Professional Resource - Risky Business: Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for TeensSometimes it's great to read a professional book and realize you don't need it. It's not to say that I didn't get plenty out of my recent read of Risky Business: Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for Teens by Linda W. Braun, Hillias J. Martin, and Connie Urquhart, but I also spent a lot of time thanking my lucky stars that I work at a school that supports libraries and understands the role they play in the lives of teens.
I wish I could say I understood what people where so afraid of - I've often sat next to another librarian on the Gale bus at ALA Midwinter or Annual and when you get around to the "so, what kind of library do you work in?" one in a dozen will be some academic or reference librarian working with a more mature population who gasps upon the news that I work primarily with teens, "Oh! I could NEVER do that. I can barely handle one at home!"
My first thought is what fly wing-pulling, future serial killer do they have at home? It's rare I meet a teenager that I can't talk to or be willing to at least be in the same room assisting them for an extended period of time. Most of them I truly love and I want to create collections, give instruction, and do programming that makes them happy and healthy and more successful at what they try and do each day. But for those librarians who find there is a difference between what they know they should be doing versus what they are currently doing, this book will definitely help with strategies and ideas to align those two concepts together.
Covering a nice spectrum, chapters include general ones about risk taking and teens in general, collection development, author perspectives on risk (one of my favorite chapters), programming, technology, dealing with administrators and colleagues, career advice, and teen risky behavior (with a terrific focus on the SADD study from 2004 and positive risk taking). These chapters are written in a forthright, comfortable style and unlike so many professional books where you feel you might be give a pop quiz later because they are so academic and dense, I whipped through this volume in a couple of hours and enjoyed every minute.
Can I also give a shout out to the long neglected and never appreciated appendix? I find some of my favorite professional books are the ones where I drool a little over the supplemental material, whether it's a beefy bibliography or some great additional essay and Risky Business does not disappoint. The bibliography is good, but the real value added comes from the two questionnaires librarians can use to determine their library's risk history and also to figure out if a certain risk might be worth taking. My hands-down favorite section though was undoubtedly Appendix F which has the collection of YALSA white papers. Where have these been hiding? There are some really great manifestos on various topics, from YA Literature to LIS education, that have really got my brain cogs turning.
Last but not least, we can wallow in the credentials of our authors. Linda Braun, technology goddess and YALSA-past president, actually came and did a wonderful training at my high school despite cranky weather gods and I've always enjoyed many of her books - Teens, Technology, and Literacy; Or, Why Bad Grammar Isn't Always Bad, Introducing the Internet to Young Learners: Ready-To-Go Activities and Lesson Plans, Hooking Teens With the Net, and Listen Up! Podcasting for Schools and Libraries.
Hillias J. Martin, an adjunct professor at Queens College and Pratt Institute, wrote a recent "must-read" for every librarian - Serving Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Teens: A How-to-Do-It Manual for Libraries. Obviously many librarians are in a position of feeling that promoting GLBTQ literature (which make great endcap displays - I'm just saying) is a road to a parent challenge or administrator heart attack so the chapter on collection development and risk taking might give a few much-needed strategies in this area. Librarians are currently dealing with the aftermath of the the librarian in New Jersey who ordered the removal of a queer youth anthology after calling it "porn". It's a good reminder for me that librarians aren't all the same in terms of our progressive and vigilant attitude toward serving all our patrons but that we are often as different in belief and perspective as the rest of America. It's doesn't make me less disappointed and angry, but it's quite a wake-up call. Kudos to the many teens and adults who have been vocal in their objection to this face slap to teen librarians everywhere who recognize that censorship is often the symptom of the disease of discrimination and should be fought whenever possible.
Connie Urquhart, teen services coordinator for the Fresno County Public Library System, is known to many active members of YALSA since she's been on lots of committees and crops up with happy regularity as an author on the YALSA blog. This is her first book, but hopefully not her last.
Any criticisms of the book? The only thing I wish I had seen (maybe in another wonderful appendix!) would have been a bibliography of more general books on risk, both from a psychological and a business perspective. I often think that as librarians we don't tap into literature from other disciplines that would help inform us of different lenses through which we can view (and hopefully solve) our challenges. But that's pretty nitpicky. I would recommend this book to any teen librarian and definitely for inclusion in the library science curricula - let's get the conversation about risk started BEFORE librarians have to face it!!