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 YALSA 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 with Jesse Vieau, Teen Services Librarian at the Madison Public Library, Central Library

What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?

Making Justice focuses on the community as a resource. You can see a range of projects and resources we cover on the website. Making Justice is a community-based learning program for at-risk and court-involved teens that includes weekly workshops and an artist-in-residence opportunity. Offered in collaboration with a diverse spectrum of artists, educators and activists, Making Justice fosters community engagement and self-expression via graphic and 3D art, photography, spoken word, performance, video and life skills projects. While teen participants are often focused on creating a final product, Making Justice workshop leaders are more concerned with relationship building, basic skill development and connection to the community. The hands-on pop-up workshops introduce participants to a variety of creative outlets by collaborating with local people who want to share their talents and physical resources. Our continuous efforts to connect with potential partners is what keeps the experiences current and dynamic, allowing the library to facilitate a wide range of hands-on workshops in all nine libraries and at partner locations around the city.


Describe a day in the life of providing outreach

Today started like every Thursday — I met the guest artist/presenter at Central Library to go over supplies and room setup, and the workshop outline that will be run with two teen classrooms today. The Shelter Home classroom takes their van to Central Library each week for a 90-minute hands-on workshop in the Media Lab or the Bubbler Room. An hour after they leave we are already setup and starting the second workshop five blocks away inside the Juvenile Detention Center classroom. I walk to and from the detention center with the artist and our university intern/s, and we get to break down what just happened, vocalize observations and suggest alternative ideas all while pushing a cart of laptops or a flatbed stacked with several large painting canvases around the Wisconsin state capitol building. After arriving back to Central Library in the afternoon today, I then met two artists who needed to prep the silk screens for tomorrow’s tee-shirt design workshop in the Bubbler Room with an at-risk high school classroom under the local school district’s innovative ed department. After ensuring they had all of the supplies they needed for tomorrow’s workshop I was walking to another meeting when, luckily, I ran into our favorite rap artist and part-time library security monitor who needed to make sure I had the set of MacBooks with LOGIC installed on them packed up and ready to go so he was all set when he gets picked up by the beat producer tomorrow morning for their “Rap Sessh” workshop on-site at a different at-risk high school classroom. After adding that to my small list of things I still need to do before I leave today, I went into a 2 hour meeting with one of my mentors who was in town and was able to fit me into her crazy schedule in order to get updated on all things Teen Bubbler, exchange several new ideas, and discuss further edits to the Making Justice project permissions form to ensure it covers the playing of teen audio content on the new youth radio station on the city’s West side. We hugged, I ran through the 5-story building to check off my to-do list, and I walked out into the warm December night just as my wife and three kids pulled up to the curb across the street. And then there was a lot of email tonight after everyone went to bed.

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

Connect with people in your service area. Go to meetings already happening in the community and request meetings with anyone who serves youth. Create your own database by asking people questions about what they do, what resources they have and what they are passionate about. Make note of common goals. Networking has been key for me to understand how to connect Madison teenagers to resources outside of the library’s walls.

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

“You mean I don’t have to illegally download LOGIC anymore?” (after hearing of several options to use the library’s copies for free)

“Its so nice to take a break from learning.” (after just having created her first ever stop-motion video)

“I’m actually happy I’m in jail right now.” (while in the middle of a black-light chalk workshop at the juvenile detention center)

“Hey guys, we’re going to Bubbler today!” (using Bubbler in the form of a verb)


  1. I like the idea of going to community meetings to meet new resources for outreach. A lot of the times, our school district does not have time to have us in the building because of testing, etc., so it would be very beneficial to see what is out there. You could even go to festivals/cons and make different relationships where you could collaborate as a team on a certain outreach for a group.

  2. Alder Barbara McKinney on December 29, 2016 at 9:49 am said:

    I am so proud to be on the Library Board. Congratulations Jesse for the continued cutting edge work!!!

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