LGBT Oral History Interviews

For the past year, I have been conducting oral history interviews for a project that is a collaboration with the UP Center of Champaign County and the Champaign County Historical Archives. After some malfunctions with our transcribing software, we are once again slowly but surely transcribing the interviews involving twelve individuals.  As of today, our first video has been uploaded to our YouTube account and can be viewed by anyone!


We at the UP Center are very excited to be able to reveal the first of many videos of our oral history archive!  If you know of anyone who would like to participate in this project, please have them contact to set up a time!  RMD_pic


Historical perspectives on youth advocacy librarianship

Youth advocacy has a long history in children’s and young adult library services, but it hasn’t always taken the forms we see today. These resources explore the historical roots of youth advocacy librarianship, from what has been named advocacy over time to what has developed into contemporarily defined advocacy practices.

Fine, J. R. (n.d.). YASD: A Narrative History From 1976 to 1992. Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved August 4, 2012, from

Gottschalk, M. E. (n.d.). YALSA: History From 1992 to 2000. Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved August 4, 2012, from

Starr, C. (n.d.). Brief History of the Young Adult Services Division. Young Adult Library Services Association. Retrieved August 4, 2012, from

These three online resources from ALA trace the history of YALSA from its founding in 1957 (as YASD) through 2000. For an overview of YALSA’s current mission and programs, visit their About page. YALSA represents the official institutional voice in youth advocacy librarianship, so it’s interesting to see what approaches they have prioritized and encouraged over time. Many of YASD/YALSA’s initiatives, such as the long-term struggle to keep the YASD publication Top of the News from being absorbed into the general ALA Bulletin, hinge on the concept of advocacy as related to the recognition of youth as a discrete user group with different needs. The YASD mission “to advocate, promote, and strengthen service to young adults as part of the continuum of total library service” (Fine) points to librarians’ desire to target youth populations for age-specific service and their belief that advocacy for youth library services could be synonymous with advocacy for youth.

Braverman, M. (1979). Work with Young People: The Evolution of a Concept. Youth, Society, and the Public Library (pp. 242–254). Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

This dated but still extremely useful book traces the history of public library services for youth with a particular focus on the social contexts and impacts of various trends. It’s invaluable as background for understanding more specific issues that arose during these time periods, and as an introduction to seminal figures in the advancement of youth services and youth advocacy librarianship over time.

Broderick, D. M., & Chelton, M. K. (1978). Editorial. Voice of Youth Advocates, 1(1), 1–2.

In their introductory editorial to the first issue of Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), a magazine for young adult librarians, Broderick and Chelton cited the rise in youth-related social problems and at-risk behaviors (such as rising rates of teen pregnancy, institutionalization, homelessness, unemployment, and delinquency) as justification for more engaged youth librarianship and advocacy. This is a great primary source on a period that was a turning point in how youth advocacy librarianship was conceived, especially since Broderick and Chelton explicitly politicize the concept here, stating,

We cannot leave the field to the ultra-conservative groups who operate on the assumption that it is access to information that causes social ills. We must identify the social myths that keep us from serving young people and replace them with knowledge… The alternative is to remain victims of myths and social conditioning. (p. 2)

Edwards, M. A. (1969). The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult. New York: Hawthorn Books.

In her classic tract on young adults in the library, Edwards advocates passionately for the rights of young adults to use the library while at the same time revealing some of the limitations and cultural assumptions of youth advocacy at this time. She writes,

Such communities as we worked in were the danger spots in our cities. These people were a prey to every slogan—good or bad. If the government issued a stirring call for defense workers, they responded at once… If radicals ranted, they made the same unhesitating response. Libraries much teach these people to read and think. (p. 57)

Just a page later, though, she writes,

Too often a wide gulf lay between our librarians and the people they wished to serve…. These people had fine things to give us, too. They taught us much about courage and humor, strength and patience. (p. 58)

She was also a strong proponent of outreach, arguing that,

We must not be content to work only with people who happen to come to the library, excusing ourselves by saying it is hopeless to make readers of most people when often it is ourselves and our methods that are at fault. (p. 114)

Hannigan, J. A. (1996). A Feminist Analysis of the Voices for Advocacy in Young Adult Librarianship. Library Trends, 44(4), 851–874.

