Waltham Public Library - For Freedoms Lawn Sign Installation

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. 

TITLE OF PROGRAM  For Freedoms Lawn Sign Installation

GOALS OF PROGRAM  To help teens articulate their stories and their vision for the community they want to live in. To amplify teen voice in the community. To inform influencers and decision makers about teens’ experiences and their vision for the future.

ABOUT THE PROGRAM  Teen leaders from Real Talk, our youth-led conversation forum at the Waltham Public Library Teen Room, collaborated with Waltham arts organization Blueprint Projects​ to participate in the For Freedoms ​50 State Initiative, a national platform for greater participation in the arts and in civil society, by creating an installation of 100 double-sided lawn signs finishing the prompts “Freedom of…”, “Freedom To…”, “Freedom From...”, or “Freedom For...” on the front lawn of the Waltham Public Library during the month of October leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

To create the installation, we spent a week in the Teen Room, in the high school cafeteria, at the high school library, in classes, and at other partner sites inviting teens to fill out the blank signs. Once complete, the lawn signs bore the unique statements of nearly 200 Waltham High School students, represented the hopes of Waltham’s teens for their lives, their communities, their country, and their world. By installing them in the Library lawn, we invited the community to take time to reflect on teens’ thoughts and feelings, to consider the world teens will inherit, and to familiarize themselves with the world teens intend to create. This project was made possible with the help of the Waltham Boys & Girls Club, the Waltham Partnership for Youth, and Waltham Public Schools.


Lawn Installation


QUESTION 1: Why does it matter to me?

In order to help teens create compelling signs, we spent time with each teen participant helping them think through values they had, the issues they cared about, and the stories they wanted to tell.

QUESTION 2: How much should I share?

Some teens wanted to speak on the level of ideals. Some people wanted to advocate a policy. Some teens wanted to tell a story. Each of these meant sharing different degrees of personal information. We encouraged them to do what made them the most comfortable while having the greatest impact. But by keeping their contributions anonymous we protected their privacy.

QUESTION 3: How do I make it about more than myself?
QUESTION 4: Where do we start?

This project showed teens one answer to these questions. Teens weren’t presenting a unified position beyond the intention to feel heard. But their collective statements made a big impact. Teens got into the project, recruited friends to participate, and shared a palpable excitement about the installation. And the product showed them how collective voice can be a powerful starting point.

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

Real Talk teen leaders spend lots of time developing activities that keep their peers interested. This was a simple concept everyone could complete, and we went where teens congregate. Teens saw how making participation easy produced something with great impact.

QUESTION 6: How do you get wisdom from crowds?

Teens and adults alike could see how important certain issues were to the teen community by seeing how many signs related to what issues. After the event we coded the responses and learned that the most pressing concerns were discrimination, justice, freedom of thought, individuality, and women’s rights.

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

We made sure all participants thought moment about what they would write on their sign and drafted it out on a sticky note. That way we made sure their spelling was correct, their choice of preposition was appropriate, and that they took the challenge seriously. We also created a single lawn sign explaining the project to the public so that passersby understood these were statements of our youth and not a platform the Library endorsed.

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 this For Freedoms collaboration showed teens examples of how youth voice can be amplified, and it got teens thinking about how they might build that voice towards a more specific goal.

QUESTION 10: How can we find allies?

When teens came to see the installation, they saw how many of their peers cared about similar issues and cared about making a difference in the community. Some even sought out who wrote what sign in an effort to connect.

DURATION OF PROGRAM Late September-Early November


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

FUTURE DIRECTION  We intend to make this an annual project of Real Talk. But we also hope to involve more libraries in this project. We have invited area libraries to chip in to bring the cost of signs down by purchasing them in greater quantities. We hope that we can build this into a statewide youth-led civic engagement initiative at public libraries across the state.

Check out an  article about this project, "Waltham Public Library to hold For Freedoms celebration" (Sep 17, 2019)

Visit Waltham Public Library Teen Room