Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff: Equity of Access

Cover of YALSA competencies for library staff YALSA released the new Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff just in time for my 10 year anniversary as a YALSA volunteer. It is a great time for me to look back on what I have gained in those 10 years and reflect. Each content area is broken into three levels of achievement: developing, practicing, and transforming. With 10 years of hindsight, I can really see how I have moved through these levels in the content area around Equity of Access. The core of this competency reads:

Ensures access to a wide variety of library resources, services, and activities for and with all teens, especially those facing challenges to access.

When I started in my current position, I knew that serving our Juvenile Detention Center was going to be part of the job. Our Library had already been serving the facility through collections and programs for over 5 years, and I would be taking over from the librarians who started the program (not at all intimidating, let me tell you).

At the time, the Juvenile Detention Center (JDC) had an average daily population of about 85. Most residents were male and between the ages of 15 and 18 and stayed in the facility for about 2 weeks. And although the area my library served was predominantly white, the JDC was predominantly teens of color.

I jumped right into the developing stage. It was obvious how these teens experienced barriers to library access (literally four locked doors and several armed guards away from the public library). When they weren’t in the JDC many of them experienced barriers like transportation, blocked cars and housing mobility to access the library. I knew that when they got out of the JDC, the Library could be a safe place for them to come with friends, after school and during the summer. We had resources that could help them achieve academic goals named by probation officers, get jobs needed to pay court fees and explore careers and colleges to make their next steps in life. But so early in my career, and my relationship with our corrections department, I could do little but recognize these barriers, try to form better relationships with teens and corrections staff alike and bring books and discussion materials to the facility.

After years of experience providing service to our JDC on my own, we added more staff to the program, which didn’t just grow our capacity but opened up my way of thinking as I moved into the practicing level of the competency. We build new services like writing programs, we got grant funding to build a library with new books (instead of donations and weeds), we brought authors and artists from the community to connect and give talks at the buildings, and we helped launch our community’s Evening Reporting Center program (a diversion program with classes and discussions lead by community partners). We began to have discussions about the policies and procedures at the Library that were under-girded by the true barriers to access that confronted our work: lack of transportation, poverty, and housing mobility. Best of all, through the trust we built with our partners in Corrections, they took a flier on us, and let us bring computers into the facility for digital storytelling workshops, podcasting and even a 3D printing workshop.

Now, 10 years from that first day in the JDC, I finally feel like I have moved into the transforming level of this competency. There are new staff joining our team everyday, who want to serve teens in our detention center, our drug and alcohol treatment center and diversion programs. We talk constantly about how we can balance our corrections partners needs with our desire for collection and services built on transparency, openness and the opportunity to amplify teen voices. We are working to address library policies that complicate our clients’ relationships with the Library. And we are bringing more production-centered programming to the facility that will help them find new interests and express the passions they have with the trust and faith of our partners in Corrections.

I am so glad to have the Teen Services Competencies for Library Staff as I am not sure I could articulate my growth in this area without the path laid out in this tool. And I am sure it would have taken me far less than 10 years if I had had these markers along the way to guide me. I hope that new staff working with teens can use this as a guide to their envisioned future and I hope that experienced staff take this opportunity to look back at their career and the work they have accomplished and share it with friends and colleagues. The Competencies are a tool, and like many, it is only useful when you put it to work. So, take a moment to explore a competency. Look back at what you have done, and look forward to what you have yet to accomplish. Best of luck on your journey!

About Kate Mcnair

YALSA Board Member 2015-2018
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