Arlington Public Library was generously awarded $1000 from Dollar General Literacy Foundation as part of their Summer Learning Resources grant. We decided to produce a chapbook from the work of English as a Second Language (ESL) teens in the Arlington, TX community. With the current political environment towards immigrants, the chapbook is an opportunity to provide stories and experiences that would connect with readers. We partnered with The Writer’s Garret, a local independent literary center that has done amazing work in the Dallas-Fort Worth community. Remaining funds were put towards collection development and content curation.
To promote this program, we shared it with our local ESL center for high school students. We posted it in our teen space at the main library and had flyers on the calendars of various branch libraries. During our Teen Zone times, we shared the program with teens we thought might be interested, especially our creative teens, and informed our teen creative writing group that they were welcome to participate. I told my volunteers about the chapbook series and they shared it with their friends. Our marketing team boosted it on social media several times during the summer and made a blog post on our library website. Information was also shared with our adult literacy team, who taught adult ESL classes in three of our libraries. Finally, we made sure to promote the program with any adult or teen asking about ESL programs over the summer.
Despite all the promotion we did, our turnout for the program was extremely low. We had only one consistent participant throughout the five weeks, two who we recruited during the program when they were browsing books in the area, and one who had been recommended to the program by staff. When participation remained low, we examined the program and looked for ways we could open it up to more teens. Instead of language stating that it was for ESL teens, we used “geared for ESL teens but open to any interested teens.” Participants could now come to one workshop instead of all five. We also removed the registration requirement, which could have deterred participants. Finally, we set out creative writing prompts for teens during our Teen Zone hours, but we received no submissions from that venue either.
While a successful program would have been ideal, experiences like this are unfortunately a challenge of librarianship. A program with low attendance does not mean that it lacks the potential to be a good program. It is an opportunity to identify changes to make it a better fit for the target audience. This program was one that we really believed would be successful because it served a need we saw in the community (lack of ESL programs for teens). Perhaps changing the time of the program or focusing on oral skills would have been better. By using the lessons we learned from this experience, we will continue to build our ESL programs and services for teens.
Loretta Zhang is the Community Programming Librarian at Arlington Public Library.