Alumna Jodi Mitchell Reaches Out to Hospitalized Teen Readers

Community Profile

Mitchell struck up a conversation with an oncology nurse who works at the Children’s Hospital Oakland. The nurse asked Mitchell for some good young adult titles for her patients, since the hospital had limited recreational reading material and the nurse was buying books out of her own pocket.

Knowing that she wanted to provide service to an unserved population, “it quickly became a no-brainer” that she establish a program with the hospital, said Mitchell, who graduated in 2006. “I discovered that teens are fairly isolated within the hospital walls. Although they are treated exceptionally well by a very caring hospital staff, their lives are completely controlled, and don’t have an opportunity for self-discovery and exploration.”

Mitchell has partnered with other groups before, including the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center. But working with a hospital presented its own unique challenges. Mitchell had to take two tuberculosis tests, receive several vaccinations, and complete special training to secure clearance to enter the hospital.

The response to the program was downright overwhelming. Operation TeenBookDrop, a collaboration of publishers, authors, YALSA’s Outreach to Young Adults with Special Needs Committee, and a group called readergirlz, donated 600 new books – but had no means to transport them. So Mitchell persuaded her neighbor, who works in a horticulture center, to load the books into her pick-up truck to deliver them to the hospital.

“Outreach is mostly a do it yourself, roll up your shirtsleeves, think on your feet sort of job,” Mitchell said. “You roll with the punches and go where you are needed, which may not always be your original vision.”

Mitchell worked as a paraprofessional in libraries for many years and had stalled out in her career advancement. Then iSchool started offering its MLIS program entirely online, which allowed her to continue to work full-time while going back to school.

Mitchell credits Berkeley teen librarian Debbie Carton with inspiring her to work with teens. “Debbie never tired of teens, treated them respectfully as both worthy and capable individuals,” Mitchell said. “I learned from her that librarianship could be fun and that it is OK to be noisy in the library.”

Outside of work, Mitchell coordinates the Peralta Community Garden, an urban garden where she grows her own vegetables. She loves to read everything from Zines to graphic novels.