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Finding my place: a Western Australian public library program with national potential for at risk youth.

Finding MY Place (FMP) is a well established low cost initiative delivered through metropolitan and regional public libraries in Western Australia. This motivational program was designed for young people assessed as at high risk of leaving school prematurely, it aims to connect young people with the public library to ensure they have access to learning opportunities after their formal education. Through motivational and informative workshops, students develop a greater sense of what they want in life after their schooling ends. Workshops by guest presenters provide guidance, motivation and 'outside of the box' career options. It has been adopted in other states, and has potential as a national program in both Australia and New Zealand. Edited version of a paper presented at '12 to 24s @ your public library in Australia and New Zealand conference' Qld 11-12 June 2010.


Traditionally, youth services librarians have focused on offering programs and activities to babies, toddlers and primary age children. We are comfortable dealing with younger children. We feel a sense of accomplishment when the library is abuzz with excited preschoolers at storytime. Younger children genuinely enjoy the experience of a visit to the public library. Younger children think the youth services librarian is pretty special! Teenagers on the other hand are quite a different story. We lose the power to impress children when they reach secondary school.

Whilst we happily visit the local primary schools and kindergartens to share the magic and wonder of the public library, a visit to the local secondary school can be as appealing as a visit to the dentist. When it comes to teenagers we are generally out of our comfort zone. It gets harder to figure out what they like and what they want from the public library. Children that once happily attended library programs now have budding social lives and this is hard to compete with.

We invest in library youth spaces, electronic gadgets and other tempters to attract young adults--and on the whole they work. We are trying our best but what about the youth that have never walked in the door of a public library? What about the youth that do walk in the door but only to run havoc and cause grief for the staff What about the at risk youth that feel more comfortable at the skate park or the council run youth centre? How do we capture their interest? For a start, we really do need to step outside of our own comfort zone ... we need to get to know more about this group of youth which is largely foreign to us.

The Finding MY Place program is a link to this group of young people. It brings the youth to the library, albeit reluctantly at first--but it still gets them in the door. Finding MY Place has proven that we can not only attract at risk youth to the library but we can also get them to enjoy coming back time and time again. Finding MY Place has proven that librarians can have a profound positive impact on disadvantaged youth and it is not nearly as hard to do as you might think.

Finding MY Place: how it began

In 2003 the Western Australian Department of Education and Training invested $2000 in a small pilot program with the city of Belmont. Both parties had a mutual commitment to assist disadvantaged young people considered at risk of disengaging from the education system prematurely. They acknowledged that students who leave school early faced much higher risk of

* being unemployed longer and more often

* earning lower incomes

* being in low skilled jobs, where opportunities for on the job training are lacking

* missing out on challenging and interesting employment

* relying more on government assistance

* never re entering fulltime study

* having a reduced sense of wellbeing, motivation and self confidence.

This was the starting point for developing a unique program at the Ruth Faulkner Public Library for some of the most highly disadvantaged young people within the city of Belmont's limits. With many of these students feeling alienated from the school environment the priority was to ensure nonmainstream students knew they had a place within the education system and also a place within the city of Belmont. The program aptly named Finding MY Place would become an intervention strategy to assist students with different needs to mainstream students.

The students entering the program were assessed by their school as at high risk of not completing school or pursuing a training or employment opportunity. Students selected to participate in the program were generally socially and economically disadvantaged.

What has this program got to do with public libraries?

The local public library is ideally positioned to complement existing education, training and career development strategies and provides easy access to services, especially for young people. It makes sense to host the Finding MY Place program in the public library as they are

* an accessible part of the community's infrastructure and open after school hours

* resourced (software, books and hardware) to assist and enhance career development

* able to display resources and materials from a wide range of sources

* a suitable venue for workshops and other learning forums

* well placed to bridge the information gap by giving individuals the resources and information to help them to gain employment, training or further education

* free and accessible to the whole community

* a neutral nonthreatening environment.

