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MyTRACS: Teens, Research and the Public Library November 6, 2008

Posted by cynhudson in Innovation in Libraries, Library Stuff.
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While at the MLA conference in early October many STL LIS individuals had the opportunity to learn of a great program called MyTRACS sponsored by the St. Louis Public Library.  Since there was only a quick overview of the program at the MLA conference, Carrie Dietz (cdietz<at>slpl.org), Young Adult Librarian at SLPL and an organizer of the program, was available to answer some questions and fill us in on the specifics.

1.  What is the MyTRACS program? (inception, goals, target audience, purpose, structure, etc)

Carrie Deitz, SLPL Youth Librarian, working with MyTracs Intern

Carrie Dietz, SLPL Young Adult Librarian, working with MyTRACS Intern

The idea for the MyTRACS (My Teens Research and Create Stories) project began in the summer of 2007 when the Technology Services and Teen Services departments at the St. Louis Public Library discussed the possibility of having teens develop a Wiki to highlight library resources. St. Louis Public Library submitted a LSTA Cooperation Project Partnership Grant Program application to the Missouri State Library. The Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the MyTRACS project, which officially started on November 1, 2007.

We wanted to strengthen our partnerships with schools in the city of St. Louis by recruiting teens and developing a tool to assist other students with their school assignments. We worked with the St. Louis Science Center, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Webster University, St. Louis Public Schools, Cardinal Ritter College Prep High School, St. John the Baptist High School and Ethel Hedgeman Lyle Middle/High School.We held regular meetings with our community partners to help us evaluate and improve the MyTRACS project.

Upon receipt of the grant, I worked closely with 9 middle/high schools to identify 22 students, age 14-18 with strong reading, writing, technology or leadership skills. These were schools that I visited on a regular basis as part of my outreach to teens.

We wanted to make a long lasting impact on the teens involved in the MyTRACS project by meeting many of the 40 Developmental Assets identified by the Search Institute. The opportunity for employment, the skills gained by working with subject specialist librarians, and the experience of creating a Wiki by teens for teens all worked together to address several of the core needs. Research, writing instruction, and public speaking were practical tools to help the teens improve their skills.

2.  What were the results of the MyTRACS program? (any feedback from participants?)

MyTRACS logo developed by MyTRACS Interns

MyTRACS logo developed by MyTRACS Interns

The most unexpected benefit was to the Central Library staff. Word about the success of the MyTRACS project spread between Librarians and they were eager to work with the interns in their department. Librarians told the interns how impressed they were with their enthusiasm, interest in their collection and research skills. It was evident to the Librarians that the interns enjoyed selecting and researching their topic information. The more time spent in the Library, the less intimidating the research process seemed to be.
We had two evaluations through the course of the project. Here are some of the comments made by the interns.

  • “I like the use of technology. It’s fun to evaluate sources and post them on the web.I learned how to find reliable info for reports and research. I also like bonding with my coworkers.”
  • “I have been learning even more than other kids at my school because of this program.”
  • “It’s given me the opportunity to experience job life and what it’s like to have your own money that you worked for.”
  • “I really love this program because it helped enable potential I thought I’ve never had.”

We are pleased with the results of the MyTRACS program and the positive effects on the interns after the programs completion. Several interns asked when MyTRACS would continue because they were interested in working as a Team Leader. I continue to receive email from interns and I often see them at their school during outreach visits. One intern wrote, “I just wanted to say hi because I miss you and the other fellow instructors.” Another wrote, “Since MyTRACS is over I’ve wanted to get a job and I figured since I interned at the library maybe I could try to get a job there. P.S. Have you heard anything about continuing MyTRACS yet?” A third said, “I will never be too busy to help out at MyTRACS or the library if you ever need me.” We are currently planning a MyTRACS reunion this fall.

3.  What all was involved in setting up this program? (activities, field trips, etc)

The MyTRACS interns were paid with LSTA funds. The middle/high schools selected the students. I sent the school faculty information about the program, work permits and a contact information form. Each teen received a letter in the mail with the start date, information about what identification to bring on the first day and directions to the Library. Starting December 1, 2007 we met almost everyday Saturday in our Gates Computer Lab for 4 hours from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. until July 26, 2008. The interns researched topics at Central Library and created Wiki pages. They also received job skills training and participated in writing workshops with both locally and nationally know authors. In addition, they worked with a photographer and learned how to take photos using a digital camera. The interns took the majority of photos posted on the Wiki.

A MyTRACS instructor, Janie Henderson, was hired to assist Barb Knotts and myself to develop research and writing activities to be used with the MyTRACS interns. I facilitated the job skills training, worked with the guest presenters and keep in close contact with our community partners. Barb instructed the interns on how to use the databases, find good Internet sources and enter information into the Wiki. We had an agenda for each week but did not necessarily create lesson plans. We developed a vision of how we wanted the Saturday sessions to run. Barb used her years of experience with electronic resources and I relied on my experience working with teens. Janie worked with the interns on things like citing your source, plagiarism, and editing. The three of us worked every Saturday with the interns. We did meet on a weekly basic to plan ahead and we evaluated the program each Saturday after the interns had left.

4.  Do you have any tips for others thinking about setting up a similar program?

Develop collaborative relationships with community partners; it will make the project stronger. Set aside enough funds to pay the teens for their work. Bring in experts to speak on different topics. Keep a balance between work and fun – they are teens after all. If you have to hire staff, find people who enjoy working with teens.

5.  Do you plan on hosting this program in the future?

St. Louis Public Library has received a donation of $3000 from a private donor for a second year of MyTRACS. We are currently seeking other funding sources. We hope to recruit a new group of Interns and re-hire four of the 2007/2008 Interns to serve as team leaders.

6.  Is there anything else you would like to share about this program?

Make sure to check out the Wiki http://mytracs.slpl.org. Please feel free to contact me with questions.

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