2019 Summer Learning Resources Grant: Dollar General Literacy Foundation Contributes to Transformative Year at Rural Library

Community engagement and partnerships have always been essential to making library programming successful, but this year, the Dollar General/YALSA Summer Learning Grant provided our library with a unique opportunity to capitalize on an extraordinary new partnership with our local school system. We partnered with a local system and a local bank to make ChibiCon, a mini-con sponsored by our Teen Advisory Board, even better than ever–while opening new doors for even greater partnerships. 

Additionally, I was already involved in the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant at Bourbon County Middle School (BCMS), where I led a book club every Tuesday afternoon. If you’re unfamiliar, 21st Century federal grants are provided to schools to create a program that provides homework help, educational opportunities, and cultural enrichment to local children.  With BCMS, the grant manifests as an afterschool program and a two-week-long summer camp. The kids read 3-4 books per year and enjoyed STEM and art activities. 

However, the Summer Learning Grant provided us with an opportunity to take our partnership to another level by bringing a published, best-selling author (Gwenda Bond) to our rural Kentucky community and deeply involving the BCMS program. This energized all of the adults involved in the program and helped the students improve their critical thinking skills, literacy skills, and verbal communication skills as they prepared to speak with Gwenda Bond about her work. All the teens enrolled in the 21st Century Camp read Bond’s new book, the Stranger Things prequel Dangerous Minds

The teens from the summer camp made up nearly a third of the attendance at ChibiCon. The event was a game-changer for our relationship with that school program. Thanks to a generous sponsorship from a local bank, we were able to give every person who attended ChibiCon a signed copy of one of Gwenda Bond’s books. The teachers were delighted by this, as were the students, several of whom joined our Anime Club and joined our library’s fandom community. Since all the BCMS students had read Dangerous Minds, they elevated the discussion during Gwenda Bond’s author talk, contributing thoughtful questions and insightful commentary. This partnership with the school’s afterschool program made ChibiCon far greater than it would have been without their help. 

After ChibiCon, we had an even better relationship with BCMS. Since the event, we’ve been invited to join education committees and speak at school events, and we are collaborating further with the 21st Century program to co-sponsor community service events and expanded book clubs. ChibiCon proved that the school and library could collaborate on large events to the benefit of the students, building a foundation of trust that allows us more outreach opportunities–and a stronger presence in our local schools–than ever before. None of this would have been possible without the collaborations cultivated between teachers, school administrators, and library staff. School partnerships can take patience and hard work but are worth every student.

 

Beth Dunston is the Teen Services Librarian at Paris-Bourbon County Library.

Teen Programming: Building Teen Futures with Community Partnerships

In our last Teen Programming post, we outlined the importance of outreach and how to integrate it into your programming arsenal. Since “outreach” can translate to a wide range of ideas and actions, narrowing it down will help you take your next step towards effective methods of community engagement. This is where partnerships come in! This, however, opens a whole new can of worms. How does one establish positive community partnerships? How do you ensure that your goals aren’t lost in translation? How do I secure beneficial opportunities for teens through partnerships?

When I first began working in my position, I was immediately overwhelmed by the need my community has for the library and its community organizations. During my first few months, I had grand plans to “do it all” and open up so many more opportunity and learning experiences for my community’s teens. What actually happened was that I got burned out and became discouraged. I realized very quickly that I was not going to be able to accomplish many of my goals alone. I needed support from others who were positioned in the community to help me achieve what needed to be done.

So let’s break it down. YALSA’s Future of Library Services report states that today’s teens need libraries to connect them to other community agencies, but how do you establish these connections? Network, network, network! This may sound simple, but community leaders need to know who you are. Start by attending committee and board meetings to get a sense of the issues and climate of your community. PTO (Parent Teacher Organization) meetings are another community body that is important to engage with as they are directly connected to the teens that your services will affect. Are there task forces or coalitions that are specifically directed at alleviating a specific need? Don’t be hesitant to insert yourself into the community conversation because you have your library’s resources to back you up. As a library representative in the community, you are an integral voice in the larger network of organizations that are committed to improving the lives of teens. Pinpoint individuals whose resources are in line with your goals and begin a dialogue with them.

