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 Futures Report calls out the importance of outreach to underserved populations and ways in which library staff can think about ways to work with targeted communities of teens (e.g. those who are incarcerated, homeless, in foster care, or in classrooms and other inschool locations) and where they are, rather than waiting for teens to find a way to get to the physical library space.

This month I spoke to Carrie Rogers -Whitehead who was the Senior Librarian in Teen Services for the Salt Lake County Library System. She began the outreach program with the juvenile detention system in Salt Lake County.


1. What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens? How long has this program (or partnership) been in place?

My job is over teen services for Salt Lake County Library Services. This includes teen programming and outreach. Over the years I’ve done outreach in the refugee community, with schools, teen parents, the STEM community and much more. The program with juveniles in detention began in fall 2012 when I began doing research and talking to people about it. It started at the beginning of January 2013. It started with one bookclub and has expanded to 4 sites with 6 separate bookclubs. In 2015 we received $20,000 from the Utah state office of education to get graphic novels into the facilities. We’ve found great success getting the youth to read through graphic novels.


2.Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach

Lots of meetings! Outreach is all about relationship building, so I spend time in and out of the building talking to people. I try to do as much in person as I can, and not necessarily with the intent of library outreach. You build the relationship first, then things can happen organically. I also go to many conferences, but not library conferences. Several times I have found myself the only public librarian at conferences—and it’s great! I learn so much. I regularly go to conferences with afterschool providers, have attended nonprofit conferences, school and educational technology conferences, summits for social workers and more. I also spend a lot of time working internally with staff, providing mentorship and recruiting them for outreach opportunities.

3.What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices?

Work on your communication and public speaking skills. Being in outreach means you’re often out in front of people, and being able to effectively deliver a message makes a big difference. If public speaking doesn’t come naturally to you, sign up for Toastmasters, try a standup or improv class, or volunteer for other opportunities to get in front of people.

4.What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services?

When I work with teens, what I want to hear and see is not necessarily they’re reading more, or using resources, but that they view the library as a safe place. When one of the teens from detention leave, it’s always wonderful when they come visit the library! One of the boys I work with said this; “When I get out of O&A I’m going to my library and signing up for a library card.”

In addition, there have been several articles about the program, if you would like to learn more please see below links.

More recently this program won a NACo (national association of counties) innovation award and there’s an article about it here:

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