Librarians Punch Down on Teenagers

Librarians Punch Down on Teenagers

By Anthony Bernier | October 2023

How can I continue doing this work? I teach future librarians about serving teenagers professionally and equitably. People find it odd that librarians need this teaching. The behaviors of national library leaders, though, demonstrate they do.

The hottest issue in libraries today pits libraries against “book banning” zealots challenging intellectual freedom. Librarians find themselves defending books and materials their professional ethical commitments require them to make available to everyone.

Most of these disputes constitute what we know as “cultural war” issues particularly as they pertain to books for young people. Attacks include charges of promoting anti-American themes, “wokeness,” and “deviant” sexual, gender, and racial identities.

Librarians rightly defend intellectual freedom. If you don’t like a book or an author’s writing, don’t read it. One of my own librarian heroes, Dorothy M. Broderick (1929-2011), gained notoriety by posting a sign: “If you don’t find something offensive in this library, see the librarian.”

Toleration for difference, unfettered access to contrary opinions, and the promotion of free expression number among the institution’s core values. This is especially true as libraries continue to adopt policies and practices promoting DEI and LGBTQ rights. Presumably, it is these values that keep libraries among the nation’s most trusted public institutions.

So, it’s all the more disturbing to continually discover national library leaders punching down on the very young people they purport to be defending in these pitched battles.

During the last month alone, the president of the American Library Association indulged in unqualified negative characterizations of youth (an entire demographic) not once, not twice, but three times! Each instance includes peeks into what is also clearly a challenging domestic situation – for which a teenaged son is held accountable in front of a large social media audience.

And in the latest issue of the Public Libraries, the president of the Public Library Association, in an otherwise cliched attack on library schools, also punches down on youth. The essay’s only mention of youth characterizes “unruly teenagers” numbering among the topics library schools allegedly do not address.

Among the worst aspects of these anti-youth screeds, aside from the fact that they
contradict the profession’s own ethical aspirations, is that these national leaders feel entirely confident that their bigoted assertions appeal to large and sympathetic audiences. Unfortunately, my own studies of the profession’s legacies and practices tend to support these assumptions.

Another odious aspect of these behaviors manifests in how they distract from more pressing concerns about young people. During our current effort to emerge from pandemic, many claims surface about the crisis in youth mental health. Librarians enthusiastically participate in the campaign – producing columns in national media, at conference presentations, in classrooms. This enthusiasm spreads even though librarians are not trained or equipped to identify, assess, or treat mental distress.

Yet, as YouthFacts’ own Mike Males points out in his 15 July 2023, article in, the crisis originates not in schools or among peers but at home.

Males cites the Center for Disease Control’s statistics documenting, for instance, 400-600% increases in physical and psychological abuse among girls perpetrated by parents or other household adults.

The crisis, nearly universally blamed on youth behaviors, emanates instead from home.

Males’s point deserves wide readership among policy experts as well as library leaders hell-bent on punching down on young people.

In answer to my opening question, about continuing my work,” I’ll borrow from Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

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