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Today’s Teens, Tomorrow’s Techies (T4)
Brooklyn Public Library
During summer months, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) librarians noticed inner city NYC teens spent much of their time playing basketball and sitting idle in the parks. After discovering the limited amount of educational programming for teens in the neighborhood, librarians asked teens, parents, and educators what teen opportunities were missing from their communities. Librarians learned that teens wanted advanced training with computers and the skills necessary to get a job. Moreover, teens, parents and educators often inquired about technology related volunteer and employment opportunities for teens at the library. Feedback from ten focus groups confirmed that there was a need for advanced technology training and volunteer opportunities. To fill the need, the T4 Volunteer Program was created.
Launched as a pilot initiative in 2005, each year a minimum of 120 youths undergo an eight-day Summer Technology Institute training to become a T4 volunteer. The 32-hour training series is offered at three locations and covers topics including Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and intro to library electronic resources as well as how to troubleshoot and repair basic computer and tech issues, how to create a resume, and “soft topics” such as customer service and communication skills. Upon completion of the Summer Institute teens volunteer 72 hours in their local library, sharing their newly acquired technology expertise. As volunteers, T4s continue to learn advanced technology skills while volunteering under the direction of library staff and participating in school-year workshops. Equally important, volunteers pass their knowledge along to patrons in their community libraries.
Results from pre/post T4 Summer Institute training show a significant majority of teens increase their technology skills. For instance, the 2009 T4 class showed the following educational gains: 79% of participants showed improvement in Microsoft Excel skills and 73% in hardware, networking, and troubleshooting. Each T4 volunteer is evaluated by his/her supervisor. Data indicate that a significant majority (97%) of T4 volunteers perform at or above satisfactory when assisting patrons. The majority (73%) of supervisors said they would recommend their T4 volunteer for employment as a library technology staff member. Perhaps the most qualitatively rich evaluation of T4 is the final essay submitted by T4 volunteers reflecting on their experience in the program. In final essays, T4 participant sentiments consistently indicate that the T4 Volunteer Program has a positive and transformational impact on youth development. For instance, a 2009 T4 graduate recounts in his final essay, “I got to experience what it was like to be a librarian while working in the library and it was actually a lot more interesting than I had expected. This was such a life changing experience that if I could I would definitely do it again.”