Listening to Youth Voices as We Develop New Experiences: The Youth Advisory Council at the Library of Congress

This blog post was written with input from our Youth Advisory Council.

“I thought research was just about writing papers. Now, I know I can do so much more”

-Youth Advisory Council member

Last year, we posted asking for your help to develop a space for kids and families – and you came through! We had 22 students ages 8-13 from 15 states participate in our first youth advisory council, playing a key role in the development of the experience concept for the new space the Library is building as part of the Visitor Experience Master Plan.

We are recruiting for the next iteration of the council, for kids ages 8 to thirteen. Tentatively, we plan on holding our meetings on Thursday evenings, 7 PM EST, five times during the school year— October 13, December 8, February 9, April 27, and June 15—on Zoom. You can learn about the experience of this year’s advisory council in the post below – and if you like what you read, register to join us by filling out this form before September 25.

The 2021-2022 Library of Congress Youth Advisory Council

An online miro board filled with Library of Congress photo/prints collections, as well as kids names on post-it notes, indicating collections each child wanted to learn more about, in a collaborative post-it activity.

The Youth Advisory Council’s collaborative post-it whiteboarding activity, where they were able to place post-its with their names over collections items they gravitated towards.

Last year, we piloted the Youth Advisory Council model. The kids on the council met four times virtually with us and our partner Skolnick Architecture and Design Partnership to talk about what they wanted to see in the exhibit, review concept drawings and models, and complete activities that modelled proposed interactives. Before the meetings even began, we knew it was important to show our kid participants that their voices were important and valued. We conducted an entrance survey about their research and library-related interests, and used this to shape our initial concept drawings. As one member shared in a reflection, she was inspired to participate because it was important to her to “provide my ideas to make this space better and more appealing to kids our age.”

Once our meetings began, we took steps to build community with virtual tools. We wanted the kids to feel comfortable speaking up to each other, and speaking in front of grownups—and we believe that learning how to express their opinions is an important skill kids can develop from being on the Council. One member shared in reflection that they “enjoyed the collaborative board activities as well as the chatterfalls”, referencing some of the online meeting tools and protocols we used to ensure the kids could see each other’s opinions and have their own thoughts be seen.

A family of children sit surrounding a document box while an adult facilitator stands behind them, looking on.

Youth Advisory Council member Methuli and her family enjoy a visit to the Young Readers Center-Programs Lab during spring break, facilitated by Alli Hartley-Kong. Family photograph by Chandana Jayasooriya.

During our first meeting, we shared the earliest concept drawings. From the perspective of an adult working on this project, getting feedback from children isn’t always the easiest to hear, but it’s necessary work. By the time the next meeting rolled around, we had brand new drawings and concepts. As one member shared, “After our very first meeting the adults took the kids’ suggestions and drastically changes the plans to include our ideas.”

Our Youth Advisory Council’s input was key to developing an early experience concept that centered around “primary source boxes” that would take children on a journey through the Library’s resources. In the spring, we conducted intensive prototype and user testing onsite. Seven Youth Council members and their families were able to join us in this process—whether because they lived locally, or they were visiting Washington D.C. as part of their spring or summer travel plans. Whenever we had members visiting, we tried to set up special “behind the scenes” experiences, as a thank you for all the hard work they were putting into the Youth Advisory Council.

Finally, Youth Advisory Council members were invited to directly contribute to “primary source boxes” that will be a key element of the space. When future visitors come to the new youth space, they’ll be able to pull out and explore boxes specially curated by Youth Advisory Council members. We know from pilot testing kids are excited to see what other kids near their own ages researched at the Library. We can’t wait for visitors to explore the final version of Mia’s box about what inspires cartoonists like Dav Pilkey, Christine’s quest about cooking a recipe from an 1890s cookbook, and Anaiya’s selections of Library materials about writing books and stories.

Join Us for 2022-2023!

 The new space at the Library of Congress will open within the next few years, but we have a lot of work to do before then. As always, whenever we get stuck in our design process, we always ask ourselves, “What do real life researchers do?”

Because research is about listening to all available data, we invite you to be part of this process!

We are so excited to expand the reach of the Advisory Council during this school year. Please fill out this link before September 25 if you’d like to apply to join us!

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