The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has been an essential resource for libraries and library schools since its inception over two decades ago. According to its mission statement, this agency works “to advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grant-making, research, and policy development.” On the ground, the work supported by the IMLS takes the form of anything from STEAM programming to data-rich research projects. “Transforming Communities,” the recently published 2018-2022 IMLS Strategic Plan, reviews specific successes and focuses on broader strategies to lead us into the next few years. Certain aspects of the plan—approaches to learning and literacy, library engagement statistics, and serving the under-served—might be of particular interest to library staff who work with youth.
Since 2011, Opportunity Nation and Measure for America have collaborated to create the Opportunity Index. This expansive report examines economic, social, and geographical data as a way “to help policymakers and community leaders identify challenges and solutions” with regard to education and employment rates. The most recent edition of the Opportunity Index–which spans 2016–has just been released, giving the public better insight into the contributing factors that determine opportunity in a given community. Since one of the goals of this annual study is to be “useful as a tool to create community change,” we wanted to examine this as a potentially rich resource for public libraries, and explore the ways in which library workers might be able to incorporate these findings into our services (Opportunity Nation and Measure of America, 2017).
Several aspects of the data taken into consideration for this study prove extremely relevant to library services, and can be cited in conversations of change and adaptation. The index itself is divided into three components: Economy, Education, and Community. In order to address how library staff–specifically those working with youth–might engage with this report, each component will be addressed individually.
In order to gauge the economic status of each state, the Opportunity Index gathered a wide variety of statistics including those related to median income, unemployment rates, affordable housing, internet access, and poverty line proximity. Many of these factors already affect our daily interactions with library visitors, and we are likely aware of our community’s economic standing simply by working within it. However, understanding how our state measures up compared to the national average might help us prepare ourselves–emotionally and practically–for our interactions with youth. For states like Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Alabama, which fall on the low end of the Economic Index score, this might confirm what some library staff already know about the necessity of their services. However, a deeper understanding of this dataset–and the factors that influence it, like internet access and access to banking–might inform the programming or workshops available. Tangible actions might include increasing accessibility to financial literacy resources, introducing teens to summer work-and-learn programs and resume assistance, or forging connections between internship and volunteer opportunities. After all, a recent Partner4Work study found that “the various types of work experience [young adults] received in their program enabled them to explore career interests, identify new career goals, and even gain access to employment opportunities” (2017).
In the context of the Opportunity Index, the following factors make up the Education component–preschool enrollment, on-time high school graduation, and post-secondary completion. While our youth services might already include test prep or post-secondary information, we can certainly look at where our state falls on these individual scales. This data, combined with the data collected by our own districts, might inform the workshops or resources we offer our young adults and college students. Offering continuing assistance to our patrons as they navigate the college experience might include increased collaboration with nearby academic libraries, or implementing support systems for college students in the area. According to an article published in the September/October issue of Public Libraries, “49 percent of adult Americans don’t know that online skills certification programs are available at their libraries” (Perez, 2017). This knowledge, combined with the data provided by the Opportunity Index, might suggest we increase informational sessions surrounding the rich collections of e-resources and educational tools accessible through our library networks.
The third component of the Opportunity Index is the Community Score. This category is expansive, and takes into consideration factors like access to healthy food, volunteerism, violent crime rates, and group membership. Of particular interest to library staff working with young adults is the “Disconnected Youth” factor, a category describing young people who are not working or in school. Libraries in states with high percentages of Disconnected Youth might compare this data against their own patron base. If these young adults are engaging with library services, this opens up opportunities to provide information about trade programs, employment opportunities, or online education resources. However, if there is a low level of library use among this population, collaboration with community centers and neighborhood resources might be an avenue of outreach to pursue. The Community Score is only a data-based snapshot of the opportunities and gaps within our communities, but examining these factors has the potential to inform the service we provide in positive ways.
Armed with this data, library staff can find new and different ways to work with and for their young adult patron base. There are countless ways to use the Opportunity Index as a platform upon which new programming can be built, and as a catalyst for change within existing services.
