Teen Services Librarian Jennifer Lovchik loves her job at Bellingham Public Library (BPL). As a mentor and coordinator of BPL teen programs and founder of the Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON), Lovchik connects with the teens of Whatcom County by speaking their language through books, games, anime and fandom of all kinds.village books

Lovchik grew up in the Seattle area and attended Western Washington University. She took a job as a librarian at BPL 20 years ago and in 2001 she became the Teen Services Librarian. “Being a teen librarian is my dream and always has been,” explains Lovchik. “I love my busy, wonderful job.”

Many parents struggle to relate to the interests of their teens. Some don’t have time to keep up on teen culture and some struggle to understand it, but Lovchik has found a way to stay immersed in some of the areas teens care about through her work at BPL and within the community.

Teen Programs at BPL

BA-CON Steering Committee Members attend Anime Night at BPL, some in cosplay. Left to Right: Anya Mueller, Kambria Mcdonald (Super Pochaco), Jennifer Lovchik, Ben Bernard (Dandy Universe) and Kai Imani (Asnort). Photo credit: Lorraine Wilde.

“Our programs provide a place for teens to explore and learn and grow,” notes Lovchik. “It’s another way of helping them tell their story and be part of the community.” Many kids who haven’t found their ideal social setting through school or other places are drawn to BPL programs. “I’ve seen amazing friendships develop from participation,” adds Lovchik. “One of my joys is to see the kids come in as awkward, impulse-control-challenged 6th graders and then to watch them blossom.”

Anime Night has been on the second Monday of each month since 2007. Pizza and other refreshments from McKay’s Taphouse & Pizzeria and Rudy’s Pizzeria are provided by Friends of the Library. Candy is given to anyone dressed in fandom-related cosplay. Young adults 12 to 23 are welcome to attend. About 40 to 50 people attend each month.

Game Night is an informal meet up on the third Monday of each month. Kids age 12 to 19 watch and play Wii games and traditional board games. Both groups meet at 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in a positive, safe, hate-free environment at BPL’s Central Library Lecture Room.

An off-shoot of Anime Night called Toshokan Cosplay (which means ‘library’ in Japanese) also meets once a month on a Friday. Students watch YouTube videos, take photos, dance and socialize from 4 to 6 p.m.

“The kids have a lot of opportunity to interact, even the shy ones,” adds Lovchik. “I encourage everyone to be kind. It’s a safe, happy place to hang out.” Students that participate have fun while also building friendships and learning new social skills in a respectful environment.

Middle School Lunch-Time Book Groups

These cosplayers attended BA-CON 2016. More than 1000 enthusiasts are expected to attend this year. Photo courtesy: BA-CON.

Each of the four middle schools in Bellingham School District has a different name for their monthly lunch-time book groups, but they have a common goal: to share their mutual love of books. Middle school teens meet to discuss book-related themes and have a chance to win free advance reader copies of books provided by local book store Village Books.

Lovchik also brings this program to other area groups. The Bellingham School District’s Family Partnership Program provides resources and support to Bellingham’s homeschooling community. Lovchik also meets at least monthly with residents of Sterling Meadows, a program of Mercy Housing of Northwest Washington, which has been providing housing to agricultural workers and their families since 2002. “I go to where the kids are because they can’t always get to the library,” explains Lovchik. “I love anime, I love games but I really love books so it’s nice to be able to talk to kids about that too.”

Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON)

The 2016 BA-CON Cosplay Competition at Whatcom Community College was well attended. Photo courtesy: BA-CON.

“I knew about Sakura-Con and other fan conventions, and I figured we needed something for young people who couldn’t get to Seattle so they could dress up and hang out with friends at a dedicated event. So I started one,” explains Lovchik. The original monthly evening event inspired an annual, full-day event, now in its seventh year.

In 2010 the first all-day anime convention, then called ADA-CON, was held at BPL. Approximately 20 kids were in attendance. The following year the name was officially changed to Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON for short) and it drew more than 90 area enthusiasts. The annual convention continued to grow each year until it reached BPL’s capacity of 250 people. A larger venue was needed to address the increasing interest.

“Although I’m not a personal fan of anime, I try to keep up on everything so I at least know what the kids are talking about,” explains Lovchik. In 2014, the teens in her BPL program told her about an Animation Club at Whatcom Community College (WCC). That’s where she found Jarrett Martin. As a WCC student, Martin had started the popular club. Martin was brought on as Director of Programming in 2014 and BA-CON moved to WCC in 2015. “He’s currently the Convention Director and he is the main reason BA-CON is and will continue to grow.”

“When I joined, it was with the condition that we make it a ‘real convention,’ with guest speakers, workshops and that it become more representative of the kinds of conventions you’d find in other larger cities,” remembers Martin. “Since then we’ve obtained 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and taken the event from six to twelve hours, growing to the more than 1,000 we expect to attend this year.” Last year, the event was attended by many locals, but also by vendors and enthusiasts from Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Oregon.

BA-CON Artists Alley will expand from 20 in 2016 to more than 50 local and Pacific Northwest artists and vendors this year. Photo courtesy: BA-CON.

In prior years, the event was free for vendors and attendees and funded solely by BPL and donations. In 2016, they began charging a small fee in order to support guest speakers, advertising and to pay for overhead costs associated with the ever expanding event. This year, the event will triple in size, expanding from one to three buildings on the WCC campus. Artists Alley will occupy an entire gymnasium due to growth from about 20 to more than 50 local and Pacific Northwest artists and vendors. The area will take on more of an expo feel.

“It’s not just anime either,” adds Lovchik. “It’s all fandoms. We’re inviting and inclusive. Most people feel it’s a warm and happy event where people love what they’re doing.” Many of the teens that have participated in BPL programs have become members of the BA-CON Steering Committee, helping make decisions and learning new leadership and social skills along the way.

This year’s event will also feature industry professionals, three musical performances and more than 70 hours of content during the 12-hour event. They’ll bring big name guest speakers in the anime world including Raj Ramayya, a California-based Indo-Canadian singer, composer and lyricist. His anime fame is in his musical collaborations with famed Japanese composer Yoko Kanno as a member of The Seatbelts. Ramayya sang wrote the lyrics for songs from the fan favorite feature film Cowboy Bebop: the Movie.

Also, Matthew Erickson, a Canadian voice actor based in Vancouver, B.C. will speak about his experiences in his anime roles that include “Trunks” in Dragonball GT, “Van Flyheight” in Zoids: Chaotic Century, “Harvey” in Sabrina, Secrets of a Teenage Witch.

BA-CON’s website and podcasts have loads of details about past and upcoming events.

Lovchik has remained in touch with many of the kids that participated in BPL and BA-CON programs over the years, many who are now adults in our community. “I’m Facebook friends with a lot of them. I love that I’m more of a mentor. We have a different relationship than they have with their parents or their teachers,” adds Lovchik. “I can be there for support without that layer of authority or judgment. I encourage them to explore what they’re passionate about without having to dictate it. I get to help them learn to manage in the world and they just get to be themselves.”

For more information on Bellingham Public Library Teen Programs visit www.bellinghampubliclibrary.org/kids-teens/teens.

Bellingham Anime Convention (BA-CON) will be held May 13, 2017 at Whatcom Community College.

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