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.

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Teens have an amazing variety of programs at their fingertips ranging from college prep, crafts, gaming, pop trivia, anime, and much more.  What if there was a way to combine many of these elements into one activity that is not only fun, but will have amazing health benefits as well? I bet you are thinking the same thing I am: dancing. Before I go any further, some of you may think I am crazy because there is no way teens would voluntarily dance in public, especially amongst their peers. Well, I am very excited to tell you that there is actually a way to get them to dance and have fun, but it requires us to lead by example. In other words, we got to shake our money makers so teens can see just how fun it really is.

Before I go any further, I would like to discuss some rather disturbing facts. According to the American Heart Association:

“About one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity in children more than tripled from 1971 to 2011. With good reason, childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention also states:

“The percentage of children aged 6–11 years in the United States who were obese increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012. Similarly, the percentage of adolescents aged 12–19 years who were obese increased from 5% to nearly 21% over the same period.”

Clearly, obesity is on the rise and it is something that we should address in our programs and services. For example, are we sponsoring programs, or partnering with organizations, to prevent drug and alcohol abuse? If we are, are we addressing obesity as well? If not, it’s time that we do because teens are living in a world where body shaming and weight-related bullying is rampant. Furthermore, teens literally live in a digital age where video games are much more popular than physical exercise.  If we care encouraging teens to exercise their minds with books, why can’t we encourage them to exercise their bodies as well?

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In this second blog post on creating inclusive libraries, we examine the need to identify and remove barriers, and have an expanded definition of ‘the library as a safe space’.

Identifying and Removing Barriers

Paramount to our goal of creating inclusive libraries is removing barriers that prevent diverse youth from feeling welcome. In her research, Kafi Kumasi (2012) found that many youth of color feel like outsiders in library spaces, describing the school library as the sole “property” of the librarian. Kumasi argues that “these feelings of disconnect and exclusion should be attended to by school librarians, if they want to make all of their students feel welcome.”

Physical barriers can be easy to spot and can include, for example, detectors and late fees. Consider the unwelcoming message that detectors—particularly those with a ‘push’ gate—can send about libraries, especially for teens who may regularly be followed in department stores. We must recognize that these kinds of microaggressions are daily experiences for many youth, especially male youth of color, and must be mindful not to replicate them in our libraries. We must also realize that late fees represent a financial burden for some teens and their families causing teens to forego visiting the library, and ask ourselves, what other strategies might we use? Finally, our libraries must be physically and intellectually accessible for teens with disabilities (and, of course, stocked with literature that reflects their lived experiences). Project ENABLE provides free training to help librarians create more inclusive libraries that address the needs of youth with disabilities.

Other barriers are more difficult to unpack, but include library policies or procedures that inhibit teens from visiting or participating. For public libraries, this could manifest as an address requirement for receiving a library card. Teens experiencing homelessness would be unable to fulfill this requirement and thus be denied access to essential public library resources including computer time and material checkouts. For school libraries, perhaps a strict atmosphere of ‘shhh-ing’ is excluding teens from joining in library activities. Janice Hale (2001) reminds us, for example, that African American youth “participate in a culture that is highly dynamic. They thrive in settings that use multimedia and multimodal teaching strategies. And they favor instruction that is variable, energetic, vigorous, and captivating.” Do our libraries support this?

Barriers can also exist in programming. Are we scheduling programs at times that allow teen participation? Are we taking into consideration the public transportation schedules? Are we offering programs at locations in the community, rather than expecting teens to always come to the library? Are we coordinating our teen programs with our programs for children so that teens who are responsible for taking care of siblings can attend? Breaking Barriers: Libraries and Socially Excluded Communities explores ideas related to this topic specific to public libraries.

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The growing conversation surrounding the need for diversity in teen literature is wonderful—it is essential, it is long overdue, but it is only a starting point. Wait, what? Yes, a starting point. If we are not using those diverse collections in our library promotions, programming, and reader’s advisory with all students, we are diluting their influence. Furthermore, if diverse collections are housed in libraries that are not inclusive and welcoming to all youth, then we are negating the power of those collections.

“Diversity is not ‘praiseworthy’: it is reality.” Malinda Lo’s recent statement  can serve to remind librarians that focusing on diversity is not an extra facet of our job. It is central to what we do. Consider these facts:

  • In the 2014-2015 school year, youth of color were projected to make up the majority of students attending American public schools (not just urban public schools, but ALL public schools)
  • Approximately 9.1% of students attending America’s schools are English Language Learners
  • Approximately 10% of the general youth population in the United States identifies as LGBTQ+
  • One in 45 youth experience homelessness in America each year [references for all of these statistics can be found here]

YALSA’s The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action details even further the significant shift in the demographics of teens. To paraphrase Ernest Morrell (2015), our multicultural America is in our libraries no matter where we are.

Library collections obviously need to reflect the diversity of our nation. But that is just the beginning. Public and school libraries must be inclusive. Inclusive libraries are staffed by librarians who are culturally competent, use their diverse collections with all teens, identify and remove barriers, and have an expanded definition of ‘the library as a safe space’. In this two-part blog post, we will briefly examine these components. Our goal is broaden the conversation about the needs of diverse youth beyond diverse literature, and to highlight the need for librarians to engage in discussions about equity and inclusivity.

