30 Days of Teen Programming: Providing for the Underserved

“Mrs. Thompson, why we only got two Bluford High books?”  “We need more manga.”  “I like that Sharon Draper lady.  We got anymore of her books?”  These were just a few of the questions and statements directed at me about our high school media center’s collection when I became a media specialist.  Through day-to-day direct observation and through results of a student survey, I quickly realized areas of our collection that were being underserved – manga and urban fiction.  There were groups of students who were all clamoring for the same few titles that we had of a certain genre or series and our “hold lists” were growing longer by the day.

Several reasons may attribute to underserved groups in a library program.  Community dynamics change.  Our small suburban school system has seen tremendous growth in the 18 years that I have been here – 400% growth.  That translates into a graduating class of 78 in 1998 to a graduating class of 478 in 2015.  In the same time period, our minority population grew from 5% to 30%.  Our media center’s collection does not reflect this growth.  Another reason for underserved groups is the rapid growth in new styles of writing, like manga.  It can be difficult to know whether new styles of writing are going to be accepted by your patrons, and we hate to waste money on books that are just going to sit on the shelves.  We started out with three different manga series to test the waters.  The popularity of these titles exploded!  They rarely made it back onto the shelves as students would grab them from the “re-shelf” cart as soon as they were checked in.  They also became our most stolen titles!  (We do not currently have a book security system.)  There were titles that our students desperately wanted to read, so why wouldn’t I listen to them to continue to foster their love of reading.

As a reader, I cannot stand to read things in a series out of order.  Many of my students are the same way.  Why did we only have some of the Bluford High series?  Why were #1, 4, 6-8 of Full Metal Alchemist missing?  Our database showed that we had owned, at one point, #1-15 of the manga series BlackCat, but several of the titles were now marked “Lost”.  I set filling in the gaps of the asked about series as my first goal in strengthening our collection for our underserved patrons.  In the urban fiction section, we went from two Sharon Draper titles to all 10 of her young adult titles.  We were also able to fill in the missing Bluford High titles, which serve our urban fiction fans as well as our Hi/Lo students.  For the manga patrons, we filled in all of the holes in the series we already had and aimed to include four new series a year.

Another strategy for building our collection for these underserved populations was to get input from the students.  In adding more manga, we allowed the students who were most interested in these series to help us with the selection of new titles.  They perused catalogs and looked online for reviews and suitable content (as some manga is aimed at a more adult audience). My African-American girls, who were devouring the urban fiction, asked about adding the Drama High series.  They loved looking for new authors to tell me about as well.  With the addition of the new titles, plus the marketing of the items through displays, our circulation increased 67% in one year!  Allowing students to assist in making our collection stronger for them gave them a sense of ownership and pride in our media program.

YALSA’s Teen Programming Guidelines states that librarians should “create programming that reflects the needs and identities of all teens in the community.”  Many media centers and libraries run into the problem of having an underserved population, and it is the duty of the librarian to recognize the needs of all patrons and work to strengthen the weak areas.  Investigate your collection for missing titles and allow your teens input.  These practices can go a long way in reflecting the needs of the communities we serve.

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