Are you only comfortable working with teens who are like you?

Edited on 9/7/16 to add resources (see bottom of post)

Obviously this is a question all teen librarians need to think about since most teens aren’t going to have identical personalities and experiences to the teen librarian doing the work, but it is especially important for white librarians to think about how to effectively serve teens of color. As YALSA’s Future of Library Services for and with Teens Report points out in its executive summary, 46% of people under the age of 18 in the U.S. right now are children of color. Yet the librarian profession remains overwhelmingly white.

I think the best outcome in the long run would be for the professionals to reflect the patrons served, and this is a future that white librarians can help create. (Other people have written on this better than I can do in a brief blog post and I encourage my fellow white library students to seek out resources on this subject.) However, white librarians serving teens of color right now can do so better by consciously educating themselves about race in the United States. This will probably not be a comfortable process for white librarians because acknowledging the ways in which whiteness and racism have benefitted white people and endangered–even killed–people of color is not comfortable.

It is important for white librarians to do this uncomfortable work in order to make teens of color comfortable in the library. In order for white people to effectively serve teens of color, we have to stop ourselves from being ignorant and making ignorant comments, actions, and assumptions. This means listening to the teens in our libraries and seeking out and listening to people of color who speak about race and whiteness. This should be ongoing work for white librarians, and it is not comfortable but it is essential for creating a positive library environment.

Edited to add:

Dr. Serantes commented with the following excellent links:

The Unbearable Whiteness of Librarianship – a blog post by librarian Chris Bourg

White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS – article by April Hathcock about why current LIS diversity initiatives fail to create meaningful change

Understanding Whiteness – a page explaining the concept of whiteness and white privilege from Calgary Anti-Racism Education

I’d like to add that this post hyper focuses on whiteness in librarianship because of whiteness’s “state of unconsciousness,” as bell hooks is quoted as saying in that last link. She writes, “It [whiteness] is a state of unconsciousness: whiteness is often invisible to white people, and this perpetuates a lack of knowledge or understanding of difference which is a root cause of oppression” (hooks, 1994). It is dangerous for us as white people to think of ourselves as “not one of the racist ones” or “enlightened” because there is always more work to be done and always more we do not know.

In other words, we have to be the Mad-eye Moodys of anti-racist library work…


Constant vigilance (against culturally entrenched racism)!!


2 thoughts on “Are you only comfortable working with teens who are like you?

    1. Thanks for the resources!

      And yeah, other experiences are important too! I didn’t think I could meaningfully address other intersections in one short post, and I figured other people would write about other stuff.

      I considered and rejected writing a post called “I Don’t Want to Read Books About Girls Falling in Love With Boys and It’s Making it Hard to Relate to Other People.” I decided that might be less pressing.


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