The American Library Association (ALA) defines outreach as providing library services and programs outside the walls of the library to underserved and underrepresented populations, populations like new and non-readers, LBGT teens, teens of color, poor and homeless teens, teens who are incarcerated. As these populations are often marginalized and underserved, it is crucial for libraries to recognize these populations and provide services and programs to them where they are.
Each month I will profile a library staff person who’s providing outreach services and programs outside the walls of the library to underserved and underrepresented teens. The purpose is for us to learn, connect, network and share with each other the crucial work we are doing in this area. For further information and resources on reaching underserved and underrepresented teen populations, visit YALSA’s wiki.
Nick Franklin is the Coordinator of Transitional Services for the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) Transitional Services focuses on providing services and programs for people who are homeless, people who are incarcerated and people who were previously incarcerated (re-entry).
J: What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?
Nick: Outreach Services here at Brooklyn serves a wide range of marginalized men and women of varying ages and we focus on bringing a wide mix of books both hi and lo, adult books that would appeal to teens, urban books both adult and teen and classics to the jails and shelters that we work with. Brooklyn operates four mobile satellite libraries located at the Brooklyn Detention Complex, OBCC, AMKC and VCBC facilities. BPL partners with The New York Public Library’s Correctional Services to assist their library services at four additional jails. Each week librarians visit these facilities to hand deliver recreational and educational books, magazines and newspapers to hundreds of men and women. Brooklyn also works closely with New York Public Library (NYPL) in their jail and juvenile justice centers work and we partner on the visits to the juvenile facilities as well.
J: Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach
Nick: If it is a day that I’m going to the jails I wake up early, pack up my two bags filled with books and make sure they are in a clear plastic bag to be seen by security going in, I get on a bus and then transfer to another bus that goes directly to Rikers Island. The books I bring in are recreational and are most often direct requests from the inmates. Brooklyn has a program called TeleStory where dads who are in Rikers can read stories or have their children read stories to them through a live video feed set up in the Central Library to a feed at Rikers, so I will also bring in children’s books for some of those dads. I will spend about 3 hours a week when I go to Rikers sharing the books and engaging with the inmates. Some of the inmates we serve are teens and also through our work with NYPL we work with teens in Passages Academy. Passages provides educational instruction and counseling to teens ages 18 and younger in secure and non-secure placement settings. If it’s a different day I may be meeting with shelter organizations to talk about setting up mini libraries in their shelters and going there to stock the books and meet and engage with families and teens in these shelters. One of the big things we do when we do this outreach work is collaborate with the Brooklyn Public Library librarians in the neighborhoods of the shelters we are working with and have those librarians come out for visits to further connect the families to their libraries. It’s important for the families to have a face they meet that they will then see in their library. We are also doing the summer reading program in the shelters we work directly with. Another thing BPL is doing is training the public services staff to understand sociological ramifications of poverty, incarceration and homelessness so we as a system can better understand and serve these populations. We work with the Center for Urban Community Services to help provide some of these trainings, they are a team of social workers that are really able to provide context and a comprehensive understanding of the ramifications of homelessness and incarceration.
J: What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?
Nick: Working in New York City I feel my resources are very New Yorkcentric. One of the big ones I use frequently is the New York Connections Guide and it focuses on providing a guide for formerly incarcerated people in New York City. Another is the new book by Marybeth Zeman Tales of Jailhouse Librarian and the other is the New York Reentry Education Network
J: What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?
Nick: It is always so great to hear people say they are lifelong library users and they are so happy to see me and the other librarians providing these services. It’s also great to hear someone learn about all the great things the library has and now that person wants to be a regular library user. I’ve heard things like “seeing you is the highlight of my week” “I have been counting down the days till I see the library next”. Another has been when guys will have their friends go in line to get them more books and those friends see things they want to read.