While attending the ALA conference I had the wonderful opportunity of hearing first-hand the successes of a very active teen advisory group located at the Oakland Public Library. Active teen leaders shared stories about reaching out into the community to represent the library to their peers and elders. Here is a summary of what teens at Oakland Public Library are doing to connect the community with library resources:

  • Teens participate in library legislative day by traveling to the state capital and meeting with senators to advocate for libraries.
  • They represent the library and youth library council at public speaking and community events.
  • Teens present concerns and issues to the library board.
  • The teen panelists explained how being YLC members has provided them with opportunities to develop skills in public speaking, organization, and reaching out to others.

Tracey Firestone, the teen librarian at OPL, shared tips on the logistics of running a YLC Group:

  • It’s easy to start a group! Just bring pizza, invite teens, set a few guidelines and step out of the way to let them shine.
  • How do you establish accountability? Use what works best for your teen group.
    1) New members are approved by the teen group after they have participated in one meeting. Teens evaluate the new members’ performance before voting them into the group.
    2) Teens sign an agreement to attend 6 out of the 12 yearly meetings.

The audience also asked some great questions and I managed to record some notes from the discussion that followed:

Question: How do you keep the group going after 1 – 1 ‘½ years?

Teen Answers:

  • Pay attention to the timing of events. When we started focusing on simple teen activities in between the big stuff, we can keep active and involved.
  • Food keeps me going! Bring food!
  • To keep teens interested, implement smaller events that allow teens to slowly grow. Take small steps so we can grow into the activism.
  • We don’t always like to be serious. Let us joke and stray off the subject because it keeps us going. But then bring us back on track.

Question: Do you make connections between the YLC Group and the school library? Any presence of YLC in schools?

Librarian Responses:

  • Members can be recruited from within the schools.
  • High school libraries can have their own youth leadership groups.
  • Collaboration can happen between school library teen groups and public library groups. They can balance each other out instead of reinventing the wheel of what’s being done.

Teen Response :Wait, I think the best place to recruit teens is within the public library because they are more likey to get involved and care because they are already there! If you recruit in schools you might get people that are not able to commit to the public teen group. They might not even be using the public library, and have other things going on!

Question: Does the YLC have a social networking present? Do they collaborate with other YLCs across the country?

Librarian Response:We are thinking about starting a public educational wiki for the teens to use.

Teen Responses:

  • We [teens] use word of mouth to find out about the events.
  • Sounds like a good idea for us to mentor other teen groups that are getting started – virtually like through a facebook group.

Conclusion: After hearing this presentation, I felt that the Oakland Public Libraries have taken TAG to the next level. They are not a teen advisory group. They are a TEEN ACTION GROUP! Yay for Oakland teens.

One Thought on “Fostering Youth Advocacy: How Libraries Can Help

  1. Jodi Mitchell on August 13, 2008 at 1:49 pm said:

    I was just alerted to this post by a coworker; and was thrilled to see it. Thank you for providing such a glowing review and astute summary of our ALA presentation and our YLC group. We are pretty proud of our teens in Oakland, and as you said, our TEEN ACTION group. Yay! Teens have a voice here. What a concept. Along with Carmen Martinez, our library Director, I was the teen librarian presenter on the panel at ALA_Anaheim. I am the coordinator of our YLC group, and I will be happy to provide nuts-and-bolts information to anyone who would like to start-up such a group at their library. If you click on the hot link in above article ( “active teen advisory group”) you can find my contact info.
    Thanks again.
    Jodi Mitchell
    Teen Outreach Librarian
    Oakland Public Library

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