TxSandS: You run an amazing teen book blog! Thank you for helping spread the word about books for kids! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, and who or what inspires you? What were your goals when you started blogging, and how has that vision changed now that some time has gone by?
Karen: I was working at my dream job in Ohio (nice library that I felt was my family, teens I loved), but my husband was not. He got a job in Texas and I knew that when I left that it would be hard to find a library position given the current state of the economy and continual cutbacks in libraries (my Ohio library had lay-offs twice in the past 4 years). I also knew that every ounce of my being is a ya librarian and I wanted to continue to be involved in my profession and serve teens - so I started my blog. I never realized how much I would love doing the website. It gives me the opportunity to be creative, express myself, and now instead of serving local teens, I serve even more teens by (hopefully) equipping other librarians. I have been very honored and blessed to be blogging now with a group of other dedicated ya librarians that include Stephanie Wilkes, Christie Gibrich and Heather Booth. We often get great post series and discussions going and it is very invigorating and rewarding. I have also been lucky to meet and talk with a lot of authors and learn more about the other side of what I do: the writing and publishing side. All in all, I feel like my vision has grown and I personally am just encouraged to be a part of such an amazing group of people that care about and works with book and teens and our future.
TxSandS: What has been the biggest surprise since you've started?
Karen: How much work it is! Reading, writing, organizaing, responding to e-mails, contacting authors and publishers. Honestly, it could be a full-time job if you let it (and could figure out a way to make money from it). But the flip side is: it is so rewarding and encouraging and invigorating. And it really makes you think about why you do what you do as a librarian and as a reader. Honestly, it has been the most rewarding experience of my professional life. And I love getting to talk with other readers about books, why we like the ones we do and why we don't like the others. Being a part of this community is so very rewarding.
Hands down awesome: this past year I have gotten to meet some of my favorite authors and librarians and it has rocked! And yes, I do have some librarian superheroes of my own. And a couple of times someone has told me I am their librarian superhero and that does not suck.
Karen: Yesterday my tween's teacher sent me an email (well, the whole class) saying that we had to sign off each night that our child had read 10 pages a night. 10 pages! I was thinking in my head, way to underachieve there. And these past 2 years I have really seen how AR has negatively affected her as a reader. She read Fudge but was told she couldn't read Superfudge because it was outside her level, too hard. I have a better idea now why when these teens get to me they are starting to hate reading. I think we undermine the value of reading as a culture, in our schools, and we really set up obstacles. We're already competing with video games and million dollar budget movies with amazing special effects, do we really want to create more barriers through our policies and procedures? You see it in the libraries, too: Teens often travel without parents so they can't get library cards and check books out right away - how do you solve that problem?
Challenges facing teens reading and libraries:
- Increasingly overscheduled teens
- A cultural devaluing of reading for enjoyment
- AR testing and other systems that take the "fun" out of reading
- Shrinking library budgets which mean we have less titles and less multiple copies of titles and makes teens have to wait longer for popular titles. At one point you had to wait over 2 months to get a copy of The Hunger Games in my library. Less money also means less staff and less access via hours open, trained staff, etc.
Of course we can't ignore the way that technology is changing reading with e-readers and e-books. This is a topic I think we are all still trying to work out. Libraries are definitely behind the curve on this one.
And I think we need to see more diversity in books still, and more books written for boys. Truthfully, a lot of really popular titles - like Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi - I think would have appeal for both genders but are marketed to girls, which is unfortunate. I think we - writers, publishers, whoever - are forgetting parts of our audience and alienating them. It's really hard to get someone back once you have sent the implied message that you have nothing to offer them. We need to change the message because we do have something to offer them. In fact, reading and information literacy is very, very important. And ther is a lot of learning that takes place in fiction reading. I personally feel that empathy, compassion and the understanding of others is one of the most important things we can give our kids and teens and fiction is one of the best tools to do it.
But I would love to see writers bust out of some of the current trends and send a different message:
Empower girls and de-emphasize looks. Same for boys. I worry about how we are affecting self-esteem and development in the way our teen characters are presented in teen lit. Seriously, all the guys are always hot swoony guys. That is not the way I remember high school. That has to be just as hard on guys as it is on girls to see all the really thin girls on book and magazine covers.
Send a different message regarding relationships: creepy, stalker, controlling dudes are not hot and sexy and don't usually turn out to be the misunderstood hero in real life. In fact, they usually turn out to be creepy, stalker, controlling dudes who hit and control with psychological abuse.
I would love to see more natural, slow building (simmering) romance in teen novels. Sometimes you do fall in love with your childhood best friend.
I would also like to see more classic science fiction, in outer space with aliens. That's just a personal preference.
Spend time with teens. They are living lives that can break your heart. They need to know they are not alone and there is hope.
All in all, this is a rich time in teen literature and I am thankful every day to be a part of it. That's what we need, is to get these books into the hands of teen readers. They need to be real, relatable and accessible. And everyone who can should make sure and contact their local school and public libraries and ask how they can work with them. Some libraries have Friends groups which provide supplemental funding, very necessary in today's age, so see if you can work with them. Definitely get to know your local teen librarians and be in dialogue with them; I am sure you have information that can help them be better at their jobs. I am a firm believer that everyone is better the more they know...
TxSandS: Would you consider yourself a Sweetheart or a Scoundrel?
Karen: I am going to go with a Sweetheart who has Scoundrel tendencies. I am passionate about books, libraries and serving teens - which are Sweetheart goals. But I can be a Scoundrel when it comes to standing up against censorship, being radical in my ideals or outspoken in my beliefs. Some people may consider that Scoundrel like behavior. I personally call that super hero behavior :)
TxSandS: Thank you so much, Karen, for being here with us and for all you do!
Karen Jensen has been a Young Adult/Teen Services Librarian for 19 years and loves working with teens, teen fiction, and graphic design (free RA posters here). She reads, she doesn't cook. Karen has an undergraduate degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Youth Ministry with a minor in Psychology and received her MLS from Kent State University in 2002. Karen has been a reviewer for VOYA magazine since 2001. For the past 2 years she has been a part of the Wild Child Conference board. Karen believes in the power of the 40 Developmental Assets and that the right book in the right hand can make all the difference.
TLT is her attempt to share her passion with her fellow teen services librarians - and you. You can read her articles, Mpact: Building and Asset Builder's Coalition (VOYA, October 2011) and If You Feed Them, or Not, Will They Come?, (VOYA, February 2012) in VOYA, the Voice of Youth Advocates.
She is currently the Youth Services Librarian, focusing on tweens and teens, at the Betty Warmack Branch Library in Grand Prairie, Texas. This year she is also honored to serve as the Publicity Coordinator for the North Louisiana Teen Book Festival (mark your calendars for April 6th, 2013) with the amazing Stephanie Wilkes who is working hard to put this thing together.
Her favorite reads include Chris Crutcher, Sarah Dessen, Scott Westerfeld, fantasy, science fiction and zombies (Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry is her absolute fave zombie book series thank you for asking). She is not so secretly in love with Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver.
If you know of someone who would make a great Featured Sweetheart, please let us know! The best part? If you nominate someone, we'll send you a $5 Starbucks gift card :)