Children's Lit Grad named "Change Agent" by Library Journal

April 29, 2016

Courtney Saldana

Courtney Saldana '05GS tells us about the work that landed her on LJ's list of Movers & Shakers

Courtney Saldana is a 2005 graduate of the Children’s Literature program at Simmons. After working part-time at a library and helping with the teen group Saldana became interested in children and teens’ programming and created KinderGo, a program to engage kindergartners in reading. She also planned the Teen Book Fest at the Ontario City Library, and in 2012 she launched Skills for Teen Parenting (STeP) to support teen parents. STeP programs are now run at 16 libraries throughout California. She was chosen as a 2016 “Change Agent” in Library Journal’s annual list of Movers & Shakers because of her work to empower children and teenagers to succeed. We asked Saldana a few questions about her inspiration, and how her studies at Simmons informed her work.

What motivates you to create programming for children and teens?

Programming is more than a Movie Night, or a story time—it is the first step on a long journey to self-advocacy. When we host these programs, we are giving youth the opportunity to engage and interact with peers—peers that they don’t see at school. The library acts as a third space where young people can be themselves.  Programming is necessary because it fosters education, literacy, and everything else that studies show, and it also provides a place where young people can come together.

What do you consider your most important accomplishment thus far?

Professionally, I am most proud of the growth of the Youth Services department at the Ontario City Library. Our amazing team of nine people supporting children and teens—including an early literacy specialist and a teen librarian—is committed to the community we serve. I have worked with this team for the past three years to broaden our programming, services, and understanding of our community’s needs.

I created the Ontario Teen Book Fest, considered the premiere teen book festival in the Inland Empire. Now in its sixth year, the event has grown from a small four-author event to an all-day program featuring nearly twenty authors, keynotes, breakout panels, a speed dating-style event for readers to meet authors, and more. We have hosted Stephen Chbosky, Andrew Smith, Leigh Bardugo, and Marie Lu. In 2016 more than 400 people attended, and Marissa Meyer gave the keynote. 

In 2012 I launched a series of workshops aimed at helping teen moms. As a teen librarian I was frustrated by programs that claimed to help teen moms but focused more on the literacy of their children. Our workshops centered on self-sufficiency skills. Over a six-month period, teens learned to dress appropriately for a job interview, resume skills, healthy cooking, conflict management, and more. In 2014 the California State Library selected STeP as a pilot program for the state, and it was offered at five libraries across the state. In 2015/16 STeP has expanded to sixteen libraries across California. I remain involved with STeP as a trainer and consultant.

KinderGO, was intended to combat woefully low library card numbers in our five and under age bracket, and to educate parents on the skills their child needs prior to starting kindergarten.  KinderGO had three elements. First, we visited every kindergarten class in Ontario (over 2,200 students!) and brought them a KinderGO library bag, wallet, and library card. For the next phase dubbed KinderReads, we chose one title to share with every kindergarten classroom We read The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat at each visit so  all kindergarteners would be engaged with the same book. The culminating step was KinderFair, a resource fair including music, costumed characters, and more, drawing over 400 attendants. Children participated in age-appropriate, early literacy stations, and parents learned about community resources via sponsored booths. 

How did your studies at Simmons inspire your current work?

Simmons is completely responsible for where I am now. When I enrolled at Simmons, I wanted to open a children’s bookstore. After two and a half years immersed in literature for youth, I understood my passion for it and was able to focus that passion towards librarianship and services for children and teens. Simmons helped me better understand the user and audience in children’s lit, and I credit the program for getting me to where I am now. Special shout out to Professors Susan Bloom and Anita Silvey for an amazing time at Simmons.