Public Librariesas Partnersin Youth Development


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Public Librariesas Partnersin Youth Development

  1. 1. C H A L L E N G E S Public Libraries partners in as yout h development O P P O R T U N I T I E S DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund
  2. 2. PUBLIC LIBRARIES AS PARTNERS IN YOUTH DEVELOPMENT I In designing this new initiative, the Fund recognized that n 1998, the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund public libraries have always been part of the support announced plans for a new initiative, Public system in communities for young people. Many cur- Libraries as Partners in Youth Development. The goal is rently offer educational enrichment activities of some to help public libraries throughout the country develop kind for youth. Yet, at best, libraries aren’t living up to high-quality activities and programs that support the their full potential as partners in youth development. educational and career development of young people during the non-school hours. The initiative draws on the That was confirmed through a survey the American strengths and qualities that have made public libraries Library Association and the University of Illinois con- so vital to our society over the past 200 years. These ducted for us of current practices in serving youth at include their presence in virtually every community 1,500 libraries around the country. The results of the across the nation, free access to all — regardless survey, enclosed in this report and accompanying doc- of age, educational background, income or social ument, provide a clearer picture about the extent of status — and their core belief in self-improvement youth programs currently operating in public libraries through learning and discovery. and some of the challenges they face to do this work well. The survey also helped us identify a number of The idea of helping public libraries expand and enrich libraries that are extremely interested in expanding and services for young people has had strong appeal to the improving their programs for youth. DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund for some time. Our mission is to foster fundamental improvement in The most promising finding is that public libraries are the educational and career development systems that highly committed to serving young people. We discov- prepare America’s school-age youth for life as adults. ered that nearly every library provides organized reading We are particularly interested in forging stronger links programs; more than 80 percent offer cultural programs between schools and communities, ensuring they work for youth; and a majority report that they collaborate in in tandem to provide adequate and appropriate support some way with schools and community-based organiza- for all young people through their stages of develop- tions. However, we also learned that there are opportu- ment. Increasingly, we have focused our efforts on nities for libraries to serve youth better. For example, building a “web of support” that surrounds youth. In the only one out of three surveyed provides any computer ideal, that means schools that offer high-quality instruc- classes or workshops. Fewer than 25 percent offer tion, supplemented by a range of informal learning homework assistance or career development programs. opportunities that are available to youth during the The reading and cultural programs that are so prevalent afternoon hours, on weekends and over the summer, in in libraries overwhelmingly serve elementary school stu- a variety of settings. These include science and chil- dents; far fewer programs serve high school students. dren’s museums, parks, public libraries, and school And very few libraries indicated that they designed pro- buildings that stay open for an extended day. grams to reach youth in low-income communities. L e t t e r fr o m t h e P r e s i d e n t 1
  3. 3. Ch allenges and Oppo r tunit ies Through the Public Libraries as Partners in Youth This report, based on interviews with leaders in the Development initiative, we hope to help libraries opti- public library and youth development fields, provides a mize their potential to reach the children and teens perspective of current library services to youth and the most in need of their services. In Fall 1998, the Fund growing, changing needs of children and teens. It also awarded planning grants to 10 public library systems shares examples of some of the exceptional work with that already have a proven track record of exemplary youth being accomplished by several libraries. These service to children and teens. With the assistance of examples illustrate the ingenuity and dedication of the Urban Libraries Council, these libraries will spend library professionals around the country and suggest most of this year designing programs to better serve the potential that with proper support and leadership low-income youth in their areas. All of the libraries that waits to be tapped at your public library. submit implementation proposals will be eligible for We hope you find this report informative and useful. As three-year grants of up to $400,000 each. The Fund always, we welcome your comments. expects to make these awards later in 1999. If these grants are successful in producing viable pro- M. Christine DeVita grams that are responsive to the public’s needs, we President, DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund intend to make a long-term investment in the public April 1999 library field, as we have done with our other funding pro- grams. One such program is Library Power, launched in 1988 to enrich teaching and learning through better use of library services in public elementary and middle schools, especially in low-income communities. Library Power operates nationally in 19 communities across the country, serving more than one million students annual- ly in 700 schools. It also represents the largest private investment in school libraries in more than 30 years, with Fund support totaling more than $40 million. We believe that public libraries have much to offer young people and in partnership with schools and other community organizations they can strengthen the web of services and support that our children and teens so desperately need. P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 2
