New Initiatives Grant Final Report

“Teen Reading Engagement Kit (TREK)”

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

My project was created for the Onondaga County Public Libraries located within the city of Syracuse which include eight neighborhood branches as well as our Central library. This project was a mock-subscription based book box aimed at city teens which we called a Teen Reading Engagement Kit, or TREK. In essence, teens would sign up every month to receive a curated box that contained fun items that they were able to keep (such as crafts, stickers, pens, notebooks, etc.) as well as one or two library books which were hand selected by their local branch librarian according to the teen’s responses on their sign-up form. At the inception of this project, the desired outcome was to both provide equity to our city teens (who would traditionally be less likely to afford expensive monthly book box subscriptions) and also encourage teens to come back to their libraries post-pandemic.

One of the first obstacles there was to overcome was to figure out how to coordinate the sign-ups and distribution of the boxes. Most other libraries that I knew of that had a similar program were only offering the program at one library location, not at nine different pickup sites with nine different library staffs contributing to the program. To make the process as accessible as possible for the most amount of people, I wound up using Microsoft Forms for signups (teens could sign-up either through our website or via a QR code posted in teen areas at each library) and developed a spreadsheet that all city youth services librarians and librarian assistants (LAs) could access and edit. With this spreadsheet, library staff could see the responses to the teens’ sign-up information and select books that they thought their teens would enjoy based on their responses. Library staff then entered the name of the book(s) that they had selected for their teen directly into the spreadsheet so that other staff would be able to see the items that their colleagues were recommending. Additionally, there was a field within the spreadsheet that allowed for library staff to ask for help from their colleagues if they were stumped as to which book they should select for their teens. While initially an obstacle, this shared spreadsheet wound up becoming a thriving, living document that our staff were able to access to share recommendations and borrow ideas.

During the first month the program was offered, we also ran into an obstacle that wound up becoming a wonderful offshoot of the project. Given the finances provided through the grant and the fact that we wanted to run the program for an entire year, I had calculated that we would be able to provide 25 boxes per month across the city. A director from a youth residential school in the Salt Springs neighborhood loved the idea of providing TREKs to her teenagers, as they are frequently unable to leave the premises but knew they would love the hand selected books and goodies. The first month of the program, the group signed up for 9 of the 25 spaces, and the second month the group signed up for 12 of the 25 spaces. It became clear that while we were happy to be able to engage with the teens in this group through this program, that it wasn’t exactly fair to other teens across the city who were also interested in participating in the program. I spoke with the youth services librarian at their local branch, and we discussed what we could do to still serve this group while also providing access to the program for other teens in the city. The librarian at this branch wound up speaking with her manager and they figured out that they would be able to take on the cost of preparing TREKs for the residential living teens from their own budget, and would utilize the “infrastructure” that was established with our existing program to create their own unique program for these teens. An absolute win-win for everyone!

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

The most remarkable accomplishment of this project was the way in which staff from across the city were able to build relationships with teens in their communities during the course of this project. The necessity of having to physically come in and pick up the box at the library encouraged librarians to have conversations with their teens which ultimately contributed to the sense of community and belonging that teens felt within the library. One librarian mentioned that one of the most profound experiences she had as part of this program was being able to provide a TREK to a developmentally disabled teen every month and that, “she and her parents were just ecstatic about this program”. The librarian who eventually created her own off-shoot TREK program noted that, “[k]ids who had been failed by almost all the adults in their lives were being given boxes filled with treats, swag, and books chosen just for them”, and that “[t]he reports back were glowing!”. These TREKs were truly influential in helping us to build bridges back to the teens in our communities.

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

At the conclusion of this project, our libraries had given away 255 TREKs to 87 teens across the city. Eight of the nine branches participated in the program, and when asked how well the program served the needs of their branch teens on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being not very well, 5 being very well), staff members gave an average response of 4.4. Staff indicated that teens across the board enjoyed the program, and that if they could change anything about the program, they would open it up to a broader audience since many adults commented on how they would also enjoy receiving a book box of their own. Teens themselves rated the books that they received an average of 4.1 stars (out of 5) and rated the items that they received in their boxes an average of 4.6 stars. Unsurprisingly, one of the most frequent comments from the teens was that they wished there was more candy and snacks in their box!

Anything else you’d like us to know?

I am deeply appreciative to CLRC for allowing us the chance to pilot this program across the city of Syracuse. In a time where our libraries were struggling to get teens back into our doors after having been closed to the public for so long, being able to provide this program to our teens was a great way to begin building what is, in my opinion, the most profound work of public librarianship: strong community relationships. Thank you for this opportunity!

Shauna Modrow

Youth Services Librarian, Onondaga County Public Libraries (OCPL)

Are you interested in being our next New Initiatives Grant recipient? Check out the grant page for the rules & requirements!