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.

YALSA @ ALA Annual 2017: Youth Development through Community Engagement

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend ALA Annual 2017 in Chicago last month, where YALSA-sponsored panels and sessions focused on everything from how to run a tech/makerspace to creative ways to engage teens inside the library and out. Regardless of what the specific topic of each panel was, I began noticing a common theme running throughout: the future of teen services lies squarely within the realm of community and civil engagement. Presenters kept returning to this theme of team-based and service driven learning; that teen development is tied to meaningful contributions to both peers and adults, empowering a positive self-image, and fostering a capacity to creatively problem solve. All of this sounds great, but what does this mean for your library, exactly?

Whether your library has a strong history of offering services and program to teens, or is struggling to get teens into your physical space, community engagement is the key to creating lasting meaningful experiences that teens need to develop and become successful adults. YALSA’s Teens First infographic pinpoints areas where library staff can focus their efforts no matter where your community’s teens are to be found. Are there teens in your library space? Utilize their presence to provide volunteer opportunities that impact social or environmental issues close to your teens’ hearts. Teen Advisory Groups are a gold mine of youth development opportunities, as you can harness the creativity and interests of these teens to plan programs that meet a specific community need. Teens will not only be invested in developing the program itself, but will take responsibility for its success and outcomes. In the meantime, teens develop self-worth, a sense of belonging, and ownership as they contribute to the group’s efforts, as well as learning how to effectively communicate their ideas to a larger group of peers. Are you like many libraries where teens are scarce? Team up with your local schools or community organizations to bring opportunities to teens where they are.

Last year, my coworker and I teamed up with the local school library staff to raise awareness about bullying during Anti-Bullying month in October. Teens brainstormed ways to promote a healthy self-image and came up with a riff on the Six Word Memoir. Each student wrote a simple messages about themselves on mini whiteboards and posted the selfies to their various social media profiles. Teens were able to promote a positive message about themselves and get other teens to think about why they were important and worthwhile, too. We encouraged them to tag both their school and the library as a way to demonstrate our involvement with the project. This simple partnership allowed the community’s youth to have a voice about a serious issue by sharing authentic content that they created; it also gave them the opportunity to use their social media platforms to positively impact their peers.

YALSA’s new President, Sandra Hughes-Hassell has also recognized community engagement as the key to bringing teens and youth into successful adulthood. In her recent announcement on the YALSAblog she stated that, as President, her goal is to support library staff to address the unique challenges of their community’s youth by “building teen leadership skills and amplifying their voices.” Over the coming year, she wants to promote YALSA events that aim to encourage and address youth development through community engagement, including One Book, One Community, Teen Tech Week, and more. Keep an eye out for opportunities to get involved with this campaign as the year progresses. In the meantime, If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out YALSA’s recent set of case studies that highlight how various libraries have already begun to think about programming in this way. Remember that this new paradigm shift doesn’t have to mean reinventing the programming/services wheel. Any program can be tweaked to highlight youth development, even if it doesn’t directly include a partnership or whether it takes place inside or out of your own library’s space. It’s just about putting teens first.

IMLS and My Library: How Grant Funds Impacted Our Community’s Teens

If you are an avid reader of the YALSA blog, you will have seen the incredible posts written by library staff who are passionate about supporting IMLS and its powerful effect on libraries and after school programming efforts. In President Trump’s FY18 budget proposal, funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services is completely eliminate. For 20 years, IMLS has provided funding and grants that are vital resources libraries use to anticipate, respond to, and meet the evolving needs of their communities. IMLS has been incredibly efficient in prioritizing support for all states and territories, divvying up their federal funding with population-based formula grants  to make sure that each area of the United States is receiving funds. Trump’s proposal would take IMLS’s $230 million FY17 budget and cut it to $0. Not only is this drastic, but it’s dangerous. Continue reading

Back to (After) School: A Week of Passive Programs

You know how it goes: it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and suddenly the library has become overtaken by teens! This after school rush is prime time for library staff to engage teens on a variety of levels, whether that be through interest-driven activities or by encouraging them to learn a new skill; the opportunities are limitless. Passive programming is a great way to do this without throwing teens right back into the structured learning environment that they just left. Teens need a chance to unwind, however, exploration and discovery doesn’t need to stop! When I first took up my position as library staff working with teens, I was overwhelmed by the potential for programming that I felt should be happening after school hours. I tried to push everything into this limited time frame and as I was feeling burned out, I realized my teens were too. I turned to passive programming to change things up and offer a different variety of learning opportunities for teens after school.

