As the Community Librarian in Teen Services at Edmonton Public Library, I am’ expected to spend 50% of my time outside of the library working with community groups who deal with all types of teens. But since coming to EPL in October, I haven’t gone outside much at all and that’s not just because it’s always minus 30! I find that many of the community groups I would reach out to in the community (such as the YMCA, John Howard Society, Native Counselling Services and the City of Edmonton drop in centre) have already identified Stanley Milner Library (the downtown branch of EPL) as a place where many of their inner city teens congregate, thus making it a great location for their programs. In the past few months I have formed some’ strong connections with the staff at these various agencies, and been involved in their programs that mostly target the large inner city youth’ population.

One program in particular is the talking circle that Native Counselling Services organize. The social worker involved is accompanied by a’ native elder, who commands respect in a way I’ve never seen before with teens. She also brings pizza, which helps as well! Topics such as “what is community?”’ are chosen and the teens take turns sharing their viewpoints with the group, while passing around a conch item (we used a mitten) so that only those with the conch can speak. It was simple yet powerful and I hope to have a talking circle in the teen area once a month between now and June.

So what’s the point of this post, you ask? Good question! I have determined that I spend at least 50% of my time working with community groups but within the walls of the library and not in the community, hence my new term of “in-reach”. I am doing outreach on the inside! I am interested to hear if any other teen/community librarians out there are involved in similar situations, or if this is relatively unique to my library setting. I’ve always said that the single most important part of working in teen services is finding a way to engage teens, and I’ve found that in-reach is a great way to involve the traditionally underserved group of inner city/at risk teens who don’t always participate in regular library programming, but might connect with people such as the John Howard’ Society youth advisors, who can assist inner city youth with such basic (but essential) needs as getting new ID cards, and finding a place to stay. I’ve also sometimes found that my connection to those agenices makes the teens realize that I’m also here to help them, and open to their opinions.

About Jen Waters

Jen is the Teen Services Librarian at Edmonton Public Library in Alberta, Canada, where she happily spends her time ordering controversial teen novels, planning crazy programs and being insulted by teens on a daily basis.

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