Every Friday morning a big white van pulls up outside my library. A ragtag group of guys climbs out and they make their way into the library and head straight for my desk. “You got any drug books?”
This is a question I have come to expect each week, and it is readers advisory that I take great pride in providing. The boys, predominantly white and Latino, are from a nearby treatment center. Most are there for drug use, but some are recovering from attempted suicide. While they may look scary to unsuspecting staff and patrons, the boys are unfailingly pleasant and polite and they are usually the highlight of my week. There’s nothing more rewarding than putting a book in the hands of a teenage guy and have them say, “This looks SICK! Thanks!”
I share this story for two reasons. The first is that readers advisory for inner city teens can sometimes be a challenge for even the most ardent supporters of intellectual freedom. Urban teens tend to grow up a little faster than their suburban and rural counterparts and are often ready for more mature material earlier than adults are comfortable with. I’ll admit that I am always slightly relieved to find Candy Licker missing from the shelves when requested by 7th grade girls, but I was truly surprised when I shared a list of titles about drug use and addiction and received this response from a colleague: “It’s sad that we need this kind of a list.” Really? Sad? I loved books about drugs and drug addicts when I was a teen and I would have loved any librarian who gave me more of them because I couldn’t find enough on my own. And, while I obviously wish that we did not have drug addicted teens, the fact remains that we do. Providing books that reflect the experiences of those teens shows that we listen to and respect their reading choices.
The second reason is that, while I’m certain the majority of librarians serving inner city teens know their relevant subjects and have a solid repertoire of “can’t miss” suggestions, it never hurts to constantly be on the lookout for fresh titles. I always look forward to the yearly Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers because I know there will be a great selection of edgy titles for me to draw from. The 2011 Top Ten list alone has titles on tattoos (The Tattoo Chronicles by Kat Von D), gangs (Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri and Randy DuBurke) and sex (Sex: A Book for Teens: An Uncensored Guide to Your Body, Sex and Safety by Nikki Hasler). Perfect for hooking even the most reluctant of urban teen readers!