to better accommodate teenagers and their interests, “the Dewey Decimal System is being phased out in favor of a more youth-preferred classification system to reflect user-driven prerogatives. The staff finds that this new scheme better meets the information behaviors of local youth. Most items are categorized and shelved by genre and title. The superhero collection is shelved not by author or title but by superhero” (Bernier and Branch, 205)
One aspect of the journal that I found particularly interesting was the articles that focused on the intersection of technology and traditional literacy. These articles talked about programs that both engaged teenagers’ technological skills, thereby advancing their technological literacy, but also encouraged them to interact with literature in its classic form. My favorite article was “The Twitternovel”, which recounted a program undertaken by BBC Audiobooks America who was looking for a way to better promote their product. They decided to create a Twitter audiobook, or more specifically to create an audiobook generated by Twitter users. They asked Neil Gaiman, an author who is an avid blogger and tweeter, to provide the first line. The final project contained lines from 123 tweeters, with the participants coming from “Sweden, Brazil, Africa, England, Italy, and many more countries” (Moore, 524). With the success of the first audiobook, BBC Audiobooks America chose to do a second Twitternovel, this time with the starting sentence by Meg Cabot to reach out to younger audiences. The article goes on to talk about how librarians can use the concept of the Twitternovel in their own library. Another article discussed making book trailers, educating both librarians on making their own trailers to show to youth patrons, but also discussing how teenagers themselves could then be shown how to create book trailers.
I found this journal to be very interesting in the way that discussed the issues facing youth services and how to approach teenagers. It also showed me, I think, that the career path that I’m contemplating is one that is right for me, since I was already familiar with many of the genres and technologies discussed. If I wasn’t familiar with them, then I was certainly interested in them!
Bernier, Anthony and Branch, Nicole. “Oakland TeenZone: Humming a New Tune.” Voice Of Youth Advocates 32.4 (2009): 204-206.
Delaughter, Maureen. “Host Your Own Anime Convention.” Voice of Youth Advocates 34.4 (2011): 338-339
Fesco, Shari. “Kids Read Comics Convention: Coming Soon to a Library Near You” Voice of Youth Advocates 32.5 (2009) 392
Krygier, Leora. “Blog It!.” Voice Of Youth Advocates 33.2 (2011): 522-3.
Moore, Rebecca C. “The Twitternovel: Collaborative Writing with Web 2.0.” Voice Of Youth Advocates 33.6 (2011): 524-5.
Rockefeller, Elsworth and Welch, Rollie. “Singing the Technology Fight Song.” Voice Of Youth Advocates 33.6 (2011): 538-9.
Werner, Kat. “The Tweeting Librarian.” Voice Of Youth Advocates 33.6 (2011): 518-19.