As summer kicked off in June, Multnomah County Library welcomed Corey Pursel in a new type of job. As Rockwood Library’s youth engagement specialist, Corey is bringing a new perspective and a unique toolkit to working with young people at Rockwood Library.
Rockwood is one of Oregon’s most diverse and economically challenged communities. Many of its residents work hard to make ends meet or adjust to a new life in the United States. For young people, that can mean grappling with the effects of trauma, systemic barriers and generational poverty.
In creating the position of youth engagement specialist, the library sought to provide young people more options -- ways to reinforce positive behavior and address other behavior in a more proactive way than the singular punitive consequence of exclusion. In addition, the library can better utilize trauma-informed practices that address deeper underlying issues that affect children’s lives. Together, these approaches help young people keep using the library when they might need it most in their lives.
An East County native, Corey came to Rockwood Library with a depth of experience in serving youth, as a caseworker, a counselor and as a crisis team member for local and state government. “When I saw this position, it captured the positive direction of social services. As libraries collaborate more with other public services, I saw the chance to develop something new that fits both of those roles,” he said.
In his time at the library, Corey has developed community partnerships and helped young people and their families understand which resources are available, how they differ and where to find culturally specific services. He’s also working to help youth understand the library rules, which have numerous legal provisions and can be tough to decipher in a youth oriented context. By looking at those rules though a frame of positive behavioral intervention support, Corey says he can develop ways to engage youth without saying, “Don't do this. Instead, we’ll try to do it this way.”
Corey brings knowledge of the safety net services and systems that families in Rockwood are often engaged with. “A lot of families experience day-to-day instability with finances, food and housing,” he says. “When parents are having a hard time, we can supplement those families’ needs. If a young person is involved with DHS, that factor might have caused library staff to get stuck right there before this role existed. Now we can reach out to parents and get a bigger picture, understand the family’s concerns and create a plan to help that young person.”
“Corey can help us understand these situations better, what young people are experiencing,” said Rockwood Library Administrator David Lee. “He understands the systems that young people and their families are part of and, because of that, he can support us in helping them use the library successfully.”
The youth engagement specialist job was created as a two-year pilot effort. As Corey puts his expertise to work, he’s also imagining more ways for the library to serve youth. He dreams of more dedicated teen space and more ways for people to understand each other better, despite their differences. Perhaps an entire team of youth engagement specialists. When asked if any youth are familiar with that title, he responds, “They just know me as Corey.”