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 spoke with Laura Mielenhausen, Youth Services Librarian Hennepin County Library Teen Central, Minneapolis Central Library.

What kind of outreach services do you provide for teens?

I provide weekly library service to the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center (JDC). This includes maintaining the JDC library collection; bringing new materials (both withdrawn items from Hennepin County Library and items purchased specifically for JDC); shelving the returned materials; and visiting the residents to suggest books and take book requests. When I visit the residents I let them know about the services our public library provides, including Homework Help programs, Teen Anime Club, and the Best Buy Teen Tech Center in downtown Minneapolis, where teens can do creative projects like record their own music. I also let them know how they can get a new library card and get any old library card fines reviewed, so they can get a fresh start as a library patron.

Describe a day in the life of providing outreach.

For my JDC outreach, I track the number of requests I get at each visit. I fill those requests with JDC library materials first, but in the case the teen wants a book we don’t have at JDC I bring it from the public library system. I keep a spreadsheet of who has what and everything is checked out to one library card account that I maintain. On the day of the visit, I pack my hand cart with any requested materials, new magazines, and new books for the collection and hop on the light rail to arrive at JDC. I check in with staff, sign in, and receive my building keys that I’ll use to move around the building. I have a book truck that I fill with new, popular, and interesting items, which I take up to each “mod” of residents. In each mod, I meet with residents, talk to them about the books they like and what they’ve been reading at JDC. These teens have a lot of time to fill and many read a book a day. They love to tell me about books they liked or did not like, and it gives me a good opportunity to do a little reader’s advisory on the fly by suggesting other books on the cart, and to encourage them to visit the public library after their release. After my visits I head back down to the library to put away returned materials and weed any damaged items. I spend about four hours at the JDC every Tuesday morning, with a few additional hours at my desk every week making requests, updating my spreadsheet, and getting the materials ready to bring in. Twice a year I put together an order for new books for JDC, with support from Hennepin County Library’s Outreach department. We sometimes get grant funding to bring in authors to visit the residents in JDC and other correctional facilities served by Hennepin County Library. When that happens, I work with my colleagues to plan the visit, bring copies of the author’s book for the residents to keep, and communicate with JDC staff and teachers to support attendance at the visit. Last year we were delighted to invite Kekla Magoon to come in and speak about her book How it Went Down. Residents had an opportunity to read the book before her visit and then were able to ask her questions about the book and her life as a writer. Everyone got to keep a signed copy of the book.

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

Remember that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Reach out to other librarians in your system and those doing similar work in other library systems. Ask lots of questions – find out about existing outreach programs and what makes them succeed. If you have an idea for outreach you’d like to do, don’t be deterred by the inevitable, “Oh we tried that in 2010 and it didn’t work” response. If it’s a valuable library service that supports the mission of your library and addresses a community need, you can find a way to make it work. Meet with teachers, program coordinators, shelter directors, and other youth workers in your community and explore how you can bring library services to their youth programs or collaborate on youth programming together.

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

I love hearing about what the teens are reading and seeing their enthusiasm about books. I’ve learned to never make assumptions about what incarcerated teens might be interested in reading – I get requests from R.L. Stine to Dostoyevsky, from Stephenie Meyer to Sister Souljah – and the joy I see when I bring a requested item never gets old. My favorite experience is when a formally incarcerated teen comes to see me at the library – we talk, get their library card account up-to-date, and look for books that might interest them. Coming from a situation where some books are restricted, a formerly incarcerated teen once said to me, “Wait, I can read whatever I want?” “Yes,” I said, “this is your public library. You can check out any book you see in here.”

