Transforming Teen Services: The Empathetic Librarian

While libraries have long participated in the struggle for social justice and equality, it hasn’t been until recent months that our efforts have reached the attention of the public. We’ve pushed diversity and inclusiveness to the forefront with movements like Libraries 4 Black Lives and Libraries Are For Everyone. Libraries and librarians have also begun to incorporate social services alongside more traditional library services. We’re connecting patrons with mental health agencies, public health workers, and housing assistance. Libraries including San Francisco Public Library and Denver Public Library are offering themselves up as safe havens for the homeless; places where these patrons can find support and compassion.

Although the majority of these programs are directed towards adults, many libraries are reaching out to teens. School librarians are collecting materials specifically for LGBTQ youth while public librarians are providing outreach to homeless teens. The YALSA Futures Report explicit calls out for libraries to serve underserved youth including those incarcerated, homeless, or otherwise in crisis. At the root of these services is empathy. By empathy, we mean the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2017). It requires that librarians look beyond collection development, teen programming, and readers’ advisory as tasks to carry out. Instead, we need to carefully assess how we explicitly (but sometimes not) provide help and support to teens through this work. Empathy is inherently a part of the work we do every day. Libraries serve as community hubs and safe spaces, stepping beyond the traditional perception of libraries as warehouses for books. As community anchors, libraries advocate for teens through political engagement and outreach. Advocacy itself is an empathetic activity, nurtured by understanding and compassion. By promoting services and advocating for underserved youth, we demonstrate our commitment to and empathy for teen patrons along with promoting the well-being of our community as a whole.

However, our empathetic work with youth is often overlooked or ignored. In the research and professional literature, empathy in libraries is frequently referred to as customer service. Yet this work is much more than that providing a teen patron with a library service. Being empathetic requires us to be active and engaged listeners who have a mindset of helping. This is already a core component of librarianship. Librarians impact the lives of youth by offering the library as a welcoming space for teen emotional, social, and psychological development. By being empathetic, we reach out to youth who may not have anyone else or feel misunderstood by peers, parents, or teachers. Through our engagement with teens, we display compassion and understanding that improves that quality of all library services.

Libraries serve as a critical “third place” for youth, particularly underserved youth. Separate from home and school, libraries act as a judgement free space where teens can express themselves, hang out, and find support. Whether through teen mentorship, interest-driven education, or teen library space design, librarians place great value on teens and serving teens. A transformation of teen services and the ways in which a library can support teens is in progress. By incorporating empathy into library work with teens, librarians illustrate the continued importance of libraries in communities.

You can find great resources about serving diverse and underserved teens at this YALSA wiki.

Abigail Phillips, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University. You can find her on Twitter (@abigailleigh) and by e-mail (abigail.phillips@usu.edu).

Community Engagement, Workforce Development, and the Oboe

This post was originally published as a monthly reflection by Future Ready with the Library cohort member Hannah Buckland.

From last February through this February, I participated in the Native Community Development Institute (NCDI), an opportunity organized by the Minnesota Housing Partnership (MHP). Three northern MN tribes each appointed seven-member teams, and MHP supported each team in planning a community-based project of our choice. The Leech Lake team–with representatives from K-12 education, telecom, HR, gaming, housing, planning, and the library–selected the huge task of building a workforce development center. Over the year, MHP guided our work through six in-person, two-day NCDI workshops where we learned about project management, leadership, partnerships, policy advocacy, and community engagement. When I first read the call for Future Ready applicants, I immediately connected these two projects.

