TXS&S: How did you get your career started and how has it evolved?
AO: When I was 16-years-old, I was offered a job at the Gap and a job at the Library. I chose the job at the library because a boy I liked worked there. I'm very glad I made that choice (I mean no offense to the people who work for Gap!) The boy is now a librarian and I am, too. He is my facebook friend and one day I hope to meet up at a library conference and swap stories from the stacks.
TXS&S: What have been some of the biggest surprises since becoming a teen librarian?
AO: The biggest surprise is how rarely I get to work with teens! Where are they?! Seriously, teens in Austin are very busy doing their thing, and I see a lot more 8-12 year olds who are eager to become teens and excited to participate in all the activities we develop for older youth. The teens I do work with are spectacular, and many of them volunteer for the library. One young woman job-shadowed with me when she was 11-years-old, and she is still a volunteer. I just had the pleasure of attending her Bat Mitzvah. Another teen has been volunteering every Saturday for the last two years. She knows when I ask her to volunteer at an event for teens I am really just begging her to come and bring her friends because they are so cool.
TXS&S: What are some ways that you get teens excited about reading?
AO: Many teens who walk into the downtown branch of the Austin Public Library are already jazzed about reading. Some of my co-workers, like Michelle Beebower, can always be relied upon to dream up fabulous programs that allow teens to indulge their passion for books (check out Fangs vs. Fur, which takes place later this month). As for the other young people out there: I believe that many teens who say they don’t like reading are either struggling with their image or need glasses. During my visits to Gardner Betts Juvenile Detention Center in Austin, I encountered teens who claimed they didn't like to read but had suddenly found themselves with little else to turn to for entertainment. Being away from their family and friends provided an escape from the stigma associated with reading in their neighborhood. I knew another teen on Long Island (where I hail from) who insisted she hated reading, and one day she finally admitted that reading gave her a headache. I asked if she’d ever had her eyes checked and she said no. She came into the library about a year later, wearing glasses. She said, “Ms. O’Reilly, you were right. I needed glasses and now I love reading.” (That's a true story, I swear.) Now, if you're following this closely, you may have noticed that I still haven't told you what I do to get teens excited about reading. That's because I actually can't make a teen get excited about reading. When it does happen - by some fortuitous interaction between a person and the printed word - I am ready to recommend some great books.
TXS&S: What is your hope for reading and libraries in the future?
AO: I have so many. One is that libraries become - or continue to become - part of a community wide effort to meet the needs of the people we serve. The library cannot offer much to a person who is in crisis. It can only serve its purpose as a part of the variety of services a healthy community provides. For instance, if you've been inside the main branch of the Austin Public Library, you know that many adults use the library as a safe and warm (or cool) place to spend their time. Meals are delivered to anyone who is hungry in the park just north of the library, but what's missing is a place where adults can shower and get medical care. To my knowledge, those facilities are on the other side of downtown. If all of those services were in the same area, the adults who come into the library would be healthier, physically and mentally. People need to have their basic needs met before they can fully take advantage of the library's offerings, and a library isn't designed to provide that kind of care. This is a complex problem, but I believe the library, through partnerships with other organizations in the community, can be part of a solution.
TXS&S: What do you do when you're not being a librarian?
AO: Lately, almost all my free time is spent listening to audio books, as I am serving on the joint ALSC-YALSA Odyssey Award Committee (part of the American Library Association.) This honor is awarded to the publisher of the best audio book for children and/or young adults. I especially enjoy listening to read-alongs: those picture books that are performed by reader, often with sound effects and original music. I am also a jazz singer. I study with a remarkable teacher here in Austin on Tuesday nights. There are nights when I literally drag myself to Mady's studio after a full day at the library, but I always leave refreshed and excited about the tune I'm learning. That same song will have me jumping out of bed in the middle of the night to try a different way to phrase a string of words.
32 pages or 32 bars: I love a good story.
TXS&S: Thank you so very much, Alison!
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