  4. 4. Public Libraries: puters at home or in school, the A Community Asset library is often their only opportuni- ty to learn how to operate one, familiarize themselves with various software programs and get an intro- n a neighborhood in As these stories show, public libraries I duction to the Internet. Brooklyn, home to more than play an important role half of New York City’s perennial in supporting the information, edu- Throughout the country, librarians inflow of new immigrants, a Chinese cational and literacy needs of young report that public libraries are becom- teenager walks through the door of people in their communities. While ing a popular gathering place for chil- the local branch of the public library. this is something libraries have dren and teens after school and on She has come to use the library’s always done, these days the nature the weekends, supplying answers to computers to familiarize herself with and breadth of library services are reference questions and meeting the Internet and how it can help her changing to reflect new, different research needs. Some are coming for find valuable information. A young and growing needs of children and help with homework, while for other boy in Tucson, Arizona, whose par- teenagers. Depending on the commu- young people, the public library offers ents work long hours and are often nity, libraries may have programs to a bridge from the structure of formal too overwhelmed to help him with keep children reading during sum- education to the self-direction of life- his homework, heads immediately mer months when school is out. long learning. It is a resource for after school to a nearby community They may also seek out teen parents information on career opportunities center. There, tutors hired by the to teach them about the importance and job training, as well as all types of personal interests and pursuits. s public library help him strengthen of talking, singing and reading to his reading skills and improve his their babies. Some even send librari- study habits. A family of Mexican ans to read to children in the wait- migrant workers manages to get a lift ing rooms of social services agencies to the nearest library on the outskirts and health clinics; others deliver of San Antonio, Texas. They are books to shelters for homeless fami- accompanying their school-age chil- lies and abused children. dren on what turns out to be every- As computers have grown more one’s first visit to a public library, important in daily lives, libraries and surprisingly, it becomes an all- have responded accordingly. For day outing for the entire family. those who don’t have access to com- A COMMUNITY ASSET C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s 3
  5. 5. Libraries and Youth — Response to the survey was extremely A Tradition of Service high: 83 percent (1,246) of the libraries returned the questionnaire, and all but eight of them indicated they offered programs for school-age ervice to youth has been a grams offered to youth in public S youth.* mainstay of the history of pub- libraries, or the ways these services Overall, the survey showed lic libraries in the United States. are organized and delivered. To find public libraries offer a range Many of the earliest out the answers to those questions of programs for elementary, public libraries founded in this coun- and learn more about the opportuni- middle and high school students. try in the first half of the 1800s ties to improve services for young Reading and cultural activities are were established to benefit youth. By people, the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s the most common. Computer classes, the turn of the century, the special- Digest Fund in early 1998 commis- homework assistance and career ization of children’s services devel- sioned a nationwide survey. The development programs are also oped rapidly in major urban public study, conducted in association with offered, but in far fewer places and libraries. This specialization brought the American Library Association held less frequently — an obvious with it many of the aspects of chil- and the University of Illinois, is the area for improvement. Also, the dren’s services still familiar to us — first to gather statistical data on the majority of programs are geared to separate, welcoming rooms for young availability of education and career elementary, then middle school stu- people; trained children’s librarians; development programs for school-age dents, with the fewest programs story hours for preschoolers; work youth in medium-sized and large designed for high school-age youth. with elementary schools; and special public libraries. arts and crafts and cultural pro- The survey was sent to 1,500 public grams. Specialized services for young libraries in the United States. All adults came much later. 461 library systems that serve popu- The fact that libraries are lations of 100,000 or more received successfully attracting youth is the questionnaire. The balance was a reflected in national statistics. representative selection from According to a 1995 report libraries that serve 5,000 to 100,000 by the National Center for people and that met certain Education Statistics (Services criteria regarding staff, serv- and Resources for Children ice hours and annual operat- and Young Adults in Public ing expenditures. Libraries), fully 60 percent of public library users are youth. Thirty-seven percent of users are children and 23 percent range from 12 to 18 years old. What has been less known, howev- er, is the range of activities and pro- * For a full report on survey findings, see “Survey of Programs for School-Age Youth in Public Libraries, Technical Report to the Dewitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund”; American Library Association, January 1999. 4 P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t
  6. 6. A TRADITION OF SERVICE Specifically, of those libraries • 33 percent provide computer class- When asked how often programs responding to the survey: es and workshops (introduction to take place, libraries reported that the Internet, web page design or reading and homework assistance • Nearly 100 percent provide read- instruction in specific software programs are offered at least once a ing programs (book discussions, programs), which equally serve week, while most computer classes, storytelling and summer reading), elementary and middle school stu- career development and cultural pro- which are primarily targeted to dents; grams are held less than once a elementary school youth; month. • 23 percent offer homework assis- • 83 percent present cultural pro- tance (special places set aside The survey also revealed important grams (presentations by authors, where young people can work in information about who plans and musical or dramatic performances private, making basic reference implements programs for youth in and creative writing workshops), books available for students, public libraries. By far, these respon- which also are aimed at elemen- tutoring programs or a telephone sibilities fall to paid library staff. tary school youth; “hotline” for answers to questions Volunteers are a distant second, but • 42 percent offer community-service about their school work), which more likely to have these responsibili- and leadership programs (older is primarily intended for elemen- ties than paid staff from school dis- students serving as tutors for tary school students; and tricts and community-based organiza- their younger peers or young peo- tions or parents. Notably, libraries • 19 percent provide career develop- ple working as volunteers in the report that the role of youth in plan- ment programs (making informa- library), for which middle school ning and implementing programs is tion available about careers, organ- students are the primary targets, minimal. For instance, in the few izing career fairs and presenta- followed by high school students; cases where libraries reported some tions about different jobs), for responsibilities for youth, the most which high school students are common response was “set up or the most frequent targets. clean up” for reading programs or “recruit youth to participate” in com- munity-service programs. This is another area for improvement and where libraries can benefit from the experience of others in the youth-service field who have found their programs considerably strengthened by involv- ing young people in planning, designing and helping implement activities. A final, and extremely important finding from the survey, is that public libraries’ commitment to C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s 5
