Library @ The Dock Youth Unconference – ‘Outside the Lines’ (and Part 1 on Engaging Youth in Libraries)

The ‘Outside the Lines’ Youth Unconference at the Library at the Dock (unconference – “a loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured programme of events”) was an amazing experience. It was totally free and even provided morning and afternoon tea. The presenters were all young and had interesting insights. It was held in a beautiful location on a wonderful sunny day. I had a blast!

Their unconference description:“It is your chance to gain insight into what young adults are interested in, how libraries can support and collaborate with them and how we can broaden our thinking about young people into a more creative, flexible and innovative framework that will take libraries outside the lines. By participating you will have the opportunity to: Hear first-hand from young people and their experiences with the library and community organisations.”

I found out about this event through the networks and free newsletters I wrote about in my last post. Since it was my day off, I made my way down the the Docklands Library. It was gorgeous.


The day started with an ‘ideas share’. This was a great opportunity. Most people were too shy to stand up and talk in front of the conference, so I took advantage and got up on stage and got to speak! I recieved a warm reception and people started asking me questions. I spoke about the programs I have instigated at schools to engage young people, as well as the challenges I have faced (more on this in the next post!). I was a bit nervous but really happy I took the plunge. Throughout the day librarians came up to me to tell me I spoke well, ask me questions and further discuss what I had said. We shared ideas and I learnt so much. It was a great opportunity to network and make my self known in the community. I even got ‘twittered’.

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There were many great ideas throughout the day. Each speaker was knowledgable and inspiring. I especially liked the young artists taking visual notes (cartoons they drew on large sheets of paper) during the presentations. They later ran a ‘make a zine’ workshop which I would love to implement at school! We had a whole makerspace section where we got to play with virtual reality, 3D printing (I even got a souvenir rabbit thing!), makey makeys and more! It was an excellent day and I came out very inspired. I got to meet many amazing librarians, I got lots of new contacts and emails, and left with a ream of new ideas.

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Here are a few of my take-aways from the day:

  • What is youth? There are so many different definitions and age ranges. It is important to consider this. Is a 27year old a youth? Who are you aiming to engage exactly?
  • Connect with the local community. Get professionals who are willing to work with the library to share their skills. For example, to run an animation workshop – make contact with the animation festival or local group, find passionate people interested in sharing their knowledge. Then the ‘youth’ can learn from professionals in the field and find out more, like how to make it professionally in that industry.
  • Promotion – word of mouth is very powerful. Get the ‘youth’ to share events amongst their networks.
  • By having volunteer students you can utilise their ideas for what they want to see/do in the library. You can give them a project based on their skills and interests (are they into graphic design? photography? tech? art? etc)
  • You can find popular trends and shift them to have a library focus! e.g. Humans of New York = Humans of the Library.
  • With the internet, we can create inter-library connections. Minecraft is super popular and can be played online across libraries.
  • Engaging disengaged youth is the biggest challenge. How do you reach them and entice them to get involved?
  • Look at your users needs: consider age, experience, education, culture, background etc
  • Involve youth in consultation, evaluation, feedback, focus groups, youth advisory groups and volunteer work. Engage them in decision making – this empowers them and makes the space their own. Listen and consult with them. Create a youth committee – you can then utilise their networks and word of mouth because they are engaged, and this leads to more ideas.
  • Make the space welcoming, not intimidating (think staff and security). Make designated areas for different purposes. Be safe and accessible. Provide power/charging stations and wifi!
  • Don’t compete with other existing groups – offer a space for them to come and collaborate with them on events. Connect with local community groups. Help each other and fill the gaps.
  • Games! cards, comics, chess, boardgames, online games etc.
  • Embrace technology – eBooks, music and audio, eMagazines and eNewspapers, social media etc
  • If holding a focus group: 5-7 people is a magic number. Be aware of barriers to people coming, as you want to ensure you get a variety of input. Get diverse hard to reach groups. Try using a free survey service. Go to them – ‘pop up’.
  • Young people have their own language – use real quotes from ‘youth’ so the program etc has their voice, not someone trying to say what they think youth would say.
  • Recognise young people’s contributions. Be creative and be snappy. Don’t dumb it down, and build their confidence. Be flexible and tap into existing youth networks.
  • Incorporate fun and creativity: make murals, create art, get a makerspace going.
  • Check out the Melbourne Library Service’s free classes – they’re amazing!!

There was so much more but it’s hard to get it all down here without going on for too long!

Tune in again when I post about the programs I have run to engage youth at schools, and the ideas for the future. I will talk about the successes, and the challenges, I have encountered.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

Michelle DeAizpurua


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