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Allison Phillips

Final Paper

Urban teens living in low-income households comprise a significant underserved

community, and libraries are uniquely poised to play a key role in providing resources
and services to improve outcomes for this segment of the population. In a study of how
urban libraries are currently working to serve teen African-American males, Crockett
affirmed that, "Libraries can play an important role in countering the many challenges
poor urban youth have to overcome to have the best opportunity to succeed in life"
(2015). Teens living in urban communities are more likely to attend high schools where a
majority of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. Low-income minority
students are at a greater risk for dropping out of school, as a recent report from the NCES
observed that, "Minority students dropped out [of school] at disproportionately higher
rates than their white counterparts," and that, "the dropout rate for low-income students
was five times greater than their high-income counterparts" (Zhao, 2011). The urban
poor, and particularly those who fail to obtain a high school diploma, face a unique
struggle in securing steady employment. Crockett commented upon how the last few
decades of economic change have resulted in a shift that has significantly reduced the
number of job opportunities for the urban poor. Many challenges are presented in lowincome urban environments: job instability, high crime rates, and poor health care
comprise some of the possible issues presented to low-income urban teens.
To better serve low-income urban teens, it is essential to consider the
library needs for this group. All teens yearn for a dedicated personal space, and the safety

of a library teen space could offer respite and stability for any low-income teens who may
be experiencing tumultuous home lives. Crockett referred to how the CPL YOUMedia
space is based upon Mimi Ito's concept of HOMAGO: Hanging Out, Messing Around,
and Goofing Off (2015). These activities emphasize process-based learning, and provide
opportunities for teens to develop insight and initiative by setting their own goals and
structuring their own time. Library services for low-income urban youth should apply
this framework as a way to convey a sense of independence, freedom, and inherent trust.
Access to resources, with a special emphasis upon technology, is an essential need to
consider. Computer literacy has grown increasingly important, and libraries play an
important role in enabling computer access for low-income patrons. Taylor et al note
that, "62.1% of public libraries serve as the only provider of free public internet and
computer access within their communities, making the library an essential outlet for
workers who telecommute and who have insufficient Internet access at home" (2012, p.
195). Shen explains that Libraries serve as a key resource for low-income urban teens
who may be considered "information poor" (2013, p. 2-4) and need to develop essential
technological skills in order to become more competitive in the job application market.
The final and most important need to emphasize for serving low-income urban teens
consists of emotional support from a caring and well-informed staff. All teens desire and
deserve opportunities for leadership, creativity, academic support, and respect from
someone willing to listen. It is imperative that library staff commit to filling this role in
providing services for low-income urban teens.
By the broadest terms, the goals and objectives for these library services
would be to improve outcomes for low-income urban teens. In order to develop more

measurable and quantifiable outcomes, it would be beneficial to develop a partnership

with local high schools and look at any changes in grades and graduation rates over the
course of approximately five years. While many factors may play a role in fluctuations in
graduation rates, this data would serve as a quantitative base line. This data would be
complimented by written or oral interviews with a selection of low-income teens living
within the service area. It would be worthwhile to speak with teens representing both
library regulars and non-library users, as this would provide a helpful basis for
comparison. The interviews would consist of questions about how the individual used
the library, and whether they feel that the library served as a helpful resource. It may also
be worthwhile to look at juvenile crime rates within the service area during a prolonged
period. An increase in graduation rates and grades, perhaps complimented by a slight
decrease in crime rates, would serve as easily measurable goals for this program. While
the beneficial effects of a library are not always easily distilled into data, some hard facts
and figures may be beneficial when advocating for funding.
Funding should be scalable in order to allow for potential growth over a period of
time, but it is reasonable to expect to start the program with a modest budget. Not
accounting for staff wages and salaries, a librarian working in the youth department at an
urban library may attempt to request one to five thousand dollars for this program.
Because public libraries are largely funded by income taxes, libraries serving low-income
areas may not receive as much funding, and librarians will need to work creatively in
order to accommodate gaps in the budget. Any funding dedicated to this effort will be
used to purchase appropriate materials for the collection, pay for technology equipment
and other materials for the teen space, and to purchase sundries for programming (such as

snacks to encourage attendance at a book discussion). Budgeting is often a challenge in

