Librarians reach out to at-risk kids in DYS facilities

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Reprinted courtesy of: Dorchester Reporter

By: Brianna Macgregor, Special to the Reporter

To bring a greater variety of books to kids in Department of Youth Services (DYS) facilities, the Boston Public Library (BPL) and the DYS have been working together on a book lending program. The program started in 2010 with a single librarian doing teen outreach, and in 2011 expanded to include three teen librarians and eight DYS facilities in the metropolitan area.

Each month, two of the three teen librarians visit DYS schools with book deposits, discuss the books with the kids, and promote various BPL programs.

Jessi Snow, Youth Services Coordinator for the BPL, was the teen librarian who helped start the program. While all DYS facilities have in-house libraries available, the BPL/DYS partnership provides additional resources that the kids truly appreciate.

“The response from teens has always been really positive,” she said. “We’re highlighting books that are fun to read.”

Snow said that the librarians bring about 10-15 books per facility, and of these books, about 60-80 percent are checked out. Carol Johnson, a literary specialist for the metropolitan region of DYS, said that the program helps to create a culture of reading at the centers, and allows the kids to remain aware of things going on in the community. In addition to presenting books, the librarians discuss upcoming events happening at the teen libraries, the BPL college planning center, and job opportunities at the libraries.

The kids at DYS centers are able to participate in the BPL summer reading program, and Johnson said there are other programs in the works, including author visits and a short story book club. Johnson cited the importance of reading and having access to a variety of books and literacy programs at the DYS centers to encompass the wide range of interests held by the kids.

“Reading expands and broadens their base of knowledge, and their world,” she said. “Just like with any other teen, it gives them an outlet that they may not have had before.”

Laura Koenig, one of the teen librarians who visits the DYS centers, said the program is one of the most valuable things she does.

“We can’t reach [the kids] if they’re not in the building,” she said, explaining the importance of letting kids know that they are still a part of the community the BPL serves.

Though the librarians focus on literature that kids might find enjoyable to read, Koenig said that the kids have varied interests and have asked for books about subjects as diverse as philosophy, EMT training, and resume writing.

“They’re encouraged to find ways to ready themselves for leaving the center,” she said.

Koenig recalls leaving one of the centers several months ago after a visit with a particularly enthusiastic crowd of kids.

“We walked out of the room and literally every young man had his head in a book,” she said. Koenig added that the teen librarians provide an important link back to the community.

“They can feel really isolated and not connected - teens in general feel that way,” Koenig said. “We can help connect them to the broader community.”

Koenig said that reading achievement is a factor in teen success in high school and beyond, and that low reading levels are identified as one of the factors correlated to incarceration and recidivism.
Literacy levels improve through reading and remain with the kids in the community, so it’s important to make sure that kids consistently have access to a variety of books, she added.

According to Koenig, a local librarian can be a familiar face of support to help the kids reintegrate when they are released.

“We have to show them that we care,” she said.