Working in Partnership: libraries and youth agencies

Emma Sherriff, Outreach Support Officer, Plymouth Libraries and Jo Batten, Senior Professional Youth Worker, Plymouth Youth Offending Prevention Service gave a presentation at the Youth Libraries Group conference in September 2010, discussing their experience of partnership working and giving direction to other library authorities who want to explore an exciting partnership for youth.

To give you some background, wider Youth Offending Services are found across the country and work with young people aged 10-17 who have committed an offence and have been sentenced by the courts to an order which is then supervised by a YOS worker. The Youth Offending Prevention Service sit within the YOS and work with children and young people aged 5-25 who are identified as at risk of social, school exclusion or offending behaviour.

Plymouth Libraries and Plymouth Youth Offending Prevention Service (PYOPS) have been working together since November 2006 in a dynamic way to encourage and support young people to engage with libraries and read.

Key projects delivered together to date include:

  • Secondary Inclusion Programme (SIP) – an offsite education provision for young people at risk of school exclusion;
  • HeadSpace – a library run by young people for young people in a deprived area;
  • Film making – our joint entry for the Public Library Building Awards 2008;
  • Training – library service and project briefings for SIP and Intervention workers;
  • Summer workshops – songwriting at Budo Beatz, Fashion targets knife crime at St Budeaux Library;
  • Library promotion – community fairs and library sessions within youth drop-ins.

Emma Sherriff has been working closely with Senior Youth workers and together we have devised opportunities for both services, to become intrinsically linked across our services. Jo Batten has worked as part of the team for 6 years and supervises the team of Youth Intervention workers.

Emma began working with the team by delivering a programme of innovative literacy activities within the offsite education provision. Since then Emma has set up a pop-up library at the YOPS centre, supports Youth Intervention Workers to work with young people around literacy and actively contributes to PYOPS events, holiday workshops, projects and drop-ins.

The Youth Intervention workers’ who work 1:1 with young people identified at risk of offending identify library engagement and reading targets for their caseload, support behaviour management at weekly HeadSpace sessions and work 1:1 with HeadSpace young people at risk of offending. Jo’s extensive experience of youth work includes sexual health and film-making projects. Jo worked with HeadSpace young people to plan and produce a film about their library for the Public Library Building Awards 2008. You can watch the film here.

Both Jo and Emma recognise that a successful partnership requires a great deal of flexibility. Open communication is very important in order to understand the circumstances of the other party. It is important to ask “how can we help you overcome that obstacle?” We have a shared understanding of the project goals. Emma briefs project workers on the outcomes the library aims to achieve for the young people. It is important that the team understand how we will attain the identified outcomes and the role of the worker and librarian.

Ultimately the deal has to be signed and sealed, what is the library service committed to and what is the youth agency committed to? Longer term projects obviously require a greater time commitment and regularity. Emma’s time is committed to deliver a weekly session on the SIP programme; providing Intervention workers with resources tailored to a young person’s reading ability; helping young people to structure their writing and feed their creativity; discussing reading with young people informally.

Joint working allows us to work together to develop new projects on the back of courses, ideas or press cuttings on other projects, nothing is out of scope providing there is little or no budget involved in delivering. It is important to feed the ideas into the work we do to attain better educational outcomes for the young people.

To make the projects work librarians need support to manage challenging behaviour in sessions. The YOPS has experienced staff and a range of useful resources for establishing and maintaining boundaries with young people. Often working with young people who demand your attention in different ways can be overwhelming, it is really important to have colleagues around who have existing relationships with the young people. Intervention workers can pre-empt or address behaviour whilst you focus on the activity itself.

Librarians can learn a huge amount from observing the worker’s methods of talking to young people and addressing issues. The service has provided informal training opportunities which enable you to deliver at a level that suits the young person and that the young person can relate to.

Youth agencies shouldn’t be scared to give a librarian access to the young people at risk in their community. As long as the librarian is prepared, which means having a full understanding of what the young people are experiencing. An opportunity to represent the library at community events is also useful, as you can be considered to be giving them something, even if it is just your time.

Youth accreditation schemes can be very labour intensive to administer. Youth agencies more broadly can support librarians to deliver the schemes and obtain recorded outcomes for the young people.

Youth agencies want librarians to look at literacy and learning in a different way – both in terms of the content and reading level of the resources. Librarians need to have knowledge of resources for young people who have become disengaged from education. Resources must be relevant to the young person’s environment and innovative in some way.

Emma uses a selection of Graphic novels, Manga and Barrington-Stoke publications, as well as fiction and non-fiction resources from Raintree. Activities should be as interactive and hands-on as possible, using magnetic poetry, writing a story based on a visually exciting double-page of a graphic novel, karaoke or using word games such as Rummikub.

Taking the library into different learning environment can change the way in which you work. Youth agencies want librarians to be able to be flexible and support young people’s learning in different ways in different environments. At a summer health & beauty workshop Emma provided a selection of accessible resources including fiction, non-fiction and DVDs covering healthy eating, active lifestyles, development and puberty and natural beauty. Contrast this with focused selection of resources for individual young people who have particular interests and ability, Emma supplies Youth Intervention worker’s with graphic novels and large print, short novels in series.

The most vital part of the library involvement in the young person’s lives is to enable them to access a mainstream service in their community. In Plymouth the librarian and Youth Intervention workers host visits with young people, often banned from the library in the past. The visits and workshops aim to enable the young person feel comfortable and enjoy their time in the library. Young people are able to visit their local library to use the internet in their own time. One young person books regular sessions on our people’s network PCs and the library take care of his headphones as they are not safe at home with his siblings. The young person does this independently and has developed a positive relationship with library staff following years of discord between young people and librarians.

Our top tips for creating a successful partnership:

  • Contact your local youth agency
  • Identify your aims and outcomes
  • Present the benefits and link with their aims
  • Meet to match up your project with an appropriate group
  • Plan a programme of activities
  • Agree a mutual start date
  • Reflect and review at monthly meetings
  • Ever evolving partner contributions

If you have questions about our project please email: emma.sherriff (at)

4 Thoughts on “Working in Partnership: libraries and youth agencies

  1. Thank you for the terrific and inspirational post.

  2. Thank you Emma for writing this and Matt for posting it! These are truly useful guidelines for people like me who want to encourage more partnership work in their libraries!

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