Interview with Monnee Tong

By Stephanie Romero

Photo Credit: Sierra Lewis

Photo Credit: Sierra Lewis

Monnee Tong is the teen services librarian at Central Library’s Pauline Foster Teen Center, a relaxing place where teens have a variety of resources. I, like many others, rely on my local library for the latest book releases and project and essay sources. I had the opportunity to ask some behind-the-scenes questions. Tong gives a glimpse into the life of a librarian!

What’s a typical day like for you as a teen resources librarian?

A common misconception about librarians is that we work in quiet environments where we read all day and shush people. This is far from the truth! My day as a teen services librarian is full of activity and people, and every day is different from the next. I am always on the go and talking most of the day. As an example, this Friday I’m taking the library’s IDEA Lab Tech Team (a teen technology internship,) on a field trip to San Diego City College’s graphic design department, meeting with another teen mentee about a project she is doing about sex trafficking, leading our bimonthly YA book club (we’re reading This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki,) and finalizing plans for our Spring 2016 events. Our goal in Teen Center is to provide a safe, welcoming space for teens that encourages lifelong learning, whether that be introducing a reader to the latest Sarah Dessen book, hosting a summer job fair, or providing a mentorship for a teen interested in gaining work experience. Being a teen services librarian is a fulfilling, challenging, and never dull—I love it!

What inspired you to pursue this field?

I wasn’t inspired to become a librarian until trying on some different hats and realizing they didn’t fit.

In college, I studied art history and thought about pursuing a career in art education or museums. I ended up working at children’s museums throughout college, including a summer where I was an arts camp counselor. I planned art lessons for 7-year-olds, which was so much fun—I still have fond memories of all the projects we did.

I tried pursuing a couple of different fields before a light bulb went off in my head to pursue librarianship. During a job interview for a tech marketing position, I was caught off guard when the interviewer asked me what my favorite job had been thus far. Without hesitation, I mentioned the job at the children’s museum, and realized I was pursuing the wrong field. It wasn’t until a teacher mentioned children’s librarianship to me that I seriously considered becoming a librarian. I did some research, reached out to librarians to ask them how they liked their careers, and then signed up to volunteer at the San Diego Public Library. That was 8 years ago; it was the best decision I made for my career.

What do you try to pass on to teens after they graduate high school and continue their lives?

I hope the teen patrons of Teen Center will look back and have fond memories of the library being an essential place and resource of their adolescence. For the teens that I mentor, I strive to instill a lifelong appreciation for libraries and the power they have in helping communities. I want to empower them to advocate for libraries to those who think the library’s only function is to house books, because we are so much more than just a home for books.  

What’s the process of choosing YA titles for the library? Do you make the decisions to admit new titles?

I can request new titles to be purchased, but another librarian is in charge of selecting all YA titles. Imagine that—she gets to buy books all day! She stays on top of trends and what’s “hot”, is well read, and has a Master’s in Children’s Literature from Simmons College. A variety of resources and factors go into what she decides to buy, including bestseller lists, review articles, websites, notable authors, award winners, publisher webinars, social media, and of course, patron requests. New books come every month, so we always have a steady amount of fresh books to our shelves.

I know the library does more than provide great YA literature. You also provide resources for teens. What are your most popular resources? Your most recent?

Technology—teens love the tech resources we provide. The Teen Center’s video game room is an uber popular spot that lets teens let loose after a day at school. We have a Wii, a PS3, a PS4, and handheld devices that we let teens play with during a weekly program called Game On! We also provide computers, iPads, and a collaborative multimedia table, all of which are popular resources that teens enjoy. And if a teen is curious about trying out more sophisticated programs, we have a technology lab just for them called the IDEA Lab, which has film editing, graphic design, music editing, drafting, and animation software. This week the IDEA Lab is hosting two Hour of Code events, which are both full!

What creative projects do you get to take on as a YA librarian?

We plan a lot of events for the community to meet their needs, and this is really where I get to be creative as a teen librarian. I help find solutions to what our patrons need. Do they need help exploring careers? Are they having difficulty finding credible resources for their next report? Are they looking for a safe environment to have fun? We serve a diverse population that has different needs, and we respond by providing events and services that will meet them. One of the projects I’ve been most invested in is the IDEA Lab Tech Team, a group of teen interns that uses multimedia to support and promote the library. They’ve come up with some wonderful projects, including a video about teen services, a portrait project spotlighting librarians, and soon to come, a teen coloring book. Since this was a new program, I was able to help it thrive and grow from the ground up.


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