Future Ready has us viewing community engagement from the perspective of librarians; however, for a sliver of time each week, I’m not a librarian but rather a person living in Bemidji, Minnesota. During this time, personally, community engagement happens through music, specifically through playing the oboe in a community concert band. When I first began playing at age ten, a band director told me that to form a proper embouchure, I should whisper the word “home” and close my mouth around the reed just as I reached the M sound, lips curling softly over teeth. I spent years teaching myself oboe, sitting on my bedroom floor with method books (ILL-ed through my public library before I knew what ILL was), awkwardly and repeatedly whispering “home” until muscle memory finally took hold. After high school band ended, I joined my first community band and have found one everywhere I’ve lived since. Without music, I’m not sure how I would create my sense of community, of home. Continue reading

Yesterday’s YALSA Member Town Hall

During yesterday’s YALSA town hall, members discussed  the different actions we can take as library staff and as private citizens to support teens, especially those who are the most vulnerable in this current social and political climate.

We discussed how to take social action for teens at the local level, and ways to engage teens in community events to help them become better citizens. We talked about how to welcome conversations on diverse issues, display and purchase diverse materials, and teach youth how to be kind, compassionate human beings. We talked about registering voters in the library, holding town halls, community archiving, interviewing local civil rights activists, and taking teens to legislative events at the state capitol building. Many excellent ideas were shared and we invite you to share yours on the Teen Programming HQ!

We shared many resources, like YALSA’s Advocacy webpage with the recently updated 2017 Advocacy Toolkit, as well as the Advocating for Teen Services in Libraries YALSA wiki page.  We reminded everyone of the Supporting Youth in the Post-Election Climate page that was created before last November’s town hall, as well as the Youth Activists’ Toolkit, that can be adapted for use in all types of libraries.  We talked about how communities of all sizes could benefit from a library having a resource like Los Angeles Public Library’s Citizenship webpage, A blogpost can’t list or describe all the great ideas that were shared during the town hall.  If you’d like to hear more, please listen and read the chat conversation.

Did you know that YALSA has a Legislation Committee? The Legislation Committee, chaired by Heather Dickerson, is currently evaluating advocacy and social action resources for YALSA members and teens to ensure that YALSA has the best information to serve our users in the current political climate. They’re also gearing up for National Library Legislative Day, and are seeking stories of how members have advocated for teens and libraries at the local, state, and national levels. The committee will send out a call for stories in the coming weeks. The committee is also reaching out to individuals from each state who will attend NLLD in Washington to ask for their help in delivering YALSA specific materials to our elected officials, with a particular emphasis on reaching out to members of Congress who serve on education-related committees.

Thanks for all you do to support teens in your community!

 

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

February is National Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and with that the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence (NRCDV) and VAWnet have made a special collection of resources with information about preventing and responding to teen dating violence. VAWnet, is run by the NRCDV and is an “online network that focuses on violence against women and other forms of gender-based violence.”

In 2014, Mary Kay released a study with LOVEISRESPECT that shows teens stay in abusive relationships far longer than they should. The study surveyed 500 teens and it showed that “57% percent waited six months or more before seeking any help while 40% hadn’t talked to anyone about abusive behavior in their relationship.” A study in 2011, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control found that “1 in 5 women and nearly 1 in 7 men who have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner first experienced some form of intimate partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.” These two statistics alone are staggering, and the special collection by the NRCDV and VAWnet is a great resource for librarians, and all educators to utilize all year.

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Teen Programming in Art Museums

Room to Rise was a collaboration project and study between the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Walker Art Center, the Contemporary Arts Museum of Houston, and The Museum of Contemporary Arts of Los Angeles. The research study worked to find data that shows the long-term impact of museum programs for teens, and was supported by a National Leadership Grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Sciences.

Each of the mentioned museums has “nationally recognized teen programs” and the “bring highly diverse urban youth together to work collaboratively with museum staff and artists, developing vibrant activities and events to engage teen audiences.” The programs are: Whitney Museum of American Art’s Youth Insights, Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), Contemporary Art Museum of Houston (CAMH) Teen Council, Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles (MOCA) Teen Program; they have all been active for about eight or more. These programs range from giving tours, making exhibits, performances, working with artists and museum staff, visual literacy, and fashion shows.

