Apocalypse Librarianship

So, I just read over my last post, to gauge the status of my Isolation Checklist. It’s day 11 and…

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It was a bad week, y’all. I was in tears by day three. I suppose I did make some progress on Vampire Diaries… perhaps the only real progress since that particular activity allowed for curling up on the couch, while I obsessed over the news, as the number of infected in my state doubled each day.

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I wasn’t even good at self-isolation. Nearly each day, I managed to convince myself of another vital errand that had to be completed, from grocery shopping to returning packages to Amazon to getting gas in preparation for not going anywhere. I felt a sense of purpose as I made trip after trip, for sandpaper and Funfetti icing, talking myself down from the remaining food-hoarding tendencies I earned in my poverty-stricken early twenties. When I wasn’t preparing for Armageddon, I was frantically texting my husband news updates, exclaiming that the world was ending… and yes I did read that article about taking a break from the internet if you’re feeling stressed, but I’m a researcher! This is is what I do… when I’m not staring into space, contemplating the end of civilization as we know it.

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What can I say? I read a lot of YA novels.

Speaking of which, I am a teen librarian. While I’m unbelievably fortunate to be receiving full compensation for this time at home, there’s not really a way to be a public teen librarian from home. The bulk of what I do, on a day-to-day basis, is interact with teens. I’m not allowed to interact with anyone, right now! My inbox is brimming with suggestions for children’s and adult librarians to help their communities, through remote story times and resource sharing for tax help and Covid-19, but when it comes to teen services, it’s crickets. Shocking. That’s totally new.

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Folks, I love my job. If I’d been offered two weeks of paid leave, I probably would have turned it down. I don’t want to be away from my kids and my work friends. I want to plan Minecraft relay-escape rooms, despite thinking Minecraft is stupid. I want to act as GM during my bi-weekly Teen Table Top Time, without having my apocalyptic role-play interrupted by the actual apocalypse. I want to recruit summer reading teen volunteers. Being a teen librarian is as much my dream now as it was 10 years ago, even more so now that I know what it looks like…

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Me… every day… if my boss trusted me on a ladder after the great guillotine paper cutter incident of her third day.

I know these are drastic times, but oh em jingles, y’all, I could not stay home, as a general state of being. Despite my rapidly developing depression, I did finish reading my 99 cent romance novel and listening to Lord of the Flies, which by the way, I recommend skipping when you already possess an irrational fear of the breakdown of society. I cleaned my house multiple times and upgraded my cell phone, which is not an easy task when Earth is closed. I took the dog for several walks and even attempted a few myself, before I was attacked by a hawk.

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True story, folks. After days of staring at the ceiling in despair, I decided to test out my new earbuds and call my Gramma, while on a walk. It was at the point furthest from my house, naturally, that I felt something hit me in the head… hard. I thought a branch must have fallen or someone had actually thrown something at me, but the only possible culprit was a giant bird flying overhead… which proceeded to follow me halfway home. Sure enough, when Jake got off work, he verified that there was a single long, bleeding claw mark under my hair.

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We’re in a pandemic and the birds are trying to kill me! Zetus lapetus, I can’t even leave the house! Just as I was graduating from Anna from Frozen to Jack from The Shining, however, I had an idea:

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While my public school teens are enjoying an extended spring break, before joining virtual classrooms with their teachers and a dozen friends, my homeschool teens are still following their normal curriculum. They don’t have cell phones and the ability to spend these weeks texting and sending booby pictures to all of their classmates. Their parents would never let them spend a month playing video games and streaming without end. Without their co-ops and sports and library time, they’re probably feeling just as isolated and bored as I am. If public school teachers could engage with their teens virtually, however, so could I! All I needed were some fun, remote engagement opportunities, and I could librarian during the apocalypse, y’all!

So, I messaged all of my regulars’ moms, asking if their children would be interested. After several enthusiastic yes’s, from stay-at-home moms who’d been trapped inside with bored teenagers all week, I arranged for a Neflix Party, through the Google Chrome extension. I would take movie votes, verify their appropriateness with parents, schedule a time, and send the link to a video I controlled. While I did sporadically participate in the chat, I mostly oversaw the kids’ behavior to make sure twelve teens weren’t driving each other crazy… and immediately proved the necessity of my presence when one of my regular girls started impersonating everyone two minutes into The Dark Knight.

Folks, this was really just me supervising a chatroom of my regular teens, but there was something so normal about telling kids I see nearly every day “No one is trash. You’re all beautiful little buttheads, now knock it off,” even via chatroom. There was something about explaining why we don’t joke about Coronavirus that made me feel a little more grounded. So, Friday, as we wrapped up The Dark Knight, I asked if they’d had fun, if it was something they’d want to do again and they all said yes. On Tuesday, they watched Avengers: Infinity War, while I watched New Moon (making my way through that Twilight Saga rewatch) and threatened to text their parents, so they could explain why it wasn’t funny to joke about Covid-19.

