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.
J: What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?
In answering this question, I’m including my response as an individual as well as working as a member of a department of seven that serve teens where outreach is part of what we do but isn’t all that we do.
In my library system we do have an Outreach department whose job is solely focused on going out into the community to provide library services to those that cannot use the library in a ‘traditional capacity’ (i.e. homebound, incarcerated, etc.). Though what ‘traditional capacity’ means could be another discussion in itself. This differs from the outreach that my department provides in that one of the goals is to increase the number of teens that visit the library.
I serve as the Teen Librarian in my department. I have one supervisor and five co-workers who are ‘Teen Library Service Specialists’. The kind of outreach I provide typically has been to incarcerated male teens and schools. I have been involved with jails as part of library services since the beginning of my library career. Most recently I ran a podcasting program where the youthful offenders chose their topic of interest or style (gun violence in spoken word, etc.), researched more information by looking through the resources that I provided and recording themselves using Garageband. They enjoyed using the technology though putting it down on paper without just ‘freestyling’ was sometimes challenging. I am also currently running the same podcasting program, Turn it Up Teen Radio, in a charter school with eight middle schoolers and my co-worker from the Outreach department. We go to the school once a week for ten weeks and give the students the opportunity to record a topic of interest that is related to a theme of their choice. They also get to meet and network with professionals in the industry.
My coworker Jay facilitates a monthly Guys Read program. He works with approximately 7-10 7th grade males who read and discuss a book as well as other topics in their life such as school, their future, and positive behaviors. Some of the popular titles they’ve read include Inkheart, Iron Man, Crash, and Lightning Thief. The school is chosen by the library as a partner and the students are typically at reading levels below their grade. They do need to maintain positive behaviors in schools in order to remain in the program. Jay is an excellent mentor to the young males and relates to them well by sharing with them that he grew up on a similar side of town as they did and how he succeeded in his life by going to school, reading, and staying positive.
Lastly, my supervisor, Amy, shared with me her approach to outreach for our department. She has been the supervisor for a little over a year and approached outreach by working with the manager of the Outreach department in our system to develop a strategic plan. The goals for the plan include; increasing the number of teens that come into the library, building relationships with other organizations that serve teens and to give staff an opportunity to have more of an impact in the community. Together, the two identified organizations to target as a department. The approach also includes identifying committees in the community that are made up of organizations that serve teens and to serve as a member as the library to have a presence and voice at the table.
Some of the outreach initiatives Amy is or has been involved in including promoting the One Access library card to the local public school system. This is a virtual library card that enrolled students automatically get and it will allow them to check out ten print or audio books and have access to online resources. This approach to outreach mostly involved administrators that serve teens though some student classrooms were presented to as well.
Amy has also been involved with Time Out Youth, the local LGBT center where she informally discussed topics that were teen appropriate such as library resources, the library in general, and modeling that the library is a welcoming place to all.
J: Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach
I approached this question from the perspective of my coworker Pamela who works in my library’s Outreach department and her position mainly serves teens. She shared with me that a typical day could include anywhere from 2-4 visits. She also leaves time during the week for planning, writing reports, and networking to continue to find additional partners in the community the library could serve. When her schedule starts, depends on the structure of the organization she is serving. For example, she works with teens in a hospital that receive ‘partial treatment’ (they are dropped off here during school hours but can then return home). She may arrive at 9am and spend 45 minutes involved in a book discussion. After that visit, she may visit another hospital an hour later, which is a bit more restrictive due to the teens’ behavioral and emotional issues. Pamela has to be buzzed into each door, cannot bring her purse, and can only bring pre-approved items. Though in addition to book discussions she has brought such technology as the Makey Makey computer invention kits. After the two morning visits, she may return to the library to write reports, eat lunch, etc. She will then return to the community for an after school visit. One of the organizations are students who need to get their high school diploma but they are not necessarily high school age. They also frequently have children. Pamela will primarily focus on library resources that will help them achieve their goal of getting their GED.
Pamela has said that flexibility in outreach is key in that you might have a program prepared all the way through but because of an unplanned interruption (i.e. a student is called out of the room, has behavioral issues, etc.) you might end up going in another direction and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
J: What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?
I think the YALSA blog has a lot of great posts from various libraries that provide outreach. I would also look at the Future of Library Services for and With Teens report. It gives a great foundation in understanding how libraries are to be relevant to teens. Outreach is definitely a big part of that, particularly in identifying organizations with similar missions as libraries and teens that are underserved.
J: What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?
From my coworkers and I:
When I provide outreach in the jail and several months later they come to the library and ask me, “do you remember me?”
Are you going to do this next year? (in regards to the Guys Read program)
Can we come to your library?
The library offers that? (mostly in regards to downloadable music, movies, etc.)