Libraries Must Create Space That Lets Teens Thrive

This is one in a series of occasional perspective pieces the Evanston Public Library will be publishing on the ever evolving role of the library in our community.

By Renee Neumeier, Young Adult Services Supervisor

Teens at the Library“The Loft is a great place to go when you don’t want to go home.”

That is a quote from an Evanston Township High School (ETHS) senior who is one of the regular visitors at the Evanston Public Library (EPL). We work very hard to make the space and the resources available to fit the specific needs teens have as they live their days not as children, but not yet adults. It is critical libraries provide an environment that helps teens thrive.

Our primary concern is to create a safe space for all teens. We live in a highly diverse community with diverse expectations. Ensuring every teen can be who they want to be is a key characteristic of our institution. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) released a report in 2013 titled “The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action” (known as the Futures Report). In it, YALSA laid out guidelines highlighting the benefits of reserving a space where teens are the primary occupants and where they are buffered from negative interactions. In addition, the School Library Journal reported in 2015 that effective teen spaces are the result of a concerted effort to turn the spaces over to teens, involving them in the design and planning process, encouraging them to suggest and plan programs, hiring them to work in the space and more.

The leading libraries strive to empower teens to take learning into their own hands. The Loft – Evanston Public Library’s 2,000-square-foot teen space – is a safe and enriching environment for kids to come and meet new people. Beyond the space itself, The Loft is where every teen can engage in myriad activities for leisure, education or both. There are more than 9,000 combined books, audiobooks, and graphic novels on hand and even more in the e-materials collection – all curated by a trained staff to help find the right book for the right reader.

Recreation is a big part of learning and learning about one’s self. At The Loft teens also can play video games and participate in programs such as Lego tournaments, Anime Club, 3D Thursdays and join the Audio Challenge building electronic stereo components. In fact, all these activities played a role in Chicago Parent Magazine naming The Loft one of “five uniquely Evanston hangouts for teens” in its February 2018 issue.

But because a library should be a bridge between school and home life for students, and because we want to embed learning in an out-of-school environment, we work very closely with Districts 65 and 202 on programs, presentations and promotion. Every sixth grader gets an orientation to EPL and The Loft. Teen staff visits classrooms throughout the year collaborating with teachers and the school libraries on book talks, demonstrating online resources, or co-teaching 3D printing and design. Almost year round we either bring a STEM-based after-school program to one of the Y.O.U. middle school sites or they bring students to The Loft. We also have run a coding station at a STEM event tailored for middle school girls at MetaMedia at the McGaw YMCA.

Our Teen Advisory Board is key to teens feeling welcome and having ownership within the library. Studies suggest that teen inclusion in program planning and the development of their space ensures their evolving needs and interests are being addressed. Once teens experience a welcoming environment, they will want to branch out and connect with other library resources. This deeper engagement with the library helps teens expand their knowledge.

In “The Need for Teen Spaces in Public Libraries” (American Library Association, revised 2016), Kimberly Bolan says libraries “bridge the gap between the classroom and afterschool and provide hands-on, teen-driven activities that enable teens to learn while exploring their passions and interests.” That is what we strive to do. Teens can be themselves as they relax or continue to learn, because teens deserve a space that allows them to thrive.

Renee Neumeier has been the Young Adult Services Supervisor at the Evanston Public Library since 2013. The Library was founded in 1873 and serves a highly diverse and evolving community. More than 1,600 people use its resources and services every day.

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