  7. 7. serving youth remains high. This was professor, Graduate School of Library responsible for young adult services. reflected in the fact that nearly two- and Information Studies at Queens “These librarians are stretched to thirds of libraries (63 percent) said College, City University of New the breaking point,” she said. “It’s they provided training or staff devel- York. Ironically, Chelton added, “sta- true that most libraries can’t afford opment related to their youth work. tistics show that kids are libraries’ to hire a young adult And when asked to estimate the biggest users, but budgets for youth specialist until other library posi- level of commitment within their services are not allocated according tions are in place,” she added. “But libraries on a five-point scale, respon- to that reality,” Chelton, who has historically public libraries have done dents gave themselves an average rat- written several reports on library a better job of serving children than ing of 4.56. They also gave high com- services to children and teens, said teens. And clearly, more adolescents mitment level ratings to library that youth programs took their use the library when there’s a young adult specialist on staff.” s administrators (4.28), library staff biggest hits in the 1980s. As the (4.09) and library trustees (4.07). focus of federal spending programs Moreover, the majority of respon- shifted from cities to suburbs, youth dents reported that they expect to services — most prevalent in larger, serve more youth in the near future urban systems — were hurt by com- through reading programs, computer petition for local funds. “Many pub- classes and workshops, homework lic libraries were fighting just to assistance and cultural programs. keep their doors open,” she said. Only a handful of libraries expected In recent years, public funding for to serve fewer youth in any of the six libraries has generally improved and program areas mentioned above. many libraries have been able to That level of commitment and opti- restore services. However, larger or mism — coupled with a growing well-endowed library systems that desire on the part of more and more can hire specialized staff often find public libraries to become full part- there’s a shortage of trained chil- ners in youth development — is all dren’s and young adult librarians. In the more profound in light of the the 1970s, the library field began to many ups and downs in funding for move away from the specialization of youth services at public libraries. staff and toward hiring more gener- Although many libraries have estab- alists. That, coupled in recent years lished independent, non-profit with a growing emphasis on expert- “friends groups” to broaden their ise in information technology, has fundraising activities, most libraries resulted in a decline in library are primarily publicly funded institu- school programs for youth and a tions, and that makes them vulnera- dearth of trained professionals in ble to budgetary uncertainties and that area. the shifting priorities of local govern- According to Chelton, because of ment. “When library budgets are cut, budget constraints and a lack of youth services are the first to suffer,” qualified candidates, many libraries said Mary Kay Chelton, associate have made children’s librarians also LIBRARIES AND YOUTH P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 6
  8. 8. Leadership TUCSON-PIMA PUBLIC L I B R A R Y P L AY S LEADERSHIP ROLE Tucson-Pima Public Library is in an envi- able position. Supported by a citywide directive from the mayor’s office to focus on the needs of youth, the library has been able to play a leadership role in developing policy and implementing pro- grams to help a growing number of youth at risk of failing in school. Tucson is one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, “This was an extraordinary opportunity for the library,” with a population that has increased more than 40 per- said Agnes Griffen, the library’s director. “There we cent since 1980. Unfortunately for the city of 817,000, were, finally being recognized along with the police and many of its youth and families live in poverty. According parks and recreation departments as a frontline player to the 1990 U.S. Census, 23 percent of children under with youth.” age 18 who reside in Pima County, where Tucson is In fact, this was a well-earned opportunity for the library. located, are poor. Arizona has the third highest rate of Since the 1970s, it had fine-tuned a range of outreach teen pregnancies in the nation and fifth highest rates of programs designed to serve disadvantaged families divorces and of births to unwed mothers. County sta- and children. A family literacy program targets low- tistics have revealed that in households headed by income rural communities and urban neighborhoods, women, 40 percent of children live in poverty. providing families with a free meal and a chance to bor- Among the many problems associated with poverty, row books from the library’s bookmobile. The library youth crime rose precipitously in Tucson. In 1992, an also places small collections of children’s and parent- alarmed city turned its focus on the issue, and one of ing books in the waiting rooms of social services agen- the mayor’s and council’s first measures was to cies in low-income neighborhoods, helping to calm what declare Tucson “a family- and child-friendly community.” is often a tense atmosphere and providing parents and A task force composed of city agencies providing serv- children with a way to use the time constructively and ices to youth was formed to look at the underlying caus- harmoniously. es of youth crime and recommend how to tackle the problem. Tucson-Pima Public Library, which had been working with vulnerable youth through many of its out- reach services, was invited to join the task force. 7 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s
