An interview with Jackie Lockwood by Trent McLees
This post is part of the YALSA Presidential Theme: Youth Activism through Community Engagement
Jackie Lockwood is a Teen Services Librarian for the King County Library System, outside Seattle. She has been with KCLS for seven years, and has been in her current role at the Newcastle Library branch for over two years. Through collaboration and community partnering, Jackie’s work provides a meaningful example of one way we as librarians can support teen leadership and self-direction, both in the library and beyond its walls. By supporting the ideas of Teen Advisory Boards, and connecting with community partners to help teens’ make their ideas and goals a reality, Jackie’s work is focused explicitly on empowering teen voices.
I had an incredibly edifying and enjoyable conversation with Jackie, and if there is one huge takeaway I had from our chat it’s this: the best thing we can do to advocate for our teens is talk. Community partnerships can only happen if the community knows about the teens we serve and their needs, and the best way to let the community know what we know is to get out there and talk, talk, talk! When I asked her what she’d want to have librarians know about doing Teen Advisory Board work, she had this to say: “The biggest thing I’d want to tell another librarian is just to not get discouraged. Doing this kind of work, in what I’ve observed so far, takes a lot of stepping out on a limb, entering into uncharted waters basically…There may be a certain amount of risk, and you may feel nervous about it, but as long as you’ve done your research and you know the reason why the program is important and will be valuable to the community, you can stand by that, you can get the support of your management and go for it, because it’s really important work.”
Read on for an abbreviated transcript of my conversation with Jackie, and be sure to check out her article detailing some of the work happening at King County Library System from the June 2017 issue of VOYA!
Trent: It seems like there are a lot of awesome community partnerships that support the teen advisory boards and teen work that y’all do in King County… How did those come about initially?
Jackie: It really all starts with a conversation. Y’know, identifying someone in the community who you think you might be able to partner with, and then taking the initiative to set up a meeting and start talking about what you might do together… In the case of our teen advisory board Newcastle Youth Community Engagement (NYCE), that I run collaboratively with the City of Newcastle, I inherited that from my predecessor. I didn’t do any of the initial formative work in creating it, but I am still involved in maintaining it… It is an ongoing thing.
Trent: A big concern that librarians might have with Teen Advisory Boards, trying to get something together where teens are the idea generating and executing force, is that the teens might get in the room, they have the ideas, and then… the librarian and the teens don’t feel empowered to make those ideas a reality. How do community partnerships help in taking those ideas and giving teens the tools to actualize them?
Jackie: One of the things I really love about partnerships is the resources that they bring to the table. So that helps in terms of making their ideas actionable. For example, the City of Newcastle recently has been able to offer us a local park as a venue, and they have other things we don’t have like a separate budget to draw from, liability insurance for events that, you know, that our liability insurance doesn’t cover. Different sorts of things that partners can offer can be added to that pool of resources that you have when you go into a Teen Advisory Board meeting, but there are still lots of steps between the idea generation and carrying out an idea, and that’s really, I think, the trickiest part of the whole thing.
Trent: So what does that look like, between when the teens come up with the idea and when the event actually happens, what are some of the steps they are involved in in that process?
Jackie: For the idea generation, we’ve been doing an exercise that’s kind of like a targeted brainstorming exercise where we ask them to list of their skills and interests, and then problems that they see whether its in their school or family or community, and then we take a look at those lists and… try to think creatively about how they can combine those items into some kind of program or event. What I have noticed from that brainstorm is that it tends to generate really large-scale, exciting ideas, so the next challenge is to look at the realities as far as, you know, how much of that can we realistically do. So thinking about ways to scale it down based on your time, budget, how many teens are involved at the time. And then you can start making a To-Do list. And so, at every stage, I try to the best of my ability, to get the teens to be involved. They don’t always have the inclination or the time to really take leadership on something, and there’s of course difference in personalities… It’s a very amorphous kind of thing; I am always adjusting every month depending on teens’ involvement levels. I’m focusing on looking at the To-Do list and trying to pick out things where I think that teens can really take a leadership role. For example, one of the projects we’re working on right now is creating a film contest for teens in the city, and we are working on identifying a couple presenters to come in and lead some classes on filmmaking and editing. For one of those classes, I have offered to our Teen Advisory members to have one member coordinate with the presenter on creating the content for the class. I realized I would be the middle-man there, asking them ‘What are you interested in?’ and then relaying that to the presenter, so I thought ‘What if I just cut myself out of that?’ and connect them directly, and of course still be part of the chain to make sure everything is A-Okay and acting as an advisor… It was important for me realize that I needed to identify leadership opportunities and then actively offer them.
Trent: Is the brainstorming process something y’all keep up and remind yourselves of as a Teen Advisory board?
Jackie: We do that in September at the first meeting, and then we kind of return to it as a touchstone periodically as we need to remind ourselves what was the initial idea that’s behind what we are doing.
Trent: What are some things your Teen Advisory Boards have been able to create?
Jackie: The first one they did was called “Ready Set Organize.” It was a one time workshop put on for, specifically new sixth graders. The idea was to talk about organization, give them some tips and tricks, and make weekly planners where they could keep track of their assignments and other things. The teens wanted to do that because in our conversations about what was on their minds and what mattered to them right now a lot of them were talking about stress and keeping things organized and they came up with the idea that they wanted to do something to help sixth graders as they made that transition.
And after that one they did an event called “Fit Family Fun Run,” which involved getting several other sponsoring partners to come out to a local park near us and create a circular route that families could walk around or run around and learn something about healthy living and exercise and eating from different information posters that the teens had made. That came out of their identifying problems surrounding obesity and childhood obesity, and they wanted to do something around that. So we had the library as one of the stops along the way… The teens were most helpful with actually executing that event the day of, moving tables, moving chairs, helping people figure out where to go and what to do. We had a passport that participants would take with them to get a stamp at each station so, helping people navigate the event.
Trent: Having had these programs be successful, have the parties involved felt more empowered and had momentum to continue putting similar programs on?
Jackie: Definitely. It is critical to be able to give teens an example at the first meeting of work they have done already and it’s great to be able to share with them the impact of their work. And it gives teens who are participating for a second or third year a chance to talk about what impact doing the workshop or leading the generation of some idea had on them personally…that’s one of my favorite parts, the September meeting where we reflect on what we did the year before and having the teens reflect on what they accomplished and sort of realizing as they talk the impact it has had on them. That, to me, is the best part.
Trent: What advice would you give to a teen librarian trying to make those connections with community partners?
Jackie: To me, it’s about getting out to community events. Making yourself visible, trying to meet other people. I think a lot of us who end up in libraries tend to be introverts, interestingly, so it’s also about challenging yourself personally, in my case really, and being brave enough to just start those conversations. Talk about your enthusiasm and what you want to do for teens in your community, and people really respond to that.
Visit the Youth Activism through Community Engagement wiki page for resources to help you and the teens you work with start conversations in your community with community partners.
Trent McLees is a Library Media Specialist at Cedar Bluff Middle School in Tennessee. He is a teacher, a storyteller, and a giant Spider-Man fan. He is especially passionate about helping teens find creative ways to amplify their voices with media literacy and digital media production skills. Send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Jacqueline Lockwood is a Teen Services Librarian, mother to a 1 1/2 year-old daughter, and wife to an inspiring husband. She went to school for a while before finding her joy in libraries, and has fun at home painting and trying to learn how to sew.