References and Resources
Opportunity Nation and Measure of America. (2017). “2016 Opportunity Index.” Opportunity Nation. http://opportunityindex.org.
Perez, Amilcar. (2017). “Finding and Partnering with Trainers for Tech Programs.” Public Libraries 56(5): 15-17.
Petrillo, Nathan, ed.. (2017). “How Young Adults Choose a Career Path.” Partner4Work. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZOwyMd0C53F7INlgXvOYb68F-3WznswQsP_Fz9k1zko/edit.
This summer I had the pleasure of attending Next Library 2017, an annual gathering of library professionals and innovators from around the world with a vested interest in furthering the work of libraries everywhere. With more than 38 countries represented, the conference offers a sneak peek into the inner workings and successes of libraries all over the world. As I found out, it seems libraries, regardless of type and region, seem to share many of the same core challenges: funding, understanding community needs, generating program ideas, staying current with technology, and making connections with those we serve. In many ways, this conference is a celebration of diverse libraries and the great strides they are making despite these challenges and how other libraries can benefit.
Here are the highlights:
Makerspaces, making, and the maker movement have become frequent conversation topics among librarians. We’ve encouraged making in the library through programming focused on writing, drawing, designing, building, coding, and more. As informal learning and gathering spaces, libraries are by nature situated to invite collaboration and discovery. In many cases, making has been associated with makerspaces — independent spaces that provide tools, materials, and support to youth and adults with an interest in creating (Educause, 2013). Sometimes makerspaces are flexible, subscription-based environments, sometimes they are hosts to structured programs and classes with an attached fee. Some have a technology prominence with 3D printers and laser cutters, while others lend an artistic attention by supplying sewing machines and design software (Moorefield-Lang, 2015). No two makerspaces are the same, just as no two makers are the same.
I first became interested in library makerspaces while touring Chicago Public Library’s not yet open to the public Maker Lab and its already thriving YOU Media during ALA Annual 2013. I love the playful atmosphere of learning and opportunity for exploration that these spaces offer teens. Then I dug into some publications. There is a significant amount of research about how youth learn as a result of participation in making and makerspaces (Sheridan et al., 2014; Slatter & Howard, 2013). Likewise, there is a wealth of blog posts, magazine articles, social media blurbs, TED talks, etc. on makerspaces, STEM learning programs, and the maker mindset (Fallows, 2016; Teusch, 2013). It can be difficult to separate the hype from the substance, but there’s still much to explore, discuss, and figure out.
There are many positive aspects of youth involvement with making such as fostering inventiveness, introducing STEAM learning outside of the classroom, and promoting learning as play. But in this post, I will focus on (what I think are) two major benefits of youth making in libraries that may not be quite as obvious: cultivating a capacity to create and learning to fail.
YouthTruth has recently come out with a new survey, College and Career Readiness, of 165,000 high school students “between the 2010-11 and 2014-15 school years,” and found a vast amount of information that shows that high school students want to go to college, but “most feel unprepared to do so.” High school students also feel less prepared for future careers and are “not taking advantage of support services,” such as programs presented at libraries and more. Along with high school students, middle school students also feel unprepared for college and a future career.
This post is an invitation to check the Research Roundup column in the Spring issue of YALS. The column focuses on advocacy, activism and technology and provides a short overview on three resources and some ideas about how you might integrate the findings and recommendations into your work with youth.
Although I wrote the print column back in January, the column’s topic could not be more relevant. As I have been re-writing this post, both ALA and YALSA’s efforts to create awareness and action about the cuts in funding reveal the different forms that advocacy takes as well as its importance for libraries. At the same time, Congress decided not to pass a set of rules that would give consumers more control over what happens to the data regularly collected by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). While the exact consequences of this decision are not yet clear, this setback highlights the many challenges related to internet privacy. Coincidently, also in January, esteemed colleague Dr. Chelton published a Position Paper for YALSA on the protection of teens’ privacy from government surveillance. The paper examined the potential threats of a set of FBI guidelines that recommend the surveillance of Internet use by at-risk students in secondary schools in connection with recruitment by terrorist organizations. Among her suggestions, I would like to highlight the following two:
- Take advantage of technology that protects library patrons’ privacy
- Identify and work with community partners who are also committed to protecting teens’ rights
These two suggestions are directly connected to this month’s Research Roundup column and the two projects and the researcher that I invited teen librarians to explore. The two projects I discuss offer a manageable starting point for information professionals; easy for newbies and for those already involved in this type of tech-focused advocacy. Hopefully they will also strengthen teen librarians’ knowledge about privacy protection and data surveillance issues to feel more comfortable creating events and activities for and with teens about these topics.
