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 such as new and non-readers, LBGT teens, teens of color, poor and homeless teens, and 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.
The President of YALSA, Candice Mack, is focusing her year as President with an initiative, “3-2-1 Impact: Inclusive and Impactful Teen Services,” which will focus on building the capacity of libraries to plan, deliver and evaluate programs and services for and with underserved teen populations. Visit YALSA’s wiki to find and share information about serving diverse teens and building cultural competence.
Each month I will profile a teen librarian or staff working in teen services 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.
Peggy Simmons is a Library Assistant for the Oakland Public Library at the Elmhurst Branch. The following comes from a phone call with her in August, 2015.
- What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?
I have been volunteering for seven years at the local juvenile hall, Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center, working with the teens there in writing workshops with The Beat Within. The Beat Within is an online and newspaper format publication that provides incarcerated youth with a consistent opportunity to share their ideas and life experiences in a safe space that encourages literacy, self-expression, some critical thinking skills, and healthy, supportive relationships with adults and their community. The Beat Within has been working with in this juvenile hall for 17 years providing writing workshops. The workshops are structured in way that different writing topics are brainstormed, critical thinking is a part of that, there is time to write and then the writing can be shared with the group. I work with the teens in juvenile hall and take the writing home, help edit and then publish the teen’s writing in The Beat Within. There are very few programs like this that ask the teens to be themselves and be true to themselves. I was very lucky in my job at the Oakland Public Library for my supervisor and administration to see this work as important and valued and to, last year, make this work a part of my job as outreach for my branch and other Oakland libraries.
- Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach.
The Oakland Public Library began a Youth Poet Laureate program four years ago that partners with other outside organizations, especially Youth Speaks and Pro Arts and really adds breadth to the opportunities for teens in Oakland. Oakland Public Library made sure Alameda’s juvenile hall could be involved in the program for the past two years by having me facilitate Amherst Writers and Artist writing workshops and do one-on-one support for about 20 teens each year, partnering with Alameda County’s Write to Read program. This year, two incarcerated teens applied for the Youth Poet Laureate program. One teen got really involved in poetry, never had been before. He started reading a lot of it, got into Jimmy Santiago Baca, and worked really hard on his poetry in and outside of my workshop. He ended up being one of the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate finalists. He didn’t win but the love of poetry really stayed with him. Through Write to Read, Coe Booth came to speak at juvenile hall and he was invited to go with her and speak to teens in other units. So he went with her and talked about getting involved with poetry and how it helped him. He talked about how there are resources at juvenile hall and to take advantage of them. He said to the younger kids that if he knew at their age what he knew now, he would not be in jail. It was very powerful.
- What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?
One of the things I’ve really learned is that with this type of work it’s helpful to go slowly, keep in mind we are visitors in juvenile detention centers and we’re under their jurisdiction and rules. Be courteous, anything can happen, be ready to roll with the punches. Go in wanting to learn and ask a lot of questions. Have an open mind. Be helpful.
- What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?
I think a lot of what I see isn’t very positive I am always learning more about teens and what they have been exposed to. Knowing about some of their grief and trauma can help me serve them better at my branch. For example, in one of the Beat Within workshops, one of the topics was ”the phone call that changed your life.” The boys shared stories about a phone call that told them someone they loved had been killed. Every single one of them knew someone in their life who had been killed, and then their lives were changed. This made me think about the communities where there is constant loss, whole communities constantly grieving. This is something that has stayed with me and something that I keep in mind when I’m serving patrons in these communities.