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Project Unknown: Library Teen Music Program

San Diego Public Library
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Innovation Summary

To meet the needs of at risk teens in the community, the Logan Heights Branch Library surveyed teens and discovered that the top request was for free music classes. Through creative community partnerships, a weekly teen music program was established that provides teens with music lessons and opportunities to perform.

Problem Statement

Studies show that learning to play a musical instrument has a positive effect on learning by raising children’s IQs and improving reading and social skills. Youth who take music lessons have slightly higher IQs, with the effects cutting across many different intellectual abilities, including verbal, mathematical and temporal-spatial (E. Glenn Schellenberg 2006). Music, voice and drama lessons are also linked with abilities associated with fluid intelligence, such as working memory, perceptual organization and processing speed. (Parenting Sciences http://www.parentingscience.com/music-and-intelligence.html). Recent budget cuts have eliminated many schools’ music programs, leaving students few nearby options for low-cost or free cultural programming. In low income neighborhoods like Logan Heights, where transportation and fees are barriers to participation, the Library fills a significant need by providing students with a critical pathway to experience the arts. Logan Heights and Barrio Logan are home to more than 50,000 of San Diego's poorest residents, with a median household income of $36,402 in January 2009. (SANDAG http://www.sandag.org/ ). SANDAG also indicates that 36.5% of Logan Heights residents are under 19 years of age, and 78.6% are Hispanic. Twenty-two percent of residents haven’t passed ninth grade and 16 percent attended high school, but have no diploma. Schools in Logan Heights and surrounding neighborhoods consistently score in the lowest 10 percent statewide. (California State Department of Education) The Logan Heights Library is located on the grounds of Logan Heights K-8 School and adjacent to Memorial Middle School and King Chavez Academy. This location makes it an after-school destination for the nearly 7,000 students who attend public and private schools within two miles of the Library. While there are various organizations that offer free music, and choral programming, no other entity in San Diego is able to reach as broad and diverse a population as the San Diego Public Library.


Under the skillful guidance of the Youth Services Librarian, Adriana (Ady) Huertas, the Logan Heights Teen Council was established. The team composed of several youth who volunteer at the library, quickly generated ideas about activities and interests they wanted to pursue. They voted to start a music program to teach teens how to sing and play a variety of musical instruments. A Friends of the Logan Heights Library member, who had already donated a grand piano to the new library, was so inspired by the teen’s enthusiasm that she donated musical instruments and obtained approval from the Friends Group to pay for a music instructor for three months. A group of 22 dedicated teens met weekly beginning in June 2010 to practice. They named their group, Project Unknown and designed their own logo and T-shirts. Since forming, the group has performed at the Summer Reading Program Grand Finale and other library and community celebrations. With the success of Project Unknown, The Logan Heights Friends Group agreed to pay for an additional singing instructor. A partnership was also formed with a non-profit organization in the Point Loma community called A.R.T.S (aka A Reason To Survive – web site: http://www.artsurvive.org/) to provide the Teen Music Program with transportation and access to other musicians, artists, and singing instructors to help improve their performance skills. This partnership also offers art lessons for the group and other teens of the Logan Heights community at the library every Saturday. The teens have been encouraged to take ownership and responsibility by raising funds through book sales, bake sales, and rummage sales to help pay for their group’s T-Shirts and other important materials. They also participated in a letter writing campaign to the Friends of the Library to help raise money for the music program to continue.


Through their enthusiastic participation and diligence, the Project Unknown music group has promoted library reading programs and held fundraising events that have raised $2,800 for library teen programs. In June 2011 members of the library teen music group created a video for the American Library Association “Why I Need My Library” teen video contest. They won second runner up in their age category and received an award of $1,000 for youth programs at the Logan Heights Branch Library. Project Unknown members who participated in the video also received special recognition at City Council Chambers from Councilmember David Alvarez, where they were presented with a special proclamation making November 1, 2011 Project Unknown Appreciation Day. Teen music group members have advocated for libraries by speaking before City Council about the importance of library programs and keeping libraries open in their community. Some teen music group participants are now writing music, producing and editing videos, receiving invitations to participate in community events and forming more teen bands that support and promote the library. Currently the Logan Heights Library provides access to instruments and instruction to three teen bands and serves approximately 100 teens per month through the music program. Project Unknown members have also received special recognition by local community organizations such as CP Kelco for their creative efforts in the teen video contest. Several youth involved in the teen music group have gone on to become members of the Logan Heights Library Teen Council which creates library programs for teens, volunteers at library events and also takes on an active role in fundraising and giving back to the library and the community.