Talking with Nancy Evans, Creator of the Strong Girls Program, a guest post by Natalie Korsavidis
Today librarian Natalie Korsavidis joins us to interview Nancy Evans, Head of Young Adult at the Levittown Public Library. Nancy was recently named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker for her Strong Girls program. She is a past-President of the Nassau County Library Association and the Young Adult Services Division of the Nassau County Library Association. Her book Cultivating Strong Girls: Library Programming That Builds Self-Esteem and Challenges Inequality was just published by Libraries Unlimited.
What inspired you to create this program?
I had a writing group that was, coincidentally, all girls. I read them a tumblr post by YA author Maureen Johnson, about photoshopping in magazines. It was written in response to a 14 year-old girl asking Seventeen to include one non-photoshopped spread in the magazine each month and they said no. I thought we would discuss the writing style, but they were far more interested in talking about the issues that they were facing as girls, around beauty and body image and gender bias and discrimination. I was listening to them talk and I thought, “This is a program.”
How does the program work?
I run it as a program series of 6-8 sessions of an hour and a half to two hours each. The groups have really enjoyed it and most have asked if they can continue meeting as a club once it ends and it morphs into a club. I’ve tried to accommodate that as much as I can.
What topics are covered? Are there any off limits?
There’s no topic that’s off limits but I do ask the girls to refrain from discussion that’s unproductive, like gossip. I also try to avoid drama by asking them to approach situations with an intent to identify the feelings and problems involved and come up with potential solutions rather than making things bigger or more complicated than necessary or complaining with no desire for change or growth. We cover beauty, body image and the media, gender bias and inequality, self-esteem building, friendships and relationships, cliques and bullying, social media and more. The amount of time spent on each topic is dictated by the group and their needs. Younger girls have tended to want to talk more about things like popularity, fitting in and navigating social groups whereas older girls have wanted to talk about family relationships and parental expectations, how to communicate honestly and effectively, and how to increase self-esteem and confidence.
What has the feedback been from the girls, their parents, and the community?
I received a Woman of Distinction award from a local legislator and of course, the Movers and Shakers award from the library community and those were very flattering. I’m aware though, that many people are doing amazing work with no recognition and I wish that wasn’t the case.
The girls who complete the program like it a lot. Often, the participants are unpopular, socially awkward and/or experiencing bullying so it’s nice for them to have a safe space where they can make friends and receive support. Several parents have told me that they’re grateful that we offer it.
What have been some of your best moments running this program?
My best moments have been:
- Finding a message on my whiteboard written by 2 group members that said “I love being a strong, empowering (sic), self-motivated girl. Thanks Ms. Evans.”
- Having a participant in my first group come in and tell us that she had ended a very unhealthy relationship due to what she had learned in the program about relationships and with the support and advice from the group.
- One of my participants was being forced into a career that she did not want by her mother and she was able to stand up for herself and have an open and honest conversation about what she wants for her future.
What is your exact role? Do you facilitate? Do you share your stories?
I mainly facilitate, but I do participate. The girls seem surprised when I tell them that I was bullied, as a teen and as an adult, and that I’ve experienced many of the same issues that they do, but I got through it and they will too. I’m selective about the stories that I share because I have to maintain appropriate boundaries, but there’s still a lot that I can discuss.
What advice would you give to a librarian wanting to run this program?
My advice would be don’t be afraid to try it. You don’t have to be a therapist or social worker, (although you can certainly team up with one if you like). I do advise that a woman runs the program for authenticity, so that you’re saying “I know how that feels” instead of “I can imagine how that feels.” The reality is, I don’t know a single woman who hasn’t experienced some form of gender bias, hasn’t stressed over their looks or body and sadly, hasn’t experienced some form of girl-on-girl or woman-on-woman bullying and we need to talk about those things, with each other and with younger girls and women, why they’re still happening and their effects.
I always say that, in this program, I’m just doing what we do best-connecting people with information and each other. The girls are not always informed about things like what constitutes sexual harassment, what a healthy relationship looks like, how to handle conflict and confrontation or what they can do if they’re being bullied. Sometimes, it’s assumed that they do know these things but when you have a conversation with them, you realize that they don’t and they don’t know where to go for information and assistance.
How did the book come about?
I presented my program at PLA in Denver in 2016 and a Jessica Gribble, an acquisitions editor from ABC-CLIO was in the audience. She ended up contacting me and asking me if I had ever considered writing a book about the program. I hadn’t but I’d written several articles for VOYA. She asked if I’d like to begin the proposal process. I said yes, and to my surprise, it was accepted.
Talk about your writing process. How did you make it into a full book?
I had NO idea what writing a book entails! I thought it would be like writing articles and stringing them together and that seemed reasonable and doable. That wasn’t the case at all and I had to figure out how to approach it. My original concept of how it would be structured had to be tweaked and I realized that it was going to be much harder and take a lot longer to write than I had thought.
How long did it take to write? Has it inspired you to write other books?
It took about a year to write. I did have to ask for a few extensions and since I was working full time, was the president of an 800 member professional organization and am a mother, it basically meant that I had zero leisure time for a year (and that my kids were always asking “Are you ever going to cook dinner again?)”
It actually did inspire me to start a novel. I love to write and in the very small amount of free time that I had while I was writing the book, I began writing a novel. My husband thought I was crazy to begin a second book when I hadn’t finished the first but it was a stress reliever for me. There’s no contract for the novel so I can write it at my own pace and since there are no expectations, including my own, it doesn’t even have to be good. I can write strictly for my own enjoyment. It’s about a librarian, of course.
What has been your takeaway in creating both the program and the book?
My takeaways have been that I shouldn’t be afraid to try things and that I’m capable of achieving more than I sometimes believe. My initial reaction to most challenges is to think “I can’t do that!” but apparently, I can and I did. I was afraid to run the program—that someone would stop me or that girls with big problems would attend and expect me to solve them or that they wouldn’t like it, so I delayed running it for two years and I regret that.
The book was a major accomplishment for me and something I’ll always be able to look back on with pride. But most importantly, I feel like I’ve actually made a difference in someone’s life or lives and that’s what we all want-to do work that matters. That’s my goal as a librarian, to positively impact others and I’ll continue trying to achieve it. I’m not done.
Meet Natalie Korsavidis
Natalie Korsavidis is a Reader’s Advisory Librarian at the Farmingdale Public Library. She is a guest contributor for Teen Library Toolbox and has spoken at New York Comic Con.
About Cultivating Strong Girls: Library Programming That Builds Self-Esteem and Challenges Inequality by Nancy Evans
An essential “how-to” book for youth services librarians who are interested in effecting social change and offering a dynamic, relevant program for girls.
• Presents complete, low-cost program instructions and recommended resources for librarians who want to offer relevant and dynamic programming for girls
• Suggests extension activities, including peer mentoring and community service opportunities for girls who complete the program
• Addresses programming concerns and potential pain points
• Encourages librarians to develop meaningful and lasting relationships with patrons
Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
Publication date: 04/16/2018
Series: Libraries Unlimited Professional Guides for Young Adult Librarians Series
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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