3.3 Youth-Serving Organizations

“We’ve partnered with a nonprofit organization… and they’re local and their focus is to get everyone coding… We’re both really excited. He loves libraries, and wanted to get technology and his organization doesn’t really have a building. They just teach, but they don’t have a site. So libraries are always good for space. So we were able to come together for a Computer Science Education Week.”

— Teen Educator/Librarian at an urban northeastern library

There are a wide variety of youth-serving organizations other than the informal learning institutions we’ve already discussed. Organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of America, the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts, 4-H, and YMCA and YWCA are well known, but there may be many smaller groups in your community who have programs focused on youth. Government entities may also fall under this category—for instance, many employment services departments have programs for youth.

Opportunities
Your partner's events and activitiesMany organizations have regularly scheduled activities with the same group of youth. You may be able to integrate library programming into an existing meeting agenda, either as a one-time event or on a continuing basis.
Your events and activitiesA regular newsletter or email with information about upcoming programs can be a good way to maintain relationships with youth-serving partners when you’re not actively working together. A library worker at an urban western library also includes information about any scholarships, job or volunteer opportunities, or contests relevant to youth, reinforcing the library’s position as a valuable community resource.
Challenges
Unfamiliar AudiencesIf the organization is bringing a new set of patrons into your library, make sure your staff are prepared and equipped to serve them appropriately. This is particularly important if the teens have special abilities or needs, or are in a vulnerable situation. Professional development and training can help staff gain the skills and understanding they need to serve an unfamiliar group of patrons.
Vulnerable teensOrganizations that work with vulnerable teens may have policies in place to protect them and their privacy, and you may need to adjust your programs or procedures accordingly. Discuss this with your partner during the planning stage so you won’t be surprised by a policy mid-project.
TurnoverOrganizations that work with teens in particularly difficult situations may have a turnover rate that is higher than normal. To avoid “starting over” with each new employee, try to get more than one person at the other organization invested and involved in your partnership.
“It can be hard, because even if you develop a relationship, and then that person leaves after a year, you might have to start over. And there's a new person in that position, and they have a different idea of where they wanna go.”

— Youth Services Librarian at a southern suburban library

To help address the needs of teens in the high-poverty suburban area surrounding one northeastern library, the library hosted community organizations to make them more accessible to teens. “We work with other youth organizations who are serving youth… We have a mobile legal team who comes in on a monthly basis to provide free legal support to teens who need it. There are LGBTQ organizations for youth whose information we keep on display regularly. We have community partners from various areas kind of come in and do tabling. Because of the nature of our space, no one's giving presentations but they have access to the teens... We have access to youth, they need access to youth, and we provide them with that access and they provide our youth with resources. It's a beautiful relationship where everyone's benefiting. And just making sure that the relationship is always a two-way beneficial relationship is the key to [sustaining the relationship].”