The New Year is the perfect time to clear away any prejudgments or negative expectations we have been harboring about our youth patrons. Without realizing it, we can begin to gather negative expectations about the behavior of some of our regular patrons. Perhaps one toddler has disrupted story time consistently in the last year. However, the beautiful thing about children is that they are developing and maturing every day. Their disruptive behavior can change to the desired behavior overnight. The same is true for our teen and tween patrons. We may not realize it because physically they may be the same size as adults, but their personalities are evolving daily. As a youth services librarian I strive not to carry my negative expectations from day to day. So often I have been surprised by a young person who suddenly displays consideration and empathy after months of what seems to be insensitivity to the feelings of others. To allow for their sudden progress, I try to clear out any preconceived judgments about my young patrons. Good teachers will tell you that you must not hold negative expectations because young people always try to fulfill our expectations—even when they are negative. Expect the best and they will rise to the occasion.
On a deeper level, we as librarians must try not to carry our personal prejudices with us to the library. Anyone who thinks they have no prejudices at all is being dishonest. Even if we think we have moved beyond the evils of racial or gender prejudice, we carry other prejudices in our hearts without realizing how it sours our attitudes. I have seen it so often in observing the interactions that my teen patrons have with adults. When a young man with a pierced nose and all black clothing comes in to the library, many moms and dads with their toddlers will give him an apprehensive look. Perhaps even the library professional at the desk will seem reserved and less than enthusiastic about interacting with this teen. I admit that I have found myself thinking prejudicially about some of my patrons. When a boy comes in and asks for “books about sports” I hear myself thinking “oh, he’s not really interested in books, he’s just a jock.” This thought will subtly change the way I serve him, and not in a positive way. Whatever my own personal history, I cannot let preconceived ideas about people color the way I serve my patrons. I try to wipe the slate clean for every individual patron and for groups of patrons every day. It would be better if I could convince myself not to group my patrons together at all, but I understand that overcoming every impulse of human nature is not realistic. Nonetheless, I do hold myself to the high standard of greeting each patron with an open mind and an eager desire to help them navigate the information world. Especially now, at the start of the new year, isn’t this a good time to make sure we renew our effort to hold to this standard? Next time the teen with a nose piercing comes in, don’t hold back and try not to hold any prejudices about this “type” of individual in your heart.