Long Beach Teens Share Quarantine Thoughts in Long Beach Public Library Project
Just about anyone who has some life experience has a perspective on the impacts of COVID-19. For the very young, their lives have been impacted, but they may not be able to articulate what is happening or compare it to other experiences. For those very late in life, the pandemic may evoke comparisons to worldwide crises of the past.
But what about the teenagers, who were just beginning to find their way in the world, only to have their plans abruptly derailed by COVID-19 and the resulting quarantine? A Long Beach Public Library project, "Life in the Time of COVID: The Long Beach Teen Journals," has given local teens the opportunity to share their experiences, fears, hopes and dreams during these challenging times.
"These teens are engaging their journals with such bravery and thoughtfulness. It's incredible to watch," said Jeff Whalen, Special Collections Librarian at the Billie Jean King Main Library.
Whalen helped create the teen journal project along with Teen Services Librarian Joshua Sanchez. "As they get older," Whalen continued, "teens get increasingly stressed out about finishing high school, leaving home for college---beginning their adult lives in general. When the COVID element was added to that, it resulted in major anxiety as the unknown was thrust at them as the main course in life."
As the COVID shut-down began last spring, Whalen, a former Teen Services Librarian himself, became inspired as he thought about a Long Beach Historical Society project from the ‘80s and ‘90s, “Tell Me Your Story,” in which teenage girls had interviewed older members of their families.
He shared his thoughts with his colleague Sanchez, a partner in several previous library endeavors. Whalen and Sanchez decided to create the teen journal project, with help from Jade Wheeler, Senior Librarian of Collection Services, and Alana LaBeaf, who was Senior Librarian of Community Services last spring and has since moved out of state.
"There are two distinct parts to this project," said Wheeler. "First, we wanted to give the teens something to do in a way they could communicate their thoughts and deal with their stress.”
The second consideration was how the project could be preserved. “We want the community to see and appreciate what these teens have to offer,” Wheeler said. “We are keeping the diaries in our digital archives so we can offer this look into the past for future generations."
Whalen, Sanchez and Wheeler, who share a life-long love of libraries, recruited project participants from the Teen Advisory Groups at the Main Library and the Michelle Obama Library in North Long Beach. "It's a big commitment," explained Whalen. "Participants were asked to come up with a pen name and avatar, and to submit two entries a week. With assistance from Library Assistant Xandria Guzman at the Michelle Obama Library, we were able to assemble ten teens who have been contributing diligently."
Reading through the journal entries, one gets a picture of how rapidly teen culture is evolving due to digital technology---yet one also recognizes the same issues faced by teens throughout recent generations, such as who is popular, what's new in music and fashion, and where one might fit in.
"We do have a new interconnectedness with the internet," said Sanchez, "but I think it is the only thing that has changed for teens."
Many common themes run through the journal entries, such as the challenges of homeschooling, the restlessness created by confinement, and which TV shows are the best to binge-watch. Some contributors wrote straightforward verbal entries; others combined their words with artful illustrations, videos and even Lego sculptures.
As the weeks of quarantine passed, the teen diarists shared tales of the new hobbies they were pursuing, new fashion statements they were making and insights they were gaining about life.
"They are hopeful that things will change," said Whalen, "but they're not convinced it will happen soon."
The project has moved Sanchez and his colleagues to think about keeping it going after the pandemic is over. "We have discussed continuing teen diary projects in perpetuity," Sanchez said. “We feel that the library can serve as a conduit to tell stories to the community. We would like the teens to think of the library as a place where they can launch their stories and be heard."
To read the entries of participants in the Teen Journal Project, please visit https://lbpl.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p17164coll5
To learn about the Main Library's Teen Space, the Teen Advisory Groups, and Teen volunteer opportunities, please call Teen Services Librarian Joshua Sanchez at 562-570-6657.