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 interviewed Heather Fisch, Associate Librarian, Outreach at the Hennepin County Library

1. What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?

Our outreach team coordinates monthly booktalks by library staff to the students at Hennepin County Home School (CHS), a residential treatment center for juveniles ages 13 to 20 who have been committed by the court. We update their library collection with new materials and provide books as requested by students and teachers. We also organize special programs for the students, such as author visits and writing workshops.

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

Last year, one of our librarians chose Kekla Magoon’s novel How It Went Down to book talk. Many of the students connected with the novel, so much so that one student persuaded the administration to buy a copy for every student and host a school-wide book club focused on the novel. Students facilitated the book club meetings, and a couple of us from the library attended. The students were really engaged and the book seemed to resonate deeply with them and sparked profound discussion.  It was really inspiring to witness.

This past October, we had the opportunity to bring the author, Kekla Magoon, to CHS to discuss the book with the students in person. The event took place in the auditorium, where the students had prepared questions and posted them on paper taped to the walls. The students listened intently to the author describe her journey to becoming a writer, the process of writing books, and the impetus behind How It Went Down, and then asked questions including:

  • “What is your honest opinion on Black on Black violence and White on Black violence? Why does society make White on Black violence a bigger deal?”
  • “Why do people make their perspectives and stereotypes come true?”

(Disclaimer: Not all days in Outreach are this overtly inspiring, but I feel grateful to have been there for this one!)

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

The best resource(s) I’ve discovered are the teens themselves. When I stop and listen, I’ve found that most teens will tell you what is meaningful to them, what incites their curiosity, and what inspires them to question the world around them. My colleagues have also been a trusted source for sharing best practices. In terms of where I turn when selecting titles for booktalks, I’ve had good luck with the following:

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

Some of my favorite things I’ve heard students say:

  • “Sometimes when I’m reading a book in my room at night, it feels like I’m watching TV!”
  • “I’m not always a fan of book trailers because they take away my freedom to imagine.”

(And lest we forget that some of our students are, after all, teenage boys):

Booktalker: “See No Color is about a 16-year-old baseball player whose body is growing in ways that make it difficult for her to continue playing ball.”

Student: “Growing? How?”

Booktalker: “She’s getting curves.”

Student: “Ooooo! I want that book!”

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