One of my favorite sections of the Teen Programming Guidelines (is it nerdy to have favorite sections?) is “Align programs with community and library priorities.” But you have to be deeply involved with community agencies and activities in order to be ready to act on the community’s priorities as they arise. This sounds obvious (and it is!), but it’s taken me a few years to figure it out.
Several years back my coworker and I began working with the Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP). SYEP is a city agency that places youth with barriers in paid internships in a variety of environments in city government and the private sector. It also provides them with job training and academic support. We worked with SYEP staff to design a curriculum that would build the interns’ digital and information literacy skills. We were sometimes surprised by the needs identified by SYEP staff and the interns’ employers: touch typing, for example, and basic MS Word. We learned a lot about putting our own assumptions aside.
Over the years, we continually evaluated and adjusted the program. We dropped some pieces and added others to make it as relevant as possible to the youth’s needs and the needs of their employers.
This year, Seattle’s mayor put forth a huge Youth Employment Initiative in which he asked SYEP to more than double the number of youth placed in jobs over the summer. Suddenly, the community had spoken: youth employment was a major need. Because we already had an ongoing relationship with SYEP, the library was poised to expand the partnership to serve more youth with our trainings. We also helped in other ways, like providing meeting rooms for SYEP staff trainings. Next summer, the mayor intends to make the program five times larger than it is this year (eep!), which will present a huge opportunity for library involvement.
Of course, being in the right place at the time is always partly a matter of luck. But you can’t be lucky if you’re not out there.
When the email got sent around the bloggers about doing a 30 days of programming, my mind instantly went blank. I’m just a librarian-in-training and haven’t done a lot of hands-on programming with teens. What could I bring to the conversation?
Then I remembered I did have a program. A hypothetical one that is. I’m currently taking a Media Literacy for Youth class which has been amazing. One of our assignments was to create either a lesson or program plan about a media literacy topic. It could be targeted to any age group and should last 2-3 hours. We had to write about outcomes, lay out all the activities, essentially plan it so some librarian could do it with the kids they work with.
I’ll lay out my idea and then want your feedback. Is this program realistic? Would it work with the teens you work with? And if it’s not realistic, what needs to be changed?
So…here I go!
As a twenty-something, I would say I’m pretty well-connected in social media. If someone asked what my favorite social media platform is, I would say it’s Twitter. There something exciting about Twitter when you think about it like a cocktail party (shout out to blogger Dave Charest for this analogy) — there are hundreds of conversations going on around you and you decide which ones to tap into. And our teens are using it so why not have a program that challenges them to think about not only how they use Twitter, but how others use Twitter?
Admission time: like many of us in Library Land, I am still figuring out the best ways to measure program outcomes. Marking attendance is relatively easy (although to be fair, sometimes the teens move do around a lot, which can make them tricky to count). It’s a bit harder to identify the changes I want to see as a result of my program, and then accurately measure those changes.
The Programming Guidelines ask us to “Engage in youth-driven, evidence-based evaluation and outcome measurement.” I’m not quite there yet. As I mentioned in my post about our weekly drop-in, we’ve been working with participants in that program to identify priorities, and now we’re moving towards evaluations that will measure whether those priorities are being met. But it’s still a work in progress.
What I have gotten better at is working with community partners to create evaluations for programs. For example, we regularly work collaborate with Year Up to build their students’ information and digital literacy skills. Before each workshop, we meet with Year Up staff to make sure that we’ll be teaching the skills they want participants to gain. Collaborating with partners on our evaluations and learning from them about their own evaluation methods has made a huge difference in the quality of our evaluations overall.
At Year Up, I give the students pre- and post-tests to see how much our classes are moving the needle on desired skills and knowledge. We send Year Up staff an early draft of the tests (same questions for both) and incorporate their feedback in the final evaluation tool. Seems foolproof, right?
Last spring, a couple of coworkers and I did some outreach at an event called Girlvolution. It was a completely youth-led conference, with sessions on social justice issues ranging from foster care reform to sexual identity. The teens leading each session mixed statistical and factual information with their own perspectives and experiences.
