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.

This month will be a different focus where I interview Kim Dare who was the YALSA Cultural Competence Task Force Chair 2014-2015. How can the priorities of the YALSA Culural Task Force be brought into the conversation of outreach and are there things that can be helpful when thinking about working with underserved and underrepresented populations?

What does the Cultural Competence Task Force focus on? What are its priorities?

The idea for the Cultural Competence Task Force was born in March 2014 based on findings from The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action. The YALSA Board of Directors realized that as our teen patrons reflect increasingly diverse backgrounds, librarians must be able to meet their needs in ways that go beyond traditional programming and collection development. The task force was created in September 2014, and during the year that we worked together, we were charged with bringing together resources that would assist librarians in developing their cultural competence.  The term may have different connotations to different people. There are several good definitions out there: our task force sees cultural competence as the recognition that each of us is shaped by our culture, and an appreciation of diverse cultural backgrounds through our interactions with others. It is the welcoming and integration of diverse ethnicities, sexualities, cultures, incomes, and education levels into the services we provide, with an ultimate goal of enhancing the lives of our patrons and our own professional growth.

How would that relate to outreach and what would you say is the Task Force’s focus on outreach?

We all want to believe that our libraries serve the needs of all patrons. As demographics change, though, some libraries keep up with changing needs better than others. How well do we know our communities—the languages spoken, the socioeconomic ranges, the students who are in juvenile detention centers, the resources that are available for LGBTQ youth? SLJ Editor Kiera Parrott, in a recent guest blog on Reading While White, shared that when Jason Low asked her in 2014 about the demographics of SLJ reviewers, she couldn’t give him specifics. She subsequently sent a survey out to reviewers, and the results were not surprising: most were female and white. The reality is that while our profession is becoming more diverse, it’s not happening at the rate that reflects the makeup of our communities. So it’s more incumbent on us than ever to seek out resources that will help us to give all teens a voice and to ensure that whatever their background, they are welcome.


What priorities have been identified to help librarians providing outreach services in their communities?

Our first priority as librarians is to be aware of the people who make up our communities and appreciate how the demographics  may be changing. The Brookings Institute has a great interactive map that shows current racial demographics. Of course, traditionally underserved groups go beyond racial lines. Anticipating the needs of patrons across cultures and socioeconomic levels, or patrons who are experiencing social issues such as immigration, homelessness, or incarceration, is key to providing meaningful outreach. Many times this outreach will take place outside of the physical walls of the library. In addition to an engaging virtual presence, libraries can give marginalized youth a voice by offering services in YMCAs, community centers, homeless shelters, and detention centers.


What are some resources you would recommend to librarians who are interested in providing outreach services?

YALSA’s Cultural Competence wiki offers resources for measuring and increasing your own cultural competence. The Serving Diverse Teens @ Your Library wiki offers resources, reports, and collection development tools that focus on specific underserved populations: for example, LGBTQ teens, disabled teens, homeless teens, and New Americans. It can be a little overwhelming, so determine one or two areas where you believe you can reach teens who have felt disenfranchised by their libraries, and do your research. What resources are already available in the community? How do you help get the word out? Who are the experts (perhaps identified from the above wikis) that you can talk to? Cultural competence does not involve reinventing the wheel, but it does involve a strong desire to close the gap by seeking out resources, experts, and best practices that have had a positive impact.



  1. The work of the cultural competence member group has been great. There’s an article with some more information on their work in the Fall 2015 issue of YALS. Members can access the issue online

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