I got into teen services almost by accident. I was 16 and in the library after school one day, when a librarian walked up to me and attempted to convince me to join the Teen Library Council. At first, I laughed at her and tried to return the flyer she was handing me. It wasn’t until my best friend chimed in about how being on the library council would be good for our college applications that I decided to join.
My tenure on the teen library council grew into me being a teen volunteer, and by 17, I was a library page. I started participating in programs as both a page and a teen, and shortly after my high school graduation, I decided that working in a library with teens was the best fit for me. Promotions came. Job titles changed. Duties expanded. But always my interest and passion has been in teen services.
Thinking back on my career, and the importance of teen services, I have come to understand how vital the library has been in my life. As an awkward, overweight, and gay teen, I had friends but that didn’t provide me with complete safety net against bullying. But the library did. I could eat my lunch there. I could go there after school or on weekends.
As the LGBT community attempts to heal from the shooting in Orlando, I find myself unsure how to react when told that nightclubs are said to be a safe place for LGBT people. Sure they are a place where I can go to get a drink or have fun, but nightclubs have never been a safe place for me. Instead, the library has.
When my teens come to my library looking to hang out and be who they are, I have to wonder if I am providing them with the safe space that they need. We encourage them to talk to us about anything. We provide them with information about the topics that interests them. We encourage them to be kids, or adults, or whoever they want and need to be. I know for a fact that some of my teens are LGBT. I also know for a fact that some of my teens are Christian. I know some are liberal and some are conservative. Some are close to their parents. Some aren’t. And while our teens come from so many different backgrounds and upbringings, I watch in amazement how friendships are formed, bonds are created. In a political year where so much hateful rhetoric and elaborate disagreements seem to be what monopolizes the news, our teens are finding common ground and becoming friends despite their differences.
It’s not that libraries are supposed to offer a safe space just for one type of teen. It’s that they must be a safe space for all sorts of teens. That’s what I’m doing, and that’s what so many teen librarians and school librarians are doing all over. Libraries have and forever will be a safe space for our teens.
Ray Ceo Jr. is Library Assistant, Lead – Specializing in Teen Services, and Teen Volunteer Coordinator, Glendale Public Library.