Snapshot: Linda Braun
By Katherine Dunn, Dean's Editorial Fellow
The best place to find Linda Braun'81LS is online, more specifically on Twitter, the social-networking site where users update their whereabouts and exchange news in 140 characters or less. In the analog world, Braun lives in and runs a library consulting firm in New York and teaches several classes at GSLIS in Boston, including LIS 460-Technology and the School Library Media Center. She is also the president-elect of the ALA's Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) in Chicago. Braun, who in 2007 and 2008 won online teaching awards from the Web-based Information Science Education Consortium (WISE), believes youth services librarians should live more online, too.
I read that you were anti-technology when you started out as a children's librarian. Is that true?
I took reference with Allen Smith around 1980-81, and he said, "In 10 years, every library is going to be filled with computers." I looked at him and said, "I don't want to work in a library like that; I love books." [A few years later] I was working in a small public library, and we had an Apple IIe for the kids to use. We were seeing kids we'd never seen before, just coming out of the woodwork, and I thought to myself, "This is what young people are gravitating toward." That changed everything for me, when I saw it through the viewpoint of young people. I realized it wasn't about me and what I thought they should be doing, but it was actually about what they needed and how the library could serve them. And a lot of that is technology these days. [Since then] either I've taught myself or taken a class.
You're on Twitter a lot.
I've always been someone who's got to be doing a hundred things at once. And Twitter keeps me really connected with students and faculty. In 460, students have to be on Twitter so they know if I'm stuck somewhere, but they also see links and send links. I've met so many people on Twitter to whom I can say, "What about this? Do you think this is a good idea? What about this technology?" I think it's really helped to keep me up- to-date and connected to people with whom I work or would like to work.
You've gotten ideas from Twitter about youth services?
Absolutely. I'm constantly seeing links to resources that I think would help people who work with children or teens. I can't believe how it really makes a difference. It's so odd, but it really does.
"I realized it wasn't about me and what I thought they should be doing, but it was actually about what they needed and how the library could serve them."
Are you following a lot of librarians on Twitter?
I tend to follow more tech people, because one of my beliefs is that we talk to ourselves enough. We need to know what other people are thinking. I follow a lot of people in tech to see what they're talking about, and then start thinking, "What does that mean to us?"
Do you ever find that the amount of information is overwhelming?
I don't find that. One of the things I've learned in this information world is that we don't have to learn everything and we don't have to remember everything. I try to teach kids and people who work with kids that as long as you know where to go [to find answers], you don't have to worry about remembering every detail. I also trust that the people I know will have answers — and that's the other thing about Twitter — if I don't know it, someone I know is going to.
Do you think that most youth services librarians should be using things like Twitter?
Yes. We can't keep saying in libraries, "I don't have the time, I don't have the money, I don't have the staff." Because that's not going to cut it. Yes, those are issues. But I don't think enough youth people are getting the idea that technology has to be a part of something we do every day. It's not something special. One of the things I talk a lot about in 460 is that we have to start building collections of technology in the way we do collections of books. And I don't mean physical collections; I mean the knowledge of what's available. So when someone says, "I'm looking for information about this tool," we can just pull up a website or a 2.0 tool as easily as we can a book. And I don't think we're doing that fast enough. You still get a lot of push back. A lot of youth services people are still very tied to the book — and I'm not anti-book at all — but I think we need to meet the needs of kids who are growing up with technology today and are beyond the book.
Why should teens use a library at all?
I see the library for teens as a lot about community. I see it as a place where they might just hang out, use computers, read a book, talk to librarians. For teens, I think it's just a place to be, and also to learn about good choices — whatever that means — through programs or sitting around and talking. If we make our public and school libraries a space like that, then teens will want to come to the library for the other things it offers.
You're president-elect of YALSA. What's your plan for when you're president next year?
My theme is Risky Business. I like the idea that [youth services librarians] have to try things out, get out there and take these risks. If librarians get involved in the things modern teens really need and want, then they can say, "This is why what I do is important." To stand up for teenagers having troubles, to fight for money and fight for space — it's all about taking risks. We're planning interviews, blog posts, videos where people talk how they stand up for teens or about risks they've taken in their libraries to show that you do have to get out there and advocate.