My love affair with books started in early childhood.
When I was a child, I read everywhere I went. “On car trips (no matter how short or how long), at the playground, on the swing set, or leaning up against a tree–I even managed to prop a book up while washing dishes. It drove my mother crazy; she thought I was not social enough. When I brought books to the table at mealtimes, she often sent me to my room as punishment. So, what did I do? I read in peace . . . Score one for me! It took Mom a while to figure that one out.
In junior and senior high, I discovered Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, and SCORES and SCORES of cheap, sleazy romances that I used to um . . . ”borrow” from my Mom.
Growing up in Topeka, Kansas, we had one public library. It was pretty intimidating back then. The shelves were sky high and filled with books, the counters were taller than I was and the librarians were not the friendliest to kids back then. The books I wanted were mostly in the adult section because in Topeka, Kansas, there was no teen section in the early 1970s. In order to check out books from the adult section, you had to actually BE an adult. There was one and only one way to get around this rule. If the “right” librarian was working and she knew your mother, you could take in a note from your mother with a list of books to check out on her card. Again, I drove my mother crazy doing this. However, she did it for me. Every. Time.
I guess when it comes to reading, I have always been a bit of a boundary pusher. Like many of the teens I work with who naturally push boundaries. In 1991, I began my library career working as a children’s assistant at the Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas, under the guidance of Mary Paretsky (mother of famous author Sara Paretsky). For the longest time, we had no teen section in that library. After much complaining on my part, we added a single small shelf of teen books that moved around from one corner of the library to the next for a few years. After much more complaining from me, our then director had had enough and told me to find a solution that my colleagues and I could live with without spending any money.
Mary ran a book club with young teens that we called the “Piranhas” because they devoured books as fast as we could shelve them! I began meeting with them and they became our first Young Adult Advisory Board. They were extremely excited to finally get a place of their own in the library that they loved so well! We came up with a plan to shift some shelves around, move out some study carrels, and weed through adult reference materials to create a space for teens in a well-lit corner of the adult section as far away from the children’s section as we could possibly get. I joined YALSA, I wrote a few grants and got $500 here and $500 there. Eventually, we lucked out and got a $10,000 grant for furnishings and books! In 1999, we opened The Zone! Stocked with books, music, a couple of computers and the most enthusiastic teens alive, we were off and running.
Our little corner grew and grew. By the time I left to work at the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri, prior to much-needed library renovations, our teen section had taken over a good one-third of the entire adult space and we’d established a YA advisory board with fifty devoted teens.
Following Lawrence, I spent the next five years working at Kansas City Public Library with some wonderful people. I then graduated from Emporia State and accepted a job across the river in Kansas City, Kansas, as the youth services supervisor for the main branch. Both Kansas Cities gave me the opportunity to work in a widespread/far-reaching system but more important, they gave me the opportunity to work with urban youth. Since the beginning, I have loved every minute of it. I find it more challenging to match the perfect book with the perfect reader but my teens have discovered that I do not give up easily. I can make a reader out of anyone.
Back in the day, as a new selector, I began reading all the review journals I could get my hands on. From the beginning, VOYA has been my number one favorite! Not only does it offer the best reviews around, which are scored not only for quality but for teen appeal, too, VOYA also includes valuable articles filled with input and ideas written by librarians and others working with teens.
As much as I love the reviews in VOYA, I get even more out of the fantastic articles featured in each issue. Collection development is the backbone of library services. Nevertheless, a great collection will only take you so far, unless you find a way to connect those wonderful books with the teens you want to read them. VOYA articles on programming, leadership, and technology have been valuable tools in helping me meet my teens on their level and relate to their interests.
I am pleased to be welcomed into the VOYA family and I look forward to helping this publication grow and reach new readers and book lovers.