If you are anything like the general population you know that the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) does SOMETHING with libraries (and museums) but you really have no idea what it does. We hope by now that you know that IMLS is on this year’s chopping block, per the White House’s proposed budget, but aren’t sure how it will affect you, and why it’s a big deal.
And these cuts are a Big Deal. The IMLS is fairly young, as government organizations go, having been created in 1996 by the Museum and Library Services Act (the act combined the Institute of Museum services and the Library Programs Office), and is reauthorized every 5 years, but it touches every state and US Territory in the country. IMLS now supports all libraries- public, academic, research, tribal, and special as well as every type of museum- from children’s to planetariums to history. Over 158,000 museums and libraries combined benefit from IMLS funds every year.
The majority of IMLS support to libraries is the Grants to States program. Grants to States is the biggest source of federal funding for libraries across the country. It is a bit of a misnomer, because these grants aren’t competitive or something that requires an application. Every state automatically receives funding from Grants to States based on population needs, over $150 million dollars in funds is distributed to libraries every year through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Each state receives a base amount of $680,000 and each Territory receives a base amount of $60,000, which is then matched at the state level. (To find out how your state uses LSTA funds visit the IMLS State Profile Page.)
Each state or US Territory is able to determine how they will allot these funds, and many states distribute their library portion through their State Library. These funds support a variety of library functions and operations. States use this money to fund staff at state library agencies, continuing education for library workers, Talking Books programs (books for the blind and physically handicapped), broadband internet access, programs for teens, seniors, and at-risk populations, access to databases and downloadable books, and much more. Visit your state library’s web site to learn more about all of the resources and services they have available to help you help teens.
The IMLS also supports libraries through competitive grants, research, surveys, and policy development. The IMLS works in partnership with state agencies and museums to collect data and distribute the collected information to state and federal agencies. This data is used to identify the upcoming trends in library and museum services and to identify target needs across the country. These trends are studied and policies for best practices and plans to improve them are established. Initiatives on InterLibrary Loan, staffing, library governance, collections and more are developed through these extensive surveys and research.
Without the funding from the IMLS libraries will be facing far-reaching budget and service cuts. We will see the funds for things such as the databases we depend on for research dwindle, the funds for downloadable content dry up, and our state agencies will likely lose valuable staff that support our work at the local level. Statewide library funds will effectively be halved by these measures, putting library services and libraries at risk.
How can you help?
- Be vocal. Contact your national, state and local representatives and share stories about why IMLS funds help teens
- Participate in National Library Legislative Day on May 2
- Bring attention to these cuts on social media #saveIMLS
- Write letters (Use the template that YALSA provides!)
- Take a look at YALSA’s Talking Points for ideas and suggestions
- Read this earlier blog post for 10+ action items you can do right now
- And finally check out the YALSA Advocacy Toolkit
Facts and figures drawn from https://www.imls.gov/
One of the things I love most about YALSA is that it brings together librarians of all different backgrounds and experiences with a common goal to serve teens better. But in such a large and diverse organization, how can we access each other’s ideas, experiences, and insights? One great way to to write for YALSA.
By writing for YALSA – a blog post, a journal article, or even a book – you do a great service to your fellow librarians. As chair of the Publications Advisory Board, I have read a lot of writing in YALSA publications and I am impressed by how much I learn and how it expands my professional and personal view. Having a wide range of writers sharing their experiences helps YALSA readers to continue to refresh their views and innovate in their communities. That’s why we need you to write for YALSA.
