Shaping Youth Interviews YALSA President for Teen Read Week

trw1.jpg YALSA President Paula Brehm-Heeger has a lot to say about different ways we can engage kids to keep reading relevant in a 21st century media world and Teen Read Week is just one of them…After Shaping Youth posted the readergirlz interview and learned more about all the countless events going on, we chose to create one of our own to add to their wiki and support the cause!

Shaping Youth is celebrating Teen Read Week with a trip down memory lane with the Berenstain Bears mentorship program of teens and tweens reading to wee ones. We encourage teens to harken back to the country critters’ TreeHouse and revisit their childhood down the “sunny dirt road” of simpler times. Everyone’s got a different tactic to celebrate the week, which is part of what I love about it!

American Library Association (ALA) and Young Adults Library Services Association (YALSA) and the Association for Library Services to Children (ALCSC blog) invite you to engage on multiple levels of dialog, commentary, resource-sharing and multi-media platforms to make reading even more fun. Paula Brehm-Heeger has graciously been fielding us answers to our interview questions via e-mail (gotta love the internet) so I’m pleased to share them with you now…

Shaping Youth: Are teens using social media like ReaderGirlz, global book clubs, LibraryThing, internet social networking as true literary roundtables or more as chatrooms with teens sharing common interests?

Paula Brehm-Heeger: Teens use technology for a variety of activities. According to a 2005 study by Harris Interactive, (editorial comment: here’s the full study in 2006!) 86% of young people ages 8 — 18 have a computer in their home and 74% have Internet access. For those without these resources, 98% of the nation’s libraries have computers with Internet access.

All of this means teens are online like never before! Because teens are spending time online, librarians have become savvy tech experts and are using the web to really reach teens “where they are at.”

Many libraries have book discussion blogs, podcasts and Flickr pages. What libraries are doing in many instances is working to leverage the new power of these interactive technologies to make books, reading and literature a dynamic, social, and fun activity!

Shaping Youth: Do books need hyped/sold in new manners with contests & activities due to distraction levels, consumerism, or market opportunity?

Paula Brehm-Heeger: A positive factor in the area of teens and reading in terms of helping books compete in today’s competitive market for teens attention is the explosion of publishing geared toward teens ages 12 — 18 in recent years. There are now a wide variety of books and material available — more than in previous decades.

We see novels in verse, young adult books written by best-selling adult authors like Carl Hiassen, Jocye Carol Oates and Michael Chabon, we have “chick-lit,” graphic novels, manga, self-help books…the list goes on and on! This is great for teens because teens want choices. Books are not “one size fits all” and with so many books out there teens can find just the right fit for them.

Libraries are staffed by trained professionals who have expertise in evaluating and selecting books and in connecting teens with just the right book for them. Plus, libraries provide free resources, services and programs to connect teens to the world of reading and to help them become lifelong learners. And libraries also strive to offer a wide range of literary choices for the entire community unlike bookstores which often focus on stocking titles which they feel will make them the most money.

Shaping Youth: How much are you promoting the LOL theme vs. TRW seeding the notion of pleasure reading overall?

Paula Brehm-Heeger: The main theme for the Teen Read Week initiative is “Read for the Fun of It,” with a subtheme that changes each year. This subtheme, which this year is LOL @ Your Library, serves as the basis for developing programs in schools, public libraries, bookstores and all of the other places teens gather.

So, during this year’s Teen Read Week, libraries throughout the country will encourage teens to read just “for the fun of it” through programs and events that are geared towards teens and focus on light and humorous topics. Our Teen Read Week wiki is a great resource many librarians are using to tie the two themes — reading for the fun of it and LOL @ Your Library — together!

Shaping Youth: Do you struggle to keep books/libraries and reading for pleasure ‘relevant’ for teens in the fast-paced media environs? How might we turn libraries into personal/F2F social hubs and hangouts for teens?

Paula Brehm-Heeger: Teen Read Week is a great example of YALSA’s focus and efforts to make reading a regular part of teens’ daily lives. There is no doubt that today’s teens are busy people! Between sports, clubs, homework and other activities, it’s tough for teens to find the time to read.

Librarians work hard to develop creative ways to connect teens with books, magazines and graphic novels. Often this involves libraries using technologies to connect with teens — through projects and activities like our Readergirlz collaboration going on this Teen Read Week! Also, many libraries encourage teens to share their thoughts about books with each other through book reviews submitted via the web and then posted to library websites.

Additionally, libraries are creating physical space designed to be comfortable and inviting for teens where reading can be an independent activity and/or have a social component. Librarians, with the input of teens themselves, plan and present programs to draw teens in the libraries where they can discover the variety of books, material and technology available to empower young adults in exploring their interests.

Shaping Youth: What’s your view on kids & multitasking? Should teens be reading with other stuff going on?

Paula Brehm-Heeger: At libraries we see teens engaging in reading in a variety of ways. Certainly there are times teens are browsing/reading with friends or while they are waiting to use other materials or resources at the Library. However, there are plenty of times when teens are at the Library specifically to enjoy a bit of time to be away from everything and want to take a minute to just read (which is great, too!)

For example, some libraries have held Read-a-thons, particularly each time a new Harry Potter title was released, when teens would come to the Library and, even though there might be a large group of 20 or 30 teens, just quietly read for several hours straight (with breaks for snacking and eating, of course!)

Shaping Youth: Kids are being social in an environment without being social?

Paula Brehm-Heeger: Yes, it’s more about community and belonging.

Shaping Youth: What’s the biggest misconception that needs debunked about reading?

Paula Brehm-Heeger: First, that teens don’t read. They do! Sometimes they are reading things that may not fit the notion of “literature” —maybe they’re reading non-fiction, graphic novels, magazines or even listening to an audio book. But they often are reading.

Connected to that, I think it is important for librarians, parents and teachers to remember when it comes to books one size does not fit all. Sometimes teens don’t read because we haven’t connected them to the right book just yet!

Second, these days teen literature is as varied and diverse as adult literature. We’ve got classics and series, chick lit and novels in verse, eye-catching non-fiction and teen books written by best-selling adult authors like James Patterson, Michael Chabon and Carl Hiassen.

Ask your librarian to hear more about all of the great options available or check out YALSA’s great lists of award-winning titles, including our Printz award winners, given each year for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.

Shaping Youth: Thanks, Paula. We’ll reiterate...teen librarians are one of the most incredible resources around, use their knowledge! Have a great Teen Read Week and check back with us for more fun ways we can be Shaping Youth with media that sends a meaningful message…



  1. Warning re: Shelfari as a social media book club: reports are in that it spams your e-mail address book in an opt-out mode, so beware if registering…Better off with LibraryThing or

    Here’s Beth Kanter’s post about it:

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