  9. 9. Leadership T U C S O N - P I M A P U B L I C L I B R A R Y P L AY S In addition to offering its regular summer reading pro- focus of the commission’s first initiative, which is to help gram, the library deposits book collections at parks and more young people complete high school.” recreation facilities throughout the city and county to “Library leadership on the task force and the help make reading one of the regular activities there. Metropolitan Education Commission helped us to be Drawing on professional resources from various com- seen as a key educational institution,” reflected Griffen, munity organizations, the library also created a model “and internally we began to see how the library could program to prepare elementary school students for the play a greater role in supporting education.” transition to middle school. The program was so suc- cessful, it has been incorporated into the schools. The library responded to the city’s call to action by cre- ating an ambitious program to provide youngsters with “We don’t measure our success by how many people homework assistance in neighborhood sites around the come through the doors of the library, but whether we city. “Kids who are interested and successful in school can reach them where they are,” explained Laura are unlikely to drop out and, as research has shown, Thomas Sullivan, head of outreach services for Tucson- less apt to get into serious trouble,” Sullivan explained. Pima Public Library. “Some families are ill-equipped to help their children Sullivan represented the library on the city manager’s task with school work for a variety of reasons, and that’s force for youth and became the primary author of the where we felt we could make a difference.” group’s policy report, Tucson’s Youth: A Vision for the Tucson-Pima Public Library unveiled its new program, Future, which was released in 1995. Concurrently, she Homework Help, in 1995 with 17 sites in branch served as chair of the Metropolitan Education libraries, schools, parks and recreation facilities, public Commission, a forum for delineating education issues in housing complexes and a variety of other community the community and bringing them to the public’s attention. centers. Today, there are 41 sites, and the library “One of the major issues the commission looked at is expects its staff of professional tutors to make well over the high school graduation rate in Pima County, which is 20,000 contacts with students during this school year. the lowest in the state,” said Sullivan. “It became the P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 8
  10. 10. LEADERSHIP ROLE With its library initiative planning grant from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, Tucson-Pima Public Library is exploring ways it can help low-income youth start think- ing about careers. According to Sullivan, Homework Help would be a natural vehicle for introducing young people to the notion of career goals and development. Whatever the outcome of the planning grant, young peo- ple will have a voice in the process by participating in focus groups and committees. “I want to hear from the kids what they need and want,” said Griffen. “What are we doing that relates to their needs? Where are we miss- ing the boat?” Griffen also intends to talk more with the business com- munity to find out about areas of job growth and the The tutors, who are teachers, librarians and college skills, education and training that are needed. To students — all carefully screened before being hired strengthen its relationship with the business community, — help students with homework assignments, prepar- the library has redoubled its efforts to support the infor- ing for tests and improving reading, math and study mation needs of businesses. skills. “Some kids say they come to Homework Help Ultimately, Griffen said, she hopes the library will secure just because it’s a nice place to do their school work,” a seat at the city’s planning table for economic develop- reported Sullivan. ment, just as it did with setting youth policy. “I feel the “The tutor relationship is extremely important,” she question now for the library is ‘What can we do to help added. “The tutors are excellent role models for the kids along the next generation and improve the outlook for and informal mentor relationships sometimes do devel- employment?’” s op.” Most of the tutors are college students, she explained, because library staff feel it’s easier for young- sters to identify with someone closer in age. Personality is important, she said; they must be able to connect quickly with the kids and keep a group going. Spanish- speaking tutors are placed in neighborhoods with large numbers of bilingual children. At midyear, and again at the end of the school year, the library distributes a brief postcard survey to students, parents and teachers to ask if Homework Help is mak- ing a discernible difference, whether there’s been a change in attitude about school and how grades have been affected by participation in the program. “More than 80 percent of the respondents say the program has helped students and improved their grades,” Sullivan reported. 9 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s
  11. 11. The Changing Needs Library Association, said this phe- of Youth nomenon is “still a big issue,” caus- ing libraries to respond in a variety of ways. “Some librarians have told pecialization is just one of to household needs, such as laundry, S me that during the summer they several issues facing libraries shopping and meal preparation. have kids showing up in the morn- that have begun or plan to imple- ing with lunch boxes in hand.” “Adult attention is so diminished for ment new programs to better serve Others have started after-school pro- today’s kids,” said Chelton, who youth in their communities. The grams or have simply tried to be worked for many years as a young needs of today’s young people are more accommodating to the need of adult librarian. “Their different from what they were for youngsters to congregate with support systems are too fragile. They the children and teens public friends in a safe place and do their need access to caring adults and a libraries have served in past years. homework. safe place to meet with their friends. These days, with so many parents The public library can and other caregivers working outside help provide them that.” of the home and feeling pressured to spend more time on the job, chil- Chelton’s comment dren are spending less time with the reflects a trend first adults closest to them. Moreover, reported nearly 20 years many children are left unsupervised ago — large numbers of after school if they’re not fortunate children coming to public enough to have relatives or family libraries unattended and friends who can look after them or staying until it closed or if their families can’t afford to pay was time to go home for for after-school care. Some young dinner. Susan Roman, people must take on adult responsi- executive director of the bilities at home much earlier than Association previous generations, including car- of Library Services for ing for younger siblings and tending Children at the American THE CHANGING NEEDS P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 10