It was the best conference I had ever been to. I was blown away by how poised, informed, and prepared the youth were. But I wondered: how did they do their research? Had they been visiting our libraries every year without us even knowing it?
Our Youth and Family Learning Manager looked into it and found out that this was exactly the case. Although Powerful Voices (the organization that hosts Girlvolution) had a “Library Day” as part of their program each year, the library had not been providing direct support.
What an awesome organization.
So this year, we collaborated. My coworkers and I met with their staff to hear more about their organization’s mission and goals, and to learn how we could help. We arranged for me to visit Powerful Voices on a Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago to talk to the youth and their adult allies (mentors) about research. It was a great conversation about everything from whether all the world’s information is available on Google (heck no) to evaluating resources.
Results of a survey asking participants to rate the effectiveness of Library Research Day.
That Saturday, the girls and their allies all came to the library. We settled down in the computer lab and got SERIOUS about research. I showed them how to find books in our catalog, and how to decode Dewey. We dug into databases to find the most up-to-date information and the best statistics. We ended the day with pizza, which is never a bad idea.
Powerful Voices ends their sessions with a gratitude circle. That Saturday, many youth and adults mentioned finding out about all the great resources the library has to offer, and how helpful librarians can be. I was grateful for all I learned from them, and to be part of the support network for such talented and engaged young women.
They were pretty excited about the new library.
For the past six months or so, my fellow teen services librarian and I have been building a partnership with a local drop-in center for homeless youth. We began by meeting with staff several times and taking a tour of their facility to get a better sense of what they do, and how we could help. Then we moved into outreach efforts, like tabling at an on-site job fair. We even revamped their on-site library. Continue reading
April is School Library Month! Here are some easy strategies for public librarians seeking to build productive partnerships with their school colleagues.
Get in touch with your local school librarians! Sometimes, this can be the most difficult aspect of cross-agency collaboration. I’ve noticed that, especially with regard to youth services librarians in larger, more bureaucratic public library systems, outreach specialists may try to follow a chain of command, asking for the building principal or even the superintendent for access to the school librarians. In many cases, those administrators may either not realize that the public library wants to help, rather than place demands, on school staff, and they often have a lot on their plate anyway. Reaching out to school librarians directly can be more effective, or better yet, ask a school librarian you have worked with in the past to connect you.
Give local school librarians and teachers some extra privileges. One easy way to support the educators in your community: create a special patron class in your automation system, with an increased checkout limit. Nashville Public Libraries are on the cutting edge of this, with their Limitless Libraries program. They even have the high school and middle school libraries as routing stops! If your library doesn’t allow holds against on-shelf materials, you might consider a different policy for teachers. No teacher or school librarian wants to swing by the public library at the end of the day to find the audio version of Fahrenheit 451 has been nabbed since they looked it up in the OPAC that morning. Continue reading
Back in October 2014, I wrote about a report entitled: “America After 3 PM.” The Afterschool Alliance was writing about how students spend their time after school. In it, I raised the point of libraries as hubs for after-school activities, a free spot for teens to come if they don’t have the resources or access to other after-school programs. At the end of January, Alia Wong from Atlantic wrote an article called “The Activity Gap,” which discusses the access issues students from various socio-economic classes face with participating in after-school and extracurricular programs.
Wong begins the article by comparing two different students, Ethan and Nicole, whose family backgrounds contribute to two different lifestyles and life paths. While their names have been changed, these two students do exist and were case studies in a study published in Voices of Urban Education. This national study was conducted by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute of School Reform.
Those Wonder Twins were onto something.
A couple of posts ago, I mentioned the importance of equality. But what does equality really mean in the context of a community partnership? Continue reading
Maybe you want to quit Van Halen to pursue a solo career.
As I have mentioned, engaging in outreach and community partnerships takes a lot of time. Since you probably don’t currently have a lot of slack in your work day, making time for outreach will likely mean giving up something else. But what? Continue reading
Volunteers from a partner organization help students with college applications.
Last week we talked about finding your perfect community partner, the one who can make all your dreams come true. Once you’ve met a few potential partners and really gotten to know them, you may be ready to choose one and move forward on a shared program or project.
As you’re working with the partner to formulate the project, here are some questions to consider. Continue reading