To end out our week of making I’ve asked my colleague Michelle Angell to share her experiences with Maker culture. She started out with programs and wanted to create makerspaces, but found that a Maker Fair was an even better way to celebrate and embrace the Maker community. The following is Michelle’s response. Read More →

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 like new and non-readers, LBGT teens, teens of color, poor and homeless teens, 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.

Each month I will profile a teen librarian providing outreach services and programs outside the walls of the library to underserved and underrepresented teens.  The purpose is for us to learn, connect, network and share with each other the crucial work we are doing in this area.

Amanda Bressler is the Youth Outreach Librarian for the Boston Public Library.  Amanda provides outreach to youth; children and teens for the Boston Public Library system.

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

I work primarily with two organizations that serve teens; an alternative high school for teens in drug and alcohol recovery called Ostiguy High School and the agency Department of Youth Services (DYS) that serves teens who are incarcerated in seven units in the Metro Boston region.  I’ve also begun a relationship with a program at Children’s Hospital called the Young Parents Program that serves young parents and their children, but this is still forming.  For DYS and Ostiguy the program is similar; I provide monthly outreach by bringing in a collection of high interest and wide variety of books, booktalk them to engage with the teens and talk about library services and programs for teens in the Boston Public Library locations.  We also provide supplemental or one off programs with the teens like last year the author Patrick Jones came and spoke to three of the DYS units about his books and his writing process.  The library purchased books for the teens participating in the visits so they had read one of his books and then they were able to ask him questions.  Each year we also provide a summer reading program for teens in DYS to read a book and write a review and they can receive a movie pass.  For the Young Parents Program it’s structured differently; it’s a clinic setting and I bring in free children’s and teen books and give them away to the young parents and kids, provide library card signups and try and connect them to library programs and services in their neighborhoods.  As this is a newish program I’m still in the process of developing this relationship.

  1. Describe a day in the life of you providing outreach-

There really isn’t an average day.  There is a lot of time that is spent cultivating the list of books I bring into DYS and Ostiguy each month, I want to bring in books the teens want and provide them with a variety.  I spend time prepping for those visits by writing booktalks and then also doing the backend stuff like checking the books out, making sure those accounts are updated.  I also try and connect with outside organizations and foster those relationships whether it’s a connection for the library as a system-wide connection or I may be connecting the organization to a branch library.  Then I’m out in the community, connecting with those organizations and those teens.  For each of these organizations I meet with them each month.

  1. What resources would you recommend for someone new to outreach to look for ideas for inspiration as well as best practices? I follow The Outreach Librarian blog which is a mix of public and academic library outreach. I also like to read books about underserved populations, not necessarily library related, so that I can learn more about those populations and their needs. Recently I have read a couple of Nell Bernstein’s books about incarceration – Burning Down the House and All Alone in the World – as well as True Notebooks by Mark Salzman about a teacher volunteering in a juvenile detention center. Knowing the populations you serve and the adversity they face can help you serve them better, and I find that these stories inspire me in my outreach work.  I would also say that there isn’t enough written about outreach services.  I also try and consult other librarians doing this type of work.
  1. What are some of your favorite things you have heard from teens while providing outreach services? We do a survey each year for the teens in DYS to get direct input from them what they think of the booktalks and the books we bring in for them.  Some of the feedback from the teens has been really helpful in shaping the booktalks as well as the type of books we bring in.  I think a lot of what I have heard from teens has been things like they didn’t know the library provided services like this or they are extremely grateful for the library providing them with the books they want.

Amanda DYS

 

One of my favorite sections of the Teen Programming Guidelines (is it nerdy to have favorite sections?) is “Align programs with community and library priorities.” But you have to be deeply involved with community agencies and activities in order to be ready to act on the community’s priorities as they arise. This sounds obvious (and it is!), but it’s taken me a few years to figure it out.

Several years back my coworker and I began working with the Seattle Youth Employment Program (SYEP). SYEP is a city agency that places youth with barriers in paid internships in a variety of environments in city government and the private sector. It also provides them with job training and academic support. We worked with SYEP staff to design a curriculum that would build the interns’ digital and information literacy skills. We were sometimes surprised by the needs identified by SYEP staff and the interns’ employers: touch typing, for example, and basic MS Word. We learned a lot about putting our own assumptions aside.

Over the years, we continually evaluated and adjusted the program. We dropped some pieces and added others to make it as relevant as possible to the youth’s needs and the needs of their employers. Mayor YEP Logo

This year, Seattle’s mayor put forth a huge Youth Employment Initiative in which he asked SYEP to more than double the number of youth placed in jobs over the summer. Suddenly, the community had spoken: youth employment was a major need. Because we already had an ongoing relationship with SYEP, the library was poised to expand the partnership to serve more youth with our trainings. We also helped in other ways, like providing meeting rooms for SYEP staff trainings. Next summer, the mayor intends to make the program five times larger than it is this year (eep!), which will present a huge opportunity for library involvement.

Of course, being in the right place at the time is always partly a matter of luck. But you can’t be lucky if you’re not out there.

When the email got sent around the bloggers about doing a 30 days of programming, my mind instantly went blank. I’m just a librarian-in-training and haven’t done a lot of hands-on programming with teens. What could I bring to the conversation?

Then I remembered I did have a program. A hypothetical one that is. I’m currently taking a Media Literacy for Youth class which has been amazing. One of our assignments was to create either a lesson or program plan about a media literacy topic. It could be targeted to any age group and should last 2-3 hours. We had to write about outcomes, lay out all the activities, essentially plan it so some librarian could do it with the kids they work with.

