Getting Teens “Real Ready” for the Future

YALSA President’s Program showcases libraries that support teen careers, community engagement

June 27, 2017

YALSA President’s Program

Before Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) President Sarah Hill began her presentation highlighting innovative library programs that underscored her yearlong initiative, “Real Teens, Real Ready,” YALSA President-Elect Sandra Hughes-Hassell said something that struck a chord: “Teens want to make a difference, but they often lack the resources to take action.”

The case studies that were shared with YALSA membership at the American Library Association’s Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago on June 26 were sterling examples of the impact young adults can have—on their neighborhoods, their futures, themselves—when libraries and local organizations support their needs, interests, careers, and visions. The library projects profiled spanned the gamut from vocational preparedness to community advocacy and engagement, and in many ways connected Hill’s initiative to Hughes-Hassell’s hopes for her presidency: that teens continue to be agents of change.

•Brooklyn (N.Y.) Public Library, with the assistance of a city grant, has developed Youth Councils at three branches. An intensive yearlong program that brings together young adults ages 14-21 and focuses on policy, practice, and service, these councils plan large-scale events (a music and arts festival called Urban Art Jamm, a self-love event called I’mPerfect) that in turn develop teens’ interests and professional skills, such as marketing and publicity, design, email and proposal writing, and budget development.

•After seeing their city ranked last out of 50 cities in economic mobility, Charlotte Mecklenburg (N.C.) Library launched the Fast Track Trade School Fair to show teens who do not plan on attending four-year colleges that other careers are just as valuable and economically viable. The fair attracts 150–200 participants each year, and local partners including trade schools and area businesses give attendees a crash course in what it takes to learn, fund, and be successful at careers such as electrician, hairdresser, chef, and even professional skateboarder.

•Skokie (Ill.) Public Library, which serves a racially and economically diverse community, is using a restorative practice framework in its Neutral Zone program to help teens with healing, integration, and change—rather than punishments that exacerbate mutual hostility. Icebreakers and peace circle techniques are used to restore justice and revise behavior.

•Chicago Public Library’s PROjectUS program, an offshoot of its YOUmedia services, helps teens develop entrepreneurship skills and receive extended mentorship in the creative arts fields of media, music, and design. Participants receive high-end incentives (internships, equipment, seed funding) with assistance from big-name professional clients such as Kenneth Cole, Burberry, and Our Miss Brooks 100. All students, no matter which discipline they choose, learn about concepts such as brand identity, marketing, business and financial literacy, collaboration, specialization, and workplace culture.

•Though not a library, Sweet Water Foundation—with its motto “there grows the neighborhood”—hopes to partner with libraries in Chicago and Milwaukee on projects that focus on community building, regenerative place-making, experiential education, and land reclamation. Through activities such as aquaponics, farming, and rethinking waste, teens learn how to hack systems, model and visualize innovations, and most importantly, engage with neighbors and revitalize their environs.