3.2 Learn About Your Neighbors

“These are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood
Oh these are the people in your neighborhood
They’re the people that you meet when you’re walking down the street
They’re the people that you meet each day.”

— Sesame Street

A guiding principle of ABCD is to keep “citizens” at the center, listening instead of telling, asking questions instead of delivering answers.1 Throughout this process, remember who you are doing this for, and keep teens at the center.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

The first step is to gain an accurate picture of the people that make up your community. Where are they from? Where do they live now? What languages do they speak? What is their socioeconomic status? Your library, or another local organization like the chamber of commerce, may already have a lot of this information packaged. See if there is previous work that you can leverage. Keep in mind that it might not be as up-to-date or comprehensive as you would like.

Are there groups that are not currently at the table with you as you plan programs for your teens?


The community of Danbury, Connecticut came together for an asset mapping project when their school lost funding for after-school programs. They had a clear goal: to identify existing resources in the community to provide safe after-school activities for students. Parents, students, and teachers worked together to create a solution. Read the whole story in the CCAMP System Handbook, pp. 24-25.

Learning About Your Youth Patrons

You may already be pretty familiar with the young people who visit your library regularly. But are they representative of the community at large? Compare your community profile with the information about your “regulars.” Are there demographic groups that aren’t being served or aren’t represented?

As youth librarians, you are more likely than many people to recognize that youth have gifts and capacities to help their communities. Teens may know their communities as well as or better than adults, bring fresh ideas and perspectives to the table, and have connections to schools, families, and other teens. Youth may be seen as more credible than adults to their peers.2 Building Communities from the Inside Out provides many suggestions as to how youth can build productive connections with associations, organizations, and other individuals.

Learning about other individuals

“Each time a person uses his or her capacity, the community is stronger and the person more powerful. That is why strong communities are basically places where the capacities of local residents are identified, valued, and used.”

—John Kretzmann and John McKnight2

The most foundational assets of a community are the individuals that form it. Every individual has gifts that they can share with their community – like knowledge, a skill, or physical space, to name just a few.

  • Members of this category can be specific people, but can also be demographic groups: for instance, young parents, high school students, or seniors.
  • If you encounter individuals who want to work with the library but aren’t sure how they can help, completing a skills and interests inventory can help.
  • You can use the 4H approach in interviews, focus groups, or community meetings to help individuals identify their “gifts”. The four H’s are:
    • Head - knowledge that can be shared.
    • Heart - passions and values.
    • Hands - skills that can be taught to others, or that can help others.
    • Home - communities that you are a part of.
    • See the CCAMP System Handbook, pp. 182-189, for more details and worksheets.
  • When you focusing on individuals as assets, your goal is to help each person make their contribution to the community or the library, without making them feel “used” or “studied.”2
  • Seniors. Seniors can be tremendous library assets with their experience and knowledge of cultural and community history. Many retirees have skills they are happy to share with teens; others can help connect the library to associations and organizations they are or were involved with.</li>
  • Marginalized groups. Don’t write off groups that are traditionally thought of as only having needs, not assets, like people with disabilities or people from a lower socio-economic status. Everyone is an asset the library could potentially work with.

Kretzmann & McKnight 2 argue that need-focused labels, like “ex-convict”, “elderly,” “illiterate”, and “gang member” reflect and reinforce society’s belief that these “needy” people are “empty” and without anything to contribute to their community. Asset-based development means looking past labels to each individual’s specific gifts.

For example, “She is a pregnant teenager. She needs counseling, therapy, residential services, special education.” But also, “She is Mary Smith. She has a miraculously beautiful voice. We need her in the choir. She needs a record producer.” Her label, pregnant teenager, tells of emptiness and calls forth rejection, isolation and treatment. Her name, Mary Smith, tells of her gifts and evokes community and contributions.”

1: What is asset based community development?, p. 3. Collaborative For Neighborhood Transformation/ABCD Institute, 2016.

2: Building communities from the inside out: A path toward finding and mobilizing a community’s assets. By John Kretzmann and John McKnight, 1993. Chicago, IL: ACTA Publications.