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Youth202.org

District of Columbia Public Library
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Innovation Summary

Youth202 is Washington, DC’s first centralized, teen-driven digital “space” for information and resources for DC teens. Consisting of a website (youth202.org), a Twitter feed (@Youth202), and a radio program, it fills a huge teen-identified information gap, while giving teens the opportunity to develop 21st century media, information, and collaborative skills.

Innovation Leader: Rebecca Renard, Teens of Distinction Program Coordinator, rebecca.renard@dc.gov

Problem Statement

Adults have our own newspapers, our own radio programs, our own networks and means to find out about things that are interesting and important to us. But, teens? Not so much. There is no lack of opportunities and events for teens Washington, DC., and no lack of opinions that teens want to share with the world. What was missing, however, was a platform for teens to access information about these opportunities and events, and to share these ideas and opinions. In order to find information for and about them, teens would have to either rely on getting information from parents, teachers, counselors, librarians, or other trusted adults, or they would have to proactively search for the information themselves, scouring through Twitter feeds and organizational websites. Teens have bemoaned this fact, and expressed the need and desire for a “space” for them to learn about things available to them in the city. What are the free programs, events, internships, jobs, after school opportunities? What are the resources they can turn to for help with issues? What are other teens thinking and talking about? What’s happening in the city that affects them? Where can THEIR voices be heard? In addition, while teens are heavily immersed in the new media culture, frequently even contributing to it themselves via Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc., they are not frequently engaged in the production of such media within an educational context that intentionally supports the development of their 21st century literacy skills. There don’t exist many physical spaces with the human and technological resources to take teens from simply using new media to mastering the conventions, language, and nuances of it; being aware of the ethical, safety, and legal implications of it; and creating it with a purpose to further connect and engage their communities.

Innovation

Youth202 is Washington DC’s first central repository for news, information, and entertainment for teens. Consisting of a digital radio program, a website, and Twitter feed created by and for teens, Youth202 not only fills a huge gap in the information needs of teens and those who serve them, but does so in an innovative way—by training teens in a bi-weekly after school setting, to research, write, and share the information themselves—building teens’ skills, while capitalizing on the highly popular, widely accessible, and technologically dynamic social and digital media tools of Twitter, open source content management, and digital radio/podcasting. By pairing youth with adult library and community media professionals who are both skilled in working with teens and experts in the information and media fields, Youth202 supports teens’ youth development needs, while developing their 21st century literacy skills. With our community partner, Radio Rootz, teens are trained in research, information analysis, digital audio production, interviewing, online writing, “cyber-marketing”, and a host of other skills, while working collaboratively to create content that they share with their peers—radio segments, feature stories, blog posts, event updates, local resources, and other teen-identified content. Youth202 not only develops the skills of the teens directly served in the program, but, as importantly, it increases the awareness of DC’s general teen population about the issues, programs, events, and resources available to them—sharing that information through the vehicles that teens most often access. In this way, the library can greatly improve the quality of reference services provided to teens, while at the same time creating a more positive association between teens and the library. As well, the library can deepen our awareness about the communities we serve and help strengthen the community’s information and youth service network overall.

Progress

Since the first after school program meeting in September 2011, teens have been creating and contributing content for the Youth202 radio program and blog. While originally only envisioned as an after school program that posted content to a Wordpress blog operating outside of the library’s formal web space, Youth202 has since become DC Public Library’s official teen “brand”. Youth202.org is now DCPL’s formal teen web space, connected to our website, DCLibrary.org. We are approaching our third program semester, having intensely engaged 24 teens through the after school program, with a waitlist of more than 75 teens eager to be involved. The Youth202 Twitter feed has a youth following of more than 500 teens. Teens in our recording studio are submitting original youth-produced music to be included in the radio podcasts. And the Youth202 teens just organized and hosted an official “launch party”, which drew more than 150 teens from all over the city to a library on a Friday night! Now adult library staff from our Teen Services Working Group are on board, helping to maintain the community teen resource page (called “Problems?/Issues?”). As the library’s teen advisory groups, teen employment programs, and teen volunteer programs grow, staff are intentionally creating ways to have teens who aren’t directly involved in the Youth202 after school program create content for the site (through submitting creative writing, reviews of library materials, commentaries, etc.). And recognizing the power of the new resource, the Mayor of Washington DC’s communications office has asked if Youth202.org could be the city’s official teen summer portal—where teens can turn to find about the hundreds of coordinated programs and events during the summer months. This represents a huge opportunity and positive challenge for DC Public Library, as we seek to deepen our success with engaging teens and connecting with the community.