“Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door”: On Assumptions and Pop Culture Reads

31 Mar

Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door: Urban Teens, Street Lit, and Reader’s Advisory was presented by Beth Saxton and Megan Honig at the YALSA Symposium 2010. Below is my summary of and speculation about relevance of the content to UK librarians.

Although as far as I’m aware, there is no street lit genre, many of the assumptions about the reading habits of young people are based on their appearance are the same in the UK as in the US. Assumption: “these kids don’t read” = “his jeans are baggy he must be illiterate” “these kids won’t sit quietly in the library with a book in their hands.”

There are two bottom lines: first that certain types of teens with certain appearances are born readers and others aren’t, and second, that certain types of books are more worthy than others. Scrutiny of these assumptions demonstrate their inaccuracy: the worth of various types of books is subject to constant and often contradictory debate, and there is a good reason for that oft-repeated aphorism “Appearances can be deceiving.”

Teens’ clothes do not effect or indicate their reading habits, but those habits are prescribed by certain important factors.

Parents have a huge impact on what – or perhaps more accurately whether – teens read. Whether parents encourage or discourage, value or disparage reading for pleasure, if will have a considerable impact on their teen.

Teachers have a significant on what young people choose to read. As Saxton stated, young people will ask for books at the level of reading they liked when they last had a teacher who made reading interesting/fun. Even if the books they remember fondly are below their reading level, they will ask for those books because of their positive associations with the material.

Of course, media also effects teen reading habits. Wired teens don’t ask for books until they’re in the media. Media makes certain books or films immensely popular, but only briefly (a month or two). Teens’ interest is held for a little while “as long as it’s on TV.”

So how to we react to books that are “on TV” or capture teens’ interest but strike us as “low” or inappropriate? Megan Honig answered some of these when she talked about Why Street Lit Matters.

Adult and street lit books deal with issues we wish teens weren’t dealing with: violence, sex, homelessness. Teens enjoy the books because they are fast paced, interesting, relevant/true to their experience (OR) takes them outside of their everyday lives, and are relevant to popular culture. Teens read Street Lit for many of the following reasons:

identity affirmation
reflection of lived experiences
engagement at a safe distance
wish fulfillment
risk-free thrill (“naughty” book)

Thus, although a book may not meet strict adult approval, if has the potential to hold great appeal for a teen. I have often heard librarians repeat both happiness that teens are able to find solace in books that reflect difficult or trying experiences they face and support for teens experiencing certain illegal or potentially harmful things within the safe pages of a book, rather than outside in the real world.


One Response to ““Meet Them Where They Are and Open the Door”: On Assumptions and Pop Culture Reads”


  1. Giving Teen Genre Readers Time (or) Fighting Tyranny of Reading « YA Library UK - April 4, 2011

    […] Apr Last week when I updated about the YALSA symposium session on Street Lit I forgot to mention one of the most crucial pieces of knowledge I gained from the […]

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