Reading Matters 2017: All about Young Adults (Part 2 of 2) (#YAmatters @CentreYouthLit)


Photo Courtesy: State Library of Victoria

The Teen Reading in the Digital Era research project by Deakin University and Murdoch University confirmed that even with the latest digital technologies such as eReaders, tablets and mobile phones, our young people still prefer reading print books (see previous post regarding Dr Leonie Rutherford’s report). This is certainly good news, as Justine Hyde (@justine_hyde) invited the other two experts on the “Generation Facebook” panel to share their views on how youth services can be enhanced in our changing world.

Emma White is the Children’s & Youth Services Librarian at Yarra Libraries (@YarraLibraries). Her first advice to all librarians was to know their community, as well as what they have in their book collections and why. She suggested that librarians should keep themselves in the network. They need to sell the books/stories, instead of themselves (e.g. “I love this book so why don’t you give it a try?”). Librarians, like teachers and parents, are invited to listen to their young readers. All adults are encouraged to connect to young people through books.

Daniel Micallef is the Library Manager of Footscray City College in Melbourne’s Inner West. He stressed that although librarians must have passion, they should endeavour NOT to force their passion on young people. “Don’t worry if kids don’t like the books. Let them find the ones they want to read.” He supported Dr Rutherford’s view that librarians should be readers themselves in order to connect with readers.

In terms of how libraries can engage with young people, Micallef pointed out that space is important. It is crucial to provide “a flexible physical environment that is both welcoming and engaging, where kids can collaborate and be inspired by teamwork, as they are not necessarily there for the books.” White further advised AGAINST too much programming and treating libraries as a channel to “get to” young people. Instead, librarians, teachers and parents are urged to build personal connections with young readers.

Hyde, as Director of Library Services and Experience at the State Library of Victoria, paid specific attention to opportunities of collaboration between public and school libraries. As she inquired how digital platforms can be used in YA services, White provided this valuable advice to all adults: “Don’t try to become social media. Just connect to it. Don’t use social media to drive things and sell things to young people. Just let them use it. We don’t need to lead them.” This view was echoed by Dr Rutherford, who stressed that young people need space to do and make things. Our society can facilitate writing and other creative activities, and it does not have to be digital. Just socialising can be rewarding.

White further suggested that public libraries open up dialogues and conversations through their diverse programs. Instead of once-off and/or one-way events, libraries should strive to nurture learning communities in which young people aspire to be active and creative and can contribute.

According to Micallef, no one really knows what exactly our teens want to read, so “we are obliged to offer content that is as diverse as possible”. Young people want to have a say, which is why relationships and connections are important. Young people also want to do well, i.e. “these days it is cool to do well”. If they show interest, then it is good to provide the resources.

Finally, in terms of advocating literacy, people need to know what libraries are doing, to have proof that libraries do make an impact. Both Micallef and White stressed that it is important for libraries to keep conversation with the community, to engage with school curriculum, and to keep those in power informed (e.g. funding bodies). The best way to do so is through data and stories.

Image Courtesy: Centre for Youth Literature

On Day Two of the Reading Matters Conference, Leonee Ariel Derr (@LeoneeAriel), Team Leader of the Children’s & Youth Services at Yarra Libraries, gave a presentation on building diverse book collections. “Diversity is setting, life experience, the medium of story, and voice.” According to Derr, the most prominent benefit of ensuring there is something for everyone is to enhance social justice. While all librarians have their positive and negative biases, they can help to build diverse book collections by asking young people what they want to read.

“Don’t over-think it – it’s likely you already have diverse books. You just need to read them and be empathetic to young people’s feelings and experiences.” Another valuable advice is NOT to confuse greatness with popularity. “Question the values. Question everything.” Librarians are warned NOT to use bestselling and award-winning lists blindly. Instead, they should consider how their book collections can help young people.

“Your work as a librarian is not for yourself. It’s for young readers. You should do it and do it now.” According to Derr, the first step is to make a plan. Then, to create a diverse book collection, you need to touch, see and know your books. Librarians are advised to buy quality, not quantity. They need to familiarise themselves with the publishing world in order to collect and analyse relevant data. They also need to keep “weeding”, checking the books every six months and removing those that do not perform. Do not over-purchase, i.e. you do not have to buy three copies of a book for every branch library.

Librarians are further advised to give up their standing book orders. Instead, they can use reader-centred websites for book suggestions, and it is ALWAYS good to bring graphic novels to young readers. Librarians are encouraged to work as a team because their work is all about the community. It is all about “ownership, expertise, knowledge, and balance”.

Image Courtesy: “Inside a Dog” website, Centre for Youth Literature

As the Reading Matters Conference concluded, we were invited to “Meet the New Dog” and get a sneak peak at the Inside a Dog website redevelopment. The site’s interesting name comes from this quote: “Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog, it’s too dark to read.” (American writer, comedian, stage, film and television star Julius Henry Marx, who was known professionally as Groucho Marx.)

Inside a Dog, “where cool people read and share YA fiction”, is a project of the Centre for Youth Literature that promotes young adult literature by leading Australian and international authors. The site also hosts the Inky Awards, which recognise high-quality YA literature, with the Gold Inky Award for an Australian book and the Silver Inky Award for an international book. The longlist and shortlist are selected by young adults, and the winners are voted for online by registered teen readers of Inside a Dog.

According to Project Manager Linda Angeloni (@langelon), Inside a Dog is now seven years old, the equivalent of “50 dog years and 150 internet years”. The purpose of redevelopment is to create a community for bookish teens, where young people can share their love for reading and writing. The audience research involves a survey of 400 young people and in-depth interviews with ten individuals aged 10-19 who are long engaged with the site. The aim is to keep young people in focus, in the centre of every design.

“Being creative is hard, especially for young people. How to get your content out?” asked Angeloni. “The world is huge and young people may feel small. They need a safe place to learn and grow. They also want to connect to the publishing world. They need someone to keep them going, to finish that first draft. They want their own voice as well as other people’s voices. They want to share with people like them.”

According to Angeloni, Inside a Dog encourages young people to have confidence. It aims to provide inspiration, where young people can focus and concentrate. It is for both genders to have conversations, so that they can help others. It is a peer-to-peer space.

The Dog’s Advisory Board (DAB) currently has 16 members. As teens in Years 9 & 10, they meet each week after school at the State Library of Victoria to be mentored by professional writers and editors. These young people will drive the direction of the new Inside a Dog website, “including publishing their own blogs, commissioning authors, and engaging with peers from around Australia”. To prepare for this, so far they have learned about making zines, contributing to website design and comic books, managing blogs, writing book reviews, composing fan fiction, conducting interviews, approaching literary agents, etc. Much more than simply reading and reviewing books, the DAB is all about sharing and being creative.

You can find the 19 books longlisted for the 2017 Inky Awards here.


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