[Editor’s note: Anthony is valued member of the board, a VOYA columnist, and a long time VOYA friend.]
My career turns on such things as civil disturbances and arson.
Like most of us in this field I started out in libraries because they joined the best values upon which to build a career: public service, education, community building, and professionalism. I remain in this field for the same reasons.
But there was no straight path from the past to the present for me.
Odds were that I wouldn’t even get as far as a bachelors degree. The year I graduated high school there was only a 12 percent chance (nationally) that a kid from a working-class background would complete community college and graduate from a four-year institution. The odds have worsened since then.
With the guidance of a long line of some very smart and supportive people, however, and a once proud California public education infrastructure, I did make it through to graduate from U.C. Berkeley. (I had to make it harder on myself, right?) And at Cal I warmed to notions of a service career over big money.
I began at the LA Public Library in the aftermath the passage of 1978’s California tax revolt that grew national: the infamous “Proposition 13” and two devastating mid-1980s arson-set fires at the Central Library. I was lucky to even get a job right out of library school (also at Berkeley) and luckier still to start as an adult literacy coordinator. Great work! Awesome mission.
I became the youngest “Supervising Tutor Trainer” in the country. I still kick myself for not saving the notes I took interviewing hundreds of adult non-readers! But it would not be the last time I encountered libraries squandering valuable and rich data.
A difficult supervisory situation, however, extinguished my enthusiasm. But I’m nobody’s victim. So while I couldn’t see a way through these library circumstances I started back to school for an M.A. in history. If I couldn’t serve the way I thought necessary, I’d do something else.
Meanwhile I landed a part-time position as a Young Adult Librarian – not long after LA’s civil disturbance/rebellion of 1992 erupted (some call it the “Rodney King riot”).
By that time I’d started connecting the dots of what constitutes our anti-youth culture. I grew increasingly disenchanted (to say the least) with the disciplinary regime and punitive apparatus the city fielded to blame the violence on young people. Nor was I persuaded that the library’s institutional response even recognized the culture’s flawed view of youth. Indeed, in many ways, the library contributed to this production of youth-as-problem.
I was “off to the races” now. I realized that the things originally attracting me to the profession had also given me all the tools I needed. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was just how wide-spread and thick our anti-youth culture went. But as I progressed through my doctoral studies in history it began to dawn on me that I’d found something upon which to build a progressive scholarly career.
And at San Jose State I hold a privileged position in being able to study the interconnections between society, youth, history, and libraries.
Now I can better concentrate not only on preparing the next generation of strong YA professionals but I actually contribute to what that means. I concentrate my research on advancing spatial equity for young adults in the public space of libraries. But I also try to teach my students the differences between bosses and supervisors, being an employee and a professional, between employment and work. A professional can’t deploy volition without understanding the differences between these concepts. And youth suffer when they don’t.
Professionals don’t have “bosses.” While YA librarians are, indeed, employed, they also bring their own expertise and gradually build upon a specialized body of honorable “work.”
Another aspect of my teaching concentrates on the notion of “thriving within limits.” Except for the State Department (and maybe the FED) every enterprise operates within limits. And so I ask my students to take the complaint that libraries must “work within limits” off the rhetorical table. We will never have all that we need. Instead I challenge students to more strategically deploy their time and skills to maximize the public service they dedicate to young adults. The library’s institutional footprint is much larger than a budget. And as skilled professionals we owe it to young people and our communities to exploit all of the institution’s resources for service.
Taken together my teaching mission articulates that the nature of our professional activity includes recognizing our obligations not simply “to work with youth” but to improving the institutional contexts in which we serve with them – to actively and critically push back on our anti-youth culture – especially when we see these patterns in libraries – and begin imagining youth not as problems but as entitled citizens.
I’m currently working on a book developing new discussion on how libraries envision young people. What does it mean, for instance, that youth be viewed as “citizens?” How does that vision impact collections, programming, advocacy, and spatial equity? These are very different kinds of questions than the ones we’ve been asking over the past quarter century.
I want to close this comment by recognizing the role that VOYA has played in my career as a young adult librarian/scholar.
Part of the indignation I grew into as a YA librarian many years ago manifested itself in activism. I wasn’t happy with what we were doing and said so. I also tried to advance a variety of reforms and innovations in response. Some of those things included developing the first purpose-built YA space in libraries and advocating for a new approach to YA volunteerism.
As frequently happens to change agents, however, the institutional capacity building I sought, with others, was rejected – and not simply by administration. Had it not been for the historic commitment of VOYA to advocacy and youth rights within libraries, I can’t quite say how long I would have remained in the profession. My guess is not long.
VOYA connected me to colleagues and resources capable of lifting my spirits and eyes to the horizon beyond what I saw on a daily basis. VOYA beckoned me, and others, to continue and thrive – even within limits. And VOYA continues to urge us on – to examine our assumptions, to develop new skills, to exploit what we have, and to cultivate our impatience with dug-in legacy approaches.
Young adult librarianship remains among the very most exciting domains in the profession. VOYA remains one of the forces driving it forward. And for all these reasons I’m proud to serve on the journal’s board.
Anthony Bernier, November 30, 2011
I am currently Associate Professor at the San Jose State University School of Information. I practiced in the profession for many years before becoming a full-time faculty member, as do many LIS faculty. I served as a young adult specialist librarian and director of YA Services for fourteen years (the LA Public and Oakland Public Libraries, respectively). Along the way, I earned a PhD in history from the University of California and wrote my dissertation on the changing notions of public space throughout the 20th century.
I am most proud to have initiated and designed the nation’s first purpose-built YA library space (LAPL’s TeenS’cape, originally opened in 1997). The topic continues to make important inroads into YA services equity. I published the first national article on the topic (1998), attracted two different IMLS National Leadership grants to further evidence-based research, published many scholarly articles and delivered dozens of workshops throughout the country and abroad on YA spaces. I contribute the regular “YA Strike Zone” column for VOYA and published The Wit and Wisdom of Dorothy Broderick: The VOYA Editorials and More, in 2013 (VOYA Press).
I live in Oakland, California, ride a 1999 BMW R1100RT motorcycle with a perpetually smiling face, and hit 400 for the week I attended Dodger baseball fantasy camp a few years ago.
My interest in serving on the VOYA Board is to deepen the professionalism of YA specialization, strive toward service and resource equity for young people, and extend the brilliant legacy of this vital publication.
Anthony Bernier, August 11, 2014