  12. 12. “Parents rely on the public library Gomez, director of the Brooklyn Career development is another area because it still has a good name in Public Library in where help is needed, especially the community,” Roman said. “I New York City. “Libraries must since “many teens know very little think that with the back-to-work pro- embrace information technology to about choosing careers,” said grams for people on welfare, we’re reinforce reading and help kids Chelton. “They need exposure to going to see even more unsuper- become information literate. But we adults who can show them and tell vised children showing up at must also teach them how to find them about the options available to libraries. These kids need to feel information from reliable sources them.” safe, needed and loved. And we and critically analyze what they get “This role has not been fully want them to love the library off the Internet. grasped by public libraries, but because they’re going to need it “Most kids don’t have any critical should be,” said Eleanor Jo Rodger, throughout their lives. But libraries library skills,” he added. “Helping executive director of the Urban are going to have to work more young people develop those skills is Libraries Council. “Public libraries closely with other community organ- one of the most important things we can create innovative ways for chil- izations to meet the needs of these have to offer today.” dren and teens to explore and sort kids.” out career options without conflict- Another area where young people ing with school guidance programs.” s crucially need the services of public libraries is in navigating their way through the information age. “The information literacy needs of young people have changed dramatically,” said Chelton. “All people — particularly young peo- ple — need help evaluating informa- tion and its sources,” said Martin OF YOUTH 11 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s
  13. 13. Inno vation SAN ANTONIO FROM ONE PUBLIC LIBRARY Responding to a statewide push by the governor, the library is teaming up with the San Antonio Independent School District on a program to boost the reading skills In 1996, the San Antonio Public Library of students in grades three through five, and also help get them on a path to productive adulthood. The library launched an innovative program to help is using the planning grant from the DeWitt Wallace- Reader’s Digest Fund for its “Partners in Youth the city’s large number of teen mothers Development” initiative to design the new program. One of the goals of this effort is to stress the impor- support the early development of their tance of an education and introduce the library as a resource for lifelong learning. infant children. Through Born to Read, According to Garcia, the district’s 65 elementary schools enroll 15,000 children in third through fifth mothers learn how to talk, read and sing to grades. Ninety-one percent are economically disadvan- taged and 16 percent have limited English proficiency. their babies, activities that help strength- While the district has made significant improvements in the state-mandated reading tests over the past five en the emotional bonds between parent years, Garcia said it still lags behind statewide average scores for all grades. and child, and that also lay the ground- work for future language development. In three short years, this program has become a regular, successful and vitally important service of the library. Now, direc- tor June Garcia feels there’s even more the library can do to help address another problem related to the city’s high teen birth rate — the growth of a young popu- lation living in poverty and facing poor prospects for the future. P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 12
  14. 14. I N N O VAT I O N , A N O T H E R I S B O R N “We decided to target third to fifth graders not only The library reaches out to youth in the community because of the governor’s initiative, but because we through schools and shelters, and it works with a vari- think this is a crucial age group to reach with our serv- ety of community partners including the local sympho- ices,” said Garcia. “These kids are at their highest point ny, zoo and professional basketball team. Currently, the of curiosity before they get disillusioned in their middle- San Antonio Public Library has a staff of seven youth school years and start falling through the cracks. At this librarians at its Central Library and one children’s librar- age, they can fully use the library, work on projects to ian at each of its 18 branches. completion and leave the school building for trips and With such a solid history of service to youth, the library is activities.” an ideal participant in the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest A centerpiece of the program, said Rose Treviño, the Fund initiative. And while the work the Fund is supporting library’s youth services coordinator, will be meetings will hopefully result in a new program, Garcia feels there with a variety of professionals in the community who will will be other benefits, too. She said the library is planning talk about what they do in their work and how they market research to learn more about the needs of youth trained for it. “We want the children to realize that they and how the library can best serve them. The library will can do something besides work in a fast-food chain or conduct surveys and hold focus groups involving children, a department store,” she said. “We want them to know parents, teachers and other youth services providers in they can succeed and understand how they can do it. the targeted school district. “We’ll be able to take this Many of these kids live in poverty and do not have role experience of research and planning and apply it to other models who work in a professional environment. service areas, to everything we do,” said Garcia. “Without “We also hope they will discover the library is an avenue research, we’re relying on professional judgement and the for helping them plan for and work toward their future preferences and habits of our current customers. That’s goals,” she added. “The library is a safe place and served us well until now, but we need to know more about there are caring adults there who can help them find users and non-users so we can serve them better.” s resources they can use to complete their homework assignments.” Many young people in San Antonio have already come to know that about the library, thanks to its outstanding track record of serving children and teens with a variety of innovative and targeted programs like Born to Read. They include Dial-A-Story, which offers recorded stories in English and Spanish for children who cannot get to the library; Catalita (KidsCat), a computer program developed by the library to assist bilingual children with library searches; and Youth (Wired), a computer center created for teens that not only offers access to, but provides instruction in computer technology, use of soft- ware and development of Web pages. In addition, the library offers Latino and African American heritage pro- grams, bilingual storytelling, story hours and a resident puppet theater that performs at branches and other community settings throughout the year. 13 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s
