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 Monnee Tong, Service Area Manager of Sciences at the San Diego Central Library. previously she was the Manager of the Pauline Foster Teen Center of the San Diego Public Library.

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

While I was Manager of the Pauline Foster Teen Center, our outreach was targeted to teachers and schools to reach students. We were able to network and create relationships with teachers, which helped inform what outreach services we offered.  After receiving some feedback from teachers about what was needed for their classes, we developed a variety of different workshops that introduced teens to library services: articles and databases, catalog overview, introduction to the San Diego Public Library, and credible resources. Each workshop was about a half an hour, and we would usually play a game at the end of each one to test knowledge and have an excuse to give out candy and prizes.

My team and I would travel to classes to give these workshops, but many of them were given at the library along with a tour, and sometimes the workshops were tailored to what the class was learning. A typical visit to the library for a class would last about two hours, which included a tour of our beautiful library and a workshop. We are a popular field trip destination!

2. What are some of the outreach partners that have been created through your work at the San Diego Public Library?

One of the partners we had the pleasure of working with on an ongoing basis was the Monarch School, a K-12 school for students experiencing homelessness. We worked closely with the eighth grade class and saw them for a scheduled monthly visit. Sometimes we would visit their classroom, and sometimes they would come to the library. This past year, each month focused on a different topic that the students could research using library resources, and the year before that the students worked on creating videos using YouTube Editor in our multimedia lab. Having consistent visits like this was so valuable; we became part of the students’ community and they became part of ours. Many of them visited the library after school, and knowing them from class helped so much in building a rapport with them after school.

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

Before the day-of, I like to prepare by going over my presentation, printing any handouts for the class, putting together SWAG or prize bags, processing library cards if needed, and confirming with the teacher. On the day-of, I try to arrive early so I can find parking and the classroom, and to give myself time to set my presentation up and pass out any handouts that are needed. If I’m passing out candy or anything else that’s edible, I ask the teacher if it’s OK. I start out by introducing myself and showing everyone a photo of the library and telling them where it is before diving into my main content.

At the end I usually give a little quiz and give out candy to correct answers. One time I had leftover full candy bars from an event and decided to give those out. It got a little competitive in there…but I hope they all learned a little about choosing credible sources after that!

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

One of my favorite resources is Infopeople, which provides continuing education and professional development opportunities. California library folks may already be familiar with Infopeople since it’s based here, but it’s available to anyone. They have free archived webinars on a variety of topics, including outreach.  It’s a great place to start if you’re new to a topic or need a refresher course.

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

An encounter I had recently with a student was a tender “I love being a librarian” moment. I was invited to speak at a school for Career Day about being a librarian (which I love–I bust all sorts of stereotypes!) One classroom from the school had previously been at the library for a tour, so I was a little familiar with the school. At this recent visit, I had finished speaking to the classes and was about to say goodbye. The teacher then spoke up and thanked one of the students in the class, who was the one who requested that I come to their school. The teacher told me that she had liked the tour I had given at the library so much that she requested that I come to Career Day so I could meet the whole school. I was glowing from the comment. It’s easy to go through the motions and not realize who you may be impacting. The moment the teacher told me that and I made eye contact with the student, I felt like I had successfully done my job in connecting with the community and teaching people about what the library can do for them.

This is why outreach is important. You have so much to give outside of the walls of the library–the rest of the world should know about it.

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