Raising the Voices of Young People Through Co Design

Public libraries are seen as places that are safe and beneficial to mental health. In the post Covid-19 period, 74% of young people (12-25 years) who were already using mental health services reported that their mental health was worse since the outbreak of COVID-19, while 86% reported a negative impact on their mood, wellbeing or sleeping; and 77% reported a negative impact on their work, study, or financial situation .

In 2022, State Library Victoria and Public Libraries Victoria partnered with VicHealth, Victoria’s leading health promotion organization, on a pilot mental health project aimed at ensuring libraries are welcoming and relevant for young people (12-25 years). VicHealth is committed to raising the voices of young people and ensures co-design is a part of any of their work with this cohort. Co design can be an important process to ensure community input into the development of programs and services in libraries.

For young people, it can be empowering. For this project, we had a steering committee of young people from organisations such as the Centre for Multicultural Youth, and the Youth Affairs Council (Vic), and contracted YLab, a social enterprise organisation auspiced by the Foundation for Young Australians, to deliver co-design training to the participating libraries. Four library services participated in the project – two from metropolitan Melbourne and two from rural and regional Victoria.

These library services received cultural competency and reducing racism training before commencing the project and receiving co design training and support from YLab. The four library services recruited 110 young people to participate in co design meetings and in the development and delivery of the programs that came out of the co design process.

The young people were aged 12-24 years with the majority (80%) being 15-19 years. Most of these young people (81%) were from culturally and linguistically diverse families. 4% had a disability and 5% identified as LGBTIQ+. The programs that they developed and implemented ranged from establishing study support groups for senior students and a peer study support group; establishing an ongoing teen library advisory group; holding events for young people including a careers information night, karaoke and a youth showcase; and improving the look and feel of the teen spaces at the libraries.

The young people participated with enthusiasm and reported that they appreciated being involved and being asked their opinions, and then seeing those opinions turn into action. Some groups have committed to being an ongoing voice for young people within libraries. Co design can be used to lift the voices of many under-represented communities, including the young people who use library spaces to study, hang out and feel safe.

Jacqui Horwood

Acting Head, Library Sector Engagement, State Library Victoria

Author Bio

Jacqui Horwood is the acting Head of the Library Sector Engagement team at State Library Victoria. She has worked in libraries for eight years and has an extensive history in health and justice in the Victorian public sector.