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 Futures Report calls out the importance of outreach to underserved populations and ways in which library staff can think about ways to work with targeted communities of teens (e.g. those who are incarcerated, homeless, in foster care, or in classrooms and other inschool locations) and where they are, rather than waiting for teens to find a way to get to the physical library space.
This month I spoke with Courtney Saldana, Youth Services Supervising Librarian at the Ovitt Family Community Library in Ontario, California. Courtney created the STeP program or Skills for Teen Parents, an innovative library services model aimed at connecting pregnant and parenting teens with the resources and services they need to succeed as adults and as parents. Teen parents face multiple, difficult challenges for which they are often woefully unprepared. STeP is making a difference for these teens and changing lives across the state. So far there have been 10 libraries selected throughout California to provide these programs. You may want to watch this Vimeo on a webinar presented on the STeP program
What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?
In my experience, outreach is less about the service, and more about the fact that you’re present. . While we do try and highlight our major programs and services which would be of interest to teens, we are more likely to just be there. So, we are present at many things. Our most successful outreach tends to be those outside of the library. For instance, we recently started visiting a popular local restaurant within walking distance to our library. I believe, meeting them there, outside of the library, makes us “less” librarian, and more approachable.
Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach
Typically our outreach will include a member of our Teen Library Advisory Group (Teen LAB). They will help us pack up materials, grab goodies to share, and then help us haul everything to wherever we’re going too! Once the outreach starts, I’m a big fan of actually speaking to the teens. I’ll have a table of candy (jolly ranchers work best for me) that teens can grab from IF they introduce themselves and tell me something about their day. This has been a great win-win as they get a little something sweet, and I am able to both gather information and learn about my target demographic.
Tell me about the STeP Program that you have created
The STeP project was created out of a recognized service gap for pregnant and parenting teens. These teens found themselves pregnant, and ill-equipped to deal with the realities of the situation. Unlike other services for pregnant and parenting teens, the focus of STeP was not the new child and literacy skills. Instead, STeP gives 100% of the resources and programming to help the teen parent. Help was offered through interactive workshops that would lead to a stronger set of life skills that these teens could build upon. Workshops might include typical life skills programming like Paying for College, or Creating a Resume, but they also touched on their new experiences as a parent: Evaluating a Day Care Center, or Conflict Resolution or Time Management.
What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?
Books are great resources, but I highly recommend going on an outreach event with a librarian who has done it before. If you can find a mentor to walk you through the process, you’re going to be much more comfortable with the whole event. Also, we all know the adage “if you feed them, they will come.” Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and use this truth. It’s especially true if you’re doing outreach at the schools – these teens are hungry! Finally, I can’t recommend enough the YALSA list serves like YA-YAAC and YA-BK. Although not specifically about outreach, the membership is wide, varied and always willing to lend a hand!
What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?
Anytime you get into a real conversation with a teen, you’re going to learn some interesting stuff. I don’t have any specific memory of one statement, but what I consistently come away with is a deep appreciation for all the things that teens are experiencing today. Their lives are complex and wonderful and tragic, and they just want to share. Outreach is great for your library, but YOU are great for these teens.