The program can be used as a tool to establish that often missing link with secondary schools. Finding MY Place allows libraries to be proactive in supporting local youth without assuming the role and responsibility of the education system.

What is Finding MY Place?

Finding MY Place is a series of 10 motivational and informational workshops geared to encourage students to remain in a learning environment. The main focus of each session is to give students a better appreciation of learning. However the program also includes preparing the students for entry into the workforce eg where to get help in preparing a resume, how to find an apprenticeship or how to access work experience. Traineeships and apprenticeships are strongly promoted as an alternative option for students who do not want to remain at school. The program also tackles social skills and the importance of being prepared for life after school. Financial matters and the traps of mobile phones and credit cards are examples of topics that are discussed. The consequences of using drugs and/or involvement in antisocial activities are discussed with particular emphasis on the impact these can have on their adult lives.

Program objectives

1 Motivation To present a range of workshops designed to motivate the students, many of whom have the potential to succeed but lack the motivation to do so. Workshop presenters are carefully selected to ensure that their stories provide food for thought amongst the students. Sessions are designed to engage students in activities that highlight their natural abilities. A variety of subjects are discussed including self esteem, confidence building, problem solving, behavioural problems and setting achievable personal goals.

2 Offering an alternative learning environment Emphasis is placed on promoting the library as an alternative learning facility. Students are invited to participate in the workshops during school hours and are accompanied to the library by a school representative. Students are given the option of attending the workshops at the library or remaining at school for their regular class.
Program overview

Target group          Students from years 10-
                      12. Available to other
                      years if requested
                      including primary year 7

Attendance            Maximum 20 students.
                      Optimum 15

Sessions              10 motivational and
                      guidance workshops

Duration              Approximately 2 hours
                      per week.

Program cost          Approximately $3000
                      metropolitan libraries and
                      $5500 for country

Additional expenses   Staff wages,
                      refreshments, materials
                      and incidentals

The workshops

Workshops are presented by a variety of guest speakers who have something of value to offer to the students. Sessions range from authors sharing personal experiences to self expression through art, team building skills with qualified psychologists, role playing with youth workers, improvisation games with theatre sports specialists, dressing for success with fashion designers and modelling agencies and successful young business entrepreneurs sharing their knowledge. Presenters are selected based on their ability to relate to young people. Students are particularly responsive to presenters that come from a similar background to them or can relate to similar experiences in their upbringing. If trust and respect between the presenters and the students is achieved the students tend to become more engaged in the sessions and therefore gain maximum benefit from the program.

Coordinating the Finding MY Place program

The youth services librarian is the logical choice to coordinate the Finding MY Place program in the public library, but really it just comes down to who has the enthusiasm and confidence to run it. The coordinator is responsible for making initial contact with the school to ensure there is a need for the program to run in the first place. Once this has been confirmed the coordinator can start planning the content of the program.

In Western Australia public libraries are fortunate to have access to a comprehensive list of suitable Finding MY Place presenters but many libraries already have their own ideas of who to include in the program. Surprisingly, public libraries may discover that authors and entertainers hired for children's library events are also perfect presenters for the Finding MY Place program. They just need to adapt their content to suit the audience. Whilst it can be time consuming to develop a list of suitable presenters it can also be a valuable learning experience as you discover the many wonderful people in your own local community that can bring something unique to the program. There are now three additional alternatives to the original Finding MY Place program. The alternative options are intended to allow programs to be individually designed to suit the library and the participating school.

Finding MY Place year 7 program

Teachers can predict which students in their final year of primary school are most likely to be candidates for the Finding MY Place program in later years. As an early intervention strategy a primary level Finding MY Place program was developed. The program has a stronger emphasis on team building and motivational exercises to help students through what can be a difficult transition period when shifting from primary to secondary education.