Hannigan uses a feminist theoretical framework to discuss historical issues of access and advocacy from a qualitative (what kind of relationships do varied patrons and nonpatrons have with the library?) rather than a quantitative (what are the representative numbers of groups utilizing the library?) viewpoint as she draws attention to the many female youth services librarians throughout the history of the profession whose work is notable in both feminist and LIS historical context. These librarians include:

  • Mabel Williams, worked as a young adult librarian at the NYPL from 1919 to 1951 and wrote that library services should “value personal identity” when formulating library service for youth
  • Margaret Scoggin, a generation past Mabel Williams, who created youth spaces and encouraged building youth participation (such as facilitating youth book reviewing) in library services
  • Jean Carolyn Roos , who worked in the Cleveland Public Library in the 1940s through the 60s, and involved the library in youth-centered organizational partnership to the point where she later drew criticism for “social work librarianship”
  • Margaret Edwards, who worked from 1932 to 1962 at the Enoch Pratt Public Library in Baltimore, and advocated (through her programming as well as her writing) for including African American youth in the library’s youth programming and services
  • Dorothy Broderick and Mary K. Chelton, who founded VOYA in 1978; of their contributions, Hannigan writes:

As subsequent historians and students of library history look back on young adult services in public libraries, this author suspects that they may identify Broderick and Chelton as marking the beginning of a new view of such services. This new view emphasized the individual and the perception of young adult literature as representative of, or a validation of, youth lifestyles, interests, and needs rather than emphasizing literary value and the social, moral, and educational benefits for those who encounter great literature. Broderick and Chelton, especially in VOYA, also emphasized the need to be knowledgeable about other disciplines and agencies that impact on youth rather than just encouraging cooperative ventures with them.

Jenkins, C. (2000). The History of Youth Services Librarianship. Libraries & Culture, 35(1), 103–140.

Jenkins traces the shift in youth services discourse from child protection to child advocacy, and describes early forms of advocacy in youth librarianship such as collaborating with social welfare agencies and pushing for the abolition of the age restrictions that were commonly placed on library access in the late 19th and early 20th century. Jenkins also notes the overall scarcity of research into the history of the “female-intensive child welfare professions that grew out of Progressive Era social activism” (p. 126) and positions further research into this area as its own form of advocacy.

Lukenbill, W. B. (2006). Helping Youth at Risk: An Overview of Reformist Movements in American Public Library Services to Youth. New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 12(2), 197–213.

Lukenbill argues that many of the social welfare professions of the Progressive Era aimed not to empower but to quell those they served, to appease the lower and working classes and inculcate in them the values that would make them better and more docile workers.The article queries the way the “at-risk youth” label is used to categorize youth and impose reform programs, and traces the history of library-based and library-related youth advocacy through the lens of analyzing its application as a tool of social control.

Vandergrift, K. E. (1996). Female advocacy and harmonious voices: A history of public library services and publishing for children in the United States. Library Trends, 44(4), 683–708.

Vandegrift discusses the roles played by youth advocacy and feminism in the development of historically feminized professions of youth librarianship and children’s publishing in the U.S. She addresses the tensions between the assimilationist mission of early library services (“the integration of immigrants into American culture was a primary mission of most public libraries of the time”, p. 687) and librarians’ efforts to value children’s individuality and cultural uniqueness (“librarians worked aggressively to acquire children’s books in original languages from countries around the world”, p. 688), and between youth librarians’ historic role in censoring materials and their current position in intellectual freedom discourses.

MacArthur Report on Youth and Online Participatory Politics

The MacArthur Research Network just released a new study of youth political activity online (PDF).

Defining participatory politics as “acts that are interactive, peer-based, not guided by deference to elites or formal institutions, and meant to address issues of public concern” that are often but not always “facilitated through online platforms” (p. 3), the study found that “[o]ver 40 percent of young people engage in at least one act of participatory politics. Specifically, 43 percent of white, 41 percent of black, 38 percent of Latino, and 36 percent of Asian American youth participated in at least one act of participatory politics during the prior twelve months” (p. 5).

A few things that stuck out to me from the study:

The study found that “interest-driven online activities” such as those related to gaming, sports, hobbies, and other interests built “digital social capital” in a way that “appear[ed] to lay a foundation for engagement in participatory politics” (p. 6). They expand on this, noting that community norms built around digital forms of interaction may start to bleed into politics:

These practices are peer based, focused on expression, interactive, nonhierarchical, and not guided by deference to elite driven institutions. And though not confined to digital platforms, the practices enabled by new digital media appear to have made participatory cultures more common. It is, however, the pervasive presence of such practices in the lives of young people… that make it a culture shift. Specifically, Jenkins and others suggest that the participatory skills, norms, and networks that develop when social media is used to socialize with friends or to engage with those who share one’s interests can and are being transferred to the political realm.

