The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)has recently created #TeenTober, a teen initiative that aims to celebrate teens and promote year-round teen services. We would like to celebrate #TeenTober by highlighting Bastrop Public Library’s Young Adult Librarian, Bethany Dietrich.
Meet Bethany Dietrich!
Bethany Dietrich is the Young Adult Librarian at Bastrop Public Library in Bastrop, Texas, where she wears many hats: adult and YA collections, teen programming, social media manager, and more. She contributes on NoveList and is a new blogger for Teens Services Underground. She loves spreadsheets and spends too much time reading according to others and the perfect amount according to herself.
How did you become a young adult librarian? Did you always know you wanted to be a young adult librarian?
I wanted to be a librarian when I was a fourth-grader, which was right before Y2K. I remember my dad saying, “No, don’t be a librarian. Technology and the internet are going to make libraries obsolete.” I was like, “Okay, you’re a smart guy. You know what you’re talking about.” So, I kind of abandoned that idea, and I went into teaching because I knew there would always be a need for teachers. I taught 10th grade English for three years, and then I went out to Washington state, and I ran a church camp for a year and a half. That’s where I honed my programming skills, which required me to think outside of the box, and design for what people want while working within parameters like safety, financial issues, and time constraints. When I lived at the camp, I didn’t have the internet at my house, so I would go into town and use the internet at the library. That experience gave me the opportunity to see what libraries in the 21st century look like and how they had changed and adapted. During that time, I saw a career therapist who helped me figure out what I needed to be fulfilled in a job. We narrowed down all the options with her help, and I decided I would go to graduate school to become a librarian. I went to the University of North Texas got my masters, and after that, I got a job in Bastrop as the Young Adult librarian.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, how did you develop your young adult programming? Were you responding to any community needs?
Pre-COVID, my program met weekly, and we still meet weekly during COVID. I’m a really big believer in giving people what they want, and not being shy about asking them what they want. I tried developing a teen advisory board, and that was a big bust. The teens who were semi-interested in being involved with the teen advisory board were typically volunteers and were not the teens coming to my weekly program. I’ve been cultivating and coaching regular teens on how to provide helpful programming recommendations to me. My teens generally walk over from the high school after school on Thursdays, and that would give us a little bit of an awkward time because some people are here, some people aren’t here yet, some people are here ready to get going.
I had to figure out what to do to fill this awkward time. Often, we would watch YouTube videos, which helped inform me of what they’re watching on YouTube. I found that what they’re watching on YouTube is not what I’m watching on YouTube. I’m like, “Yay Vlogbrothers,” and they’re like, “yeah, check out this Minecraft dude.” After a while, they started to show me things like The Try Guys from BuzzFeed, and they would show me videos where they would ask each other trivia questions, and if they got it wrong, they would smash a disgusting balloon full of disgusting stuff. They started to ask if they could do similar activities in the library. I was like, “Well, I really liked this idea, but no, we can’t fill balloons with hot sauce, because that’s dangerous, but we could fill it with ketchup.” I started to coach my teens and helped them identify things that we could do safely, that was within our budget, and within our time constraints. In the beginning, they would show me YouTube videos, and then I would talk it through with them, and now I’ve coached them to email me the YouTube videos and their recommendations on how to adjust to fit our needs. Now during COVID, they have been sending me TikTok videos.
COVID has shifted how many of us work today, how has the pandemic impacted your work? What has been the most challenging thing that you have faced?
We switched over to Discord pretty early and have been meeting virtually since early April. It was slow going at first because my kids are not on social media. When I asked how they heard about our Discord server, they would say, “I heard from someone’s mom” or “I saw it on Facebook,” and then eventually, kids were texting their friends. That was how we were able to spread the word about Discord. We still don’t have a ton of people; I probably average four to six kids every week. Since school started and they’re allowed to go in-person, my participation numbers have continued to drop. In fact, I’ve had zero the past three weeks. They don’t want to hang online because they can (finally!) hang out with each other in-person, even if they can’t do it at the library in a library program. That said, there is still some asynchronous participation in the text channels. I’ll keep showing up at our regular time, and I’ll be ready for them when they’re ready to come back. We mostly play games and talk.
Challenges are seeing my kids feeling the pinch to their mental health. I want to support mental health wellness, but I’m not a trained person in that regard. I have the Mental Health First Aid certification, but I’m by no means an expert. I’ve seen several therapists and feel more comfortable than many other people talking about it, but I don’t want to tell the kid the wrong thing. The legality of mental health work does make me cautious. I’ve been participating in a School Library Journal and University of Maryland iSchool co-design study, which is based on how teen librarians and libraries, in general, can help support public services and helping their communities. I’ve been toying around with how I can implement more of that into my virtual programming. However, because of the pull on my time from doing curbside, and all these other circulation duties that I don’t usually have, it’s been tough to find the time and the energy that I would like to spend on doing that.
Were you using Discord before the pandemic and was there a steep learning curve?
Somebody posted about Discord in one of the Facebook groups that I’m on, and I knew my brother had been using Discord for years. I worked with him and let him know about all the security and privacy things that I needed, and he helped me set it up. It was because of that first person who posted it in one of my Facebook groups that helped me think that I could do it. I’m very careful about who I allow to join our server. I do post the invite links on our teen Instagram, but as I said, not many of our teens are on our Instagram. It’s mostly other teen librarians who follow us. I don’t put any hashtags and don’t use geotags. To get into the server, you have to be following us to see that post. I also posted it on Facebook a couple of times, but again, our community is small. I ask some screening questions and privately chat with the person if I haven’t directly invited them or talked to them about joining it. My first Teen Services Underground (TSU) article was how to set-up up a Discord server.
With so much uncertainty about the fall, how do you plan to approach your programming, and do you have any upcoming programs you would like to highlight?
I am just swamped with all my other responsibilities. We are a small library, and I wear many hats other than just teen programming and teen collection development. I do all the adult collection development and social media managing, as well as a few other things. I don’t have the capacity to really put together any sort of programming other than Jackbox games. I have trivia in my back pocket that I pull out when Jackbox goes down, which happened once. Since we did Jackbox games all summer, they’ve gotten pretty tired of it. Three weeks ago, one of my teens suggested the popular app Among Us, so we’ll play that the next time enough participants attend unless something else has caught their eye by then.
I would like to do more along the lines of what I’m learning in the School Library Journal and the University of Maryland iSchool study. I read an article that talked about some ways to support teens’ mental health and talked about using a gratitude wall. I did add a new text channel in our Discord and put a challenge out to everybody to tell one thing that they’re happy about, or that made them happy that day or grateful for, and then to continue posting something every day. Hopefully, even if it’s just that little bit of positivity, that will have a larger effect on them. My teens also asked for an Art Stuff channel, where they post what they’ve drawn/created. It is way more popular than the Happy Stuff channel, but we do get several posts a week in Happy Stuff. Whether they’re posting in Happy Stuff, Art Stuff, or the general chat channel, I love seeing them being supportive of one another.
Thank you, Bethany, for sharing your story and your work with us. Although this year might look a little different, libraries across Texas and the US are celebrating #TeenTober by highlighting their teen collection and programming. To learn more, visit YALSA’s TeenTober’s webpage at www.ala.org/yalsa/teentober. How is your library celebrating #TeenTober? Share in the comment sections.