TRW 2017: Unleashing Teen Stories through Community Engagement

Teen Read Week 2017 has begun! This year’s theme, Unleash Your Story, centers around the power of the story and how they can be used to communicate identity, discover the world, and share personal experiences. During this week, our goal as library staff is to encourage teens to tell their own stories and find the stories of others. Whether that’s hosting programs that center around creative writing, providing reader’s advisory, or hosting an author visit, this initiative can also give you the opportunity to encourage teen participation in the stories of their communities through activism and involvement.

Each and every one of your library’s teens has a story that affects their view of the world and their place in it. Right now, our political climate is rife with division and uncertainty and teens want to speak out about the issues and causes that matter to them, but many may not have the resources or skills to take action. As library staff, we have the privilege of serving as a connector between these teen voices and the communities that they belong to. Sandra Hughes-Hassell, President of YALSA, has laid out her presidential theme for the 2017-2018 year that will help empower library professionals aid teens in finding their voices and develop the competencies needed to become potential community builders and activists. This theme, Youth Activism through Community Engagement, is the perfect springboard for this year’s Teen Read Week theme because they both involve highlighting the voices and stories of our youth and sending these voices out into the world to make a difference.

The next step forward is determining how to become that connector between teen voices and their communities. Right from the start, we should strive to listen to our teens and observe them using the library space. Teens are the experts when it comes to the issues facing them and by interacting with them in your teen space or reference desk, you will quickly realize what they are concerned with or passionate about. Last year, our library hosted several Open Mic Nights for teens; at first, many simply covered their favorite songs or performed dance routines that they had seen in music videos. However, as the program progressed, they started to open up and began performing original poetry or improvising on the spot. Many of their performances discussed struggling with bullying, being victims of homophobia, and poverty. Not only was it incredibly moving, but it reminded me as community participant, that teens need a space to simply share their stories with their peers. The act of speaking and being heard was a powerful yet simple way to empower teens and reinforce positive peer interaction with others in their immediate community.

If teens are concerned with issues on a more national level, connect them to resources that can help them address it. In my library’s local community, we have a high number of Latino families that are uncertain about their futures what with the recent news about the Trump administration’s plan for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students and what that means for their families. Our goal has been to encourage not only Latino teens, but teens from all backgrounds, to become literate in the rights and struggles that others are facing. During Teen Read Week, reader’s advisory can be a powerful tool that connects teens to voices outside of their own experiences and perspectives. If you need some titles to keep handy, YALSA’s The Hub blog recently featured a great booklist that highlights teen activism. On a programming level, provide teens with resources that lead them to data about immigrant issues and help them start a social media campaign targeting to students in their schools and community to raise awareness. When teens have the facts to back up their voices, they can be empowered to take their stories out to their community at large and begin their journey towards becoming a powerful community builder!

For more information on how to host a successful Teen Read Week at your library, check out YALSA’s ning page for outreach resources, program planning, and more. If you need inspiration on how to encourage teens to unleash their stories this week, check out the Teen Programming HQ to see how other libraries are engaging in this year’s theme. Do you have a program or outreach initiative that you are excited about? Share it with YALSA members on the Teen Programming HQ site! Finally, let everyone know what you are doing for Teen Read Week on social media by using @yalsa and #TRW17.

About Elise Martinez

Elise Martinez is the Teen Services Specialist at a library in the northern Chicago suburbs. Elise is always looking for ways to communicate the vital role of libraries in the lives of teens and is interested in connected learning, digital literacy, and technology-based programming. You can find her bookish ramblings on Twitter @elisereneem.

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