Thus, young people’s repeated participation in these online spaces or cultures may shape their expectations about how communication and interaction should happen in other spheres of life, including the political domain. And because of the shared commonalities that undergird these relationships, participants may be more likely than those involved in the traditional political infrastructure to produce and circulate information that resonates with others in the network, moving their friends and family to engage in politics, even temporarily. Moreover, because the network is often rooted in a context outside the political realm, most often conversing about and sharing information focused on popular culture or personal interactions, the boundaries of what counts as political information, discourse, and acts of politics are blurred—if not completely ignored. (p. 9)

The fact that most youth not only engage in participatory politics but also get their political information through what the study calls “participatory channels” (p. 33) such as friends’ Facebook feeds, there does seem to be some danger of the “filter bubble” phenomenon that could make political engagement fractured and polarized. It’s clear that librarians could have an important role to play in information gathering and evaluation for youth participatory politics, given the importance of information literacy to political engagement. As the study takes pains to note:

Youth, to a degree never before seen, are inundated with information. At the same time, the vast majority (84 percent) reports that they and their peers would benefit from help judging the credibility of what they see online. (p. xi)

Finally, the study warns that online political participation may obscure the low level of youth participation in other political arenas, and further warns that the hopeful participation numbers presented by this study run the risk of conflating voice with influence:

YPP researchers do not want to undervalue the significance of voice, especially for youth who are in the process of developing their political identities. At the same time, the YPP study recognizes that the promise of a democratic society is predicated on the belief that political actors have more than voice—they must also have influence. (p. xi)

This is an incredibly important distinction, and I wonder if youth advocacy librarianship might have a role to play in bridging the gap between the two, and providing youth with some of the tools and platforms they need to turn voice into influence.

There’s a lot more information (including statistics on youth digital access and participation, with an emphasis on variations across race and class distinctions, that may be useful to any of you out there writing a grant related to this topic), and I encourage everyone to read it in full.

What do you think of the research? What stuck out to you?


No Place for Kids: Chicago youth create a documentary about juvenile justice issues

NO PLACE FOR KIDS is a documentary that was directed and produced by two high school seniors at Francis Parker School in Chicago. Nina and Keely interned for the year at Project NIA, a grassroots organization focused on ending juvenile incarceration. They spent the year attending workshops, training, and reading about juvenile justice issues. No Place for Kids is their culminating project. The film is about 23 minutes in length.

Comment, download, or read more about the project here.

(Thanks to Mikhail Lyubansky.)

Resources on media, technology and youth advocacy

Dunlop & Holosko cover imageCoe-Regan, J. R., & O’Donnell, Julie. (2006). Best Practices for Integrating Technology and Service Learning in a Youth Development Program. Dunlop, Judith M. and Michael J. Holosko, eds. Information Technology and Evidence-Based Social Work Practice. New York: Haworth Press.

The setting for this study is the Long Beach YMCA Youth Institute, a program that “uses technology and service learning as a mechanism for promoting positive youth development while enhancing the academic and career readiness of low-income, culturally-diverse, urban high school students.” The researchers used focus groups to assess program participants’ views of best practices in the program surrounding recruitment, engagement, technology, service learning, and preparation for future careers or higher education. The analysis of data is somewhat shallow, and issues of power, voice, and context are underexplored, but youth feedback regarding their reasons for joining the program will be useful to youth advocates creating or running similar programs

Durrance & Fisher cover imageDurrance, J. C., & Fisher, K. E. (2005). Empowering youth: Outcomes of public libraries’ youth technology programs. How libraries and librarians help: A guide to identifying user-centered outcomes (pp. 114-135). Chicago: American Library Association.

This chapter of a practical LIS guide on program evaluation  compares three very different outreach programs in different libraries, all of which are designed to connect youth with the technology the public library has to offer. It includes detailed tables linking activities and attitudes to outcomes and enumerating the resources and strategies that enabled each program. Interview data is used to illuminate outcomes, and community needs are discussed in relation to the projects.

Berson & Berson cover imageLeaning, M. (2010). The One Laptop per Child Project and the problems of technology-led educational development. Berson, Ilene R. & Michael J. Berson, eds. High-tech tots: Childhood in a digital world, Research in Global Child Advocacy. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Leaning offers a valuable critique of the nonprofit One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project, which aims to “empower the children of developing countries to learn by providing one connected laptop to every school-age child” (231). The critique centers around three issues: the project as technological determinism; the project’s one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t consider “local needs or conditions” (232); and the project’s focus on providing the hardware and software while leaving content, training, and support to local or national authorities. As Leaning puts it,

The OLPC is in effect reducing difference, flattening disparities, and articulating a simplistic description of education in the developing world. More problematically it uses a default position that identifies a problem, a lack or shortcoming in the developing world to explain highly complex, historically differentiated situations. In this model, education in the developing world is at fault; it is a problem, and the solution is to provide laptop computers. (237)

Leaning also provides useful overviews of issues and theories surrounding the dissemination of technology (and its colonialist implications), youth media literacy education, and models of advocacy in a development context.