  15. 15. Ways to Serve If listening to youth is vital to Youth Better serving their needs, librarians must be comfortable with talk- ing to them, asking for their opinions and getting them eeping a finger on the pulse I get everything I need off the K involved in planning programs. of youth is essential to serving Internet,’” said Agnes Griffen, director As part of a long-range plan to them well. Sometimes their needs are of the Tucson-Pima Public Library in expand services for youth, the obvious and the fixes relatively Arizona. “That was an eye-opener for Brooklyn Public Library has straightforward. For example, the lack me. To convince these kids of the embarked on a system-wide of transportation, particularly for chil- value of the public library, we’re going effort to retrain generalists for dren without after-school adult super- to have to ask them what they want specialization in children’s and vision, may be what keeps them from and need and make our services rele- young adult services. “One of benefiting from the services and pro- vant to them.” the assignments we gave the grams of the public library. Other young adult trainees was to establish “We have a lot to learn about them times a cut in local school-library serv- a dialogue with teen users about before we can design effective servic- ices may prompt the public library to what they like to read,” said Susan es,” Griffen added. “For instance, we expand or deepen its services for Raboy, manager of young adult serv- don’t fully understand how young youth. ices. “This was a radical departure people are affected by our media-ori- for some of the librarians, who real- But as youth and the culture that ented culture. Everything’s fast mov- ized they had never thought of shapes them change, some needs may ing for them and we don’t really engaging the kids by asking them not be as readily apparent to libraries, know what impact this is having on something about themselves. The the young people they intend to serve their learning styles, perceptions and librarians were encouraged to or even their parents. “When we first attention spans. But we have to start approach teens individually by say- met, a very accomplished high school getting a handle on that if we’re ing ‘I’m interested in what you’re student who was invited to join our going to be able to meet their reading, what you like and don’t board told me, ‘I don’t use the library; needs.” like.’ Some of the kids were cautious, but the majority were recep- tive to talking.” Maintaining a continu- um of services for children and teens can present difficulty for many libraries. “Public libraries have P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 14
  16. 16. reasonably good access to young chil- Mary Kay Chelton maintains that libraries. The computers, however, dren whose parents bring them in,” most libraries are not in step with are almost always installed in one- said June Garcia, director of the San the needs of teens. “Historically, pub- person work stations. “We have to Antonio, Texas, Public Library. “Then lic libraries haven’t known what to change what we do — our architec- we lose them around age nine. Some do with teens,” she said. “Today, ture, ambience, old habits — to use come back in high school, but then most young adult services manuals our strengths. What if libraries we lose them again until they become emphasize supporting voluntary offered midnight Internet surfing parents and bring their kids in. It’s reading when most teens are at the the way some parks and community become our unwritten goal to never library to do homework or research. centers offer midnight basketball?” lose them.” “Libraries,” she added, “are architec- According to Chelton, an expected “If we don’t meet their needs as chil- turally set up as if all the users are change in demographics will make dren and teens, it’s naïve to think well-behaved, intellectual, independ- providing adequate and flexible serv- they’ll come back at 18 or 19,” said ent users. Teens travel and work in ices to teens an even more pressing Rodger of the Urban Libraries groups. Sometimes they arrive on issue. “The baby boomer echo is Council. “From a marketing stand- skateboards, dress in attention-get- about to hit high school,” she said. point, that’s not insightful.” ting ways and are boisterous. Most “Over the next eight years, there of the behavior that librarians typi- will be more high-school-age kids cally abhor and try to discourage is than ever before. Some libraries are anticipating the bulge.” s normal for teens.” “If public libraries are going to better accommodate teens, they have to find a way to accept a level of ener- gy they traditionally haven’t wel- comed,” said Rodger. Access to com- puters, she noted, has attracted more urban adolescent boys to public SERVING YOUTH 15 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s
  17. 17. Learning from the Experiences of Others in the Community created to keep them occupied. or help in figuring out developmentally, teens need some- F effective ways to respond to the thing different. YouthALIVE! has “A successful program for kids has to different developmental needs of chil- found that work-based learning pro- be grounded in their developmental dren and teens, public libraries can grams are most effective with adoles- needs,” Beane said. “Creating the look to the experience of a group of cents, who need to try out new roles right fit is so important. We’ve also science and children’s museums partici- and behaviors in a safe place. learned that respecting the kids teach- pating for the past eight years in a pro- es them how to respect others. For “Teenagers are looking for where they gram called YouthALIVE! Supported young people, every adult is a teacher. belong in the world,” Beane by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest We adults have to recognize that explained. “They need to see where Fund and coordinated by the they’re watching us and want to learn they fit and how they can be useful.” Association of Science-Technology all they can from us.” s Volunteer and paid positions in the Centers, YouthALIVE! provides infor- museums — most involving direct con- mal learning opportunities tact with visitors — allow teens to for adolescents. identify their talents, learn new skills According to Deanna Beane, the pro- and improve their ability to communi- gram’s director, exploratory activities cate and handle new situations with that encourage hands-on learning are people. But it must be authentic work, ideal for youngsters up to age 12. But, she pointed out, not just busy work LEARNING FROM OTHERS P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 16
