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The City Journals

Library Creates Book Club for Youth in Juvenile Detention

Aug 11, 2016 02:04PM ● By Tori LaRue

A youth reads a book at a Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services Center. The division partnered with Salt Lake County Library Services to create a book club for youth in short- and long-term detention centers. –Utah Division of Juvenile Justice Services

By Tori La Rue | [email protected] 

Salt Lake County Library Services noticed a gap in services to youth in care and custody, so they partnered with Utah’s Department of Juvenile Justice Services to begin a book club within short- and long-term centers.
“Our job is to serve the entire public, and we’re not serving entire public if we’re not serving the people who can’t come to us,” said Carrie Rogers-Whitehead, senior librarian over teen services. “These teens are in a holding, transitional state in their lives, so to help them get powerful skills like reading—you don’t get many opportunities like that.”
The program was honored with an achievement award at the National Association of Counties’ Conference on July 22 in Long Beach, California, for bringing literacy to a specific subset of residents.
“It’s an honor to have received such an award because there are stereotypes that follow this group of youth, and to have them recognized as an important group to serve is amazing,” Rogers-Whitehead said.
Rogers-Whitehead said she hopes the recognition at a National conference will encourage other libraries to serve people who can’t come to them. The award-winning program may be the first of its kind in the nation, according to Rogers-Whitehead’s research.
The librarians facilitated traditional book clubs at Salt Lake Observation and Assessment, Decker Lake Youth Center and Wasatch Youth Center in 2013, but Rogers-Whitehead said she realized librarians needed to accommodate for varying reading levels. Now teens are invited to read books of their choice within their own reading level instead of being assigned the same book as their peers, and the club discussions are based on broad topics that many books relate to.
Susan Burke, director of Juvenile Justice Services, said the club enhances the youths’ learning and said it’s her belief that education can be a course-corrector for these teens. She believes the youths’ love for books will continue after they leave the center, and she said she hopes they’ll remember the library as a place of entertainment.
Each youth at the center is strongly encouraged to attend the book club meetings, which happen twice a month. Librarians cart hundreds of books into the centers—from history books to cook books to mystery novels and science fiction books. “Hellraiser,” “Fallen,” “The Hulk” and “The Guardian Herd Series” are a few of the most popular reads within the program.
Recently, the Utah Department of Education granted funding for the Library and Department of Juvenile Justice Services to purchase graphic novels for the program. The graphic novels have allowed teens with lower reading levels to be more actively involved in the club. Many of the youth learned English as a second language, and pictures give context clues to their readers and help the ESL learners to learn new English phrases, Burke said.
The youth have responded well to the program, so Burke said the department decided to expand reading programs at its centers. Soon, the University of Utah reading clinic, a resource designed to  offer assessment and intervention to struggling readers, will begin a partnership with the Juvenile Justice Services.
“We get from the youth that they are excited about reading,” Burke said. “It gives them a place to have a shared discussion about reading and apply it to their past experience, and it opens a whole new world of imagination and opportunity to gain knowledge about themselves.”