Media and Social Justice cover imageTaub-Pervizpour, L., & Disbrow, E. (2011). Detours through Youth Media: Backseat Drivers Bear Witness to the Ethical Dilemmas of Youth Media. Jansen, S. C., Pooley, J., & Taub-Pervizpour, L., eds. Media and Social Justice (pp. 97-114). New York: Palgrave/Macmillan.

This chapter describes a project in which participants in a summer program for minority urban youth created media to document their lives. The details and dilemmas of this project are used to interrogate the discourses of the internet and media 2.0 as democratic, leveling, and empowering. The authors unpack and complicate issues of power, agency, and voice in youth cultural production. They also explore the tensions between the “youth-driven” and “adult-supported” aspects of this particular program in a way that is relevant to any program that seeks to give youth authority and agency in how it is carried out but still relies on adult supervision and support for its existence. The chapter also reminds us that even the most utopian and empowering online environment for marginalized youth is no substitute for addressing power imbalances in the institutions and social structures they encounter in non-virtual life (school being the dominant example here). As the authors put it,

If youth media is to fulfill its promise as a force for community change, it will require us to constantly reflect on our objectives, methods, and, crucially, the social relationships that shape youth cultural production. (p. 111)


Youth advocacy in other fields

Youth advocacy is a powerful concept in diverse fields of practice and study that engage with youth issues, from education and psychology to media studies and public policy. Here are some resources that illuminate how youth advocacy — and youth itself — is conceptualized in these fields, all of which intersect with library theory and practice.

Dalrymple, J. (2005, January). Constructions of child and youth advocacy: Emerging issues in advocacy practice. Children & Society, 19(1): 3-15.

Dalrymple examines the perspectives of youth, youth advocates, and policymakers and funders regarding youth advocacy and finds that “there is a danger that the construction of advocacy in an adult proceduralised way is likely to compromise its potential to challenge the structures that deny young people opportunities to participate in decision making about their lives” (p. 3). Advocacy is framed in a protective light as a response to youth vulnerability, with the caveat that “[t]his is not to deny that young people have the capacity for individual or collective resistance but to acknowledge that, in certain situations, they need support to enable them to come to voice” (p. 5). Dalrymple engages with the complexities of youth voice and power issues as well as the social forces behind moral panics and the sanctification of childhood. She emerges as a proponent of a professional “culture of advocacy” (p. 11) but notes the contradictions of establishing such a culture, namely that discourses of protection and panic are most effectively used to justify the need for advocacy, but effective advocacy practice must move beyond those discourses for a youth-centered approach. The article also introduces the idea of advocacy as anarchic, threatening adult-child hierarchies by blurring the boundaries of authority.

Dalrymple, J. (2004, August). Developing the concept of professional advocacy. Journal of Social Work, 4(2): 179-197.

Dalrymple here problematizes the fragmented nature of child advocacy efforts, attributing it in part to the still-in-progress professionalization of the social work field and the resulting authority struggles over youth advocacy. She argues that the development of the field of youth advocacy parallels that of community organizing, with both fields built on “values which are critical of structural inequalities” (p. 184). There is an inherent contradiction in the professionalization of advocacy work that challenges institutional biases in that “professionalizing youth work would mean sacrificing its values, which are based on treating young people as equals and working alongside them to confront oppression” (p. 185), but moving away from a professional model would lessen advocates’ authority in the systems they are working with youth to navigate.

Gruendel, J. & Aber, J. L. (2007). Bridging the Gap Between Research and Child Policy Change: The Role of Strategic Communications in Policy Advocacy. In Aber, J. L., Bishop-Josef, S. J., Jones, S. M., McLearn, K. T., & Phillips, D. A., eds., Child development and social policy knowledge for action. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Gruendel & Aber position advocacy as one thread in a larger exploration of the relationship between child development research and public policymaking. Making a distinction between advocating for individual children and advocating for social change, they warn that transitioning from research to advocacy can be fraught with contradictions, as it is difficult to engage in both types of advocacy at once. They take a broad view of what is relevant to youth advocacy, noting “we need to focus, as well, on the more general and less traditional issues of children’s well-being, including national economic security policy, the role of government, and the tax side of the budget as well as the expenditure side” — where “traditional issues” are “health care, foster care, delinquency, and juvenile justice” and “specific but ‘historically new’ concerns” include “infant and toddler care, child care and early education, linking health and early care” (p. 46). In addition, they convey of frustration with the disconnect between research findings and action, pointing to communication strategy as a possible arena for intervention. Citing a study from the Frameworks Institute that found that advocates’ “mixes messages” left their audience confused, they advocate a clearer and simpler focus on defining issues and articulating solutions.