  18. 18. Service B R O O K LY N P U B L I C LIBRARY BRIDGES THE SERVICE GAP A transformation is taking place inside the Brooklyn Public Library that will profoundly and positively affect how customers are served — especially young adults. The library, which serves the 2.3 million residents of New York City’s most populous borough (making it the fifth largest public library system in the nation), is instituting a former prac- tice of matching librarians with specific age groups being served. Reversing a trend that began in the 1970s to train “But first, librarians training for young adult services librarians as generalists for assisting anyone who walks must learn about the developmental patterns and through the door, the Brooklyn Public Library has rec- behavior of teens and become familiar with their read- ognized it can better serve its constituents by special- ing interests and academic, recreational and informa- izing its staff. The library has started to retrain 320 tional needs.” The young adult librarians will also be librarians in the areas of children’s, young adult and coached in developing collections and reference adult services. resources for teens, including the Internet. In addition, young adult librarians will be responsible for assessing Services to children — preschoolers through pre-teens — the need for as well as planning, promoting, imple- have always been strong at the Brooklyn Public Library, menting and evaluating programs and services. They but young adults (age 12 to 18) had been long neglect- also will interact with organizations and individuals that ed, admitted Martin Gomez, the library’s executive serve teens. director. “We have not kept up with their changing needs,” he said. The library’s goal, said Gomez, is to have a young adult services librarian in each of its 58 branches and the Central Library by the end of 1999. “With age-level spe- cialization, we’ll have the opportunity to better under- stand the social environment of teens and provide them with programs and services targeted to meet their needs and the needs of their communities,” he said. 17 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s
  19. 19. Service B R O O K LY N P U B L I C L I B R A R Y B R I D G E S While making the shift to “age-level specialization,” the Brooklyn Public Library has also reaffirmed its commit- ment to youth services through plans for a major reno- vation of the central library’s youth wing. Focus groups conducted with young people and their parents helped the library determine how to redesign the 10,000- square-foot space, which is expected to open in 2000. The new wing will provide space for collections, pro- grams and private study. It will also include a technolo- gy loft with computer work stations and a separate room for teens to gather, do homework and read. The changes underway to better serve the specific needs of individual age groups follow programs the sters using computers. In 1998, Raboy reported, there Brooklyn Public Library has instituted over the past sev- were 230 Book Buddies volunteers working at the cen- eral years to expand and deepen its services to teens. tral library and all 58 branches. Math Peers Tutoring, a model after-school program for middle and high school students at the central library, Book Buddies participants come from diverse back- provides one-to-one help with math in a relaxed and wel- grounds, Raboy said. Many are students recommended coming atmosphere. The program, which uses peer to the program by principals and teachers who feel tutors recruited from Brooklyn high schools, was fea- these youngsters are college-bound and could benefit tured by the Young Adult Library Services Association of from other positive experiences outside school. Their the American Library Association (ALA) in its 1998 pub- families also benefit. “Many of these kids are from lication Excellence in Library Services to Youth. At the immigrant families and are caregivers for their families central library and eight branches, teens have their own because they have the most proficiency in English,” she space for an informal weekly gathering in which they said. “They provide a bridge to the world outside the can read, listen to music, play chess, do homework and family and the immediate community, and when they talk with each other. The library also enlists teen volun- become Book Buddies they often connect their families teers to assist customers in using computers, and it to the resources of the library.” employs more than 200 teens in part-time positions. “I can see their self-esteem and pride grow through this Another award-winning program that’s also a hit with program,” said Gomez. “They’re helping other kids, teens is Book Buddies. Gomez and the young adult they’re gaining the experience of working alongside services manager, Susan Raboy, consider it one of the adults and they’re developing leadership skills.” library’s most successful programs. Launched in 1994, “For many kids, it’s their first job, their first position of the Book Buddies program received a Service to responsibility outside home and school,” said Raboy. In Excellence Award in 1996 from the ALA’s Young Adult program evaluations completed by 200 Book Buddies Services Association. Book Buddies enlists 13- to 18- volunteers last summer, she reported, the young peo- year-olds to assist librarians with the summer reading ple said they had fun reading to the children and appre- program. The teens read to children, help run arts and ciated the opportunity to be of assistance at the library crafts and other children’s programs, and assist young- P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 18
  20. 20. THE SERVICE GAP and of service to their communities. They also gave the “This planning grant couldn’t have come at a better library recommendations of their favorite children’s books time for us,” said Gomez. “It will help us define what we to read aloud. want to accomplish through the specialization of young adult services and the new youth wing. We’ve devel- Brooklyn Public Library is intent on giving teens more oped some great programs for teens over the last sev- opportunities for hands-on involvement in programs like eral years, but the work of the planning grant will allow Book Buddies and Math Peers Tutoring. And the library us to articulate an overarching mission for youth serv- wants to engage teens even more to learn about their ices and better coordinate our programming efforts library experiences, interests and needs. The planning throughout the system.” grant from the DeWitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund will enable the library to focus on better assessing the According to Raboy, the library is also exploring part- needs of teens in nine low-income neighborhoods and nerships with other community organizations to coordi- developing more targeted services and programs. nate services and collaborate on programming. She Teens from those communities will play a central role in added, “We intend to apply all we learn about planning through this grant to children’s and adult services.” s the planning process, according to Raboy. A teen advi- sory council will be formed with youth from throughout Brooklyn. Focus groups composed of teen users and non-users, parents and caregivers, and youth-services providers from the community will help the library eval- uate current programs and identify local needs. In addi- tion, the library plans to convene a day-long Teen Summit to bring together teens, parents, library staff and other professionals from the community to reach a consensus on programmatic direction. “We want teens to be a working part of the library envi- ronment, so that we can plan together and they’ll feel the library is really theirs,” said Raboy. 