Use your space: At my library, Zion-Benton Public Library in the northern Chicago suburbs, we recently opened a teen space during the summer of 2015. This space has provided us with plenty of opportunities for cohesive, creative passive programming. During the first few months after the teen space’s debut, we asked teens to help us promote the new space by taking a creative selfie that answered the question, “how do you use the teen room?” We asked them to post it on social media and get the word about the opening. It was a lot of fun to see the different ways that teens enjoyed the space! Don’t have a dedicated teen room? Set out a monthly guessing jar for teens, or a weekly (or daily!) riddle out on your reference desk. You can still engage teens and provide some fun passive activities for your daily visitors.

 photo 12376848_1140853169281789_1585423341534969787_n_zpswwbl728q.jpg Get teens involved: I decided to use teens to promote various programs by encouraging them to take a selfie with a particular book or performing a specific activity. For example, every April we host an author festival for teens at our library. I will put the visiting author’s books out on a table a week before the festival with a sign encouraging teens to create word art that predicts what the books are about, based on the book’s cover. If they take a selfie with the book and their sign, post it on social media and tag the library, we give them some kind of small incentive. Teens come up with some pretty crazy ideas based on the book’s cover. We usually call this passive program, “Judge a Book by It’s Cover.” It’s always a hit. You could do the same kind of activity with teen book reviews as well.

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YALSA @ ALA Annual 2016: Take the Next Step in Teen Services

Over the past few years, I have noticed that there has been a movement in YALSA to shift teen services in libraries. This shift has taken teen library staff from being mere program providers to being opportunity connectors and learning leaders. With the rise of connected learning, libraries are quickly moving into the forefront of informal learning and teen empowerment. Library staff have become vital elements in the empowerment of teens through relevant, outcome-based programming that develops the 21st century teen. This notable change in direction has made me extremely passionate about services for and with teens, and I noticed this theme in every session I attended this year in Orlando. Library staff all over the country are stepping up their programming in favor of interest-based learning and exploration that effectively engages today’s teens.

One of the first sessions I attended was a presentation on Raspberry Pi by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. I had visited their booth in the exhibit hall and wanted to learn more about their products and how to incorporate them into my programs. Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your tv or computer monitor and uses a keyboard and mouse. It’s a high-performance device that allows the user to explore computing, coding, and more. I was amazed at how such a small device has put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world. In addition to computer education, Raspberry Pi has an unlimited number of uses; everything from turning it into a personal wifi hotspot to creating advanced maker projects like a wearable camera or developing a multi-room music player. Recently, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has partnered with British ESA Astronaut, Tim Peake, to send two Raspberry Pis (dubbed the Astro Pi) into the International Space Station. Both devices were augmented and coded in part by school-age students to measure the environment inside the station, detect how it’s moving through space, and pick up the Earth’s magnetic field. Each Astro Pi is also equipped with a different kind of camera; one has an infrared camera and the other has a standard visible spectrum camera. I had absolutely no idea that a Raspberry Pi had this much potential for STEM and cross-curriculum learning, or that the same Raspberry Pi’s that were sent into space are the same as the ones you can purchase online. Not only is the potential for engaging STEM learning abundant, but The Raspberry Pi foundation makes its learning resources available for free on their website. You can download their magazine, MagPi, check out their books that will help you navigate a Raspberry Pi, or begin tinkering with a Pi by downloading the desktop interface, Raspbian. With all of this potential for making and learning packed into a compact, affordable package, Raspberry Pi’s are the next step in your library’s makerspace.

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Create it at Your Library: Preparing for Teen Tech Week 2016

Teen Tech Week is YALSA’s yearly initiative encouraging libraries to engage their teen community with resources that enhance their digital literacy skills. During March 6-12, libraries across the country will be buzzing with tech programs, STEM activities, and will be showcasing their digital resources with pride. Not only does this week in March allow us to engage teens with exciting opportunities, but it also gives libraries the ability to demonstrate their incredible value to the larger community. As library staff, we understand how imperative it is that our teens enter college and the workforce with skills that will allow them to hit the ground running. For some, this is an exciting task that they feel well equipped to tackle. For others, it’s a struggle; budgets are tight and technology can be pricey. However, no matter what the technological climate is in your community, there are a myriad of ways to prepare for Teen Tech Week that don’t involve dumping loads of cash into a new 3D printer. With the help of some great resources and inspiration, you’ll be well on your way to hosting the best Teen Tech Week ever.

