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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Pima County Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Live from the Urban Libraries Council Annual Forum, we’re interviewing Amber Mathewson and Karyn Prechtel-Altman from the Pima County Public Library about their Library Restorative Practices for Youth.

Pima County Public Library evaluates their Code of Conduct to separate consequences between youth and adult; aligning with youth developmental milestones and cognitive markers. This would address the issue of high-needs youth being disproportionately suspended. The Library trained staff, community partners, and youth to co-create alternatives to traditional disciplinary actions. The effort has reduced suspensions of minors by nearly 75% to date. Their efforts include:

+ Creation of culturally-relevant board that reflects the community (ensuring linguistic representation) to meet with youth 

+ Development of materials that teach youth coping mechanisms, critical thinking skills, and self-awareness about their behavior 

+ Training library staff on restorative justice practices, non-violent communication and social equity 

+ Expanding innovative program to 26 libraries


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Learn more Here & Here

Download Informative Packet on Restorative Practices for Youth.


Jim Heuer [00:00:17] Hi everybody, this is Jim Heuer host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and a Microphone. We're excited to come to you live from the Urban Library Council annual forum in Baltimore, Maryland. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Awards the ULC bestows upon their members, and I'm here with librarian two Donna George. She and I are really excited cause we have two of the Top Innovators from Pima County Library System in Arizona. Joining us today is the Executive Director, Amber Mathewson. Hi Amber, welcome.

Amber Mathewson [00:00:51] Hi, thank you so much, we're excited to be here.

Jim Heuer [00:00:54] Also, with Amber is Karen Prechtel, Deputy Director

Karen Prechtel-Altman [00:00:58] Hi.

Jim Heuer [00:00:59] Welcome, so you guys were given an award, the Top Innovator Award in the Race and Social Equity category, for your library restorative practices for youth. Could you explain what that is, how it works, and other details for the folks listening?

Amber Mathewson [00:01:15] We are looking at practices in the library around our code of conduct. We had the same code of conduct for both our youth and the adults. We felt like, when we have suspensions that…that's really restrictive for youth. Especially ones that probably need us the most and so, we started looking at how that might be changed.

Karen Prechtel-Altman [00:01:37] We have a Library Services Manager who worked for many years in the high school setting, and she was familiar with restorative practices in that venue. She's also familiar with the use of restorative practices in the juvenile court system, so she reached out to some community partners to investigate how we could create a similar practice in the library. And basically, we have a different code of conduct for youth and we have a different way of interacting with youth than we do with adults who misbehave in the library.

Donna George [00:02:09] That's super interesting, how did your community react or kind of…what has been the difference you have seen in your library since you've made this change?

Amber Mathewson [00:02:17] As far as the community goes, we have some great partners. We partner with the Pima County Attorney’s Office, and also the Center for Community Dialog, who are very involved in restorative conversations for communities in general. The Boys and Girls Clubs, to get ideas of how to work with youth. We had those great partners, and then in terms of the community, especially our board of supervisors, who is our governing board. They were really thrilled to hear about this idea of working with youth in different way. We also have, within the county, an Ending Poverty Now initiative. We know that reading levels and poverty levels are inner related, as are some of the behavioral issues with folks, as well. We felt like this was a really good fit, we've had great feedback. We started at one library, and it's made a real difference in how that staff interacts.

Amber Mathewson [00:03:17] I think I'll let Karen talk a little bit about that.

Karen Prechtel-Altman [00:03:20] We have been working with youth in this one library in a completely different way, including our library guards. Instead of approaching kids and telling them they're bad, and that they have to leave. They'll sit down and have a conversation with them, and literally try to get down to the nitty gritty of why they're doing what they're doing. They're building a relationship, and then we give options to kids. You could either not come back to the library for a certain period of time, or you can come and just speak with a bunch of people and learn about yourself, and then you'll be invited back.

