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Youth Empowerment Initiative
When teens began congregating at the library in record numbers to use the computers, Queens Library saw the chance to turn them into lifelong library users. At the same time, Queens Library hoped to use library resources to alleviate the social problems that threatened the young customers, problems that are far outside the library’s traditional mission. Innovative partnerships within the community and with the teens themselves created a library-led support network that is successfully engaging teens and maintaining a tranquil library environment. The “Youth Empowerment Initiative” combines dedicated youth counselors, dedicated teen spaces, teen advisors on youth–centered programming, and contracted social workers. When teens congregate in the library, even if it is to do school work, other library patrons find them disruptive and sometimes intimidating.
Queens decided long ago that rather than using Security personnel to squash negative behavior, the funds were better spent on professionals who can create positive outcomes. We currently have eleven Youth Counselors on staff at nine locations. They are not librarian’s, their job is to nurture community partnerships and create programming during after school hours, and to engage the young people when they are in the library. Teen Advisory Boards and the ability to participate in relevant library programs offer the participants a peer/support group away from the “street”. That may make the critical difference between finishing school and dropping out, lifelong learning or lifelong struggling, a grade point average or a criminal record.
Disruptive incidents have decreased drastically. Users of all ages continue to crowd the library, co-existing peacefully with large numbers of teens. This program facilitates youths-at-risk to continue their education and most importantly, to succeed academically. In some Queen’s communities, teens don't have other places beside the library to congregate. It is often the only open access, public building in the area and quality structured after-school programs are not available. The only safe space for them is the library. Queen’s Library’s Youth Empowerment Initiative gives teens the space and positive programming they need to engage with the library. A contracted social worker in some library’s, is available to provide necessary intervention before delinquency becomes intractable.