Pearl Bailey Youth Program

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Pearl Bailey Youth Program

Newport News Public Library System
700 Town Center Drive
Suite 300
Newport News, VA 23606
Phone: 757.926-1350
Fax: 757.926.1365
E-Mail: jcondra @nngov.com
URL: www.nngov.com

Focus: Humanities

Annual Number Participating: 3,431

Ages: Elementary, Middle School, High School

Annual Budget: $1,500.00

Partners: Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Zeta Lambda Chapter; Big Brothers Big Sisters; Hampton Disabled American Veterans, Murray-Rhea Peninsula Chapter 6; Hampton University Pharmaceutical Students

Funders: Friends of the Newport News Public Library; Warwick Rotary Club

As visitors enter the Pearl Bailey Library in Newport News, Virginia, they immediately see large posters exhorting them to “Read!” Modeled after an American Library Association campaign that features celebrities, the posters at the Pearl Bailey branch sport the smiling faces of young people from the community — each of them a library user. And, this branch, indeed, has a link to fame: Pearl Bailey, its namesake, was an acclaimed African-American singer and actress who grew up in the neighborhood.

The posters “make the young people feel like rock stars,” while sending the message to other youth that reading is cool, remarks Sonya Scott, Senior Youth Information Services Specialist. That’s an important message for residents of the library’s surrounding community, referred to as the Southeast Community. Southeast is the city’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhood, with higher violent crime rates and unemployment and lower rates of educational achievement than other areas of the city. In the face of these challenges, the Pearl Bailey Library has taken unusual steps to establish itself as a safe space where young people can gather to learn, to have fun, and to develop friendships.

As one way to enhance its appeal to youth, the library created advisory councils of teens and younger children, who help curate the branch’s offerings. Teens can participate in an “urban lit” book club and take library-sponsored trips to see movies that are based on books. The library also responded to young people’s interest in new technologies and nontraditional literature genres by establishing a club focused on anime and manga, popular Japanese animation and comic book styles, respectively.

The library also makes a concerted effort to provide mentors and role models for youth. For example, Hampton University students tutor young people after school, in math and science. During the summer, the library participates in a leadership program that pays youth a stipend to work at the library. As these young people develop job-related skills, they are also modeling workplace behaviors for their peers.

Combined, these initiatives and other efforts have established the library as a strong center for the community, while broadening young people’s horizons. “When we expose children to literature, it increases their vocabulary. It exposes them to subjects like history and religion, and it allows them to experience a world beyond their neighborhoods,” explains Demetria Tucker, Senior Family and Youth Services Librarian. “Being a literate society is key to everything.”

The Pearl Bailey Library not only offers programs that provide ongoing leadership, internship, and youth-development opportunities, but the library also provides a safe and comfortable place for young people to meet and build positive relationships, after school and on weekends.

Rosanne D. Walters Deputy Director, Newport News Department of Human Services