Jim Heuer [00:03:54] I like what you said, that you kind of make it the positive assumption, right? That you're going to err on the side that they're not making a conscious decision with this behavior. It's perhaps unknowing or unwilling and that you treat them as human beings and that type of thing.

Karen Prechtel-Altman [00:04:10] Well, and I think the most important thing is kids are at a different developmental stage than adults, and so why are we holding them to the same standards of decision making that we do for adults? We've decided that's just not fair.

Donna George [00:04:24] It's really interesting to me that you're seeing some crossover with this population and poverty. And we're really hearing libraries this week, talking about recognizing that and realizing that some people are being marginalized by our policies and our procedures. I'm really glad that we're talking about that, and that we're really thinking about how to get those groups back into the library.

Amber Mathewson [00:04:48] One thing that I also love about it, is that we're not punitive like we used to be with the kids, and so they're much more likely to want to come back to the library, build a relationship with us, and maybe even work for us later on. That's a goal.

Jim Heuer [00:05:03] That is an interesting goal, right? That some of these, maybe a couple years ago, you would have considered them troublemakers, are going to be the ones that you'd want to come and be pages or whatever in the library. Wow, that's interesting. Alright, so someone that's hearing this and says, "Oh wait, I'm having the same problem in my library." What do you suggest or how would they go about doing the same things that you've done at Pima to address this?

Amber Mathewson [00:05:28] Well, thank you for asking that, actually our community relations person is putting together a press packet, so we'll be sharing that after today and have that available to talk with libraries, if they are interested in doing that kind of work, as well. One other thing that I wanted to share is that, we found, with the youth, often they don't have adults in their life who are listening to what's going on with them. We had kids who hadn't even done anything wrong that wanted to come and talk to the community board. It's just an interesting phenomenon, but it's also been really gratifying for our staff, who have had the training to just know how to talk to and approach kids differently when they seem them acting out, instead of going up and saying, "You can't do that in the library." They might go up and say, "Hey, how are you doing? What's going on with you today?" Just a different approach often changes that dynamic.

Jim Heuer [00:06:25] Donna and I often comment that we get a lot of…we see so many different things or so many different emotions, so it's a contrasting emotion. Because it's sad to hear that there are youth in Pima County that don't have an adult to speak with, but on the other hand, there’s the library once again leading forward and providing, that safe space for them. Really a role that others could take in society, but the library's going to fulfill that role. That's kind of the whole leading forward thing that we're talking about this week. That we've been hearing so much about, and once again this program lends itself to that.

Amber Mathewson [00:07:05] It's kind of new, and at the same time not. I think historically libraries have been safe places for people of all ages, and as we heard today at the conference, people talking about their early library experiences and how they might remember that first library that they went to or their first librarian. And so, it's kind of not surprising in that way, but I think just really, as you say, lean forward and embracing that role is very empowering for staff. And if any of those staff members at the branch where it's been most utilized, they talk about it with such passion and they really love having been given the opportunity to really use their own judgment and help kids stay at the library, and use all of our resources and just be there. And do you want to talk a little bit about how we might move forward with…you talked to me about paying positions?

Karen Prechtel-Altman [00:08:03] One of the successes of this is that we get peers and people from the community to serve on the board to interact with the kids, but it's been difficult to find young people that have free time. We've decided to institute a program, where we're giving stipends to teenagers who are in our advisory boards, to participate on the boards. That's a further incentive, it's like a little job for them that will build their leadership skills going forward, so we're excited about that.

Jim Heuer [00:08:36] Well, really great stuff, and certainly the reason why you guys were awarded a Top Innovation by the ULC, we'll offer our congratulations, as well. It's always great to hear these types of things going on out in the library world, so thank you.

Karen Prechtel-Altman [00:08:49] Thank you.

Amber Mathewson [00:08:50] Thank you for your support of ULC, as well.

Jim Heuer [00:08:53] Alrighty, our pleasure, thank you. Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. We'll see you in your libraries.

Jim Heuer [00:09:58] Thanks everybody.