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.
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.
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.
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.
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 30 Days of Teen Programming: Develop rich, mutually beneficial community partnerships
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.
So you’re ready to embark on a micro partnership. You’ve done your community analysis, so you’re familiar with current demographic information in your area. You’ve considered which audiences you’d like to target to promote equity. Now all you need is a partner organization.
But how to choose? It’s a little bit like (very platonic) dating: who’s your perfect match?
In my last post, I talked about the importance of relationship-building in outreach and community partnerships. It’s not always easy to create the time and space necessary to figure out what a partner organization really needs from the library, but for a strong community partnership, it’s well worth the investment.
But “community partnership” is a pretty vague term. I should probably clarify what I’m talking about.
About four years ago, my little department (just one other Teen Services Librarian and me) decided to make a big change. We wanted to make outreach and community partnerships the central focus of our work. We weren’t sure exactly what that would entail, or how we should go about it. All we knew was that the Teen Center in our library wasn’t exactly packing in the teens.