When starting this dialogue, how do you make sure that your goals don’t get lost in translation? Communication is so important when you are making efforts to partner with an outside agency. Before any communication begins, make sure that you have your goals and plans clearly defined. What is it that you want to accomplish? What role do you see this partnering organization offering? Additionally, offer your resources and begin a dialogue about how this partnership would benefit both organizations mutually.

How do you make sure that your partnerships bring beneficial opportunities to teens? Last month we discussed ways to discover your community through outreach. During this discovery process, locate areas that your community needs more from your library. Is there a group that’s being under-served? Who can help you bridge that gap? A few months ago, I recognized a gap in the services that we were offering. At the time, we had reached out to just about every group of teens to make sure that our programs and services were reaching our diverse teens’ needs. However, we hadn’t reached out to teen survivors of domestic violence. I made a connection with the director of a local organization that acts as a transitional agency for teens and families who are leaving abusive situations. They offer temporary housing, counseling, and resources to help them take control of their futures and I wanted the library to be a part of this transition. My goal in partnering with this organization was to bring enriching programs to the teens at this facility, as they might not have access to these opportunities during this transitional period of their lives. Upon meeting with the director, my goals were clearly defined and I listened as she described how our organization could benefit these teens. We agreed upon a plan and programs were implemented at their location. We also offered books from our collection that we had discarded. We wanted to give the teens that she serves the opportunity to continue reading since many of them were temporarily not in school. This partnership was a simple way of offering integral library services to a new demographic while still connecting to the larger community.

Ultimately, libraries must work with partners to alleviate their community’s needs. Start small, make connections, and be diligent about following through. YALSA’s Futures Report pinpoints the shift that libraries are experiencing in the 21st century. We have gone from quiet, solitary locations that provided relatively uniform services to spaces, both physical and virtual, that offer a broad range of resources that empower teens and grow their skills, interests, and goals. Partnerships are integral to meeting this standard because they allow us to continue to broaden the services we offer, bridge gaps in your community, and build a better future for teens.

What are your partnership success stories? How do you bridge the gap in your community with partnerships?

Back to School: Library Card = School Supply

smartestcardLibraries and schools across the country collaborate to promote library card sign-ups at the beginning of each school year. Annual efforts include blog posts, official proclamations, and lists of schools supplies sent out to parents. Last year, Philadelpha City Schools and Free Library merged databases to give nearly 100,000 students library cards. In April of this year, President Obama announced the ConnectED Library Challenge with the lofty goal of putting a public library card into the hand of every school student. As of August 5, nearly 50 communities had adopted the initiative.

Accomplishing this will be no easy task. When you live in an area (as I do) where one school district serves multiple library districts and vice versa, knowing where to go to get a public library card can be confusing. Unincorporated areas, which often aren’t served by any public library, compound this. At least one nearby library has mitigated that issue by signing contracts with local schools that allow students who live in the unincorporated areas to receive a card for use during the school year.

One neighboring community, Skokie, has adopted the ConnectED Library Challenge. The Village of Skokie is a northwest suburb of Chicago, and is home to a little over 64,000 people. The village straddles two different townships, and so public high school students attend one of two different districts. One township, Niles, is also home to a portion of the Village of Niles, which makes up a significant portion of the Niles Public Library District. Confused yet? Students from four different library districts all attend Niles Township High School District 219.

Continue reading

30 Days of Teen Programming: Delivering what the community wants & needs

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. Mayor YEP Logo

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.

30 Days of Teen Programming: Develop Partnerships (part 2)

Girlvolution_Web LogoLast 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.

PV

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.

PV survey results

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.

Adventures in Outreach: Be a Quitter

David Lee Roth

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

Adventures in Outreach: Pick a Project

Volunteers from a partner organization help students with college applications.

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