I’ll lay out my idea and then want your feedback. Is this program realistic? Would it work with the teens you work with? And if it’s not realistic, what needs to be changed?

So…here I go!

As a twenty-something, I would say I’m pretty well-connected in social media. If someone asked what my favorite social media platform is, I would say it’s Twitter. There something exciting about Twitter when you think about it like a cocktail party (shout out to blogger Dave Charest for this analogy) — there are hundreds of conversations going on around you and you decide which ones to tap into. And our teens are using it so why not have a program that challenges them to think about not only how they use Twitter, but how others use Twitter?

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Admission time: like many of us in Library Land, I am still figuring out the best ways to measure program outcomes. Marking attendance is relatively easy (although to be fair, sometimes the teens move do around a lot, which can make them tricky to count). It’s a bit harder to identify the changes I want to see as a result of my program, and then accurately measure those changes.

The Programming Guidelines ask us to “Engage in youth-driven, evidence-based evaluation and outcome measurement.” I’m not quite there yet. As I mentioned in my post about our weekly drop-in, we’ve been working with participants in that program to identify priorities, and now we’re moving towards evaluations that will measure whether those priorities are being met. But it’s still a work in progress.

What I have gotten better at is working with community partners to create evaluations for programs. For example, we regularly work collaborate with Year Up to build their students’ information and digital literacy skills. Before each workshop, we meet with Year Up staff to make sure that we’ll be teaching the skills they want participants to gain. Collaborating with partners on our evaluations and learning from them about their own evaluation methods has made a huge difference in the quality of our evaluations overall.

At Year Up, I give the students pre- and post-tests to see how much our classes are moving the needle on desired skills and knowledge. We send Year Up staff an early draft of the tests (same questions for both) and incorporate their feedback in the final evaluation tool. Seems foolproof, right?

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Girlvolution_Web LogoLast spring, a couple of coworkers and I did some outreach at an event called Girlvolution. It was a completely youth-led conference, with sessions on social justice issues ranging from foster care reform to sexual identity. The teens leading each session mixed statistical and factual information with their own perspectives and experiences.

It was the best conference I had ever been to. I was blown away by how poised, informed, and prepared the youth were. But I wondered: how did they do their research? Had they been visiting our libraries every year without us even knowing it?

Our Youth and Family Learning Manager looked into it and found out that this was exactly the case. Although Powerful Voices (the organization that hosts Girlvolution)  had a “Library Day” as part of their program each year, the library had not been providing direct support.

PV

What an awesome organization.

So this year, we collaborated. My coworkers and I met with their staff to hear more about their organization’s mission and goals, and to learn how we could help. We arranged for me to visit Powerful Voices on a Thursday afternoon a couple of weeks ago to talk to the youth and their adult allies (mentors) about research. It was a great conversation about everything from whether all the world’s information is available on Google (heck no) to evaluating resources.

PV survey results

Results of a survey asking participants to rate the effectiveness of Library Research Day.

That Saturday, the girls and their allies all came to the library. We settled down in the computer lab and got SERIOUS about research. I showed them how to find books in our catalog, and how to decode Dewey. We dug into databases to find the most up-to-date information and the best statistics. We ended the day with pizza, which is never a bad idea.

Powerful Voices ends their sessions with a gratitude circle. That Saturday, many youth and adults mentioned finding out about all the great resources the library has to offer, and how helpful librarians can be. I was grateful for all I learned from them, and to be part of the support network for such talented and engaged young women.

They were pretty excited about the new library.

They were pretty excited about the new library.

For the past six months or so, my fellow teen services librarian and I have been building a partnership with a local drop-in center for homeless youth. We began by meeting with staff several times and taking a tour of their facility to get a better sense of what they do, and how we could help. Then we moved into outreach efforts, like tabling at an on-site job fair. We even revamped their on-site library.  Read More →

April is School Library Month! Here are some easy strategies for public librarians seeking to build productive partnerships with their school colleagues.

Get in touch with your local school librarians! Sometimes, this can be the most difficult aspect of cross-agency collaboration. I’ve noticed that, especially with regard to youth services librarians in larger, more bureaucratic public library systems, outreach specialists may try to follow a chain of command, asking for the building principal or even the superintendent for access to the school librarians. In many cases, those administrators may either not realize that the public library wants to help, rather than place demands, on school staff, and they often have a lot on their plate anyway. Reaching out to school librarians directly can be more effective, or better yet, ask a school librarian you have worked with in the past to connect you.

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Give local school librarians and teachers some extra privileges. One easy way to support the educators in your community: create a special patron class in your automation system, with an increased checkout limit. Nashville Public Libraries are on the cutting edge of this, with their Limitless Libraries program. They even have the high school and middle school libraries as routing stops! If your library doesn’t allow holds against on-shelf materials, you might consider a different policy for teachers. No teacher or school librarian wants to swing by the public library at the end of the day to find the audio version of Fahrenheit 451 has been nabbed since they looked it up in the OPAC that morning. Read More →

Back in October 2014, I wrote about a report entitled: “America After 3 PM.” The Afterschool Alliance was writing about how students spend their time after school. In it, I raised the point of libraries as hubs for after-school activities, a free spot for teens to come if they don’t have the resources or access to other after-school programs. At the end of January, Alia Wong from Atlantic wrote an article called “The Activity Gap,” which discusses the access issues students from various socio-economic classes face with participating in after-school and extracurricular programs.

Wong begins the article by comparing two different students, Ethan and Nicole, whose family backgrounds contribute to two different lifestyles and life paths. While their names have been changed, these two students do exist and were case studies in a study published in Voices of Urban Education. This national study was conducted by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute of School Reform.

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