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Figuring It Out

by Kevin Kelley kevinkelley@nypl.org on January 25, 2019

“Kevin, why are there so many Babadooks all over the place?”

It was the summer of 2017 and the Babadook had stolen queer internet. In my role as a YA Librarian Assistant I decided to make the Babadook an active library patron. Before my boss could even give me permission I put the Babadook everywhere. He popped up on the shelves, he used our 3D Printer, and he joined Freddie Mercury and the (legendary) drag queen Alyssa Edwards on pride-themed displays. To be honest I just thought it was funny.

I wasn’t prepared for the impact the Babadook would have with my patrons – particularly with my LGBTQIA teens and tweens. After the Babadook infestation I noticed a dramatic uptick in out, queer teens and their use of our space. I noticed this when one Sunday afternoon I looked up and everyone in our space identified as queer. One of our regular patrons even dubbed the community on Sundays “Gay Sundays.”

This subtle shift in community, driven by the simple act of putting the Babadook everywhere, was a defining moment of my time in grad school. Now I work full time as a children’s librarian and as I’m beginning that role I’m reminding myself to seek out the little things I can do to ensure that everyone feels welcome. One of the things I know I’m good at is creating community and building relationships with teens and tweens. Now that I’m working professionally with a younger population I want to write about how my skills translate. About what it looks like to build community in this space. One thing I want to write about here are the real-time lessons I’m learning, and challenges I’m facing in a time of overwhelming change.

I’m good with teens and I know why. I listen to them and I don’t talk down to them. I treat them as whole people with complex emotions. I like to joke around with them and I enjoy making them feel like someone is listening. It also helps that I’m unashamed of how much I love Britney Spears and they seem receptive to my unabashedness. But how do I do this with children? How do I share library space with them in a way that is authentic and in a way that recognizes them as a whole person – even for those who don’t have language yet.

The Babadook was an easily identifiable piece of queer culture that the teens already had language for. Because I feel further removed from the children how do I build similar bridges with them? How do the parents factor in? How does the inherent diversity in my service neighborhood factor in?

Once July arrived and I took the Babadook down, people missed him! One of my teens even took one of my Babadook display items. I want to make sure I’m creating the same kind of space for the children I serve now as I did for the teens I served then. So that’s what I’m going to do here. Figure it out.

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