Tom Jorgenson | Movers & Shakers 2020–Educators

Young people too often grow up without a sense of what’s possible. As a teen and technology librarian for the Dakota County Library in Minnesota, Tom Jorgenson is making sure that doesn’t happen.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Teen/Technology Librarian, Dakota County Library, MN

DEGREE

MLIS, St. Catherine University, 2014

HONORS

HEROES Award, Dakota County Board of Commissioners, 2017; NCAA Central Regional Coach of the Year, 2014

FAST FACTS

There are pictures  of Tom crawling through  a display of picture books he made at age three, when Jorgenson’s father was a library director.

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Photo by Heather Hanson Photography LLC

 

Career Connector

Young people too often grow up without a sense of what’s possible. As a teen and technology librarian for the Dakota County Library (DCL) in Minnesota, Tom Jorgenson is making sure that doesn’t happen.

Jorgenson has created a Career Success program that helps disengaged teens find a purpose. The program uses Traitify, a visual career aptitude and exploration tool, to help teens understand how their interests align with various career paths. He also helps teens make videos and design their own virtual reality experiences in an iLab Maker space. Throughout all of these activities, he excels at creating healthy relationships.

“Tom’s work in connecting with youth, and listening to and acting on their needs has had a positive impact on [DCL’s] effort to empower residents,” says Director Margaret Stone.

Forming strategic partnerships is a hallmark of Jorgenson’s approach. He considers himself a “catalyst and connector,” linking youth with various community organizations to create new opportunities. For instance, “We worked with a local middle school to survey 600-plus students about their interests and learning needs, and many [said] they were interested in learning about cooking,” he says. “The library had an existing relationship with the Dakota County 4-H, who have a cooking curriculum. The middle school has a kitchen classroom that had fallen into disuse. I connected the school with 4-H, and together they used the kitchen to put on a five-week ‘Afterschool Kitchen’ series that filled up almost immediately.”

Another fruitful partnership has been the library’s collaboration with the Community Corrections department, through which Jorgenson developed weekly activities for teens on probation. “The most valuable parts of the program weren’t the activities we planned,” he says. “They happened in the margins while kids were waiting for rides, or during the transitions between activities, when we talked about music, or their families, or what they hoped to do in the future.” 

Recently, Jorgenson has focused on how he can create programming that addresses teens’ mental health needs. “I’m hoping to give them some tools to cope with stress and anxiety,” he says. For instance, Jorgenson created a “Dogs for Finals” program, in which he brought certified therapy dogs to the library during AP testing week.

The key to engaging teens, Jorgenson says, is to be authentic, vulnerable, and willing to let go of control. “There are a few phrases that teenagers love hearing you say with sincerity as an adult: Thank you. I’m sorry. I don’t know. And, What do you think? Show them you’re listening to what they tell you—and that you care about the answer.”  

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