Published in the Spring 2007 issue • Arts
Lisa Heggum is a bookworm with big ideas
Continued from page 1
Advocating for teenagers as valuable library patrons hasn’t always been easy. Heggum’s colleagues were often skeptical of her more creative ideas, such as introducing a manga section and organizing library sleepovers for the youth advisory groups.
To help TPL staff understand teen patrons, Heggum now offers training on how to address the unique needs of young adults. She even facilitates exercises to help librarians remember what it was like to be a teenager.
She also initiated a youth advisory group that works directly with the marketing department for the entire TPL system, and serves as an editorial board for the TPL’s literary and art magazine for youth, Young Voices. For the first time in the magazine’s 40-year history, teens are working with professional editors to select and edit fiction, poetry and art submitted to the magazine by their peers.
At their monthly meeting, the teens in this group discuss how to market the music collection and Young Voices magazine. They’ve come from all over the city to participate, and say their friends sometimes tease them for being “library nerds.” But Heggum’s efforts are already starting to change that image.
“When I told my friends about the concerts, they got jealous,” says Guia Gali, 17, who introduced folksy rockers Elliot Brood at the show. As part of the advisory group, these teens had the privilege of being the only members of the public to make suggestions about the music collection.
They also hope the library itself will help change teen stereotypes. “There are a lot of prejudices toward teenagers,” says 17-year-old Jenney Wang. “Around where I live, certain stores don’t allow teens because they think we’re going to steal. The concerts and stuff will give a new image to all teenagers.”
Heggum’s influence has stretched beyond Toronto. As she began her work as a youth librarian, she wanted to kick-start teen library services across Canada.
She teamed up with Kirsten Andersen and Helen Moore, librarians from Richmond, B.C., who were already doing similar work, to give a presentation called “Teens are Patrons, Too” at the 2002 Canadian Library Association Conference in Halifax.
“What we were trying to do was excite people about working with teens, because it just wasn’t done at all in Canada,” says Moore, head of youth services at the Richmond Public Library. “Twenty-five percent of the people who walk through the door of a library are teens, and they are completely underserved.”
The presentation was well-received and the trend is catching on in Canadian libraries. Heggum has given workshops across the country. Her work has also won her several awards, including the 2004 Ontario Library Association’s Leadership in Youth Services Award. She recently edited an anthology for teens called All Sleek and Skimming: Stories (Orca Book Publishers). And with the development of the music collection, another concert in the works and programs for teens on how to start a band and record a demo, the library is well on its way to becoming cool.
At the concert, Heggum’s image make-over is taking shape. Rather than a quirky idea, the library feels like the perfect venue for this gig. And watching people rock out and dance around the Toronto Reference Library doesn’t seem strange at all.
“Bands in the library? It’s fantastic!” shouts Max Cotter, 14, while dancing around in bell-bottom jeans. “I’ve never heard of a better idea!”