It's More Than a Book Group – It's Girls' Night Out

Sometimes at the Library, our best ideas come from patrons. When I.H. Ruiz Branch regular Keishla Collins saw a need for more programs for teenage girls, she spoke up. Now every month, a group of around 20 girls and women meet to talk about books and take part in fun, beneficial activities. But stay back, fellas - this here's the Girls' Night Out Book Group.

Though she's currently studying to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN), Collins is no stranger to book groups - or to libraries. A resident of Kansas City's Westside neighborhood and mother of two, Collins began frequenting the Library when she decided to go back to school.

"I was getting videos on algebra and GED books to brush up on reading, writing, and math," Collins says. "And Julie [Robinson, Ruiz Branch manager] was a big, big help to me. Whatever I needed, I went to her, and we looked it up. And when I went to take the test, I passed it. I owe her so much."

Last summer, Collins founded the Ruiz Branch's Sistah 2 Sistah Book Group for women to read and discuss urban and Christian fiction.

When Collins approached Robinson with her idea to start a book club aimed at teenage girls, Robinson saw an opportunity to address a need in the community.

"I didn't just want a girls' book club -- I wanted something that would teach self-esteem, self-reliance, and self-confidence," Robinson says. "I wanted them to feel empowered to become strong women,"

Robinson says that a number of families in her service area consist of single fathers raising daughters.

"There's a need for female role models in the community," she says.

So Robinson developed a plan for a book group that would combine reading with educational activities for young women. In addition to allowing members (girls aged 13 to 16) to choose which current young adult fiction books they wanted to read, the group would participate in discussions and activities focusing on subjects such as journaling, appropriate dating, jewelry making, healthy eating, maintaining a positive body image, and other life lessons.

"We're trying to hit the girls up with something fun to read as well as something more serious to think about," Robinson says.

Each month, representatives from community organizations such as the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault (MOCSA) and Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics visit the book group to give presentations.

To fund Girls' Night Out, Robinson approached the Library's Development department, which applied for and received a targeted-populations grant from the Missouri State Library for $2,300 over a six-month period. If the program is a success, it can be implemented at other Library branches.

So far, things are looking good.

The group gets a lesson in sensory-based movement practice of Nia.

Attendance has grown since the first meeting in September of last year, when the group read Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging and local author Christine Taylor-Butler gave a talk about writing as a means of self-expression. In fact, some adult women from the community have begun attending sessions in order to interact with and encourage the younger members.

Robinson says that kind of community involvement is not unusual on the Westside.

"A lot of people volunteer here," she says. "We work very hard to make a cohesive community out of a place that's been divided by roadways - that's been cut off from Kansas City in many ways."

Collins is one such neighborhood activist.

"I just want the young ladies to see there's more to life than Facebook, cell phones, and hanging out," she says. "Reading broadens your mind and your vocabulary."