Know Your Librarians: Kim Patton

Kim Patton likes books with lots of angst. This is one reason why she’s perfectly suited for life as a teen librarian. When she talks about the sci-fi thriller Unwind by Neal Shusterman or the apocalyptic Gone by Michael Grant, she radiates enthusiasm. And as the newly crowned president of the influential Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), she knows what it takes to get teens reading.

An 18-year veteran of the Lawrence Public Library, Patton came to the Kansas City Public Library in December 2008 to give focus to the nascent teen services department.

“We’ve always worked with teenagers, but we didn’t have a clear plan that deliberately involved providing the services they want until we hired Kim,” says Crystal Faris, Director of Teen Services.

In Lawrence, Patton built the library’s teen center from the ground up – a pioneering move for any librarian at the time, as teen services is a fairly recent field.

Patton has always been a library lover. As a kid growing up in Topeka, she learned how to work the system to her advantage.

“I used to like to read racy romances, but they wouldn’t let children in the romance section without an adult, so I had a librarian hold a stack for me until my mom came to pick me up,” she remembers.

Years later, working as a Salvation Army officer in Lawrence, Patton would take her own kids to storytime at the public library. When a job as children’s desk assistant came available, a friend suggested Patton apply.

“I lived in libraries, but I never thought of working in one,” she says.

Settling in at the library, Patton noticed the lack of resources for kids past the sixth grade.

“I whined and whined about not having a young adults’ area, so I carved out a place, got some grants, got five computers, and made the Teen Center,” she says.

She joined YALSA in 2000 as a Teen Services trainer and moved up the ranks to board member. At the American Library Association’s annual conference this past June, she was inaugurated YALSA President for 2010-11.

This is no mere honorary title.

From her post atop the 5,400-member organization, Patton represents the interests of teen librarians everywhere. She recently made a public response to a Time magazine article on summer reading and suggested readalikes for the hot new novel Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins.

YALSA influences how public and school libraries serve teens and also helps determine how library schools train future teen librarians.

“It’s a great avenue for leadership development and a great way to give back to an organization that’s furthered my career,” Patton says.

But on the home front, Patton remains closely involved with her Central Library teens. And she knows all the techniques to keep them reading.

“To some teens, reading is cool,” Patton says. “To others, it’s the farthest thing from cool you can get.”

There are lots of things vying for teens’ attention. Playing video games, for example, is the most popular activity among adolescent boys – and by providing access to gaming, libraries can get teens in the door who wouldn’t otherwise come.

But distractions or not, Patton says, if you can get teens excited about a book, they’ll make time.

Her three rules for getting kids hooked: (1) Give them enough of a teaser to get into a book, but leave them hanging. (2) Develop activities and programming around the book. And (3) once you have them hooked, be ready with other titles.

And perhaps most of all, be you.

“Teens have no patience for poses,” she says. “You can’t try to talk like them, you can’t try to dress like them. They see through that. They expect us to be ourselves.”

For someone as genuinely invested in teens as Patton, that’s not a hard task at all.

Explore the Library: Kim Patton’s Top Five Teen Reads of the Moment