Do you ever say to yourself or others, “We are in competition with <insert name of an out of school time or school-based program>?” If you do, it’s time to stop. To serve teens successfully we have to stop thinking we are in competition with others and instead focus on what others are already providing, where there are gaps in what’s available, and what libraries can do with others in the community to fill those gaps.
Frequently I hear staff saying they can’t get anyone to come to this or that program because so and so is also doing it. So, that should be a clue to several things:
- First the program may very well not be needed if someone else is already doing it.
- Second, it could be really useful to meet with those that are already providing that program or service and find out what they would like to be able to do but can’t, and/or how the library can provide support for that program or service.
- Third, it’s time to look at where the gaps are in serving teens in the community and focus on working with community to fill in those gaps instead of doing something someone else is already doing, simply because it seems like a topic or activity the library should be focused on..
I think a lot about Josie Watanabe, the Student Success Program Manager at the Seattle Public Library. Josie manages an afterschool homework help program. A few years ago she discovered that at one library branch, which was a homework help site, numbers were going down. Josie did some investigating and discovered that a nearby elementary school received funding to start a school-based homework help program. What did Josie do? She said to herself, and others, “OK in that neighborhood the need for afterschool homework help is now being taken care of by another community organization, that means the public library can stop this service in this neighborhood, the library can support the school-based program by providing training to tutors, and hey let me see what other needs there are in this neighborhood that we can help fill without competing or duplicating.”