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 such as new and non-readers, LBGT teens, teens of color, poor and homeless teens, and 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.
The President of YALSA, Candice Mack, is focusing her year as President with an initiative, “3-2-1 Impact: Inclusive and Impactful Teen Services,” which will focus on building the capacity of libraries to plan, deliver and evaluate programs and services for and with underserved teen populations. Visit YALSA’s wiki to find and share information about serving diverse teens and building cultural competence.
Each month I will profile a teen librarian or staff working in teen services 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.
John Huth is the Librarian for teens and young adults with disabilities for The Child’s Place of the Brooklyn Public Library. The following comes from a phone call on October 13, 2015.
- What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?
I work with teens with physical and/or mental/cognitive disabilities, teens and young adults who are incarcerated, teens who are or were homeless and teens who are in foster care. I go everywhere in the borough of Brooklyn. We work closely with the My Library NYC librarians however my Library NYC is a new program (past three years) and The Child’s Place has been providing accessible services to schools in Brooklyn for many years. The Child’s Place was established before we had an outreach department and before My Library NYC both of which were established in the past 3 years. I cover a large amount of special education schools providing books as well as adaptable video gaming equipment programs in schools. I really try and bring the books to life to engage with the teens to their interests as well as engaging with them with gaming. Some of the teens I see may have limited mobility so I have equipment that is adaptable and able to be put on their bodies so they can use the mobility they do have and still engage with gaming. So much of their school is so structured and doesn’t necessarily focus on developing social skills and sharing but through the gaming they are learning a lot of these skills.
- Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach.
I do school visits regularly and bring in books through the MYLibraryNYC partnership and the classes I see will have be able to have upwards of 100 books they are able to borrow, the purpose of the large amount of books is to provide a variety and while all of these books may not be borrowed they are able to see the diverse choices. I booktalk 5-6 of the books to try and grab their interest and the class will have access to those books for a month until I come back and change them out. I developed and regularly offer the Universal Makerspace program in the Central Library and it offers an environment of making for teens with any ability. We’ll do sneaker making workshops for example, and use lots of tactile material like duct tape, fabric, cardboard, stuff that is malleable. I also work closely with Passages Academy, they serve teens in the juvenile justice spectrum, they have secure sites, limited secure sites, and non-secure sites that serve both detention and placement students. I may bring in books to share and engage them with as well as bringing in maker programs and video gaming. I’m also a member of the Children’s Committee on Mental Health (a group of services professionals in the mental health field) and we meet monthly and I’m able to talk and share what kind of resources, programs and services I provide as well as The Children’s Place. It’s a great opportunity for me to connect with these people and for them to connect with me. Through these connections I’ve been introduced to a lot of other groups and have connected further who can then bring/share their teens with the resources.
- What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?
Your colleagues I think are an incredible resource and I don’t just mean who is in your library but I mean in our profession as a whole. I think it is somewhat challenging with outreach work and librarians in that we aren’t unified, our missions may be different but it’s important to build our networks and know who our services providers are also in our communities. Some of what we may do in Brooklyn is piggybacking on another organization and the work they are doing and this helps us connect with so many more organizations and building our own networks.
- What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?
I’ve seen a lot of wonderful experiences teens have had in the library, in their school settings, makerspaces, juvenile justice centers and group homes and how teens they are engaging with literacy whether it’s digital, video gaming or with books. I’ve had teachers share with me that they haven’t seen their students interacting in ways they haven’t seen in their classrooms. They are able to open up so much more and work on developing these skills in such a freeing and supportive environment. I’ve seen teens interacting with others with more limiting mobilities or disabilities and I’ve commented on how patient and supportive they seem and they have responded that they have a parent or a sibling with a disability and it shows how much acceptance they have inside them.