It might seem like a mysterious process, but the Publications Advisory Board is here to help demystify it all. Members of the board will be writing blog posts over the coming months to walk you through the how and why of writing for YALSA. We’ll start here with a few tips for getting started.
Think big or small
With so many publication options, YALSA members have the option of going big – like writing an entire book – or small – submitting one or more blog posts. You can write one piece and be done or you can establish yourself as a more regular contributor.
Get in touch with the Publications Advisory Board
Don’t be intimidated
You don’t have to know someone or be a library scholar to get into writing for YALSA. You just have to take the first steps to making your interest known. We are waiting to hear from you.
If writing for YALSA is not for you, spread the word to your friends and colleagues who might be interested. You know interesting people. We want to know them and their expertise too!
Check back on the YALSA blog in the coming months for more posts from our board members on how to publish your writing with YALSA or read through our 50 Tips for Writing and Publishing with YALSA. We hope to hear from you soon.
Amanda Bressler is the Supervisor of Youth Services for the Newton Free Library (MA) and has written for YALSA blog and YALS.
While writing this post, I admit to thinking about my own reasons for wanting my thoughts and ideas to grace a blog that wholeheartedly support the learning and professional development of library staff who work with teen populations. My personal reasons for wanting to blog include the desire to connect with readers, to have them nod as they read and consider that my thoughts have merit. I believe that all of us have ideas and thoughts that have value, maybe even more so to our readers than ourselves. I have decided to list five reasons to write for YALSA in the order that appeals most to me. Here are 5 reasons to consider writing for YALSA:
- Giving back – We are fortunate to work in a profession that supports our learning needs and gives us ample opportunity to have a voice. Now is our opportunity to give something back to an organization that has done and continues to do so much for us, by contributing to the collective with our own words.
- We have unique expertise – What projects have you worked on that you would like to share with the library community? Maybe you are starting a new trend, maybe you are a master of digital literacy or summer learning or creating an engaging space that teens want to utilize. If so, please share your experiences with the library community. They are waiting to hear from you.
- Sharing information is what we do – On a daily basis you provide information to others based on their interests and needs. This is no different. Think of the YALSA community as an oversized patron wanting to know what ways we can better engage and serve the teen audience. Undoubtedly, you have knowledge on how this is done in your community. Why not share it?
- You gain YALSA support and connections – By writing for an inclusive organization, you gain access to resources YALSA provides and contacts within the organization. You also receive the backing and assistance of the Publications Advisory Board, whenever you may need it.
- Get your name out there – Writing for YALSA is a great way to get your name out there as a leader in the field of teen services. More colleagues and library staff will be asking for your opinion. Blogging is also a gateway to staying active in the library community and proposing session or poster ideas for conferences or assisting on a webinar panel.
Ultimately, you can contribute unique expertise, have the opportunity to give back, the chance to share much needed information with others in your field, all while you are making connections, gaining support and even getting your name out there. So I have to ask, why wouldn’t you write for YALSA?
Erin Durrett is a Digital Learning Specialist at the Flint Public Library, where she focuses on teaching kids and teens digital literacy skills, such as gaming, 3D design, and coding. She loves gadgetry, building and making, and expresses her enthusiasm on these topics to anyone who will listen.
Last Monday, I talked about the benefits of a middle school collection in a public library, and how we chose a name, chose a collection size, and gathered feedback for my Library’s new Middle Ground. Our next steps were to get into the specifics of what exactly belonged in the Middle Ground versus the Juvenile and Young Adult Collections.
As I said in my last post, the way you structure and build your collection is going to depend on your community. I’m providing an account of how I did it as an example, to give you some things to think about while creating your own collection. For more guidance, check out YALSA’s Collections and Content Curation wiki page.
We learned through surveying that many of our middle school patrons were interested in nonfiction and graphic novels. Nonfiction and graphic titles tend to appeal to a wider age range of readers than fiction. In Middle Ground Fiction we were collecting books that spoke directly to middle schoolers, but such books are few in nonfiction and graphic novels. We wanted to include these collections in the Middle Ground, but chose to tweak the rules a bit for them.