The American Library Association (ALA) defines outreach as providing library services and programs outside the walls of the library to underserved and underrepresented populations, populations like new and non-readers, LBGT teens, teens of color, poor and homeless teens, teens who are incarcerated.  As these populations are often marginalized and underserved it is crucial for libraries to recognize these populations and provide services and programs to them where they are.

Each month I will profile a teen librarian providing outreach services and programs outside the walls of the library to underserved and underrepresented teens.  The purpose is for us to learn, connect, network and share with each other the crucial work we are doing in this area.

Amanda Bressler is the Youth Outreach Librarian for the Boston Public Library.  Amanda provides outreach to youth; children and teens for the Boston Public Library system.

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

I work primarily with two organizations that serve teens; an alternative high school for teens in drug and alcohol recovery called Ostiguy High School and the agency Department of Youth Services (DYS) that serves teens who are incarcerated in seven units in the Metro Boston region.  I’ve also begun a relationship with a program at Children’s Hospital called the Young Parents Program that serves young parents and their children, but this is still forming.  For DYS and Ostiguy the program is similar; I provide monthly outreach by bringing in a collection of high interest and wide variety of books, booktalk them to engage with the teens and talk about library services and programs for teens in the Boston Public Library locations.  We also provide supplemental or one off programs with the teens like last year the author Patrick Jones came and spoke to three of the DYS units about his books and his writing process.  The library purchased books for the teens participating in the visits so they had read one of his books and then they were able to ask him questions.  Each year we also provide a summer reading program for teens in DYS to read a book and write a review and they can receive a movie pass.  For the Young Parents Program it’s structured differently; it’s a clinic setting and I bring in free children’s and teen books and give them away to the young parents and kids, provide library card signups and try and connect them to library programs and services in their neighborhoods.  As this is a newish program I’m still in the process of developing this relationship.

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

There really isn’t an average day.  There is a lot of time that is spent cultivating the list of books I bring into DYS and Ostiguy each month, I want to bring in books the teens want and provide them with a variety.  I spend time prepping for those visits by writing booktalks and then also doing the backend stuff like checking the books out, making sure those accounts are updated.  I also try and connect with outside organizations and foster those relationships whether it’s a connection for the library as a system-wide connection or I may be connecting the organization to a branch library.  Then I’m out in the community, connecting with those organizations and those teens.  For each of these organizations I meet with them each month.

  1. What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices? I follow The Outreach Librarian blog which is a mix of public and academic library outreach. I also like to read books about underserved populations, not necessarily library related, so that I can learn more about those populations and their needs. Recently I have read a couple of Nell Bernstein’s books about incarceration – Burning Down the House and All Alone in the World – as well as True Notebooks by Mark Salzman about a teacher volunteering in a juvenile detention center. Knowing the populations you serve and the adversity they face can help you serve them better, and I find that these stories inspire me in my outreach work.  I would also say that there isn’t enough written about outreach services.  I also try and consult other librarians doing this type of work.
  1. What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services? We do a survey each year for the teens in DYS to get direct input from them what they think of the booktalks and the books we bring in for them.  Some of the feedback from the teens has been really helpful in shaping the booktalks as well as the type of books we bring in.  I think a lot of what I have heard from teens has been things like they didn’t know the library provided services like this or they are extremely grateful for the library providing them with the books they want.

Amanda DYS


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