Located in Slavic Village, the Fleet Branch is one of 27 branches of the Cleveland Public Library. Fleet is one of the library’s busiest branches and serves a diverse population of patrons, from infants to seniors.
As a Children’s and Youth Services Librarian, I work with infants through teens. The library provides many programs, inside and outside the library, for our youth. Connecting with our younger patrons has always been easy. Connecting with our teens is much more challenging.
When I applied for the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Learning Resources Grant, I wanted to design a program that would engage and excite our teens. I wanted the program to be an opportunity for our teens to bond with each other and with the library staff. On most days, teens come to the library, use the computers, and leave. They have little interaction with anyone and it can be nearly impossible to get them off the computers.
My library branch is located in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. The teens I serve deal with toxic stress every day and are not as apt to participate in programs. We try to entice them with food, movies, and music but are often unsuccessful. When teens do come to programs, they tend to keep to themselves and not interact with each other. I wanted to host a program that lent itself towards interaction and would be fun and engaging.
To do this, I purchased BreakoutEDU for our “Teen Agents: Mysteries Unraveled” program. BreakoutEDU is an escape room-esque program where teens are trying to solve clues and decipher codes to break in to a lock box. BreakoutEDU includes an interactive platform and a kit with lock boxes, locks, invisible ink pens, and other detective tools. BreakoutEDU supports collaboration. To solve each mystery, the teens have to communicate and work together.
We had three teens register for the program and two of them showed up. On the first day of the program, we were able to get additional teens to join us. From the start, I could see the teens were having fun. We gave them their clues and told them to solve their first mystery. There was some initial hesitation, but they soon started talking and got to work. As the teens became acquainted with one another, they started to discuss other topics besides the mysteries they were working on. It was nice to see them begin to build relationships with each other.
Besides interacting with each other, the program also allowed the teens to interact with the youth staff. Myself and the branch’s library assistant facilitated the program. Although we were familiar with the teens who attended the program, we did not know them well. Throughout the program, the teens turned to us for guidance, which led to conversations and an increased rapport. Since the program’s conclusion, we have seen all of the teens in the library and had conversations with them. One of the teens even shared her writing with myself and the library assistant. The teens also told us they are excited to attend the program when we host it again.
Even though we had small numbers for our program, I consider it a success. The program enabled our teens to meet new people and begin to establish relationships with the youth staff. I am looking forward to hosting more programs this fall!
Tracie Forfia is a Children’s & Youth Services Librarian at Cleveland Public Library.