Heintz-Knowles, K. E. (2007). Who’s Looking Out for the Kids?: How Advocates Use Media Research to Promote Children’s Interests. Mazzarella, S. R., ed. 20 Questions about Youth & the Media (pp. 87-99). New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Heintz-Knowles approaches youth advocacy from the standpoint of media representation and media policy, relating this to the ongoing problem of negative public images of youth. The chapter  describes the work of public action groups such as Action for Children’s Television in advocating for more child-friendly media programming and more accurate media representations of youth and argues that more research is needed in media representations of and effects on youth in order to support ongoing advocacy efforts.

McLaughlin, M., Scott, W. R., Deschenes, S., Hopkins, K., & Newman, A. (2009). Between Movement & Establishment: Organizations Advocating for Youth. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

This is a book-length, in-depth study of community organizations that advocate for youth in urban contexts, focusing on the San Francisco area. The authors define these community-based advocacy organizations as a part of the nonprofit “third sector” that moves in between the market, the state, and citizens—or, as the title puts it, between movement and establishment. It has an explicitly political outlook, though it does not explicitly align itself with political parties or figures. While it may be useful in introducing advocacy concepts related to library work, it is most broadly applicable in considering the workings of organizations that the library may be trying to partner with as part of its outreach agenda and in providing a framework for understanding the social and systemic forces at work in situations where advocacy is a force. The authors describe and categorize major targets of youth advocacy initiatives and the strategies used to achieve objectives on these fronts, as well as the challenges advocacy organizations face by virtue of occupying a “third space” between individuals and institutions. Data is gathered through case studies of three youth advocacy organizations in the San Francisco area.

Rodríguez, L. F., & Conchas, G. Q. (2009). Preventing Truancy and Dropout Among Urban Middle School Youth: Understanding Community-Based Action From the Student’s Perspective. Education & Urban Society, 41(2), 216-247.

Rodriquez & Conchas situate advocacy as a key aspect of community organizing work and argue that it is particularly effective in forcing institutional accountability to youth. They also construct the creation of neutral or youth-oriented space as a form of advocacy. Beginning with the claim that “U.S. youth in general are often powerless” (p. 235), the authors situate youth in the contexts of the educational and justice system, electoral politics, health care, and other systems that have tremendous power over them with little to no accountability to them. Advocacy then is conceptualized as a means of creating a system by which youth are empowered as institutional stakeholders.


Toward a working definition of youth advocacy

Drawing on other definitions from a variety of sources, we’ve put together this working definition of youth advocacy:

Dorothy Broderick, the founder of Voice of Youth Advocates, broadly defined youth advocacy as “creating the conditions under which young people can make decisions about their own lives (Jones & Waddle, 2002, p. 24). Youth advocacy inheres in both actions and mindset; it occurs at both macro and micro levels, through the challenging of systemic inequities and institutional biases but also through the thoughtful, respectful, substantively equitable provision of day-to-day service. Youth advocacy seeks to support and empower youth as individuals, as members of families and communities, and as part of society as a whole. Youth advocacy includes but is not limited to:

Promoting an advocacy mindset

  • Recognizing youth as individuals while understanding the social contexts in which they operate
  • Remaining informed about the issues that impact youth

Advocacy in the library

  • Protecting and defending the rights of all youth to access library materials and services
  • Providing thoughtful, respectful, and equitable library services to all youth
  • Providing library services that support successful youth development from birth through adulthood
  • Promoting youth creativity, self-sufficiency, and critical literacy

Advocacy in the community

  • Advocating for institutional and social structures which support youth development
  • Challenging systemic inequities and institutional biases
  • Promoting youth civic engagement
  • Educating others about the issues that impact youth

Facilitating advocacy efforts by others

  • Providing youth with tools, skills, and information to advocate for themselves
  • Supporting and/or partnering with organizations and individuals that engage in youth advocacy
  • Providing communities with tools, skills, and information to engage in youth advocacy

How does this fit with the work you do?