When three iSchool students began their Capstone project to raise awareness about the Green Hill School Library, they hoped to see 200 donations of library materials. Currently, that number is 317, and it’s going to keep climbing.
This is the third year that the Green Hill School has sponsored a Capstone project to support the library through social media. This year, online Master of Library and Information Science students Ana Perry, Tasia Ross and Lindsay Tebeck wanted to create a social media presence that would make a lasting impact and support the vulnerable population the library serves.
“Our primary goal was to raise awareness about mental health and the positive impacts of reading on incarcerated youth as well as draw people to the wish list,” said Tebeck, who lives in Walla Walla. “We’re really looking forward to passing this on and continuing the momentum.”
Located in Chehalis, Washington, Green Hill School is a medium/maximum security facility for youth sentenced to juvenile rehabilitation. Residents are young men aged 17-25, and at the school they receive education and vocational training as well as behavioral therapies. Youth who experience incarceration are a precarious population. They face many challenges, including feelings of isolation from their communities, low self-esteem and depression.
“The library for them is a really important part of their community,” said Perry, who lives in Bellingham, “but there’s not a lot of funding for the library, so most of the new material acquisitions that the library gets come from donations.”
Because donations are critical for libraries like Green Hill’s, the team focused on increasing awareness of the library and visibility of the wish list. They created original content to post to Facebook and Instagram by synthesizing research about the mental health benefits of reading into quick, shareable visuals. They also posted photos and videos of unidentifiable residents using the library. They shared artwork and quotes from residents that convey the impact not only of receiving the materials they request, but of being heard and supported by the community.
“They did a tremendous job,” said Julie Forbes, who runs the Green Hill School Library. “They built on the program from the past and structured it so as to be ready for next year. They extended it and added a lot more research and pictures. They hit all my bullet points and then more.”
Residents seek books to fulfill a variety of information needs, for example, to learn languages, build communication skills, foster healthy relationships, or to cultivate artistic ability. When they expressed interest in urban fiction, the team responded with a series of social media posts to draw attention to those titles on the wish list.
Though urban fiction had previously been outside the bounds of the library’s holdings, Forbes said its literary themes and style resonate with students. “Urban fictions,” she explained, “offer the dialect of inner cities, the moral codes they understand, characters they can relate to, and it fosters critical thinking skills.”
The A team, as Forbes has dubbed them, did encounter some challenges. Perry, Ross, and Tebeck are all located between four and six hours from Green Hill. The distance, plus strict DOC restrictions, made it unfeasible for them to travel to Chehalis to visit the library. Also, the residents of Green Hill School are members of a vulnerable population, and their privacy is important.
“We had to use whatever resources our sponsor could give us,” said Ross, who lives in Bellingham. “So we have a lot of photos of residents from just the backs of their heads with nothing identifiable and some quotes with redacted names.”
In addition to promoting the Amazon Wish List, the team partnered with organizations like Books to Prisoners and the Washington Library Association. They are working to connect a local bookstore in Chehalis with the library so the bookstore can display a wish list for its customers.
They’re also keeping the next Capstones in mind. Tebeck said that the team is developing a toolkit for the credentials and information future Capstone projects will need to continue the work.
The team and Forbes expressed gratitude for being able to make a meaningful difference for the residents of Green Hill.
“We’d hear from our sponsor the genuine joy the residents have for these books,” said Ross.” She and the team explained how residents would enter the library with excitement and ask repeatedly, “What books came today?” as they’d run to the table displays of new acquisitions.
“This project has been so rewarding,” said Perry. “Some of the residents gave us personal reflections about the impacts the library has had on them. Things like that have been really meaningful.”