By: Cathy Collins
When one of our high school students accidentally fell into icy Lake Massapoag in our Sharon home town on a windy, wintry school day this past week, our administrative secretary ran to me for a blanket. She knew that I offered an after-school yoga club for students, and she thought of me as the adult in the high school building most likely to have ready access to a warm blanket. The symbolism of this request did not escape me.
As librarians, we are often the suppliers of resources that range from books and other print materials, to Band-Aids, tissues, scissors, glue sticks, iPads, laptops, nooks, crayons, markers, as well as assorted makerspace items, which can include anything from sewing machines to sphero balls, music synthesizers, Legos, electronics kits and 3D printing filament.
Far more than just “keepers of the printed book” (our original job description), we are now, perhaps more than ever, guardians of our teens’ emotional as well as intellectual needs. A large part of our job responsibility is to provide a safe space, a blanket of warmth and comfort, a plethora of intellectual and emotional resources to the young adults we serve.
Post election, many teens are feeling hurt, confused and fearful of the future. We need to rise to the occasion by standing up powerfully for the teens we serve by reminding our schools and wider school communities that libraries are a safe space for all and a haven and celebration of diverse ideas and diverse people.
We can look to the Core Professional Values for the Teen Services Profession (developed by YALSA’s Professional Values Taskforce) for inspiration and guidance. It outlines nine values: Accountability, Collaboration, Compassion, Excellence, Innovation, Inclusion, Integrity, Professional Duty, and Social Responsibility. By living these values through our words and actions with our young people, we have the opportunity to provide them with a warm blanket of caring and support in which they know they are not alone.
Our blanket of caring is forged from threads of both heart and mind, based on the principles of intellectual freedom — the idea that a democracy is dependent upon free and open access to ideas.
As such, it offers not only comfort and warmth, but also Constitutional protection. These threads are strong, and by educating our young people about their intellectual freedom protections, we have an opportunity to empower them to make a positive difference in their communities.
Here in Sharon, we are planning a Diversity Day at the middle school — just one example of many excellent ideas presented by Deborah Takahashi in her recent YALSA blog post, “When Libraries Become a Refuge for Youth in a Post-Election World.”
Our responsibility as librarians and educators also involves sharing resources that will help us educate teens to advocate for their intellectual freedom rights. To do so, we must first fully understand the principles of intellectual freedom ourselves, and also how those principles are applied in the real world. We must be prepared to defend the rights of the children and teens we serve.
ALA’s “Intellectual Freedom for Teens,” is a good place to start. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center also offers guidance. YALSA’s “Supporting Youth in the Post-2016 Election Climate” has excellent links as well. I recommend the self-care sub section, since those of us in service professions tend to forget how essential it is to also offer ourselves a warm blanket of comfort.
Cathy Collins has worked as a media specialist/librarian for 15 years. She is currently a library media specialist at Sharon High School, where she has worked for the past five years. She began her career as a reporter who covered business, arts and education-related issues. She received a “Teachers for Global Classrooms” fellowship from the U.S. State Dept. in 2014 and is the recipient of AASL’s Intellectual Freedom Award (2014). She was named an MSLA “Super Librarian” in 2014, and earned National Board Certification as a Library/Media Teacher in 2009. She received the HNA “Teacher of the Year” award in 2015 for excellence in teaching about China. In her spare time, she enjoys nature walks, reading, world travel, and yoga. Find her on Twitter @TechGypsy11.