Services for Black Youth • Getting Started in Your Library

It can be difficult to know where to start once you have decided to take action to improve your library’s services for Black youth. And regardless of your race, we know that it can be difficult to discuss race and racism in the workplace. In this final segment, we’d like to offer some concrete suggestions for how you can get started with this important work—or, if you’ve already started, how you can advance and improve your efforts.

Before you jump in and start making changes in your library, it’s important to undertake your own racial identity development work. This is especially important for White librarians who may have never critically examined their own race and the realities of White privilege before. Your work might include reading books such as those posted in the attached annotated bibliography, attending racial equity training such as the workshops hosted by the Racial Equity Institute, and engaging in discussions about race both in person and online.

A thorough community analysis is another important preparatory step in improving your services to Black youth. In addition to collecting statistical information about the demographics in your library community, you should also consider the organizational and human resources that are present. These might include local churches, health clinics, social service agencies, charities, recreational facilities, colleges and universities, and mentoring organizations. Identifying these resources helps to focus your analysis on the assets present in your community rather than the deficits, and can also suggest potential community partners who might already be working to improve the lives of Black youth.

Next, conduct a thorough and honest assessment of your library’s current services to Black youth. One critical component of this assessment should be feedback from Black youth themselves—those who already use your library and those who do not. Seek input from as many perspectives as possible. For example, you might assemble an assessment team consisting of a librarian, an administrator, a teacher, a Black parent, and Black students. We have included one tool—the Culturally Responsive Library Walk—that can help you assemble this team and assess your library. An honest assessment will likely turn up some things your library is already doing well, and will help you identify priority needs going forward.

Depending on the results of your assessment, your next steps might involve using any of the strategies we’ve discussed in this training to improve your library’s space, instruction, programming, resources, or staff. Again, it is critical to involve Black youth and their families in planning and implementing any and all improvements. When planning for changes, think ahead to how you will assess the new services to evaluate their impact on the youth you serve.

Once your new initiatives are underway, implement your assessment plan and be willing to make changes to the new services as necessary.

Keep in mind that cultures and communities are constantly evolving. A program or resource that works well one year might not be ideal the following year, or with a different group of students. For that reason, it’s important to understand that community analysis should be ongoing and integrated into your normal library practice.

Throughout your work, connect and engage with others who are committed to improving the lives of African American youth. These people might be in your library, in your local community, or across the country. Twitter can be a great way to connect with activists and with other librarians. If you already have a Twitter account, check the list of accounts that you follow to see how diverse it is. Add people and organizations working for racial equity, for example the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (@BC_ALA), the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans (@AfAmEducation), and prominent scholars such as Beverly Tatum (@BDTSpelman).

Finally, we would encourage you to develop authentic, caring relationships with Black youth in your library. One of the librarians whose work is highlighted in our book, Faith Burns, shared how, for her, these relationships began when she simply sat down near some teens in her library during the ten minutes before the start of a library program—not close enough to be imposing, but close enough that it was clear she was available to talk if anyone wanted to. After a few minutes, one teen approached and began a conversation with her. Now, she is regularly approached by teens during that ten minutes, and she has come to know many of them well. She explained the new understanding she gained from the simple act of opening herself up for conversation by saying: “I will never be able to hear their voices if I do not first quiet my own. I will never be able to show them their lives matter if I do not stop to be a part of them.”

We ask you to hear the voices of the Black youth you serve, and to show them that their lives matter to you.

MLA Citation Hughes-Hassell, Sandra, and Casey H. Rawson. "Services for Black Youth: Getting Started in Your Library." School Library Connection, May 2017,

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Entry ID: 2077521

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