Transforming Library Services for & with Teens Through CE: The School of Life

cover of the reportAt the National Forum on Transforming Teen Services Through Continuing Education (CE), Shannon Peterson, Public Services Director at the Kitsap Regional Library in WA, spoke with Forum participants about continuous learning. This is what she had to say:

Imaginary gold stars to anyone that actually watched the School of Life video that was part of the pre-Forum materials. Raise your hand if you watched it. For those that did, what do you remember? What are some of the key points that stood out to you?

There’s clearly a lot going on in that small but mighty video. A few points that I think about a lot and will be talking about today are:

  • Nothing is fixed- individual and collective change is a constant
  • Why not you?- everyone is capable of being a part of the change they want to see
  • I particularly loved this quote: “The world is being made and remade every instant and therefore everyone of us has a theoretical chance of being an agent in history on a big or small scale.”

Over the next few minutes, I’m going to talk with you about my library’s small scale efforts to be a part of the change in library services for and with teens and along the way, share some really ridiculous and hilarious missteps that we’ve taken along the way.

Ok, so Kitsap. We are an interesting system in that we truly encompass very diverse communities and geography. We are a peninsula across the sound from Seattle, so ferries are a part of life. Our communities include two native amaerican tribal lands, non-incorporated and rural small towns, a ritzy Seattle bedroom community, and an urban area with 66% free and reduced lunch rate.

Our patrons are hard to reach, the number of disconnected youth that we serve who are not in school and not working and youth unemployment are higher than the state average.

The same year that YALSA began work on the Futures Report, we became aware of a grant opportunity, through the Paul G Allen Family Foundation, to support youth through digital skills.

We were pumped! Hello future! This was our opportunity to make changes and to support some of the skill building that we knew our kids would need. So what did we do? Here’s where it gets funny. A small committee sat in a room and talked about all of the important things:

  • Different kinds of equipment that we wanted to buy. We weren’t really sure what other after school programs were doing or what the work in this area was like in any of our five school districts, but we knew we needed robots and 3D printers for sure.
  • We talked a lot about a bus that we’d use to house all of our awesome new equipment. Where would we park it? How would we keep it safe? Most importantly, what would we call it? One person was passionately enamored with … Flash Drives.

When we submitted our preliminary ideas to our grants liaison, we received feedback that we may want to include a partner and a defined audience. We were aware of a local nonprofit dedicated to serving homeless and at-risk youth, so we went ahead and wrote them in after a quick phone call from them giving us a thumbs up.

Surprisingly, we got the grant. We immediately reached out to a consultant from a local robotics organization to write a 100 hour curriculum for our tech classes and hired Seth, a librarian who also happened to have a computer science background, to implement it.

So flash forward a bit to 30 minutes into a PowerPoint on circuitry on the first day of class, a student raised his hand and asked, “Is this what we’re going to be doing today? Cause if it is, I’m gonna go.”

What was really needed with our partner and with the kids that we were hoping to engage was a relationship. An everyday, consistent, supportive, hey what did you watch in tv last night kind of relationship
There’s so much to say about those first years and so much we realized we needed to do drastically differently. I’m sure you’d wouldn’t be surprised to hear that we were way too focused on stuff. Instead of truly understanding the needs of kids, the barriers they were faced with, and the learning outcomes that we wanted to support them with, we started with sprinter van models and conductive thread. What was really needed with our partner and with the kids that we were hoping to engage was a relationship. An everyday, consistent, supportive, hey what did you watch in tv last night kind of relationship.

Ok, so fast forward to 2015. We’ve made some progress. Our original grant, BiblioTEC, has become more about youth interest and our amazing Seth is a caring and patient facilitator. One of our youth won a Congressional App Challenge. Our shot in the dark partner has become a close ally, and parents and other community organizations are looking to become more engaged with what we have to offer.

We’re feeling pretty confident about how far we’ve come and think, yep, it’s probably time to apply for one of the most competitive library grants in the country. Why not us, right?

The process of designing a plan is a lot more painful this time. We’re not catalog shopping together anymore, but trying to think through how to move forward with meaningful STEM learning experiences and college and career readiness in very different communities.

After a lot of time talking with partners, parents, and our staff, we applied for an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership grant called Make Do Share with the goal of raising Librarian capacity and comfort to engage community in supporting STEM.

To do this, our plan was:

  • Create a network of local partners to understand needs and leverage assets – we wanted to make sure to include schools, out of school providers, social services, etc.
  • Provide support and professional development for staff
  • Leverage the expertise of partners such as the Pacific Science Center and Schools out Washington
  • Build youth voice into the entire process by hiring youth interns

And surprisingly again, we got the grant.

Now I could go into another laundry list of the ridiculous lessons that we’ve learned, almost immediately really, but the point I want to underscore is this:

Starting from where we were has not been easy. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve been frustrated. We’ve found ourselves barking up entire forests of the wrong trees. Some staff have gone through phases of not getting it, not liking it, or simply not wanting to do the hard work.

How have we responded? We’ve embraced the mess. We’ve gotten better at knowing what we don’t know. We’ve stayed open to learning and kept trying. We’ve gotten real about the fact that there’s no instruction manual that’s able to take into account who we are, what resources we have available, and what are the priorities of the staff or community that we’re serving at any given moment.

Most importantly though, we’ve realized that without persistence and tenacity we wouldn’t have found teens in the community including:

  • Lily – who has a passion for coding
  • Alayna- who developed a digital portfolio to showcase skill building
  • Shelby – who is a peer mentor providing leadership and coaching to librarians and youth in our programs

We wouldn’t have engaged with these people in the same way if we hadn’t kept at it.

So what do I wish I could say to your state’s staff? Be open to learning and keep trying. Remember that you are not fixed, your environment is not fixed, you can become an agent in continuous improvement and positive change.

To bring it back to the School of Life, “It’s all up to further development.” Dig in and embrace the change.

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.
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