Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Community Conversations: Teen Librarians, San Francisco Public Library

Welcome to a new column here at The S. Kitchen called Community Conversations. In this column, I reflect on meetings I have with organizations, businesses, and public institutions trying to make a change in the world by working together. My goal is to unearth the connections between these conversations. It is my hope that it will lead to more holistic and collaborative programming and services spurred by The S. Kitchen across San Francisco, the Bay Area, California, the United States, and the world.

I recently met with the teen librarians of the San Francisco Public Library. I was invited to the meeting to present on The S. Kitchen and what services I could offer the library by The S. Kitchen fan and host Jennifer Collins, Teen Services manager. When we were discussing the meeting, I stated that I don't have any "thing" to offer other than some questions. I don't really do pre-packaged services. I don't believe that it is the best approach when trying to build audience or when trying to provide public services on behalf of a public institution. She invited me any ways because she knew there was something I could offer: a different perspective.

My belief in not doing pre-packaged programming stems mostly from my work with San Francisco Unified School District and San Francisco's Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families and my deep background in youth development and adult learning andragogies. Through my work, I have discovered that the best and most sustainable services are services that meet needs, whether those needs be the needs of the consumer, the participant, the funder, the city charter, the institution, or any combination therein. Now, this isn't rocket science, but it is amazing to me how many people don't know what their needs are nor how to find out about the needs of others.

Before my meeting, I reached out to Tina Mahle at Health Initiatives for Youth (HIFY) and former The S. Kitchen guestpert. I wanted to find out what HIFY was up to because I had a gut feeling that there might be some opportunities there. I don't know why my gut said call Tina; it just did. It was lucky that I did.

When we spoke on the phone, Tina told me about the need for services for LGBTQIQ, transitional age, homeless youth. She said that services, especially health services, for this population are crucial in the City and that there definitely are not enough of them. She said that this population needs someone to meet them where they are at and provide relevant meaningful involvement in service delivery. With my background, I knew what she said was true: everyone needs to feel like they belong somewhere.

This information helped form the basis for my "presentation". I decided that the best way for me to frame this meeting was about meeting the needs of LGBTQIQ, transitional age, and/or homeless youth. I wanted to know what the librarians knew about these populations and how they were currently engaging them. I also wanted to know what worked best for the librarians in terms of community partnerships.

I showed up to the meeting with a smile and some spices. I opened the meeting by setting the context for why I was there: to listen and learn. I then shared the insights I learned from Tina at HIFY ending with, "What do you know about these populations and how are you currently working with them?"

The librarians jumped right in. They were hungry to talk about audience and program development. They rattled off a great list of organizations they know in San Francisco that worked with these populations and are somehow connected to the library. They mentioned the gay-straight alliance at John O'Connell High School where they do book readings, Larkin Street Youth Center who brings groups of teens to the library, Roaddawgz who serve homeless youth. But they acknowledged that it still wasn't enough, that they still wanted to find new ways to engage these populations and more.

Noticing that the librarians loved to talk and share, I then asked, "What do you need from a community partner for effective collaboration?" Again, they jumped in. They need the organizations to bring people, to respond to emails, to answer phone calls, to provide some sort of service. They mentioned that they need support to find a common jumping off point so that everyone can share ideas and then follow through to provide something meaningful. It was delicious to hear directly from the librarians about what they need.

We then talked about the ways in which the library currently goes about its programming. Most librarians work between two branches. This is difficult for them because each branch is unique and has a diverse set of needs. It creates challenges in timing and scheduling. It also feels like more than double the work. So librarians rely on getting out into the community to do outreach at events or provide some off site programming on behalf of the library. This takes them away from their branch, which has an additional averse affect on scheduling. It is a complicated puzzle that seems to be getting more complicated.

Then I was asked (and I am paraphrasing here), "What can you bring?"

I replied that I can be a bridge between the community organizations and the San Francisco Public Library. That I can listen and hear what others are doing in the community and find opportunities and a mechanism, based on "potluck dinner parties for a cause", to connect them to the library. That I can act as a conduit, a facilitator, a host. I also said I will take things slow because to do this takes time. It is about relationships and building trust among people and that does not happen quickly if we want it to be sustainable.

Upon hearing this, the librarians were thrilled. Too often, organizations/presenters come in offering a two hour workshop (or something of that nature) that is for sale. It is a comic book workshop or a knitting class or a ______ (fill in the blank). The librarians jump at the opportunity because it looks engaging, is interesting, and/or they need a quick program to fill in programming gaps. This sometimes works, but not always and not often enough. My approach, while lengthier, will build upon the strengths of the librarians while find ways to bring in the community. It is a win-win for everyone.

As we were finishing up our conversation, it was shared with me that the libraries as a whole are embarking on a new focus on health and wellness. They will be doing health promotion throughout all departments and all branches. And that the library hosts a database on health and wellness resources.

And...viola! There is a connection. Right there: health and wellness. It is a point shared by The S. Kitchen, Health Initiatives for Youth, and the San Francisco Public Library. I am unsure exactly what will come. But I know that as I engage in these community conversations with other organizations, businesses, and public institutions I will keep my eyes, ears, and heart open to hear what others are working on in this arena. And I will find those points.

Next, I just need to connect them. And the best way to do that is: cuisine, conversation, and camaraderie through potluck dinner parties for a cause. Because who doesn't love to share a tasty meal?

If you know of resources on health and wellness that you would like to make sure the San Francisco Public Library gets connected to, please share it in the comments. I will be sharing all comments as well as this Community Conversation with the teen librarians.

No comments:

Post a Comment