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Future Ready with the Library: Being Future Minded

What does it mean to be Future Ready? It is a phrase I had not given much thought to prior to applying and the YALSA Future Ready with the Library project. As a member of the very first cohort of the three year project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in partnership with the Association of Small and Rural Libraries, I have been given the opportunity and challenge, if you will call it, to tackle issues in my community that affect college and career readiness for middle school students. I am not alone in this endeavor. Fifteen other libraries, some public, some school, some tribal, are in this pursuit with me. We come from across the United States, from Kodiak, Alaska, to Greenwich, New York, to Chipley Florida, to Scottsboro, Alabama and will work together for the next year to learn about and recognize needs in our communities and the ways in which libraries can assist by creating pathways to college and career success for middle schoolers and their families.
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30 Days of Social Justice: Wrapping Up and Taking Action

The 30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice campaign is wrapping up, but that doesn’t mean your actions have to end. As I mentioned on December 1st, Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice suggests great ways to get involved in the cause and help spread awareness. Actions range from asking for little effort (but causing a big impact), to major changes we can help implement through our libraries.

If you haven’t tried anything yet, check out the site and do something quick, like:
follow writers and activists of color on social media
teach teens about racism, violence, privilege, and more
diversify your reading list

If you’re attending Midwinter, make room in your schedule for Racial Justice at Your Library hosted by Libraries4BlackLives.

Be sure to check the Hub to make sure you didn’t miss any posts in this collaboration!

30 Days of Social Justice: Why the #OwnVoices Movement Is Crucial for Young Readers

What is the #OwnVoices movement?

Alaina: The #OwnVoices movement originated as a hashtag, started by Corinne Duyvis. Duyvis is an own voices author of OTHERBOUND and THE EDGE OF GONE. Duyvis started the hashtag with children’s literature in mind, but the hashtag has expanded by its users to include all literature or publishing. The hashtag #OwnVoices is meant to showcase works that are created by authors/illustrators who share the identity of their characters, such as a book with a d/Deaf protagonist written by a d/Deaf author.

Why is the movement so important?

Alaina: Whenever we talk about diversity in publishing and literature, there are some critical things to consider. Are we discussing diverse characters, or diverse authors, or diverse gatekeepers and industry professionals? Are we concerned with diversity in that stories are being published with inclusive casts, or are we also talking about the lack of diversity in whose work gets published, and who is sitting at the table making decisions about what to publish? The reason that #OwnVoices creators are so important is because, as marginalized people, we’re the best authority on telling our own stories. It’s great that more people are talking about how to write authentic, sensitive stories outside their experience, and getting sensitivity readers involved, but it’s also important that marginalized people are able to tell their own stories. And that’s what #OwnVoices does—it allows us to be a voice in our own storytelling, when stories about marginalized communities have historically been told by privileged people.

How does the movement relate to other literary movements, such as #WeNeedDiverseBooks?

Alaina: I think a lot of these movements fold together into a central goal—to have more diverse, authentic and intersectional representation across the industry. The different shades of hashtags, such as #OwnVoices and #DisabilityTooWhite (started by Vilissa Thompson), only go to show that there are nuances to the general idea of diversity, whether it’s the idea that disability representation isn’t inclusive of people of color, or the idea that we should prioritize authors writing about their own marginalized experience. These are all unique issues within the larger diversity movement, and I think every time a new hashtag or discussion pops up, it allows us all to dig in deeper and think about the ways we can improve, not just as individuals, but as an industry.

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30 Days of Social Justice: Choose Your World

 

This blog post is inspired by two incidents:

A colleague recently shared with me how, on the morning after the recent Trump presidential win, her nine children– most with special needs and all adopted internationally– were victims of racial and xenophobic slurs at school and needed to be taken home early. Amanda was both grief and guilt stricken, and lamented that she and her spouse sent their children to school the day after the election against their better judgment. Certainly, Amanda and her partner did nothing wrong; school should be the place to send your sons and daughters after a historic occasion. And, sadly, it’s likely that the bullying would have occurred on any day after the election, for as long as there’s divisiveness in America, our children will mimic it. Bias is a learned behavior.