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Happy Monday, amazing YALSA members!

Can you believe it's already near the end of February?

For those who've made New Year's resolutions to be more involved in the profession, it's not too late!

The deadline to apply to join a YALSA strategic committee, jury, or taskforce is this Sunday, March 1st!

You can see the full list of committees and juries here.

Strategic committees are a great way to get involved with YALSA, as they are virtual committees. Or, if you are a new member and looking to try committee work for the first time, the strategic committees are a great way to learn about YALSA, connect with teen service professionals from around the country, and help you develop your virtual work skills and teen expertise. So, if travel and conference attendance aren't an option for you this year, please take a minute to fill out the volunteer form here and send it in before March 1st!

My Appointments Taskforce and I will begin the process to fill the over 200 open positions that help YALSA accomplish the work of the strategic plan and the work that moves the association and members forward immediately after March 1st, so please be sure to get your application in before then.

I strongly encourage all YALSA members to apply - it is an easy and great way to get more involved in this amazing association, especially if you are interested in joining a YALSA selection or award committee in the future.

Please feel free to contact me at candice.yalsa (at) gmail.com if you have any questions!

A brief look at 'grams of interest to engage teens and librarians navigating this social media platform. Thursday, January 29 was New York Public Library's #libraryshelfie day during which book lovers worldwide snapped photos of their bookshelves and shared them on Instagram. From library shelves and to-be-read bedside stacks to pets with books and color coded shelving, shelfies of all sorts were spotlighted. This week we've collected the posts of several libraries that shared photos of their YA collections. Did you or your library participate this year?

It's hard to believe that February is already here! Will you be doing any special displays for Valentine's Day?  Blind Date with a Book displays are always popular, but we found a few red-themed ideas as well (one of which provides an awesome use for those leftover bookmarks).

yay TAB!

Sofia, Kealin, Nona, Hannah, Leah and Calista making Valentines for veterans.

On Monday, January 19, the United States honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Legislation was passed in 1983 to commemorate King’s birthday and his legacy, turning the 3rd Monday of January into a federal holiday.  This holiday is to be observed as a national day of service-- “A day on, not a day off.”  According to the government’s site on the MLK Day of Service:

“[The day] calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems, and moves us closer to Dr. King's vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”

When I kicked off my teen advisory board meetings for this school year, one of the first items I brought to our group was my desire to have the TAB participate in at least one service project.  We brainstormed through a few of our monthly meetings, and in November I introduced the MLK Day of Service as an option.  Our local volunteer hub, Volunteer Connect, facilitates service opportunities on this day; everything from light building projects to park cleanup, creating floral arrangements for hospice patients to sewing up dog beds for the pets of the homeless.  I presented the variety of options, with the biggest caveat: donating your time on a day off from school.  Would the group be willing to do that?

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High school is a game of priorities. With sports, music, studying, and social commitments, older teens have to be really interested or otherwise invested in a program if it's going to find a spot on their already crowded calendars. One of the most meaningful ways to get high school students involved at the library is through offering a teen volunteer program. With the approach of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the National Day of Service, January is the perfect time to consider engaging older teens at the library through community service opportunities.

Why Volunteer?

Many high schools require community service as a condition of graduation. Of the schools that don't assign service projects, many still require student council representatives or honor society members to commit to volunteering a certain number of hours. Community engagement is also an important component of many scholarship and college applications, and some teens have court assigned community service or an interest in developing resume worthy work skills. All this combined means that teens want to hear more about volunteer opportunities.

Better yet, volunteering teaches teens about giving back to the community and participating in something larger than themselves. The Corporation for National and Community Service and the President's United We Serve campaign encourage students to give back to their neighbors on MLK day. In addition to providing a true benefit to the community, service projects can help teens reflect on what it means to provide a positive contribution to the community and the world. It also helps build several of the 40 Developmental Assets. By giving teens the opportunity to provide service to others and to fulfill a useful role in the community, library volunteer programs help teens learn positive values such as caring, responsibility, and a sense of purpose.

There are many different ways that you can incorporate volunteering into your regular program schedule, and with a bit of planning, you can insure the experience is mutually beneficial. Here are a few ideas to try at your library. Read More →

Happy New Year!

I am pleased to announce that all appointments have been made for the 2015-2016 award and selection committee cycle.

Many, many thanks to the all the talented and dedicated YALSA members who submitted nearly 600 volunteer applications to join these great committees!

If you submitted an application, you should have received an email from me inviting you to be on a committee or an email letting you know that my appointments taskforce and I were unable to find a spot for you this year.

If you received one of the latter emails, please don't be discouraged and please try again. There were just not enough slots for the number of applications we received.

In the meantime, you can gain valuable YALSA and professional development experience by volunteering to be on a YALSA strategic committee, task force, or jury. The work of all of these strategic groups is done virtually and do not require conference attendance. The deadline for strategic committee applications is March 1, 2015, and I will be making those appointments in the spring.