Blogger Library Service to Underserved Children and Their Caregivers committee

ALSC Institute – Overwhelmed by Underserved Communities: Participant Responses

Photo of Tammie Benham, Melody Leung, and Georgette Spratling presenting at the ALSC Institute in Kansas City

Members of our committee (Georgette Spratling, Melody Leung, Tammie Benham) presented at last month’s ALSC Institute! We showcased our toolkit for Getting Started with Underserved Communities

Thank you to everyone who came to our workshops. We were able to learn about barriers our fellow library practitioners face when working with underserved communities as well as gauge where we all are in our practice. 

Below is a summary of participant responses from our collective reflection. The questions asked align with an advocacy framework we presented to help empower library staff to work with underserved communities.

Credit: ALSC’s LSUCTC Committee

If you have your own responses, we’d love to see them in the comments below! 

What is the most overwhelming part about working with underserved communities? 

  • Time, staffing issues (being on the same page, diverse staff who reflect individual communities, underpaid staff) 
  • Outreach and how to connect, trust-building
  • Emotional burnout and empathy fatigue 

What underserved communities do you want to work with? (Check out our toolkits for some examples or inspiration)

  • Low income 
  • BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) 
  • New Americans 
  • Unhoused populations 
  • People with special needs
  • Homeschool communities
  • Incarcerated youth or youth with incarcerated family members  
  • Religious minorities 

Imagine a real or hypothetical program/outreach/initiative? 

  • Social workers in the library 
  • Library tours to different groups 
  • After school activities
  • Outreach (including to daycares, presenting bilingual storytimes, and communities who lack transportation to library facilities) 
  • Sensory friendly programs 
  • Connecting families with community resources 
  • More programming and marketing for the Spanish speaking community 
  • Diverse storytimes and/or sharing songs in your home language program
  • Creating a more welcoming space 
  • Nighttime story hour 

Are there barriers in your organization you would need to overcome in order to execute your initiative/program/outreach? 

  • Lack of cultural competency in ourselves, community or organizations
  • More diverse materials for different communities – Diversity audit!
  • Staffing (not enough staff capacity and lack of diverse staff who reflect the community)
  • Marketing capacities and inconsistencies
  • Language barriers 
  • Relationship and trust building
  • Internal communication between departments, need for organizational buy-in 
  • Organizational capacity 
  • Funds 
  • Being told no or other types of pushback (includes performative decision making and community pushback like censorship)
  • Finding your community and talking to them 
  • Physical and emotional safety concerns for patrons and staff 
  • Scheduling for staff to do outreach 
  • Learning to advocate for underserved populations (lack of experience in advocacy/dismantling systemic bias) 
  • Being comfortable with being uncomfortable 
  • Lack of childcare 
  • Knowledge of practices and research in understanding needs of the population and how to work with them 
  • Understanding true barriers to underserved populations (including accessing library cards/IDs, fines and other institutional barriers)

How do you advocate for your community?

  • Start at the beginning, meet people, and develop strategies 
  • Serve on boards
  • Be aware of your community 
  • Find trusted community members
  • Diversity in hiring 
  • Push through the discomfort and resistance to reach the community or library leadership 
  • Incorporate inclusion techniques into existing programs
  • Connect with teachers or other community leaders
  • Brainstorm what the library can provide 
  • Offer library of things or resources for individuals with special needs 
  • Diversity audit (Check out Kym Powe’s blog post on this here!)
  • Create partnerships 

Flow Chart to help ease some of these challenges 

With these responses and framework in mind, we hope more and more practitioners can feel a sense of solidarity in the work, focus on intentions that center each community first, and know there is always a place to start in advocacy work. 

Melody Leung is a Youth Services Librarian at the Everett Public Library in Washington State. She enjoys problem solving, hanging out with her new puppy, and walking outside as the leaves change color. All views in this blog post are her own.  

Tammie Benham is a Youth Services Consultant in Southeast Kansas.  She is currently learning to enjoy a variety of podcasts, loves glamping, and spending time with her family.  All views in this blog post belong to me.

This posts addresses ALSC Core Competency III (Programming Skills) and V (Outreach and Advocacy)

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