Shared spaces: Steele Creek Library and Southwest Middle School join forces for success

Students at Southwest Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina participate in afterschool programming provided by Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's Steele Creek Library branch.

The only thing that separates Southwest Middle School and Steele Creek Library is a narrow grass median. Though the two are near in proximity, they have never been relationally close. Inspired to change that dynamic and build a closer relationship with students at Southwest MiddleSteele Creek Librarian Sarah Story began attending open houses at Southwest Middle to make the Library more visible to students and parents. 

In August, Steele Creek and Outreach staff teamed up to attend three open houses at Southwest Middle where they were able to connect with students stopping by to pick up their schedules and meet their teachers.  

“This was a great way to increase Library visibility in the school community, advertise Teen programs and meet parents who we don’t often see during the school year,” Story said. 

In December 2019, another Librarian, Kara Hunter,joined Story on outreach visits to Southwest Middle’s sixth grade classes. 

“Kara and I visited almost every 6th grade class to show them online resources that they could use for upcoming research projects,” Story said. “In total, we visited 11 classes, 210 students and 13 teachers,” she added. 

Their visit resulted in students excitedly running up to Story when they noticed her in the Library just a few days later. They told her about the resources they remembered, how they used CultureGrams that day for a class assignment and introduced a new group of students to staff and what the Library has to offer. 

Story was also inspired to create positive change at Southwest Middle where she’d heard stories of vandalism, fights and noise occurring on campus. Story decided to create bi-weekly afterschool Teen programs where students could safely play board games, participate in cooking challenges, take Library tours, enjoy Lunch and Learn topics and more. Eventually, behavioral incidents at the school declined, prompting the school to get involved with the planning of afterschool programs. 

We needed more involvement from the school, and I wanted it to be a positive relationship, not just passing on disciplinary requests,” Story said. “So, I started sending emails trying to get to know school staff and offering outreach ideas, she added. 

Story believes anyone can be a hero and help teens through creative programming. She is especially grateful of the support from the Steele Creek staff and is excited about the positive progress they have made with Southwest Middle. 

 “Everyone has their own unique ways to Be A Hero (a Library culture principle) for these kids, whether it’s implementing new program ideas, helping them find a book or offering them a smile after a long day at school,” Story said. “Our relationship with Southwest Middle is still growing and evolving, requiring consistent and frequent communication with administration and teachers about ways we can support each other. It will probably always be a work in progress and creative and innovative approaches are the best way to move forward and continually improve.”