By Steve Zalusky
Laurie Doan once said that her goal as a teen librarian was “not to build the greatest generation but to build what might need to be the most resilient generation.”
Her work at the Tredyffrin Public Library Strafford, Pennsylvania shows that she is well underway to achieving her goal. Nora Margolis, her nominator for a 2017 I Love My Librarian Award, said Doan’s contibutions have not only been positive, but also transformative.
“As one teen Claire put it, ‘Laurie helps each kid discover his or her passion. Then, she does everything she can to help us develop those passions.” Margolis experienced this firsthand, watching Doan work with her 16-year-old son Matt, who needed to raise $1,000 Eagle Scout landscaping project at the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation.
Matt asked Doan if he could DJ a dance party for 100 children. Doan responded by helping him turn the library into a dance hall. She then went above and beyond, helping Matt run additional events for other local charities.
Margolis said, “The skills and confidence that Matt developed from these events and the supervision that Laurie gave him are largely responsible for his continued love for quality music programming that has continued to this day, where he is now deputy executive director of UC Berkeley’s Dance Marathon that has raised over 50K for pediatric aids and the booking coordinator of UC Berkeley’s concerts programming board that entertains over 26,000 undergrads.”
Doan also provided an opportunity for children interested in theater but unable to make the cut during highly competitive auditions at the local high school, she created a second theater at the library where BOOKS COULD COME TO LIFE.
Taking advantage of previously underutilized space at the library, Doan uses the library in creative ways that support and build the self-esteem of her teens. For one young filmmaker, she even rolled out the red carpet for the premiere of his film Harry Potter and the New York Psycho. The filmmaker now attends Villanova University, helping run the student theater there.
He said, “Laurie Doan is a wonderful mentor and friend. I will always be grateful to Ms. Doan for her support and kindness. I would like to thank her for the great skills and knowledge that she has imparted on me. Her contribution towards my success today is highly acknowledged. She is less of a teacher to me but more of a mentor and an inspiration.”
Another teen, budding theater director Max, said, “Laurie uses her resources as a librarian to help better the community around her, especially the local teenagers. She goes beyond the job requirement to share her passions with the community and ignite that same passion in others.”
Max, a sophomore in high school, approached Doan with a request to produce and direct a musical using the library space.
“Not only did she give me the space for rehearsal purposes for free, she became my mentor and partner. She helped me through the whole process from big things like attaining the rights to the production to smaller things like printing posters for me,” he said.
She has not only won over the teens, but also her fellow librarians, including Gretchen Chamberlin, who said, “Laurie should win this award because she goes far beyond the basics of her job working with teens--she is a leader and a mentor who provides many real opportunities for teens to stretch their wings and learn essential life skills in a safe and supported way.”
Three years ago, she said, Doan started a performance camp for youth, who receive instruction from music education and performing art majors in college. Those college students met Doan when they were in middle and high school.
Her rapport with the teens is appreciated by local teachers as well, including high school English teacher Cynthia Hyatt, who said, “Laurie is the most supportive public librarian I have ever worked with in my life. Her energy and commitment for teens getting involved in their community is incomparable. Laurie is perhaps the most positive person I know. I never hear of unkind word come from her mouth. She always puts a positive spin on everything.”
Doan understands the many challenges teens face, including those with special needs. One parent said, “Laurie embraced my son despite his challenges with Asperger’s. She saw passion and creativity where most people just see a child who is different. With Laurie's guidance my son got to act in musicals at the library and from there had the confidence to participate in advanced theatre classes at his high school and participate in a dramatic group presentation for National History Day state competition where he made it to the final round. People with disabilities often find trouble finding jobs. Laurie's helped to build his professional skills by providing him with an internship at the library. This will help prepare my son for the future working world.”
Shortly after winning the award, Doan was interviewed for the YALSA Blog http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/2018/01/30/i-love-my-librarian-award-spotlight-laurie-doan/.
She told YALSA, “We can help the next generation find their purpose by connecting them with mentors and giving them a sandbox (space) to create in. We can encourage them to try to do hard things and to finish what they start.”
Asked about the challenges she faces in implementing her philosophy of young adult service, she said, “The biggest thing is to know yourself and be conscious of your own traits. I always tended to be perfectionist which can make you risk-adverse. I needed to let go of that and embrace failure. I always tell the students, ‘It’s not always what you get that takes you far. It’s what you don’t get.’ Our failures teach the most valuable lessons; mainly they teach us if you’re tenacious about a goal.”
She talked about how she has utilitzed space in the library to serve teens.
“The Venue is a flexible space that can be set up for movie nights, a meeting space, or (extremely popular) a coffeehouse.”
She said the standard meeting room equipment includes “microphones, computer, projector, screens, DVD Player, folding tables, chairs, and kitchen. Through careful budgeting over many years, the teen program also has amassed speakers, a mixer, pipe and drape, keyboard, amps, mics, and an electronic drum set.”
In addition, there is a portable lighting system specifically designed for the space and built with funds raised by the teens themselves.
“The community’s response has been positive,” she said. “They appreciate that teens need a place to express themselves and to socialize. Plus, it’s a great opportunity for friends and family to experience quality performances in our own Strafford Park. No need to pay for parking, take the train, or purchase tickets.”
Learn more about the winners of the 2017 I Love My Librarian Award.