As the credits rolled, I suggested we try our apocalyptic RPG during the actual End Times (not verbatim), through Zoom. So it is, that I’m planning to video conference 12 teenagers later this afternoon, to discuss how we’ll fight off Zombie Hitler if things get really bad… and it’s my lifeline, the key to my sanity… just in time, because yesterday I received the automated text message that my library system will be closed, at minimum, until April 16th and we’ll continue to be paid “unexpected closure leave.” It seems, I have plenty of time to hone my apocalypse libriarianship skills and possibly be a little more productive these coming weeks. That or take up day drinking.

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Cheering for the Underdog: the Frustrations of a Teen Librarian

I’m a married, thirty-year-old woman, with a degree in education, who has every intention of having her own children… and I don’t like kids.

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That statement is usually met with confusion or melodramatic horror. How could you not like kids?!?! Well… like this.

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I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library. Children are trying, yo. At best, any cuteness they possess is canceled out by the fact that they talk incessantly about things that do not interest me in the least and they don’t understand my sense of humor. I simply can’t relate to them. At worst, they’re loud, demanding, rude, have no respect for personal space, and everything they say is spoken through a whine. I’m not allowed to correct them, even when they’re disrupting the entire library, because it’s assumed that everyone thinks the above is adorable… mostly by the helicopter mom with her $200 blonde bob and insistence that the only reason her angel is screaming like Veruca Salt, while tearing books off my shelf, is because she has “extremely high functioning Asperger’s.”

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That’s not a legitimate diagnosis in the DSM-5 and hasn’t been since 2013. You Googled that. Poorly.

In fact, in defense of children as a whole, I understand that they’re still learning: to cope with their emotions, to use their manners, to moderate their voices. I get that it’s completely normal and healthy for a child to have a tantrum at the grocery store, because they can’t always have their way; at church, because sitting still is hard; at Christmas, because they’re just overwhelmed. I don’t hold that against children and it I’m still confident I want my own. I just don’t want to be around other people’s children; and I do hold it against some parents that they have a complete and utter disregard for the fact that there are absolutely settings in which it is entirely acceptable to assume they will require their children to behave or remove them, such as at a nice movie theater or restaurant, the ballet, church, the library. I’d estimate that a good third of my frustration with children can actually be blamed, not on the fact that they’re present, but on the fact that no one corrects them. Regardless of my reasoning, if I tell you that I don’t like children, I’m a monster. You know who everyone’s allowed to vocally berate at top volume, though? Teens.

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That’s right. I’m expected to understand that children are precious little gifts from God, no matter how much they annoy me. I’m supposed to get over it if your child starts screaming at the ballet, because babies exist and for some reason they have to do it near me during The Nutcracker; something I guarantee I will understand even less when I’ve gone through the trouble to get a sitter of my own, so I can enjoy some child free entertainment. In the South, I’m a biological disgrace to my gender, because I haven’t had “baby fever” for the last ten years… but the rest of American society gets to hate on teenagers, like they’re white millennials wearing leggings as pants and drinking pumpkin spice lattes, while they read Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s cool to hate teenagers… and that is complete and utter trash.

My dream job has always been teen librarian. My title has not. I began my first full time supervisory librarian position specializing in adults and so, when I stepped down from management, it was an adult position that was available for me at the Jackson branch. Sadly, it seemed my ship had sailed on teen librarianship… that was until our grassroots restructuring, last spring, when a specialization was demanded from everyone, and I threw my own managers for a loop by taking a chance and adamantly declaring that teens, not adults, were my jam.

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Since then, I’ve been the teen librarian for all five of our satellite libraries, primarily stationed at the central hub of the Cherokee branch; and I’m admittedly under-qualified for the dream job, into which I was mapped and transferred. I have wonderful mentors, but I can’t deny that, if I had actually applied for such a position, I wouldn’t have even been interviewed, with only my substitute teaching and bachelor’s degree as related experience. What I can affirm, however, is that my passion for teens would probably have ranked higher than that of most applicants. Whereas everyone else thinks the Ramona Quimby’s and Scout Finches are just precious, I love teenagers; from Carrie White, to Hermione Granger, to Ponyboy Curtis, to Cher Horowitz, to Regina George, I love them all… and just like the Little Orphan Annie’s and Matilda’s they need a champion, because when you’re a teenager, most of the adults in your life are jerks.

