Advocacy Spotlight – Teen Trips

In March 2013, staff members of the Youth Services department at the Kansas City Public Library took a group of teens on a field trip to the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City.’  This trip was just one of many that have come from a partnership between the Kansas City Public Library and Truman Medical Center (Kansas City, MO).’  Not only are teens able to expand their knowledge of places in the Missouri area, but they are getting an opportunity to see different things that may affect their lives.’  Teens are experiencing a host of activities that are enriching, educational, and fun.’  The impact of these trips is obvious to us as librarians – we are hoping to create lifelong learners.’  To those outside of our profession, we must advocate for teens, libraries, and the magical experiences in between.

Crystal Faris, the Director of Teen Services at the Kansas City Public Library, took the time to answer a few questions about the teen trips and the effect on teen programming at the library.

How did the idea for these teens trips come about?

The trips have grown out of several ideas coming together. A few years ago when the
(Kansas City, MO) Library Board met with teens at the Lucille H. Bluford Branch regarding the then upcoming renovation, the idea of the library taking teens places first came up. Mary Olive Thompson’s (Outreach Manager, KCPL) subsequent work with Truman Medical Center on a health initiative led to trying a program called “Medical Explorers.” ‘ Evaluation of that program and the expressed interest from teens in going to other places brought another series of trips last summer, which were secured with a gift from a library patron. The success of last summer combined with the teens’ interest in places outside the medical field led to a broadening of the trip idea for this year and new donated funds from Sprint to help fund the program.

What was the goal of the trip to Jefferson City?

In talking with some teens, I learned that very few of our teen patrons had ever been to their state capital or even thought much about how that place affected their lives. Spring break seemed like a good time to travel outside of the Kansas City area and all the details were organized for the experience.

What kind of effect do these trips have on the teens?

Expansion of personal knowledge – many of the teens we serve do not know their city let alone their state or the vast options of local career possibilities beyond high school. Providing resources is what we do as a library and what better way to provide first hand experiences then by traveling with teens to experience that together. So as an observer, what effect I see is relationship building between teens from different neighborhoods and schools, experiences beyond their neighborhood, and expansion of positive stories these teens have to tell about themselves. I will also say that I have seen some positive gains in confidence and leadership – one example being Marcus (a teen participant) speaking to the Library Board about the importance of the library in his life.

What was the process for starting, planning, and implementing these trips?

I am in constant awe at the details worked out by Gabi Otto (Southeast Branch, KCPL), Elena McVicar (Bluford Branch, KCPL), Meghann Henry (North-East Branch, KCPL), and Mary Olive Thompson (Outreach Manager, KCPL) for these trips. Every time a trip takes place, they spend time evaluating what worked, what did not, and what changes to make for next time. They bring their differing interests and community contacts together as well as expressed interests from the teens to determine where to go. Budgeting is worked out, reservations made, a timeline developed, info and permission slips distributed (and collected by a deadline to ensure a successful trip), and staff recruited as needed for a good teen/adult ratio.

What advice do you have for other librarians looking to do something similar in their library?

From my perspective in advocating for these trips, documenting what takes place through photos and video as well as the stories from teens themselves are necessary for building support among library administration and board members as well as for securing funding. Planning in as much detail as possible, engaging staff not necessarily in youth services, and post-trip evaluation are all vital.

The Kansas City Public Library is continuing the Teen Trips program throughout the summer of 2013, and hopes to expand the program from the Bluford, North-East, and Southeast Branches to other branches in the library system.

It may not take a series of field trips to impress on your teens the importance of libraries and learning.’  We can affect our teen patrons on a variety of levels by simply suggesting a good book, listening to them describe their day, or just by forming some sort of relationship with them.’  We never know the experience that teens may gain from being involved with the library, and they may one day turn around and become a great advocate for us!

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