Taking incremental steps is the best way to begin your preparation. Head over to YALSA’s Teen Tech Week site and register for a free account to access all of the resources that are available to new members. Under the “Resources” tab, you’ll find toolkits that will help you advocate for teens and technology, develop programs and activities, and publicize this exciting week in your library. As you explore the site, you’ll be ready to integrate the maker mindset into your programs and services. Use the Easy Advocacy toolkit to get your administration on board and word out to local policy makers and community leaders. Understanding the importance of this initiative will ensure their support and help you out in the long run.

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Teen Programming: Building Teen Futures with Community Partnerships

In our last Teen Programming post, we outlined the importance of outreach and how to integrate it into your programming arsenal. Since “outreach” can translate to a wide range of ideas and actions, narrowing it down will help you take your next step towards effective methods of community engagement. This is where partnerships come in! This, however, opens a whole new can of worms. How does one establish positive community partnerships? How do you ensure that your goals aren’t lost in translation? How do I secure beneficial opportunities for teens through partnerships?

When I first began working in my position, I was immediately overwhelmed by the need my community has for the library and its community organizations. During my first few months, I had grand plans to “do it all” and open up so many more opportunity and learning experiences for my community’s teens. What actually happened was that I got burned out and became discouraged. I realized very quickly that I was not going to be able to accomplish many of my goals alone. I needed support from others who were positioned in the community to help me achieve what needed to be done.

So let’s break it down. YALSA’s Future of Library Services report states that today’s teens need libraries to connect them to other community agencies, but how do you establish these connections? Network, network, network! This may sound simple, but community leaders need to know who you are. Start by attending committee and board meetings to get a sense of the issues and climate of your community. PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meetings are another community body that is important to engage with as they are directly connected to the teens that your services will affect. Are there task forces or coalitions that are specifically directed at alleviating a specific need? Don’t be hesitant to insert yourself into the community conversation because you have your library’s resources to back you up. As a library representative in the community, you are an integral voice in the larger network of organizations that are committed to improving the lives of teens. Pinpoint individuals whose resources are in line with your goals and begin a dialogue with them.

When starting this dialogue, how do you make sure that your goals don’t get lost in translation? Communication is so important when you are making efforts to partner with an outside agency. Before any communication begins, make sure that you have your goals and plans clearly defined. What is it that you want to accomplish? What role do you see this partnering organization offering? Additionally, offer your resources and begin a dialogue about how this partnership would benefit both organizations mutually.

How do you make sure that your partnerships bring beneficial opportunities to teens? Last month we discussed ways to discover your community through outreach. During this discovery process, locate areas that your community needs more from your library. Is there a group that’s being under-served? Who can help you bridge that gap? A few months ago, I recognized a gap in the services that we were offering. At the time, we had reached out to just about every group of teens to make sure that our programs and services were reaching our diverse teens’ needs. However, we hadn’t reached out to teen survivors of domestic violence. I made a connection with the director of a local organization that acts as a transitional agency for teens and families who are leaving abusive situations. They offer temporary housing, counseling, and resources to help them take control of their futures and I wanted the library to be a part of this transition. My goal in partnering with this organization was to bring enriching programs to the teens at this facility, as they might not have access to these opportunities during this transitional period of their lives. Upon meeting with the director, my goals were clearly defined and I listened as she described how our organization could benefit these teens. We agreed upon a plan and programs were implemented at their location. We also offered books from our collection that we had discarded. We wanted to give the teens that she serves the opportunity to continue reading since many of them were temporarily not in school. This partnership was a simple way of offering integral library services to a new demographic while still connecting to the larger community.

Ultimately, libraries must work with partners to alleviate their community’s needs. Start small, make connections, and be diligent about following through. YALSA’s Futures Report pinpoints the shift that libraries are experiencing in the 21st century. We have gone from quiet, solitary locations that provided relatively uniform services to spaces, both physical and virtual, that offer a broad range of resources that empower teens and grow their skills, interests, and goals. Partnerships are integral to meeting this standard because they allow us to continue to broaden the services we offer, bridge gaps in your community, and build a better future for teens.

What are your partnership success stories? How do you bridge the gap in your community with partnerships?