Outreach seems to be the library word-of-the-year as library programs, articles and even job duties add terms like outreach, marketing and community engagement. This past year fellow YALSA bloggers even developed two blog series breaking down outreach in teen services and highlighting how our colleagues are providing outreach services, but how do we connect outreach to teen programming?
While reading YALSA’s Teen Programming Guidelines I noticed “outreach” wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the first two points about creating programming that reflects teens in your community and aligning these programs with the community’s and library’s priorities; but how do you do this? Through outreach!
Back up. What is outreach? Straight from The Future of Library Services Report, the “envisioned future” of outreach is the:
“Year-round use of a variety of tools, both digital and physical. Includes connecting with stakeholders throughout the community in order to develop shared goals and an implement a comprehensive plan of service that reaches all teens throughout the community.
Librarians leave the physical school library or public library space regularly and provide services to targeted communities of teens (e.g. those who are incarcerated, homeless, in foster care, or in classrooms and other in-school locations) where they are, rather than waiting for teens to find a way to get to the physical library space.”
So, in order to learn about the identities and interests of community teens and to figure out the community’s priorities, you must “leave the physical library space regularly.” That is step one, which can also be the scariest step. Between desk shifts, collection development, volunteer management and meetings it can seem impossible to find time to travel off site for a couple hours. My only advice here is to do it! Make outreach your priority, let your emails pile up a bit and delegate some duties to your wonderful colleagues and volunteers. Places to start: local schools, community/youth center, youth commission, parks and recreation, community fairs, etc. To find out what youth serving organizations and agencies are in your community, visit use this easy Map My Community Tool. Invite yourself to back to school nights, anniversary celebrations, the farmers’ market and make connections with people already working with teens.
Step two, while out in the community remember your mission: to learn about your teens’ needs and wants in order to create library programs that reflect those interests. There may be awesome program ideas on Pinterest or on some other library’s event page, but always ask: will that work for MY teens? Gather all those program ideas, keep them nice and safe in your idea folder, then repeat that question: will that work for my teens? If you don’t know the answer, ask them! Ask the teens what they like to do for fun, what they are missing in the classroom, what would make the library more fun. Teens aren’t present? Ask those who are already working with and supporting teens. The high school may need more cultural programs to reflect their diverse students or the LGBTQ center may need updated resources or a safe place to meet. Find these organizations, tease out what the common goals are and align programs based on both organizations’ priorities.
Step three, do it. Are the teens stressed out about college applications and finals? Hold a college workshop or quiet study space. Do they have no place to go after school before parents/guardians get off work? Provide after school clubs to do homework or relax by watching a movie or playing board games. Need more support for personal and/or family reasons? Invite community leaders to speak on these topics and have community resource handouts readily available near teen spaces. Have volunteer hour requirements or need leadership experience? Ask the teens to help brainstorm, create and lead library programs! These programs are not new, but the process of going out into the community before planning them may be.
On a personal note, outreach is my best friend as a new librarian in a new community. I have learned more from visiting the local high school than any survey I have ever sent out. During the first visit I added even more outreach events to my schedule including: a back to school night, the high school’s 50th year anniversary fair and a monthly family storytime — all held at the high school. In return, I am now connected with the community involvement specialist, school librarian and multiple leadership clubs willing to create new programs and provide volunteers to run them. I am lucky enough to have a very active high school, but if your schools aren’t as responsive find other organizations as excited as you are to work with teens and to provide programs that best fit their unique interests.
How do you connect with your teens and community organizations? What common priorities does your library share with other local organizations? What programs have you created (or could you create) for and with teens based on these priorities?