Welcome to 30 Days of Street Lit. To celebrate the release of Urban Grit: A Guide to Street Lit on December 30th, I will publish one post per weekday, November 29-January 7, on topics relating to street lit.
By way of introduction, I’d like to share the story of how I became interested in street lit:
I started my library career as a trainee at Teen Central, then The New York Public Library’s flagship teen space. We advertised Teen Central as “a space of your own” and stressed to every visitor and newcomer that we were driven by teens’ visions, suggestions, and feedback. We had a Teen Advisory Group. We had a suggestion box. Anything you think we should be doing differently, we’d say, just let us know.
High school classes visited Teen Central several mornings a week. One of the librarians would introduce the class to the space and to the library’s services, and then the group would get a chance to browse the shelves and check out books.
This is where I started to notice a pattern. In just about every class, a handful of students made requests for books we didn’t carry. Sometimes they asked for a book title, like Flower’s Bed or B-More Careful. Sometimes they asked for the publisher Triple Crown. And sometimes they described the genre: they wanted “those realistic books” or “adult books” or “books about drama.”
We learned pretty quickly which books the teens meant. And we also learned that we didn’t have them. The adult department, which was downstairs from Teen Central, owned a few of the major titles, but those were rarely on the shelf. We’d help the teens who wanted street lit place holds on a few titles, and we’d make a few reading suggestions from the teen section, but the street lit readers usually left empty-handed.
This was a problem. We marketed ourselves as a space committed to meeting teens’ needs. But for the teens who wanted street lit, we were failing.
What was this genre all about? What were its teen readers getting out of reading it? Why were libraries taking so long to catch onto its popularity? And why were there so many resources devoted to suggesting other books teens should read instead?
I didn’t want to keep letting teens down, so I decided to do some research. I asked teens about the genre. I read about the genre in library publications, in the news, and on fan sites. I read street lit novels. (It helped that I was in library school and could turn this work into my thesis.)
Several years later, I’ve written a librarian’s guidebook to the genre and speak to librarians, educators, and students about why street lit matters to teens. I’ve also gotten to know some of the fabulous library superstars who’ve been reading, promoting, and writing about this genre since its re-emergence in the late 1990s—I’ll be posting interviews with some of street lit librarianship’s most inspiring figures later in the month, including Vanessa Morris, K. C. Boyd, and Daniel Marcou.
I’m excited to spend the next 30 (week)days talking about street lit, teens, and libraries. Please read, comment, and spread the word.