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Tween librarian Chelsea Woods-Turner sat around a group of 10-14 year old girls in the public library’s Story Time Room and facilitated a discussion regarding what to write in the “What We Do” section of their self-published magazine On The ‘Zine.
Woods-Turner, a patient and encouraging woman who is regarded as New Brunswick’s version of Matilda’s Ms. Honey, listened to all the suggestions and helped craft a response.
“Our goal is to make new things for people to read since many authors inspire us,” the What We Do section states. “We do that by: brainstorming, working together, and gathering different topics that our city would find interesting. We love to share ideas about our neighborhood!”
On the ‘Zine is a program created by New Brunswick Free Public Library tween librarian (providing services for readers ages 10-14) Chelsea Woods-Turner and teen librarian (providing services for readers ages 14-19) Rosy Wagner. The program, which started January 2016, was made possible by a Curiosity Creates grant from the Association for Library Service to Children.
Woods-Turner and Wagner contacted New Brunswick Today, the hyper-local, bilingual, independent newspaper, and invited NBToday (and me, the community engagement director) to be an On The ‘Zine community partner.
“We reached out to NBToday because they are a local publication, so Rosy and I figured [they] had good experience with interacting with stories in the community,” Woods-Turner said. “We also thought they could provide insight into how to get stories from around town … and we like that they are a bilingual publication.”
As the community partner representative, I attended all of the On The ‘Zine planning meetings, encouraged tween writers and photographers to express themselves on the page and provided insight into what working at a newspaper is like. Working with the student writers soon became my favorite program to contribute to, and one that I feel will have a lasting impact.
A Place for Self-expression
Contributors met bimonthly at the public library, and Woods-Turner also worked with local charter school students to collect submissions. The first finished issue had photo essays, movie reviews, autobiographies, a word search and more.
The advice column, a personal favorite of mine, addressed the issue of being friends with your friend’s boyfriend. The columnist suggested that “Friend not Foe” should “take the mature route” and ask her friend if she wanted to talk somewhere quiet and resolve the issue by reassuring the person that friends come first.
On The ‘Zine took a very kid-focused approach regarding the theme and direction. By giving the tween contributors direction and decision-making power, we created an empowering space for students to speak their minds in a flexible creative space.
“Kids [in New Brunswick] have a lot of venues for formal expression, such as formulaic writing in school, but few opportunities to engage in a creative outlet,” said Woods-Turner. Our hope is that the On The ‘Zine program provides the space for self-expression that tweens deserve.
The idea of empowering tweens to create commentary about their own neighborhood was central to the project, as well as my primary motive for getting the newspaper involved. New Brunswick can sometimes be a rough place — many of the public library users live below the poverty line, have family members who are involved with gangs, or have to work more than one job to make ends meet. Providing an outlet for tweens to express their feelings and thoughts about their neighborhood encourages residents to talk with one another about issues they are facing while encouraging them to discuss solutions.
A New News Demographic
As a newspaper, we try to represent all residents of New Brunswick by not only reporting on the news, but also by promoting community improvement initiatives and programs. Being able to work directly with residents and talk to them about what they thought about their neighborhood helped NBToday clarify what residents really cared about.
This program also brought a new demographic of readers to our newspaper — On The ‘Zine participants frequently discussed stories that they read on NBToday with me and would ask for updates or tell me what they heard. The only group of people who are more gossipy than teenage girls are reporters, and I definitely enjoyed the local city news we all passed around.
After the first issue came out, Woods-Turner and I discussed how we would improve the program as well as how to keep it sustainable. Our largest problem was recruitment and consistent attendance. New Brunswick is a very walkable city, but during the winter, when it gets darker earlier, many parents didn’t want their tweens to walk home by themselves. To solve this problem, the public library will be doing additional parent outreach to neighborhood parents to encourage them to provide transportation for their tweens, as well as asking parents to encourage their children to attend meetings regularly.
We will also try to diversify the gender divide in the zine by adding a male role model. Hopefully, I will be able to bring another reporter from the newspaper to the meetings for the second issue who can be a positive example for tween boys. Having a male role model who is comfortable with written self-expression and who encourages the male participants to also express themselves through writing and art could really diversify the On The ‘Zine content. We would love to have the magazine represent as many tween voices as possible by including tweens from different neighborhoods, genders, ethnicities and age groups.
The first issue of On The ‘Zine really resonated with the participants in a positive way, and I hope NBToday can continue to be a part of this process.
“The girls had a very strong reaction to experiencing ownership of their work,” Woods-Turner said. “Seeing their byline made them feel empowered and important.”
In the future, Woods-Turner expressed interest in partnering with NBToday for future issues of the zine, and possibly widening the program to include magazines by and for other age groups.
Sarah Beth Kaye works as NBToday’s Community Engagement Director. She is interested in promoting community news and programs, as well as meeting the residents of Hub City.