YALSA’s Teen Civic Engagement Committee is a new strategic committee tasked with supporting and inspiring members to develop teens’ access to all aspects of civic engagement. Our mission is to create resources, training, and events for members that will engage diverse teen voices, and to explore partnership opportunities with other ALA divisions or groups to support these efforts. The Committee will focus on assisting members in providing teens with opportunities to explore and elevate issues that are important to them, with a foundation of teens being heard, counted, and active. The Teen Civic Engagement Committee was a direct result of YALSA’s 20×20 Taskforce. At Midwinter 2019, the YALSA Board approved the creation of the 22×20 Taskforce to work with other national organizations to support the 22 million teen voters that would be eligible to cast a vote in the 2020 presidential election. A dedicated committee or taskforce would create new resources and learning opportunities, update past resources, and keep civic engagement top-of-mind for library staff serving teens.
Civic engagement isn’t something that only happens around election time, and it isn’t limited to political action. According to Youth.Gov, the definition of civic engagement from the eyes of a teen involves “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.” Teens are an integral part of communities; communities are stronger and more resilient when teens actively participate. Research has consistently shown that participating in communities and working collaboratively on an issue have numerous benefits for teens. Engagement can lead to increased academic performance and improved social-emotional well-being. It helps teens build skills and networks that are valued in the workplace, and can thus be a source of economic mobility. When teens feel empowered to take action, and when they see their efforts achieve positive change, it can have a profound and lasting impact.
CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, is a non-partisan, independent research organization focused on youth civic engagement in the United States. CIRCLE’s extensive research on youth participation indicates that having youth involved in civics is important for democracy. Teens have a massive stake in the decisions that shape the country, yet are unable or are least likely to vote. When they are excluded or not participating, our democracy is not truly representing everyone. There are troubling opportunity gaps and inequities—race, gender, education, socioeconomic status, among other factors—that prevent individuals and communities from thriving. One source of this inequality is underrepresentation in civic and political life as a result of marginalization or oppression, particularly among non-white, immigrant, and/or low-income communities. Too often their voices go unheard, their problems go unaddressed, and a vicious cycle of disengagement and neglect perpetuates injustice. These already intractable gaps become more entrenched with time, and, therefore, focusing on teen civic engagement is a critical task in the work to promote a more just and equitable society.
Libraries have provided opportunities for teens to be civically involved and to give back to their communities – from summer volunteer/intern positions to teen advisory boards, or from junior Friends of the Library to participation in advocacy efforts for library funding or programming. These are foundational to serving teens in our communities. YALSA has long named advocacy and civic engagement as core tenants of our organization. With the Teen Civic Engagement Committee, YALSA will broaden its advocacy efforts to include multiple forms of teen civic engagement and year-round activities that not only put teens first, but create opportunities for youth voice and leadership. The Teen Civic Engagement Committee will continue to post content from organizations who are in the field of youth civic engagement as well as connect you to resources we identify or develop.