OUTREACH SERVICES FOR TEEN LIBRARY STAFF: WHAT SOME STAFF ARE DOING OUTSIDE THE WALLS OF LIBRARIES

  1. What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?

I’m one of three School Outreach Librarians (plus our Coordinator), which means I am a liaison between Brooklyn PreK-12 school communities and Brooklyn Public Library.  Specifically, I focus on the eastern neighborhoods of Brooklyn (including East New York, Brownsville, Bushwick, and Canarsie).  A large part of my job is devoted to working with schools enrolled in the MyLibraryNYC program, a collaboration with the NYC Department of Education.

Our outreach to teens involves a variety of programs and services, including in-class lessons on research methods, booktalks, using digital and print resources, and accessing job and career assistance through the library.  I consider students, families/caregivers, and faculty to be part of the school community; taking a holistic approach to outreach is essential because outreach to one part of the community informs the whole.

I’ve been in my current role as School Outreach Librarian for only six months, but previously I was a Young Adult Librarian at Brooklyn Public Library’s New Lots branch in East New York.  My time there helped prepare me for school outreach, especially because I still work within that same and surrounding neighborhoods.  I love to build partnerships with other departments internally, as well as outside organizations.  While at New Lots, I hosted The Octavia Project’s inaugural free month-long summer workshop for young women (including trans*, genderfluid, and questioning folks, etc.) ages 13-18 that focused on STEAM skill-building.  I also programmed regular weekly visits from Protecting the East, (a project within the CBO, United Community Centers), that does outreach surrounding HIV education and prevention, and sexual health generally, in addition to training peer educators.  One of the last connections I forged before leaving the branch was with a local family shelter who hosted a weekly drop-in “teen summit” to provide general support to teens in and out of the shelter.  I also put together a deposit collection of books that were delivered to the shelter as a temporary collection to be used by shelter residents.

  1. Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach.

The stock answer is true: there is no typical day.  I could be teaching in-class workshops, training teachers during their professional development period, and representing our team at parent/teacher conferences and education fairs, to name a few common occurrences.  Specifically, here are a few snapshots of things I could be doing on any given day to provide outreach to teens:  visiting a non-secure juvenile detention facility to give a one-on-one consultation to a student who will soon be re-entering the community so he knows about the resources and services that Brooklyn Public Library can offer him; designing a workshop on comics and storytelling for middle schoolers with Interference Archive, for Cypress Hills Community School’s annual Write to Read Day; hosting a professional development workshop for educators on teaching LGBTQIA+ topics in the classroom and incorporating them into the school community.

  1. What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?

The best way to learn about outreach is to jump in and do outreach.  But, there are certainly some great resources on which I rely.  Media scholar, danah boyd’s, blog and her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens are essential reading for anyone working with teens.  At the Intersections: A Collaborative Resource on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness report shines a light on the connection between youth homelessness and teens’ personal identities.  Finally, half of doing outreach is being knowledgeable about available resources and how they can be accessed, empowering teens by letting them know their individual rights and how to be their own advocates.  The US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights website is a go-to resource in this capacity. The department’s mission is “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.”  The site has information on students’ rights, as well as ways to file a discrimination/harassment complaint, and resources for community engagement.  They have materials in many languages.

  1. What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?

One 9th grader told me my last name sounded like a creature from Harry Potter.  I received a thank you card from a reluctant reader who told me she was grateful for my recommendation of the graphic novel version of Coraline (by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Craig Russell) because she doesn’t like to read but she now reads it every day, and she was excited that I was able to determine what kind of book she would like to read based on her interests.  Many teens often tell me they had no idea the library had more than just books, and that always makes me feel like I’m doing my job.

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September Eureka Moments

Even if you don’t work in a school media center, I’m guessing your life still tends to run on an academic schedule when you work with teens. So welcome to the new school year! Here’s what I think might be interesting, useful, or intriguing to you and your patrons this month.

  • If your teens are interested in what’s new in the going green movement, have them look more globally to see what’s going on. In coastal Ecuador, young people from farming families are heading up efforts to save, cultivate, and redistribute heirloom seeds to revitalize the environment and help farmers prosper. Part of an organization called FOCCAHL, 20-year-old Cesar Guale Vasquez travels throughout nearby areas collecting seeds from farmers and also hosts swapping events so that farmers can trade seeds with each other in order to have more vibrant and diverse crops. Now take that for inspiration and add to it your own library’s resources on climate change, farming, and nutrition and plan an interesting program that combines science with activism and see what your advisory board wants to do with it. Many libraries now are creating their own seed libraries, and whether they’re for wildflowers or corn, they can be a great way to bring communities together, get young people to work with older people, and freshen up your local environment while doing your small part to keep the world cleaner and greener.
    Matthews, J. (2012). Ecuador’s seed savior. World Ark, May 2012: 10-15. Continue reading