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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti District Library connects teens through 'Great Stories' book club


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Ypsi District Library wins ALA grant to offer Great Stories book club to underserved teens

Ypsilanti District Library

Great Stories Club

Ozone House

Contact Kelly Scott


Josh Hakala: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Josh Hakala and this is On the Ground Ypsi. It's a program intended to bring you the stories of the Ypsilanti community and we bring you On the Ground Ypsi, in partnership with the reporting team at Concentrate Media. Today, we're going to talk about the Great Stories program at the Ypsilanti District Library. And today, I'm happy to be rejoined by Concentrate Media reporter Rylee Barnsdale, whose online news site is reporting this week on the program. Rylee, thanks for coming back.

Rylee Barnsdale: No problem. Josh. Happy to be here.

Josh Hakala: And joining us over the phone is Kelly Scott, who is a teen librarian at the YDL. Kelly, welcome to On the Ground Ypsi.

Kelly Scott: Thanks for having me.

Josh Hakala: Well, Rylee, this is a story written by Sarah Rigg. And tell us why your team was drawn to the Great Stories program and what's it all about.

Rylee Barnsdale: So, the Great Stories Club is actually being brought to Ypsi in part by the American Library Association. The Ypsilanti District Library was able to receive a very competitive grant in order to fund this program, which is aimed to get underserved teens in libraries, reading books that are about topics that are important to them. And given that, during the school year, especially, students can sometimes not really have the, I guess, motivation to read for pleasure. That's one of the main goals of this program is to get kids more excited about reading and also be able to have those really important conversations with one another.

Josh Hakala: And do you know how these books are chosen?

Rylee Barnsdale: So, the ALA gives a specific set of approved books that any of these Great Stories clubs can use. The folks at YDL, as well as our Ozone House, have decided on a number of books that fit within certain themes to discuss topics like race, like identity, and other important topics that maybe aren't always the easiest things to talk about but are definitely very much present in these kids' lives.

Josh Hakala: And not only the books, but also the discussions that take place with book clubs. I guess if you want to call it that, then a way to talk about what you've read and how it impacts you.

Rylee Barnsdale: Yeah, absolutely. Not only are these, like you said, not only these conversations about these topics happening, but there's also a social aspect to it, too--getting kids into these libraries, hanging out with one another to not only talk about books, but maybe about school, about their personal lives, what have you. And also getting connected to resources like Ozone House, which is a local nonprofit sort of aimed at ending youth homelessness. And it's really, all in all, a really wonderful program that I'm really excited to see take off in October.

Josh Hakala: Kelly, I want to ask you about your role with the YDL. Did you become a teen book specialist, or have you always been drawn to teen literature? How did you come into be in this program?

Kelly Scott: Yeah. So, I am the teen librarian at YDL. I've always been interested in young adult literature. I read it for myself, which makes it helpful because, you know, I work with teens, so I need to be able to recommend books to them, but I find that, while it is really enjoyable for adults as well. I've been a librarian for over ten years now, but it's always been in the youth area of the library. So, I love working with young adults, and they're just so optimistic about the world. And I love being around that kind of optimism.

Josh Hakala: So, the American Library Association chose the books. And can you tell us about the themes for these book clubs and some of the books that are involved in the themes?

Kelly Scott: Absolutely. We are going to be exploring two different themes with this club. The first one is "Deeper Than Our Skins," and that is all about racism of the past in this country and exploring how that racism has impacted our presence because we know that racism still exists today. And then, the other theme is "Finding your Inner Voice" and finding out how to speak your truth out to the world and finding power in your voice. And then, a few of the books that will be exploring within those themes are "Between the World and Me" by Ta-Nehisi Coates, "Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices" edited by Charleyboy and Leatherdale, "Mother of the Sea" by Zetta Elliott and "Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A." by Rodriguez. Those are going to be in the "Deeper Than Our Skins" theme. And then, within the "Finding Your Inner Voice" theme, we are exploring the books "I am Alfonzo Jones" by Toni Medina, "The Poet X" by Elizabeth Acevedo--that's my personal favorite in this group of books---"American Street" by Ibi Zoboi, which takes place in Detroit, and "Anger is a Gift" by Mark Oshiro.

Josh Hakala: So, every member of the book club is obviously going to get something a little different out of the experience. But, in general, what does the Great Stories program and the YDL hope that these young people get out of it?

Kelly Scott: So, you know, we hope that they are inspired to, you know, explore how these books relate to themselves, but also how they relate to the world around them and what finding their place in this world. I think a lot of these main characters are in the same shoes as everyday teens in the community--just figuring out who they are, where they fit in this world, and what they want to fight for. So, I think that our hope is that these teens will find that connection with each other, but also find strength in themselves by reading these books. And they each get a free copy of each title to keep. So, that's kind of nice too.