Another story: my niece, Stephanie, and her buddy, Kayla, were playing one day at my parents’ home. Stephanie says to Kayla, “you know when Trump is elected your dad will have to go back to the Bahamas.” Kayla’s mother is Haitian while her father is Bahamian. Though her parents are now U.S. citizens, Kayla wailed, hurried to call her dad and begged him not to leave her behind. Of course, both girls were reassured that America is home (Stephanie is half-Nicaraguan and half-Bahamian) and that their parents are here to stay.

America is not just socially divided. It is socially hurting. From protests, riots, brutality, terrorism and hate crimes to nativist (at best) or xenophobic (at worse) as well as sexist rhetoric, we are teaching our youth how to deal with social strife. And, as seen with viral videos of middle schoolers chanting “build that wall” and “go back home” in cafeterias and mock elections, our youth are demonstrating how well parents, caregivers and instructors are doing when it comes to training them to be responsible with their sentiments. Jacqueline Woodson, in her 2014 autobiographical coming-of-age novel, Brown Girl Dreaming, put it best when she wrote “when there are many worlds you can choose the one you walk into each day” (pg. 138). Now is an opportune time to consider how librarians influence youth to walk into a more civil, just world each day.

Now is the time to promote multicultural children’s and young adult literature. Books, whether print or digital, have a way of teaching the nuggets of tolerance, inclusion, and social justice in ways that youth understand. Books are great vehicles for couching difficult discussions, especially ones with heated opposing viewpoints.

Now is the time for librarians and library staff to redouble their work to foster information literacy among learners of all ages. The 2016 election was a lesson in the perils of false news bytes, inaccurate data and a lack of knowledge, whether conscious or unconscious. Children and teens must learn how to be engaged and informed citizens.

Now is the time for librarians and library staff to be on the hunt for life-changing encounters. Many call it teachable moments, others say it’s interventionist instruction, and perhaps a few consider it roving reference. No matter, there are some exchanges that we simply can’t pass up: the times we overhear kids’ and teens’ conversations, or see a troubled youth, or listen to a concerned parent. Those are the instances when our training, experience and resources are vital. I’ve often said (admittedly in times of both elation and frustration) that there’s a bit of social work involved in librarianship. Even when we want to check out—yep, pun intended—we need to be about the business of more than documents, but growth and development.

This is our moment. Most of us had egalitarian ideals in mind when we chose the world of librarianship. Though we may be disheartened by the recent state of affairs, there is hope in that we are facilitators of change, one visitor at a time.

Hey, we’ve got this.

 

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

 

Ana Ndumu has over 13 years of library experience. She is currently a doctoral student at Florida State University’s School of Information. Her interests include social justice in LIS and understanding the intersection between identity and information. You can reach her at avg05d@my.fsu.edu or anandumu.com.

 

Reference:

Woodson, J. (2014). Brown girl dreaming. New York: Penguin.

30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice

December 1st kicks off 30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice, a collaboration between YALSAblog and the Hub. On the odd days of December, you’ll find social justice posts here on YALSAblog. On even days, make sure you check the Hub for more information and resources.

Let’s start the month by thinking critically. Think about your library’s population: Is it diverse? If you answered no, why don’t you think the population is diverse? Keep in mind that diversity is not always something you can see, like skin color, a hijab, or a wheelchair.

Beth Yoke, the executive director of YALSA, shared a great resource to help everyone think about their library population and what they can do to promote social justice for their patrons. This month, in the spirit of 30 Days of Working for and with Teens for Social Justice, you’re encouraged to visit Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice.

Read over the site, and try to accomplish the challenge posed:

“Commit to taking 3 actions in the next month, and share these with a trusted friend, colleague, or family member in order to increase your accountability to follow through on your commitment.  Can you take at least one action in the next two weeks in the Ally or Accomplice category?”

Email information about the actions you take and how it impacts your library’s teens to yalsablogmanager [at] gmail.com. We’ll share the submissions in a wrap-up post at the end of the month.