New Initiatives Grant Final Report

“Soule Branch Library SEL Manga/Anime Afterschool Program”

Please provide a brief narrative explaining your project and its outcomes.

Soule Branch Library piloted a social-emotional learning (SEL)-themed tween and teen manga/anime program for the 2022/23 school year. Combining a weekly afterschool anime club, a specially curated manga collection with a focus on youth mental health, and, eventually, a monthly Saturday afternoon anime-themed enrichment activity, Soule youth services staff strove to integrate SEL exercises into engaging tween and teen programming.

Soon after the beginning of the 2022 school year, Soule struck up a close working relationship with the nearby Elmcrest Children’s Center Residential School, a facility that serves students who “have emotional/behavioral difficulties leading to involvement with Family Court and require placement with the Department of Social Services or the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.” By partnering with Elmcrest staff, Soule was able to tailor the club’s scheduling, mental health focus, and programming to the institution’s tween and teen population, while simultaneously welcoming neighborhood youth from outside the Center.

The Syracuse City School District’s Second Step SEL curriculum provided the original inspiration for the club’s integrated therapeutic content; however, it quickly became apparent that a more casual approach to social emotional lessons was appropriate. Indeed, some neighborhood youth balked at “having to do school after school.” After some trial and error, Soule developed the following club meeting formula: Before club meetings, staff pre-screened the anime and identified a simple theme (ex. praise, trust, pride). Club meetings then consisted of an icebreaker activity or brief craft, a discussion of the week’s SEL topic, an Asian treat, and finally an anime episode screened from the Crunchyroll platform.

At times a number of obstacles made for an inconsistent anime club experience. Due to the nature of life in a group home for at-risk youth, there were some weeks when Elmcrest students could not visit the library due to loss of off-campus privileges. At other times, COVID-19 outbreaks saw entire Center dorms in quarantine lockdown. Attendance at the Tuesday afternoon club varied widely. Eventually Soule realized the greatest demand among Elmcrest students was for special programs on weekends. The second half of the 2022/23 school year saw Soule offering monthly Saturday afternoon events such as anime-themed yoga and candy sushi making, anime-themed bingo, and a How to Draw Anime tutorial. The library plans to continue this monthly Saturday tween/teen programming practice for the foreseeable future.

What is the most remarkable accomplishment or finding of your project?

One remarkable finding library staff observed was that anime and manga are currently such engaging mediums among tweens and teens that incorporating that content into almost any activity makes it automatically exciting. For example, during Soule’s anime-themed yoga program, students were so enthusiastic about poses modeled after various anime characters that it didn’t even matter to them that the presenter wasn’t an anime superfan herself. Immediately afterwards, participants asked when they could attend the program again, and Soule plans to repeat the event at a future date. Ultimately, the library’s greatest takeaway from this initiative has been a deepened connection with the Elmcrest Center. It has been a pleasure for Soule staff to get to know these youth, watch them grow over the past year, and work to develop programming they want and actively request. These teens now feel so at home at Soule that one Elmcrest high schooler has started up a weekly Dungeons & Dragons group at the library that has proven popular with other tweens and teens.

Please provide a brief summary of your evaluation activities and/or results, if available.

A comparative analysis of Soule’s collection statistics reveals that manga circulation during the 2022/23 school year was triple that of the previous year. Providing tweens and teens at Soule with more manga led to a rise in adolescent literacy activities. As one 15-year-old anime club attendee relayed, “I’m only just getting into reading and I love anime. I want to read the library’s whole manga collection!”

Anecdotally, Elmcrest staff reported a number of program benefits for their students. To quote one Center employee, anime club “provides a natural teaching/learning environment for the kids. The groups allow kids to try something new in a fun environment and it is awesome that they are community programs and provided normalcy to our kids. While Elmcrest Center routine is important and critical, it is exciting to break from that and have the kids be exposed to positive group interactions with others not associated with ECC. I think these groups spark amazing curiosity for our kids.”

Margaret Martin

Youth Services Librarian – Soule Branch Library (OCPL)

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