By Louis Bockner
For adults, the minds of teenagers are often complex and befuddling. At once rebellious and inquisitive they are a force to be reckoned with and not everyone can do it gracefully.
Luckily for the Nelson Public Library they have someone in their corner who seems to have figured out how to engage teens through creative programming and the basic, yet difficult, practice of simply being present.
For the past three years Melodie Rae Storey has held the title of teen and literacy co-ordinator for the library. Under her watch the teen programming has blossomed thanks to Storey’s outside-the-box ideas that go far beyond books and literacy.
“My first program was candy sushi,” she says. “We used fruit roll ups for the seaweed and rice crispies for the rice. It was a huge hit.”
While this doesn’t seem like it has much to do with a library the point of many of the programs is simply to engage youth without forcing them to read or write.
“For me the youth program is community driven, but I see it as a creative hub where kids can come and tinker and learn. Yes, it’s strengthening their literacy at the same time, but they don’t necessarily know that.”
Other initiatives like the Reading Buddies Program where teens read to younger children or the Mother/Daughter Book Club are directly related to the realm of books — a world Storey feels is important for the development of people in all stages of life.
“Reading is so vital to people’s lives, and libraries are so vital to fostering a creative, literate society. When I sign up kids for their first library card I’m like ‘welcome to the first day of the rest of your life. It’s going to change your world.’”
She also feels books offer a once-removed arena for crucial discussions to take place between parents and children. With this in mind Storey picks book club material with themes like bullying that have relevance with the teens who will read them.
This encourages discussions both at home and in the library where characters become conduits for issues that often affect the readers personally.
The immediate popularity of the Mother/Daughter Book Club has led Storey to organize a second one for sons and parents that will start in January.
For Storey, 37, who spent much of her adult life in Vancouver getting multiple history degrees and working in the UBC library, her return to Nelson meant a return to family and the landscape she loved. After working in both the Selkirk College library and the Castlegar Public Library she landed her current job, a prospect that was both exciting and nerve-wracking.
“I was really nervous when I first got the job,” she says. “I don’t really know anything about pop culture, I have almost no digital footprint, but now I see that stuff doesn’t really matter as much as just being present with the kids. Plus they love it when I’m ignorant and they can school me on stuff.”
When it comes to the challenge of working with teenagers she says it’s one that she enjoys. “They don’t tell you what they’re thinking and they’re not always appreciative in the ways adults are but that’s fine. It’s just about accepting where they’re at in life.”
That’s something Storey seems to have a natural knack for, according to 14-year-old Johanna Brochhagen who has attended many of Storey’s programs.
“She’s amazing at her job and she’s really good at understanding teenagers. She just seems to get me and her personality is really understanding of people.”
Storey, who is also a part of the Youth Interagency Committee, is quick to direct such accolades to other people and the community of Nelson at large.
“Before I started this job I had no idea there was all these people in the community advocating for youth and it’s fun to be a part of it. I also work with a great team and have a boss who lets me fail, which is so important.”
Having this network has allowed her and her programming to evolve over the years and even with the difficulties that come with navigating the teenage mind the rewards she receives make it all worthwhile.
“It’s a neat time in their lives when they’re just learning who they are and forming their own opinions,” she says. “It’s a privilege to be able to see that and help in some way. It feels so fresh to be around them and it makes you a little more hopeful about where the world is headed.”