Our first featured sweetheart for the fall is not only a librarian, but an author PJ Hoover had the huge pleasure of working with during 2008 in The Class of 2k8. We're thrilled to feature author/librarian Terri Clark!
TXS: Can you tell us a little about your path to being a librarian? Did you know you wanted to write at the time? And how do the two balance together?
TC: I'd been writing for quite awhile when I started working for the Smoky Hill Library. Writing was always my first passion, but I hadn't sold yet and I needed to do something to help with the family finances. Over the last 6 years I've worked my way up through the library. I've been a receptionist, material handler and circulation assistant. Now my official title is Teen Patron Services Specialist II. I do reader's advisory, work with the YA collection, develop and host teen programs, lead the Teen Advisory Board and more, but I don't have my Master of Library Science. My two jobs melded together when a friend encouraged me to start reading and writing YA. I'd been trying to break in with romance novels and I got really close to publication, but something was missing and I didn't know what it was. For a year I read nothing but YA and then I started to write it. I'd found my niche! At the same time I told my bosses I wanted to work with teens and they let me make the switch. I'd found yet another passion. My two jobs work beautifully together. I adore my teens and they inspire me on a daily basis. I'm lucky because they say I inspire them too.
TXS: What is the biggest surprise you've had since you started working with teens?
TC: I was really shocked at how many people don't like teens and want to have nothing to do with them. They're often looked down upon and dismissed as trouble makers or unimportant. I know from my teens that they're amazingly creative, smart, candid, sympathetic, humorous, affectionate, giving and loyal individuals who've bettered my life and me as a person. Working with them is my favorite part of the job. They've brought so much laughter and light into my life. My goal is to write full-time, but leaving my kids will be crushing. I'll find ways to volunteer with them as much as I can when I finally reach that goal. People need to take the time to get to know teens and they'll see our future is in great hands.
TXS: What is one (or more) of your favorite memories of getting kids to love books?
TC: I had a mother come find me in the stacks and say her daughter was a reluctant reader who wanted to try some romances, but her mom wanted to be careful of content. I immediately introduced her to the sweet Simon Pulse romantic comedies. I handed her one of Jennifer Echols novels and a couple more romcoms. A few days later the mom called me and said her daughter had blown through all the books and wanted more. She couldn't believe it! She asked if I had any more books by Jennifer and I hooked her up. When she came in I also showed her how to recognize the SP covers on the shelf so she could find them herself when she came in. Her daughter hasn't quit reading since. In fact, she's working her way through the 3 page vampire bibliography I put together!
TXS: How do you think reading for teens has changed over the years? People talk so much about teens needing to share their attention with texting, TV, and video games. Is the challenge greater now for getting kids to read?
TC: I think today's teens are lucky because there's so much more available then there was when I was their age. The market is booming in a huge way and they can find books in any genre they're interested in. I'm actually seeing more and more adults gravitate to YA because they know what high caliber fiction there is. As for having to share their attention with the media, I still think you can get any kid to read if you match them up with the right book. Sometimes that's easy, sometimes it's more difficult. But I love that challenge and I feel like I've won the lottery when I get it right! Because today's teens are used to instant gratification I think fiction today is much faster-paced and immediate so it can grab their attention from the get-go. Movies are the same way. Watch the original My Bloody Valentine or Friday the 13th horror movies and then their recent remakes and you'll see what I mean. Big difference! To be honest, I sometimes think the greater challenge to getting kids to read is bypassing the burn-out from school. During the school year I see very few of my teens. They're so overloaded with homework they don't have any time for pleasure reading. When I compare what I was required to do as a freshman with what my son just had to do...I'm blown away. The work and pressure is intense. Some teens simply refuse to read for pleasure because they associate it with "work." I wish more teachers would encourage teens to read popular fiction in the classroom, because I think it would help them develop a greater love of reading. When I do school visits I see teen after teen say they hate reading and it's often because of the things they're required to do. Don't get me wrong I love and respect teachers and teens should read the classics. I didn't want to read to Kill a Mockingbird when it was assigned to me and now it's one of my favorite books. However, I'd really love to see classes offer a better blend of literature and what I call popcorn fiction. I know some teachers who've done this and they've cultured voracious readers.
TXS: If you could make a wish for kids and reading in the future, what would it be?
TC: That every child knows how to use a library and has a card they use for checking out books (not just DVDs). That they know what great programs, clubs and classes libraries offer for free, and even more, that there are librarians there waiting to help them find books they'll fall in love with. Lastly, it's my wish that every child knows how to read and finds the pleasure, escapism and knowledge books offer.
TXS: Thank you, Terri!
Please email us your nominations for featured sweethearts.