Waltham Teen Library - Real Talk: A Youth-led Conversation Forum

During the pilot project of Young Changemakers in 21st Century Libraries (October 2018- September 2019), the library cohort incorporated the 10 Questions Framework into various library programs and activities. 


GOALS OF PROGRAM  To offer a forum for teens to discuss issues of importance in their lives. To build life skills that help them navigate tough times and difficult decisions. To empower teens to have an impact in their lives and communities. To foster a community of support and self-improvement. To promote community resources related to the issues we discuss. To reward teen leadership in our community.

ABOUT THE PROGRAM  Founded by youth to discuss the issues that are important to them, Real Talk is a youth-led conversation forum that has become the centerpiece of programming at the Waltham Public Library Teen Room. Twice a month, four teen leaders lead their peers in activities that promote youth voice, encourage socioemotional learning, and develop awareness of social justice issues in our community. Over the three years we have run this program, we have developed a framework to sustain the work of our founders and support librarians in developing similar programs in their libraries. Learn all about Real Talk and view the framework at realtalkteens.org.



QUESTION 1: Why does it matter to me?

In the Fall Unit, Real Talk attendees explore expanding circles of influence in their lives—family, friends, relationships, community, identity—to build a socioemotional foundation for exploring and articulating their experiences to the people in those spheres.

QUESTION 2: How much should I share?

We invite attendees to share as much as they like about themselves during Real Talk events, and always protect the confidentiality of our attendees by frequently invoking one of our favorite community guidelines: What’s said here stays here, but what’s learned here leaves here.

QUESTION 3: How do I make it about more than myself?

By sharing their stories and having conversations about issues in their worlds, Real Talk attendees build a community invested in collective well-being. They discover that there are people out there that have similar experiences—they might find they’re not alone. But they also hear different experiences they can learn from—they might find they’re more alone than they thought. Both avenues take teens from “I” to “we” by encouraging bridge building with people of all backgrounds.

QUESTION 4: Where do we start?

The Waltham Public Library Teen Room functions as the answer to this question for both teen leaders and attendees, but we also serve them as a directory in taking their interests to broader audiences.

QUESTION 5: How can we make it easy and engaging?

Teen leaders spend significant time exploring what generates interesting and substantive dialogue in the design of activities during Spring Unit events.

QUESTION 6: How do you get wisdom from crowds?

The goal of every Real Talk event is to draw out the perspectives of as many attendees as possible so that unique and first-hand experiences can inform our understanding of the world.

QUESTION 7: How do you handle the downside of crowds?

During our first Real Talk event, we generate a community code that we refer to through the year, to help us make our conversations as productive and safe as possible. We also place a priority on demonstrating conflict resolution skills so that leaders and attendees can turn tense moments into valuable learning experiences.

QUESTION 8: Are we pursuing voice or influence or both?
QUESTION 9: How do we get from voice to change?

Real Talk events prioritize the development of youth voice. But when special projects arise—like our For Freedoms collaboration—we use what we’ve learned in Real Talk to amplify that youth voice and show paths to influence.

QUESTION 10: How can we find allies?

Real Talk connects teens with visiting experts, educators, and near-peer student mentors. We promote Real Talk through school events. But the true goal of Real Talk isn’t to find allies that share our outlook, but to create alliances with people who have different outlooks so that we can see the world through as many eyes as possible.


NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS  15-40 at each event

INSTRUCTOR/FACILITATOR  Waltham Public Library Teen Specialist Luke Kirkland with Real Talk Teen Leaders Rachel Cosgrove, Alia Touadjine, and Stevenson Youyoute

FUTURE DIRECTION  We are wrapping up this year of Real Talk events. Our founding teen leaders are graduating and we are recruiting and onboarding next year’s teen leaders. We are in conversation with Waltham High School about how we can run Real Talk events in classes to facilitate dialogue between students. We just made our framework public. We presented our work at the Massachusetts Library Association conference, and we will be presenting it in June at the American Library Association conference. Our hope is that other libraries in the state and across the country will try out our framework.


Visit Waltham Public Library Teem Room