Josh Hakala: And you're listening to On the Ground Ypsi on WEMU. I'm joined by Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale and Kelly Scott from the Ypsilanti District Library. And we're talking about the Great Stories Book Club. And you're partnering with Ozone House, as Rylee mentioned. For those who aren't familiar, can you tell us what Ozone House is and why it's a good fit for this program?

Kelly Scott: Yeah, Ozone House. We work closely with Ozone House on multiple programs, and we're lucky to do so. They have an afterschool drop-in center a couple of blocks away from our Michigan Avenue branch library, where they open their doors to teens--any teens--within their age range of 13 to 24. And they serve them food, they offer them counseling, they can give them a shower if they need it and just a place to hang out. You know, they just have different services that they offer the teens, and they're just there as a place of refuge for teens. And so, everyone who works there is a social worker and really knows how to connect with teens on all levels. So, I'm really excited that Brie is going to be joining me in co-facilitating this club. She just has a really easy way of talking to young adults and understanding them and letting them have the power of voice versus, you know, some adults take over conversations. And I think the people who work with Ozone are really cognizant about giving teens a voice.

Josh Hakala: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that part of this program, the discussion and the analysis, which is a big part of any book club, and how will that work? And how are you going to have the kids have a big role in these group discussions?

Kelly Scott: Sure. I mean, our main goal is to let them drive the discussions, and we're there to step back. And, you know, maybe, we even want them to set the ground rules of, you know, how are these discussions going to play out and kind of we're there to just kind of if they need us or want to lean on us or if we can ask questions, if there's a silence. But really, we're there to let them drive and decide where they want the conversations to go, because we never know what they're going through in their lives at any given time and how that might relate to the title we're reading of the day.

Josh Hakala: And the books themselves and the topics that they explore, how do you feel like it helps them really connect with other people and with their own experiences?

Kelly Scott: Well, you know, I think, as a teen, a lot of times you feel isolated, especially after the pandemic. And, sometimes, you think you're the only one experiencing whatever it is that you're experiencing. And so, just the fact that we're bringing these kids together in person and they are talking about another character, so it's not necessarily going to have to be personal, but they can see, you know, empathy is built through reading, so they can see that these characters might be going through something they're going through, or some of the other people in the club might be going through. And I think they'll find that camaraderie and acceptance and, you know, not feel as isolated within their own minds.

Josh Hakala: Have you had any guidance from the American Library Association about like how to conduct this? Like, I imagine they're giving you some guidelines to it. But are you able to make it your own based on the kids that are in the group and sort of making it more geared toward them?

Kelly Scott: Yeah. So, the ALA was wonderful and provided training for both Brie and I, and we were taught how to facilitate a book club without taking over the conversation. But they also gifted us money with this book club. So, we're hoping that, after we meet a few times, the teens can decide what to do with that money. I mean, we're thinking maybe a community celebration for all teens that might focus on mental health or whatever they want it to focus on. But we want to also use a little bit that money to buy them journals at the beginning of the year. And they can write in their journals or sketch in their journals. And then, maybe they want to share some of that artwork or those poems or whatever they make at the end of the year, if we have a community event, if that's what they decide to do with the community. So, yeah, ALA's been wonderful in kind of coaching us on how to have a successful book club for these teens.

Josh Hakala: And is this something that you are hoping to continue to do? Is this sort of a pilot in a way, or what is your expectation for this?

Kelly Scott: Well, yeah, we would love it. ALA consistently offers this grant, so we will definitely be applying again in the future. But even if we don't receive the grant, yeah, we would love to either, you know, prepare a little more money to buy titles because I think it's really important for the teens to have these books to keep. And we do have a couple of titles that we can keep going with moving forward outside of these themes if the teens decide they want to keep going. So, yeah, we definitely want this to be an ongoing resource for teens in the community.

Josh Hakala: And when does the program begin? And how can people get involved with it?

Kelly Scott: Absolutely. So, our program will begin October 3rd. It's going to be the first and third Tuesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. And if you want to join this book club, you can email me Kelly. And my email address is k-scott at Ypsi Library dot org.

Josh Hakala: All right. Kelly Scott, the teen librarian at the Ypsilanti District Library and Rylee Barnsdale from Concentrate Media. Thanks so much to both of you for joining us today on On the Ground Ypsi.

Rylee Barnsdale: Thanks, Josh.

Kelly Scott: Thank you.

Josh Hakala: If you would like to listen to past episodes of On the Ground Ypsi or if you would like to listen to an extended version of today's interview, you can find it on our website at WEMU dot org. This is On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Josh Hakala, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti. Public radio from Eastern Michigan University.

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Josh Hakala is the general assignment reporter for the WEMU news department.
Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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