This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.Article Published February 20, 2019
Brittany Pearson wishes teens would read more. Not just for school, not because they have to, but for pure pleasure.
High school, she says, “is when we start losing them from coming to the library. They’re not reading on their own as much as they used to, they’re not attending programs, just because they’re busy. So if we can get them [to the library] in any way we can and get them interested in reading for pleasure… it’s just the best thing ever.”
Brittany, an assistant librarian at the Westbrook Public Library (WPL), juggles a lot of roles, but her primary focus is teens. Her interest as a graduate student in the University of Pittburgh’s Master of Library and Information program was children and youth services; her first full-time library job was at the Booth & Dimock Memorial Library in Coventry as assistant teen librarian. She was hired just over four years ago as WPL’s first staff member to focus on teen programs and the young adult collection, and she immediately embarked on bringing the teen room up to speed.
“I weeded the heck out of the collection when I first started,” she says. “I ran a report in our system to see what hadn’t [been taken] out in a long time.”
She also weeded out books that were in poor condition.
“Compared to other libraries I’ve worked at, that happens a lot more here because people take their books to the beach and they get kind of wrecked. So even if it was a popular book, I had to take it out because water damage brings mold and mold is bad for libraries.”
Some of the books in the young adult section were more appropriate for the children’s collection, she found, and some were more suitable for adults. So those were moved.
“Now that I purchase new books every month, it’s filing up again,” she says.
Brittany has read a lot of the books in the collection herself and she makes an effort to know what local readers like.
“I always make sure that when people are coming into [the teen] room that I’m here offering recommendations because it can get overwhelming, especially if you don’t know, if you’re just browsing, you’re not sure what you’re looking for.”
There’s a group of boys who just want to read war stories, for instance.
“We have some seriously [avid] fantasy readers, and it’s not just teens who read those books. I have adults who I know come in here and I say, ‘Oh, you’re going to want to read this one,’” she says.
But she has no interest in feeding kids books she thinks are good for them.
“I hate that,” she says. “That’s what English teachers are for. I know a lot of teen librarians in this state and that’s just not...We want you to read whatever it is you want to read, whether or not it’s quality literature.
“I’ll make recommendations because I’ve read a lot of the books [in the library’s young adult collection] and I know what they’re about. The first question I’m going to ask is, ‘What do you like to read? What have you read recently that you enjoyed?’ and then we’ll find stuff like that. Or especially, ‘What don’t you like?’ so we’ll know what to avoid.
She says adults ask themselves, “‘What should I read that’s going to change me?’ Teens don’t want that. Teens just want to escape, that’s all that books are for them. And that’s just as important.”
The Importance of Community
Brittany’s work also takes her out of the library and into the town. Helping Hands, a group she co-facilitated with Westbrook Youth & Family Services (YFS) was designed to help teens interact with and help others and feel like important members of their community while earning community service credits for the National Honor Society or civics courses.
“They’d write cards to the homebound...They did special things for Veteran’s Day—sending welcome home packages out for veterans. They did a lot at the Senior Center, help out with the different programs there: work in the kitchen, work on the dinners.”
Programs like Helping Hands also tie into Westbrook’s efforts to bring teens up to speed on the Developmental Assets for Youth, a set of 40 goals determined to be crucial to healthy transition into adulthood. The assets, which were put together by the Search Institute, a non-profit in Minneapolis, are the focus of a Westbrook asset committee, of which Brittany is a member. Led by Lynn Connery, a counselor at Westbrook High School, meetings also include several Westbrook teachers, YFS Executive Director Jacqueline Ward, and the head of school at Oxford Academy, Philip Cocchiola.
The goal of the committee is “figuring out ways we can get the kids to achieve these different assets, making sure that they’re hitting all 40,” Brittany says.
Brittany’s work on Helping Hands came out of these meetings, as has her work with adults with disabilities. She initiated and runs a local Next Chapter Book Club, an national program designed to gather those with disabilities together for group readings of books.
“They each read a page or two, depending on their abilities,” she says. “We had someone last session who was blind who just enjoyed listening. They’re a small group setting so everyone gets a chance to practice reading.
“As we read [the book] we discuss what’s happening,” she explains. “Some of them have such amazing memory. They can recite everything we read the previous week—we do a little recap in case people were missing so they know where we are. It takes a few weeks to read through one book. They love it.”
On Wednesday mornings, Brittany runs a book group aimed at a different demographic: infants and toddlers. Read, Rhyme, & Romp is designed for children ages zero through three. Children’s Librarian Mary Nyman runs a story hour for kids three and up at the same time, so parents can drop off their older kids at her no-grownups-allowed program and come with their younger ones to Brittany’s program.
Focus on Technology
Tuesdays for Brittany are Technology Tuesdays, when she works one-on-one with adults to help with whatever questions they have.
“If they get a new device—a new phone or a new iPad or something from their kids—and they don’t know how to use them, I teach them how to. Or we have an electronic book collection on Overdrive, so I help set them up on that, show them how to download books and audiobooks to whatever device they want to use.”
Perhaps the thing that Brittany is most excited about is the prospect of creating a tech room. In her very first tour of the library, she noticed that the unfinished space off the community room, a storage area, had a door to the outside and a window. She has been working on Lew Daniels, the library’s director, ever since to turn it into a space suited for technology-focused programs. And this year, the town has added the project to its FY 2019-’20 budget as a capital item.
“We don’t have enough space for all the community activities,” she explains. “Our community room is constantly booked up, there’s just always so much going on, so it will be a separate space with technology needs so I can run more classes or programs.”
For more information on the Westbrook Public Library and its programs, visit www.westbrooklibrary.lioninc.org.