PLA Blog: serving pregnant or parenting teens

March 26, 2010

This post was originally written for the PLA Blog. ALA holds the copyright to this text; it is reproduced here with permission.

I’m not sure what it is, but I seem to really enjoy the early morning sessions. Today the first one I attended was “Pregnant/Parenting Teens: Promoting Library Services Among the Underserved” with Maryann Mori, the director of the Waukee Public Library in Waukee, Iowa. She addressed the needs of pregnant and parenting teens, what libraries already have for those teens, and what libraries can do to further their service to these patrons.

In some ways, the needs of pregnant and parenting teens are similar to a lot of public library patrons’ needs: they want help with their education, with finding a job, and with entertainment. But they also have more specific needs like learning parenting skills, being put in touch with other community organizations that can help them, and just having someone in their lives that they can trust. We can meet these needs with our usual materials and services that provide for the educational, informational, entertainment, and lifelong learning needs of all of our patrons, but we can also provide a friendly staff, contact names and addresses for community organizations, and storytimes that also teach parenting and reading skills–especially by using the Every Child Ready to Read framework.

With the principles of ECRR in mind, Maryann designed a four-session program that emphasizes the six aspects (print motivation, vocabulary, phonological awareness, print awareness, letter knowledge, and narrative skills) and also explains the general benefits of reading to your baby.

The first meeting is an introduction to ECRR and provides statistics about the benefits of reading to your baby. The second meeting focuses on children’s books, choosing books for your baby, and print motivation. The third meeting covers phonological awareness and vocabulary. The final meeting reviews the first three and touches on teen parents’ reading memories and provides encouragement for the future. Each session combines storytelling and songs and rhymes and fingerplays with parenting skills that include aspects of child development.

Maryann also spent a lot of time talking about partnering with other organizations in the community. Such a partnership might be something as simple as creating a bookmark with information about the classes and good books for babies in the stuff that gets sent home with moms when they leave the hospital, but it can be as much as going to shelters and group homes and correctional facilities to do the classes. There are so many other organizations you can partner with to make these programs a success including high schools, the local WIC agency, the crisis pregnancy center, churches, the department of health, even the grocery store (advertise in the formula aisle!).

Serving pregnant or parenting teens also exists at an interesting intersection of teen services and children’s services, so it can be an interesting collaboration between librarians or departments.

There are some barriers to library access that some of these teen patrons may have. They may be balancing school and work. They may be living in temporary housing. They may be totally dependent on welfare. They may not be strong readers. They may lack transportation. They may not know what good parenting looks like. They might not even be able to get a library card without a parent’s signature since they’re underage–and what if they’ve been kicked out? Does your library have a policy that would provide for them?

Despite these stumbling blocks, this is an important demographic to reach because as they see what’s available to them and their babies at the library, they’ll come back. And Maryann’s program works: she’s not only seen these teens come back for more library services, but they’re also more likely to graduate and more likely to start reading more themselves, and their children develop better reading and language skills through the program.

What does your library have now for pregnant or parenting teens? What more can we be doing to serve them?

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