What does it mean to be Future Ready? It is a phrase I had not given much thought to prior to applying and the YALSA Future Ready with the Library project. As a member of the very first cohort of the three year project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in partnership with the Association of Small and Rural Libraries, I have been given the opportunity and challenge, if you will call it, to tackle issues in my community that affect college and career readiness for middle school students. I am not alone in this endeavor. Fifteen other libraries, some public, some school, some tribal, are in this pursuit with me. We come from across the United States, from Kodiak, Alaska, to Greenwich, New York, to Chipley Florida, to Scottsboro, Alabama and will work together for the next year to learn about and recognize needs in our communities and the ways in which libraries can assist by creating pathways to college and career success for middle schoolers and their families.

Our meeting in Atlanta, just before ALA’s Midwinter Meeting 2017, provided us with a lot great information to get our wheels and gears turning and thinking of ways we can address many issues in our own communities. We heard from a variety of guest speakers, each one provided us with nuggets of information to not only inspire us on this journey, but to help us understand that the work we are about to embark on is timely for our communities.

conversation with Carol, Sandra, Laura, and groupYALSA President-Elect Sandra Hughes-Hassell got the event started with a World Cafe, challenging us within the first few minutes of meeting each other to start the conversation about our communities and the middle school students we serve.

Dru Tomlin, director of Middle Level Services with the Association for Middle Level Education, and Cassandra Barker-Carr, with ACT K-12 Client Partnerships, helped us channel our inner middle school students, reminding us of the challenges, micro-successes, and thought provoking needs that middle school-aged children have. One of the best things that came out of this discussion was that reminder that at one point in our lives, whether we want to remember it or not, we all have been middle school-aged students. Our ability to relate to that time is a lot easier to understand than we think, we just have to be willing to look through different lenses and become a kid again.

Kori Sanchez with the Atlanta Public Schools Social Emotional Learning team talked about Social Emotional Learning, a concept that many of us were unfamiliar with. Social Emotional Learning addresses behavior, discipline and academics by helping students understand how to manage emotions, improve social skills and make positive decisions – all important aspects of successful middle school student experiences.

Maureen Hartman, division manager of strategic services with the Hennepin County Library in Minnesota discussed what community engagement is and how to get started in succeeding in that area. Colin Rhinesmith, a faculty member of the Simmons College School of Library and Information Science talked about some of the community partnership projects his students’ assisted in developing. Finally, Denise Agosto with Drexel University and evaluator for the Future Ready project, helped us understand the importance of developing outcomes for our work.

All the while, our fearless project leaders Linda Braun (Future Ready with the Library Project Manager) and Carol Lo (Future Ready with the Library Curriculum Developer) eased our concerns and helped us navigate the waters of developing partnerships and understanding that our communities are all different, so our capstone projects will all be different.

future ready photo of cohort 1 group membersThis meeting was a great reminder to me that I can make a difference in this world. It was refreshing to meet library staff from all over the nation who have similar communities and similar needs when serving patrons like those I work with in my library in Scottsboro, Alabama. While no two communities (or libraries for that matter) are the same, our values and missions reflect the same characteristics: service to our community, providing opportunities for all individuals, and promoting literacy and all of its components to the highest degree.

One quote that I was introduced to during this meeting was from the poet William Butler Yeats that said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” I truly feel that this project will be both a filling of hope and opportunity for the communities we represent. It will ultimately light fires of purpose and relevance as we are able to show our community members and community partners how libraries can help tackle all levels of need when it comes to middle school students and college and career pathways.

Applications for the next cohort for the Future Ready with the Library project will be available later this year. Sign-up to receive updates on project activities and to be emailed when the next cohort application process is opened.

Laura Pitts is the Director of the Scottsboro, Alabama, Public Library.

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