developing programming, but librarians should work to use creativity and flexibility to
develop services without extensive funding.
The most important resource in this program will be a caring and
supportive staff. The simple notion of respect and caring is difficult to teach, but it may
be recommended that staff undergo some training in how to counsel teens, and why it is
imperative to avoid stereotyping urban youth. It may also be necessary to practice
ongoing staff education and support in order for this effort to be effective. Truly valuable
services to the low-income community should consist of attentive one-on-one interactions
(Gehner, 2010, p. 44) and partnerships that are collaborative rather than "top down"
(Celano and Neuman, 2010, p. 199). Gehner emphasizes that library workers should
focus on capacity rather than deficiency, and stresses the utmost importance of dignity in
inclusion. (2010, p. 45). In affirming the importance of staff attitude, he cautions against
the position of perceived "charitable" efforts as potentially harmful and dehumanizing.
Relationships between staff and patrons will be essential to success, as affirmed by
Crockett: "Ultimately, libraries can play an important role in teaching resiliency skills to
urban youth, but in order to accomplish this they must build trust with urban youth and
understand the ecological environment many have to overcome to be successful" (2015).
Making efforts to build strong, respect-based relationships with low-income teen patrons
will ultimately contribute to more effective services and equitable access.
Marketing these programs should take into account the avenues through
which the members of the target audience tend to access information. Partnerships with
local schools may prove especially beneficial, as the school staff may be willing to

distribute marketing materials or offer incentives, such as a small amount of extra credit,
for visiting the library to complete a school assignment. If possible, a library may also
wish to explore using popular social media outlets, such as Instagram and YouTube, to
market to urban teens. Many programs and best practices are recommended for better
services to low-income urban teens. As previously mentioned, technology access is of
utmost importance for developing essential skills, and is of recreational interest to many
teens. Smallwood notes that, "Library statistics show a significant rise in library usage
by the city's most disadvantaged residents, particularly for computer access" (2010, p.
139). Library professionals can support equal access to computers by offering
technology training classes and events as part of the regular programming schedule.
Libraries should not charge a fee for computer access, or demand any other requirements
that may hinder access for low-income patrons. Fines and fees may present a prohibitive
challenge for low-income patrons, so loan forgiveness days or policies may be beneficial
in encouraging library use. Other recommended programs include book discussions
focused around empowering and representative books, Teen Advisory Groups with
leadership opportunities, and college and career counseling. Crockett extols the values of
the latter: "One way libraries can empower youths is to offer workshops on employment
that teach urban males how to construct a resume and how to dress for and conduct
themselves during an interview. Youths that are empowered often have stronger selfesteem and resiliency" (2015). Local teens who have successfully graduated and attained
higher education or found employment may be tapped as mentors for younger teens.
Programs that emphasize the development of resiliency and leadership skills would
comprise the core of the services.

As previously stated, the goals of higher graduation rates and lower crime rates
would be the desired outcome for these efforts. The success of the program could be
measured over the short or long term, but it is recommended to allow at least three years
of data collection in order to obtain more representative results. It is difficult to measure
library impact when so many independent variables are at play in any given community,
but if the graduation rates increase or juvenile crime rates decrease by even a few points,
the program could be justified as a success. Anecdotal evidence is also of great
importance, and gathering interview information from local teens will help to provide a
more complete picture of the success of the program. While the program is directed
specifically at local teens, the success of the program will be a boon to the entire

Texts for Collection Development:

Alexander, Kwame The Crossover
Bridges, Ruby Through My Eyes
Cisneros, Sandra The House on Mango Street
Diaz, Junot Drown
Gay, Kathlyn Volunteering: The Ultimate Teen Guide
Hinton, S.E. The Outsiders
Jacobs, Thomas A. Teen Cyberbullying Investigated: Where Do
Your Rights End and Consequences Begin?
Johnson, Angela The First Part Last
Lanier, Troy and Clay Nichols Filmmaking for Teens
Lohman, Rachel Cassada and Julia Taylor The Bullying Workbook for
Medina, Meg Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
Myers, Walter Dean Monster
Myers, Walter Dean Fallen Angels
Myers, Walter Dean Autobiography of My Dead Brother
Pinkney, Andrea Davis Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who
Changed America
Pinkney, Andrea Davis Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women
Freedom Fighters
Quick, Matthew Sorta Like a Rockstar
Quinonez, Ernesto Bodega Dreams

Robinson, Janine W. Escape Essay Hell: A Step-by-Step Guide to

Writing Narrative College Application Essays
Saenz, Benjamin Alire Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of
the Universe
Spiegelman, Art Maus
Springer, Sally P. Admission Matters: What Students and Parents
Need to Know About Getting Into College
Wilson, G. Willow Ms. Marvel: No Normal
Woodson, Jacqueline Brown Girl Dreaming
Yang, Gene Luen The Shadow Hero or American Born Chinese

Databases and Websites for Further Information:

African American Experience (accessible via Crown Library website)
African American Studies Center (accessible via Crown Library website)
Black Studies in Video (accessible via Crown Library website)
Black Thought and Culture (accessible via Crown Library website)
Book Index with Reviews (accessible via Crown Library website)--for
collection development
Census Data (accessible via
Latino American Experience (accessible via Crown Library website)
Middle and Junior High Core Collection (accessible via Crown Library
website)--for collection development