When they come to me, my library kids have just started middle school. They’re excited for the pending teenage years, when they suddenly realize, the understanding that was demanded on their behalf just three years ago, has completely vanished… but only for them, not for their younger siblings or the other kids in the library, the Eric Cartmans screaming in the children’s area. When they were four and terrified of the dark, everyone understood that this was the first time they really felt fear and coddled them for it. Yet, for some reason, now that they’re 11 and feeling every adult emotion for the first time, no one cares. To them, there’s seemingly no catalyst. They went from cute and clever and generally adored to gawky and mouthy and generally despised and I am telling you, they feel every bit of this dislike and they understand exactly none of it… and it’s the lucky ones who have only this struggle.

The problem runs deeper in the South, as many problems do. In a region where it’s assumed you’ll marry and have children by 22, most adults don’t really get a time to be young and selfish. Your twenties are the time when your primary focus should be yourself, figuring out what you want from life and how to make it happen. Your twenties are the best time to find a career path, decide what kind of friends you want, what kind of person you want to be with, if you want marriage, and if you want children. People don’t often live deliberately, around these parts, though. They follow the path laid out for them, by parents who never considered another path for themselves.

While this works out for many and happens to be exactly what they want, many others find themselves in their mid-thirties, trying to recapture this time in their lives, backtracking while they feel they still can. They look at their spouse and children, a decision they made at 22, that was really no decision at all, simply a default, and wonder what might have been. They finally admit that they’ve been unhappy for the last 10 years, but they’ve stayed for the children, so they wouldn’t miss those precious, adorable, early years and they just can’t anymore. The kids are older now and don’t need them as much, they rationalize, because feisty has turned into bitchy, and they aren’t as devastated by the idea of missing this phase. It’s time to think of themselves again… except it isn’t. Their teens’ brains are still just as different from adult brains as they were when they were five years old. They’re not done, even if they aren’t as fun to be around and they still need their parents. That’s when they come to me… when everyone else, often including mom and dad, hates them… and I’m left cheering for the underdog, while people stare in confusion.

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Last week, a man who lives catty corner to the library, started yelling at my teens for existing near his back yard. They weren’t even on his property and he started yelling obscene and racist things at them, so they would leave. Because teens are impulsive and reckless, one of them started throwing rocks and the man called the police. Naturally, they believed the 30-year-old’s story and arrested the 18-year-old rock thrower, as they should have done, because you don’t get to throw rocks at people. I spent 30 minutes on the back patio talking to one of the other kids, 16 years old, angry, and confused. I convinced him not to pick a fight with the guy, to avoid his lawn, and stay out of trouble. The man came to the library later that night and yelled at my manager for allowing “white trash thugs” to exist… “thugs”, I might add, who were do nothing inappropriate until he started screaming at them.

It was just the next day that the same kid I talked down came into the library in tears, because this 30-year-old man got a group of friends together and jumped him. For all his threats and bluster, from the previous day, he was just a hurt child, wanting an adult to care about him and I’ll tell you, I did. In the middle of a program, I invited him and his friends to sit down and eat pizza. I assured them that they would always be safe inside the library, that we wouldn’t let anyone hurt them and I apologized on behalf of all of the adults who look at his hoodie and baggy jeans and write him off, for the collective teenage hate that leads to this sort of violence.

I admit that teens can be mouthy and impulsive and disrespectful. They’re often confused and angry, because being a teenager sucks. They don’t know how to cope with the Mean Girls, the adults who make no secret of the fact they don’t like them, their parents who are suddenly too self-absorbed to care what’s happening in their lives, all their new and strange feelings that they’re told to simply not have, and they lash out. Sometimes it’s downright unpleasant for even me to be around them, but the only way to get them through that phase, is to provide them with loving mentors who care about them, like they had for the first half of their lives.

I get that sometimes whatever takes a parent away from their teenagers is unavoidable, be it divorce or remarriage or a new job, but when a twelve-year-old girl sits across from me and tells me her dad is moving to Puerto Rico for fun, I want to dick punch him for fun, because he is not done raising his daughter and he won’t be for six years! No matter how loudly I cheer for the underdog, I can only make so much difference and more than once I have gone home in tears, because of that fact. Even some of my coworkers villainize my teens, insisting they should know better, but why?!?! If you don’t take the time to teach a teenage girl how much physical affection is appropriate to show her boyfriend in public, she’s not going to know, especially not in the abstinence education capitol of the world! If you don’t teach a teenage boy how to control his emotions, he’s not going to know how to deal with the pain of his first breakup! If you don’t teach a 13-year-old what to share and not to share on social media, she’s far more likely to jeopardize her future! If no one is there for them, they’re not going to thrive, because they’re still kids.

Ultimately, if I have to put up with your screaming baby banshee throwing a tantrum in the children’s section, “because they’re just kids,” you can put up with the laughing teens in the young adult section, because “they’re just kids” and I will never stop cheering for the underdog.

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