Finding MY Career half day workshop

The Finding MY Career program is a condensed version of the Finding MY Place Secondary Program presented as a half day seminar. The seminar showcases a range of sessions that would normally be included in a full length Finding MY Place program. Six fast paced 30 minute sessions are recommended, covering topics that both inspire and provide guidance to youth. Team building exercises, life choice stories, motivational and inspirational speakers and career guidance including advice about gaining traineeships and apprenticeships are examples of topics that are included. Emphasis is placed upon career choices and the importance of remaining in a learning environment. Finding MY Career suits libraries and schools that are unable to commit to a full 10 session Finding MY Place program.

Finding MY Place school based

Not all public libraries are well resourced and staffing is a key issue when considering the Finding MY Place program. Someone has to be placed in the role of coordinating the program to plan sessions, book presenters, liaise with the nominated school and host each weekly session. If the library is not in a position to do this, the option is for the school to coordinate the program and use the public library as the venue for some or all of the sessions.

Success indicators

Success can be measured in analysing results from the surveys. Students are asked to provide their thoughts on their future plans for education at the start and end of the program. At the final session when completing the exit survey most students have a clearer idea of when they plan to finish their education and what they hope to do after leaving school.

In some instances assessment of the success of the program is based purely on anecdotal evidence.

Students generally start the program with little enthusiasm and resist involvement in activities. By the end of the 10 week program a change of attitude is evident in the majority of, if not all, students. There is an eagerness to participate and to ask questions. Students that had never entered the public library before starting the program now feel comfortable enough to visit in their own time. A level of trust and respect develops between staff (both library and teaching staff) and students over the duration of the program. Teaching staff have commented that they have a greater tolerance and understanding of their students as they have had the opportunity to sit back and observe in a nonteaching role.

Whilst the Finding MY Place program does not pretend to be the solution to school retention issues it does provide a unique opportunity to encourage disengaged students to realise their own potential and to open their eyes to a world of career possibilities they might not have considered. There are numerous public libraries that run back to back programs due to the overwhelming positive outcomes it continues to generate.

The greatest success stories come from regional WA where resources and funding opportunities are limited. The town of Narrogin, the city of Albany and the town of Katanning are good examples of local governments that have embraced the program and enjoyed the fruits of their hard work.
   FMP is providing a platform for staff to get to know students in
   the town, and allowing students to develop a feeling of connection
   and respect towards their library. Country libraries across WA are
   using the program to help build community capacity and to engage
   young people with their services. And it is working!

Finding MY Place--7 years on

In Western Australia

* 153 Finding MY Place programs were delivered in metropolitan and rural WA

* 2300 students participated

* 75 schools participated metropolitan and rural

* 49 public libraries hosted Finding MY Place

* 38 local government authorities supported the Finding MY Place program.

The program is endorsed by the Western Australian Curriculum Council and students participating in the program accrue points towards their Western Australian Certificate of Education (Wace). To date, grant funding for the program has been provided by the Western Australian Department of Education and Training. However, a recent restructure of the department resulted in a split between education and training. Two new departments, the Department of Education and the Department of Training and Workforce Development were established in early 2010. Future funding for the program is currently being addressed by the Department of Training and Workforce Development.

Over the past few years a number of Finding MY Place programs have been successfully run in public libraries in Victoria and South Australia. These programs were self funded by local government. If state government funding was no longer available in Western Australia there is confidence WA public libraries would also find a way to continue running the program.

Finding MY Place is a small program with big potential for at risk youth across Australia and New Zealand. Run on a relatively small budget it has proven to enrich not only the lives of the students involved but also the library staff, teachers and presenters who share the experiences alongside them.

Natasha Griggs Western Australia State Coordinator Finding MY Place City of Belmont WA

Natasha Griggs has worked in public libraries for 24 years in Western Australia and Victoria. In addition to her current role as coordinator library services for the City of Belmont in Western Australia, Natasha is the coordinator for the Finding MY Place program and offers guidance and support to public libraries and schools participating in the program. Natasha has been involved with the program since its inception in 2003 and was the 2005 recipient of the Alia Excellence Award for creating and implementing the program concept in partnership with the Western Australian Department of Education and Training.Email
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Author:Griggs, Natasha
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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