19 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s
  21. 21. DEEPENING SERVICES The Potential to Libraries might find that their needs Deepen Services overlap with young people’s. That was the case with the museums that sponsored YouthALIVE! programs, said Beane. ublic libraries have the agencies; and P “Museums always need people who opportunity to engage youth are energetic and enthusiastic about • Adopting a “positive youth devel- more deeply and widely. In broad being there,” she explained. “They opment” philosophy — practices terms, they need to build institution- don’t have a lot of money or staff pioneered by the youth-service al capacity to respond to the needs and they need people to be on the field that focus on helping young of youth in various communities and floor with visitors, modeling ways to people develop the academic, social to accommodate the developmental interact with exhibits. As adoles- and career skills they need to needs and behaviors of different age cents, the kids working in the muse- make the transition to adulthood. groups. This includes: ums are still interested in learning “One way for libraries to start think- and have a sense of wonder about • Renewing the library’s commit- ing about how they might improve things. Their work allows them to be ment to serving youth; services to youth is by viewing young physically active and have positive • Clarifying the library’s mission, people as assets to the library and social interactions with adults and including how services and pro- the community,” said Rodger. “Every peers. Plus, they enjoy working with grams for youth can best support young person, whether a child or younger children. In fact, numbers the mission; teen, has something to give. It’s the served can swell when you enlist library’s role to uncover those gifts teens to help run children’s pro- • Making an investment in long- and build on them. grams. It’s a tremendously beneficial range or strategic planning; relationship for the kids and the “We should be saying to kids, • Training staff in the developmen- museums.” ‘I bet there’s a lot you already know. tal stages and needs of young Tell us about your goals and dreams. “Libraries that want to invest more people; What would you like to do better?’ deeply in their services to youth • Encouraging a system-wide Libraries might find, for example, must understand that they can, and change in attitudes and that while they’re offering home- should, question the conventional behaviors toward youth; work assistance they might also wisdom of their field,” said Rodger. teach some child development to “It’s a matter of peeling back the lay- • Inviting parents, caregivers, educa- kids who have to care for younger ers of this traditional thinking and tors and other members of the siblings.” asking, ‘Why do we do this?’ or community to join in defining ‘Why don’t we do that?’ In the end, areas of need and planning services Young people have assets to give the plans for service may not look and programs; their communities, too, Rodger very different from what’s already in added. “Youth in urban areas have • Involving youth in the planning, place, but at least it will be under- time, energy and idealism,” she said. designing and delivery of servic- stood more deeply and the institu- “Why can’t they be enlisted as read- es; tional commitment and capacity will ing partners for younger children or be greater. • Forging partnerships and collabo- in creating rations with schools and other a garden for the library where every- “If we’re willing to think outside the youth-serving organizations and one can relax and read?” box and do things differently,” she P u b l i c L i b r a r i e s a s Pa r t n e r s i n Yo u t h D e v e l o p m e n t 20
  22. 22. added, “I think the potential to offer Another applicable lesson from the Engaging youth isn’t easy and does- library services that profoundly YouthALIVE! experience is that the n’t happen overnight. But one way impact youngsters’ lives is powerful.” level of young people’s involvement is libraries can begin to more deeply all-important. “You know you’ve got involve youth is by finding appropri- “The potential is enormous,” a good program when kids are so ate ways for them to participate in Chelton agreed, but she added that excited they want to tell you about the planning of services and pro- strong leadership and the will of what they’re learning or they amaze grams. One of the first steps many management are necessary to work you by putting together a terrific libraries take in this area is inviting through government and library summer day-camp program for young people to participate in focus bureaucracy. With increased institu- younger children,” Beane said. “You groups and surveys. These research tional capacity, some opportunities also know they’ve been engaged at a tools provide a way for libraries to are just waiting to be tapped, she very deep level when you learn of a find out how current customers use said. “Adolescents are already com- teen on the verge of dropping out of the library, how non-users perceive it ing to the library for homework and school who’s decided to give it and what both groups need most research. If all we do is show them another shot or you hear adolescent from the library. Some libraries also how to find answers to reference girls talking about postponing preg- form youth advisory groups that questions, we’ve lost an opportunity. nancy because they want to continue help them stay abreast of the needs So much more can be done to help their education.” and concerns of young people, pro- or even save these kids.” vide suggestions for new and exist- Especially when working with youth ing services and programs, and help at risk of failing in school, quality of publicize activities. programming and depth of engage- ment are so much more important than large attendance numbers, Beane added. DEEPENING SERVICES 21 C h a l l e n ge s an d O p p o r t u n i t i e s