An Interview With Jan Kamiya, YA Librarian Extraordinaire

I first became acquainted with Jan’s electric enthusiasm when I attended her presentation at last year’s Hawai’i Library Association conference, entitled “Making Connections for Network and Outreach.” I took frantic notes, hoping to someday achieve mastery of this topic, as I feel that making connections is perhaps our primary role as librarians within our communities. Later on in the conference, I ran into Jan in the hallway, and discovered that she is just as approachable and warm as one would hope a young adult librarian to be. She was kind enough to give us here at HLS some insight into her work with young adult (YA) patrons.

Let’s start with a brief description of your service community:

The McCully-Mōʽliʽili Public Library is a busy urban library in the heart of Honolulu, Hawai’i and one branch of the 50 libraries of the Hawaii State Public Library System (HSPLS). Surrounding areas are population-concentrated and growing. Our library serves everyone from the students and faculty of the nearby University of Hawai’i at Manoa, to long-time senior residents, the new immigrant population, students from many nearby schools, and the homeless/mentally ill (a health clinic is across the street).

Did you plan to become a YA librarian, or did it just happen?

I was initially hired as a YA Librarian and discovered that I loved it—I love reading YA books and working with teens, and it turned out to be the perfect fit for me. After a few years of YA librarianship, I took a promotion as a temporary library manager. However, after a year I decided to return to YA librarianship permanently. I missed working with teens.

What are the greatest joys and challenges in working with teens?

YA librarianship is as challenging as it is fulfilling. I feel that my advocacy for teens statewide has more impact than my managing of one library. I am lucky to have found my calling!

What I love the most is that I never know what will have an impact on a teen. For example, a student in a visiting class listens to my booktalk and borrows a copy of the book. After she finishes it, she’s motivated to come to the library and asks me if there are any more books like it.  Or a young man asks about getting a certain title because his friend said that he HAD to read it, and it turns out to be a title I had recently booktalked to a visiting class.

I have received a lot of positive feedback from teachers after booktalks, my favorite of which is,  “The information on what our local libraries have to offer is a revelation to many of our students, and we always have several who follow up in various ways, either by filling out the library card applications, or requesting titles from [our school library], or even mentioning that they finally went in to check out the public library that has been right next door to them since they were born.”

I love seeing teens browsing the YA section and leaving with a stack of books. They bring their friends and hang out just to read. Sometimes it’s as simple as a group of teens stopping me to say, “Hi, Ms. Jan” as I walk by in the neighborhood. I always welcome teens to come back and share with me what they think about the books they have read.

The most difficult challenge is getting teens to attend programming, but every year it gets better. Each month, educators help me by posting library program flyers and announcing events on their school bulletins. I’m working on additional partnerships with area schools and booktalking to more classes, and I continue to explore ways to engage my community teens, encourage reading for enjoyment, and make a difference in my community.

What has been your most successful outreach strategy?

That would be the McCully-Mō’ili’ili Public Library-Washington Middle School Fall-Winter 2015 Orientation Project. It consisted of 8 field trips between August and December of 2015. There were 20 classes of  6th, 7th, and 8th graders involved. Altogether, 205 middle school students visited, many for the first time in any public library.

Teachers brought their students to the library for an orientation, a tour, and booktalking. For a majority of the students, this was their first visit to a library outside of school. By giving teens this “guided” step into the library with their classmates, I was able to introduce myself as a friendly person willing to help, give book advice, and host programs just for them.

Teens started to feel comfortable coming into the library on their own after school. I noticed books that I had booktalked being requested. At the very least,  I wanted students to feel welcome, have the opportunity to physically walk through the library, and to realize that it was not a scary place. Over the years, some of these (at first reluctant) teens have come back to volunteer during the summer reading program or have even been employed as library student helpers.

Another successful outreach venture has been the monthly teen booklists that I share with librarians in HSPLS, school librarians, and educators. This has turned out to be a silent marketing success, because school librarians use them for book purchasing ideas and busy teachers can keep up to date with trending YA titles. Teachers also share the lists with students and students go to their local library to seek out the titles—it’s a win-win for everyone!

Do you feel the need to keep up with teen social media trends?

I do not keep up with media trends as much as others may. Some of my YA Librarian colleagues are very tech-oriented, so if I ever have a question, I know who to call to ask! I accept that we cannot all be experts at everything YA, and I have chosen to focus my energy where I can serve best:  collection development, creating booklists, booktalking, and nurturing library-school partnerships. If ever in doubt, I check YALSA’s annual Teen Tech Week to see the latest annual trends.

Any advice you have to offer current LIS students?

  • Working with teens is not always easy. Teens seem to be the hardest market to get into the library because they have so many competing interests. Remember that teens are the “most forgotten” of all library users–don’t give up, because what you do as an advocate for teen library patrons IS important.
  • Give back to your LIS community. Agree to be a guest lecturer, assist with student assignments/interviews with a professional (Thanks again, Jan!), host internships at your library.
  • Be visible. Get out of your library! They will not come INTO your library unless you get OUT—be involved with teen activities in your community and partner with area educators and stakeholders. You cannot beg teens to come in only over the summer when you need reading stats. Outreach is a year-round commitment.
  • Volunteer your time. Meet new people and widen your networking base.
  • Listen to what your teens are saying. Take their advice for book purchases, programming ideas, room decoration, etc.

Favorite YA resources?

SLJ Teen. Subscription. Example.

Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Bookshelf (includes teen articles, links to Youth Media Specialist interests). Subscription.

ALAN. (ALAN Review, ALAN Newsletter, ALAN Picks). I’m the Hawai’i State Representative, a member, and receive quarterly journals in addition to website access.

About Jan:

Jan is the Young Adult Librarian at the McCully-Mōʻiliʻili Public Library, a branch of the Hawai’i State Public Library System.  After 12 years of service, she was recently recognized as the 2015 Hawai’i Public Librarian of the Year by the Friends of the Library of Hawai’i.

In addition to public librarianship, Jan teaches graduate courses for the School of Library and Information Sciences at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, namely LIS 682: Books and Media for Young Adults. Jan is also currently the Hawaii State Representative for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and is overjoyed to see a new generation of librarians devoting their careers to working with teens.

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