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.
This month I interview Kate McNair, the Teen and Outreach Librarian for the Johnson County Library, Kansas, Antioch Branch. Kate’s position focuses half of her time working directly on outreach, working with partners outside of the library.
J: What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?
Personally, I love outreach, and I am lucky to work for a library that allows me and my colleagues to serve teens outside the Library walls. We have several great school districts in our serving area that invite us to do booktalks, library card drives, and partner book clubs to serve their students. Our schools and teachers are great partners to host our programs for teens around our Civic Engagement programming, including bus tours of Kansas City with information about real-estate law, author visits and writing workshops. We also partner with schools to offer our teen literary magazine, elementia, which includes writing workshops at schools, presentations to students and faculty, and more author visits. We also have a few very special groups that meet with teens in alternative high schools to talk about building early childhood literacy skills for young parents and building confidence and critical thinking skills for at-risk students.
We also have a served teens in detention and on probation for almost 15 years. We currently have a team of 7 staff members who serve the incarcerated (we have expanded this definition to include diversion and probation) both teen and adult. We have partnered with our county’s Corrections department to offer book groups, short story discussions, author visits and writing workshops to teens in our Juvenile Detention Center, Youth Residential Center, Adolescent Center for Treatment (in-patient drug treatment) and Evening Reporting Center (a diversion program). We have also partnered with probations, judges and court services to offer a book club geared for teens on probation called Changing Lives Through Literature, based on a program for adults from Massachusetts.
I think that bout covers it! But I am sure I will think of 10 more things later. It seems like there is always so much to do in Outreach.
J: Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach.
Well that is tough, every day is different. For instance, this morning I was working with a photographer of a local art exhibit to schedule a visit and presentation with students at the Juvenile Detention Center. This afternoon I am visiting with a treatment councilor at our Adolescent Center for Treatment to discuss what programs and services we can offer to have the best impact on their residents (and to drop off 4 new boxes of books just in time for some winter break reading). By January, I will be scheduling author visits to local schools, working with teachers and book groups or TAGs to plan for their visit and probably doing a few booktalks just before spring break.
Every day in outreach is different, which is something I love about it…but can be taxing when I can’t remember where I am supposed to go next.
Through the Annie E. Casey Foundation the Johnson County Library is working with the county and others on the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative. This has allowed us to focus our work on meeting specific goals, outcomes and an overall initiative that is focusing its work to lead to a decline in detention populations.
I will say also that I truly believe outreach is the future of our profession. More libraries are seeing the importance and value of providing outreach as well as creating positions that focus on this work.
J: What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?
If you are interested in serving the incarcerated I strongly suggest you look at ALA’s resources:
YALSA has a lot of great resources, from posts on the blog to webinars and information for Teen Read Week and Teen Tech Week always includes outreach ideas.
I think the 2 best things you can do if you are new to outreach are:
Know you community. Research the heck out of them. Know who they are, what struggles they face, and how you want to impact their lives. You can certainly just jump in and do outreach, but let’s be real, we all live in a world of shrinking resources, so coming at it with a plan is going to make you much more effective and allow you to advocate for that time out of the building.
Ask all the questions! Some of the best outreach programs we have done have come from asking. I ask people to present in detention centers, even if I am afraid they will say no. I ask teachers what is the best way we can serve them and their students. I ask school administrators what are the biggest challenges their students face. I ask other librarians how or why they did this program or that service. ASK! Ask everyone! Also, learn the acronyms your partners and organizations use. There are so many within our own profession that we use but think of being aware of them when working with outside partners too.
J: What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?
Well the most frequent thing I hear from teens in detention is that they don’t read when they are on the outs. But probably the most touching story came from a guy in detention a few years ago. We were reading a short story and discussing it together and his head kept drooping and he kept slouching down until his head was on the table and he was almost passed out. I would tap on his desk to bring him back into conversation and then a few minutes later he would be snoozing. After about the third time, I asked him a what was up. He told me that he had been reading a book last night that was so good that he couldn’t stop at lights out (around 10pm). He stayed up until 3am, standing by the window to his cell (the only light) to finish the book. I wanted to call it quits right there and declare nap-time for everyone. It was great to know that we provided a collection of books that he connected with on that level. That isn’t to say that every day in the detention center was easy, but that is the kind of story that helps you get through the difficult days and keeps you coming back.
Below is a picture from a Lego stop motion workshop at the Youth Residential Center last spring. We brought in a local playwright and a producer from the KC Reperatory Theater to talk about Shakespeare, play writing and setting the scene and then students did stop-motion animation versions of hamlet and their own original work.