Yesterday, I had a great opportunity to participate in a phone conversation with my friend Amira, an Egyptian-American living in NYC and a group of incarcerated teens at a local jail who have been watching the news unfold for over two weeks about the Middle Eastern country of Egypt. Read More →

I met this evening with the owner of a local bookstore who frequently tells me the story of not really being a reader growing up but was inspired by a teacher to read and opened up his own bookstore, moved over 600 miles to call it home, and does amazing outreach with the community. He goes by the name of Jaz. Next week, he’ll be accompanying me to the Freedom Reads! bookclub at Jail-North.
If anyone can inspire these young men at Jail-North in this community, Jaz can.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with Amy Cheney, librarian and founder of Write to Read, who encouraged me to give these young men (16-17 year olds) the best that I can give them.

I’ll keep you posted. Feel free to share your own outreach stories with incarcerated youth.

Posted by Kelly Czarnecki

Posted by Kelly Czarnecki

I’ve recently started providing outreach to the teen male population at a local Jail facility in NC. The speakers at this presentation had well developed, successful and award winning programs for incarcerated teens with lots of great ideas. Jack Gantos, author of Hole in My Life, spoke after the panel and recounted his own experiences in jail and as a writer. Michele Gorman moderated through her involvement on YALSAs Criminal Elements booklist.

What the panel seemed to have in common was a genuine desire to work with and not judge these readers, to meet them where they were at in their reading levels and interests, and not take no for an answer.

In the programs represented by the panel, incarcerated teens have participated in author visits (started off with just cold calling authors to see if they’d speak at the jail), storytellers, and musician visits,
Great Stories Book CLUB recipients, visual art on display at city hall, created partnerships with the judge, probation officer, teen and librarian to read and discuss books, produced a literary magazine and provided readers advisory.

While a mutual goal was to increase awareness of the library as an important community resource and to use literature as a vehicle for discussion, outreach to a jail is not without its obstacles. Funding (grants, scholarships, and donations sought), security (we are part of the library’s security program by being there), and staff (one jail staff member was teasing a teen that they should read the picture book b/c they weren’t smart enough to read. This interaction turned into the teen joking with the staff and choosing the book anyway. While we might not understand or respond in the same way the jail staff does, we need to understand, most have the heart to work there with the teens and connect with them too) can be challenging.

Reduction in recidivism
Teens read a book for the first time and keep on reading
Reading helps with social and personal issues (Flinn’s Breathing Underwater was a catalyst to for a teen to talk with his girlfriend about her manipulative behavior toward him)
quote directly from a teen:

”Keeps my imagination moving”
(there were more but that’s all I have for now)

Check them out when you can:

Austin Public Library: Second Chance Books created by Youth Specialist, Devo Carpenter.

Hennepin County Library: Home School and Juvenile Detention Center created by Outreach Manager, Patrick Jones.

Johnson County Library System: Read to Succeed created by Teen Services Librarian, Tricia Suellentrop.

Alameda County Library: Write to Read created by one of this years Movers and Shakers, Librarian Amy Cheney.

There are many other libraries serving teens in jails. What kind of tips do you have to share? What has worked well? How many are not quite sure they are comfortable in offering library services to this teen population?

Posted by Kelly Czarnecki

My ever-thinking colleague suggested we offer to sign up the young men (16-17 year olds) in the Freedom Reads! book club at Jail North in Charlotte, NC for the Teen Summer Reading program. Of course and why not! Since the program is online and the young men do not have internet access, we had to be a bit creative. They chose a username and password which the librarian at the jail will keep track of. They will record their hours on hard copy and turn it in when they reach their goals. Some even said they would read for thirty hours straight and right away. What do they read? So much! Astrology, Dead Sea Scrolls, James Patterson, teen dating violence prevention, and most recently titles from the Great Stories CLUB grant program.

Come see our display (among many others) at the Diversity Fair at the conference on Saturday, 3p-5p at the Convention Center in the Special Events Area behind aisle 3700.

A few other related programs:

All Committee meeting, Saturday, 10a-12p, Hilton Grand Ballroom. Visit the Outreach to Young Adults Special Needs Committee.

Behind Bars: Books & Teens and the Criminal Justice System, Saturday, 1:30p-3:30p, Convention Center, Room 288-289.