As a Teen Library Services Specialist in an urban library branch, I’m always on the look-out for resources on serving at-risk teens. Recently one of my own coworkers here at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, Teen Services Manager Angela Craig, published Serving At-Risk Teens: Proven Strategies and Programs for Bridging the Gap with Chantell L. McDowell.
I sat down with Angela Craig and asked her a few questions about her book and her work with at-risk teens.
MH: Tell me just a little bit about yourself and your background working with at-risk teens both in and out of the library. I understand you have also served teens through the YMCA and as a camp counselor.
AC: I’ve worked with at-risk teens since college. I started with a therapeutic horseback riding program called AWARE, which stands for Always Wanted a Riding Experience. I took teens who had been in abusive situations and helped them connect with horses. It was fantastic. Later I took that experience with me to the YMCA where I facilitated outdoor education to teens and school aged children. These experiences served me well when I started at the Public Library in 2005. I never associated working with at-risk youth and library services, but everything I learned as a camp counselor came in to play later when I was a librarian.
MH: In Serving At-Risk Teens you talk about the importance of partnering with other youth organizations, such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club of America, Boy/Girl Scouts, etc. What advice would you give to a teen librarian as they initiate conversations with other youth organizations?
AC: I would start out with a community assessment and see where the teens are and what organizations are serving them. Do a little research into their program offerings and see if the library can offer something new to the organization. When making the initial contact with a teen serving organization, I recommend just listening to their needs and let them tell you what programs they are looking for. After the first meeting you can make recommendations of services based on their “wish list.” It’s wonderful to use programs from your library, but don’t be afraid to try something new with a youth organization. Some of the best teen programs I’ve seen have happened because of a library collaboration that created a whole new program for the teens.
MH: At one point, you state that “reading and research are the easiest and most cost-effective means to explore current issues and trends regarding the at-risk population.” Do you have any particular publications, blogs, or websites that you would recommend to library staff who work with teens?
AC: For professional questions and connections, there are some great YALSA listservs that I subscribe to through ALA:
- firstname.lastname@example.org Discusses issues unique to librarians working with incarcerated youth.
- email@example.com For teen music and media
- firstname.lastname@example.org YALSA serving YA’s in large urban populations
- email@example.com YALSA Young Adult Advisory Councils
- firstname.lastname@example.org Advocacy for libraries
- email@example.com YALSA book discussions
For the library staff needing some “real talk” about serving teens: The Teen Librarian Toolbox Blog:
For keeping tabs on current teen fashion and pop culture, I love Rookie Magazine:
MH: Do you have any stories of impact from your own experiences with at-risk teens that you’d like to share?
AC: When I was with the library’s Outreach department I spent quite a lot of time working with youthful offenders in the county jail. They will forever be some of my favorite patrons and I always enjoyed going to the jail, even though some of my coworkers thought that was really strange. One day I was at the store and a teenage boy came up to me and asked if I remembered him. He looked familiar and I asked if he came to my library branch. He said that no, the last time I saw him he was wearing a jump suit. He had been released a few months earlier from county jail, but had participated in one of my Flash Fiction writing workshops. He said that my workshop had shown him that he had the ability to write, and write well. He had not known that about himself before my class. After his release he enrolled in the GED program and told me he was set to graduate later that year. I heard from a mutual friend that he had gotten his GED and now was enrolled in community college, with a focus in literature. I don’t take credit for him turning his life around, but I am so happy that I had the opportunity to be a positive presence in his life.
MH: If you could correct just one misconception about working with at-risk teens, which one would you choose?
AC: Every teen has the potential to be at-risk. I think that people have a picture in their head of what an at-risk teen looks like, but they are a population that is ever-changing, because the factors that put them at-risk are always changing.
MH: For those readers who are also interested in publishing, can you share a little bit about the experience of publishing?
AC: I first published some professional articles for Computers in Libraries and YALS magazines. I co-authored a few articles and wrote a few on my own, which helped me stick to a deadline and also hone my writing. I became interested in writing about at-risk teens for professional journals because there was a gap in current information about library services for the youth at-risk. Originally I was going to write an article, but a friend encouraged me to write a book, so that’s what I did. I submitted an outline to Neal-Schuman and they accepted it. After my first draft was submitted I took on a co-author, Chantell McDowell. We finished the book together in the spring of 2012, with Serving At-Risk Teens: Proven Strategies and Programs for Bridging the Gap published in February 2013.
Editor’s note: individuals interested in publishing with YALSA can find information on YALSA’s web site, or contact Jaclyn Finneke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MH: This is your first book; do you have plans to publish again? If so, can you give me a hint of what the topic will be?
AC: Yes, I do plan to publish again. I am in the process of researching library services to special needs patrons. As with at-risk teens there is not a lot out there, and “special needs” encompasses a wide group. I would love to help create a practical resource for library staff to utilize that can help them connect with this population. Much more research is needed, but it is on my radar.
Serving At-Risk Teens: Proven Strategies and Programs for Bridging the Gap is applicable for any teen services professional: any teen could be “at-risk,” not just the kids in underdeveloped rural or low economic urban areas. Ms. Craig’s book defines “at-risk,” discusses how to reach out to this group, how to serve the greater teen-serving community, understanding the role of the library staff, and provides resources for evaluating the impact of the library on at-risk teens. There is a handy list of resources at the end of each chapter, which made it easy to skim the chapter contents, turn directly to the section that I needed, and find all the resources referenced in that chapter. There is also an appendix with reproducible forms for tracking the outcomes of programs you implement, and an annotated bibliography for reference.