Friday, July 14, 2017

Transforming Teen Spaces

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to present at the Massachusetts Library Association's annual conference about the topic, "Teen Spaces: How to Make a Fabulous, Functional, and Fun Room in Your Library," along with Jen Forgit, the Teen Services Manager at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, MA. Together, we had a broad range of experience, from having a little bit of support and budget, to having a full architect-and-all overhaul of library space.  Here's an overview of what we discussed. I hope you find it helpful! -Kat

The Importance of Teen Spaces

First of all, why do we need a space just for teens?  Well, for starters: Teenagers are people, too.

This is the thing that a lot of people (particularly Friends groups and Trustees) have trouble with. Teens are too old to be in the children’s room - they don’t want jam fingerprints on their homework tables, and they’re not reading picture books anymore. They know they don’t fit there anymore, but they’re also not adults. Teens deserve to be at the library, and they deserve to feel like they belong. What we want to do is to transform the image of the library in the teens’ minds, to make them know how awesome we are, while giving them a voice. They have a real place in their community, and valid thoughts and opinions. They matter, and we want them to be at the library.

Agreed? Fantastic! We’ve won you over about the importance of teen spaces. Now you just have to get the funding and the go-ahead to proceed. If the reasons we just discussed don’t do it for you, you can always give them this statistic: The #1 reason teens try drugs is “boredom,” followed by anxiety and loneliness. If we can do anything to help stop the current drug epidemic, shouldn’t we try?

How To Find the Space

When the answer you get is, "but we have nowhere to put it!" then it's time to do some soul-searching. What under-utilized spaces does your library have? Maybe:
  • Print reference - can this be downsized or moved to the circulating collection? Can we at least weed it down a bit?
  • Outdated collections, such as VHS tapes, CD-ROMs, or books on cassette
  • Staff or office space (do you really need 5 storage closets?)
  • Under-utilized space - can items be moved, in the interest of creating overall better customer service?
Remember, the amount of space the teens should get in the library should be proportionate to the number of teens in your town. In the United States, check out American Fact Finder to see the breakdown of ages in your town's population. If the teens make up 15% of your town, shouldn't they get 15% of your library's space?


Quick Updates

Some of us have an existing Teen Space that just isn’t super teen friendly. There are some easy ways to make existing spaces a bit more welcoming for teens when you don’t have time or budget to do a complete overhaul.

  • If you can, a coat of paint can work miracles. Even just white paint on off-white, aged walls can liven the space up immediately.
  • Displays can be awesome, and change the whole feel of your space. Use props if you can!
  • Artwork is a quick and easy way to update a space, and can be as trendy as you like, because it’s easy to update. (You don’t have to commit to a design that might show its age quickly.) Better yet, see if there are students at the local schools who might want to display their art!
  • Add some new features, such as phone chargers, board games, or adult coloring books
  • Make the space exclusively for teens - no adult book clubs or younger kids hanging out allowed!
  • Add seating, and make the space seem more like a lounge area and less of a classroom.

Smaller Renovation Ideas

I was the Youth Services Librarian in South Yarmouth, MA, and I was able to convince the Friends of the Library group to let me change their existing Friends Bookstore (the front parlor of what was an old sea captain's house) into the new Teen Room. We were lucky in that we had the support (and help!) of the library staff. They did everything from help move furniture, to repeatedly explain to patrons that the bookstore wasn’t available at the moment, please check back in a couple weeks, to help remove the built-in bookcase from the wall for painting and refinish the floor. What we didn’t have was a lot of money, or a lot of time.

The first thing we did was make a map (on graph paper) of the room and what we wanted it to look like, so we could decide how much furniture we needed, what size rug to get, etc. Then we removed all the furniture (including the built-in bookcase), stripped the wallpaper, painted the walls white, painted the bookcases black, moved in all the books, and added decorations. Whew! It took a few weeks, but it was a labor of love.




Renovating with a Lot of Support

The Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, MA had a much bigger renovation - they moved entire collections in their multi-floor library, and created a space for teens and tweens that was representative of their community. They actually worked with an architect to plan out the best use of their space! 

This library is about 5 minutes' walk from the local high school, so getting the teens in the door wasn't the problem. The problem was, no good place for them to be! This renovation wasn't easy, but the hard work really paid off.


Artist's Rendering:



 Of course, renovating lots of support means lots of stakeholders! You will have to please:
  • Library Director
  • Library Staff
  • Trustees
  • Teen Advisory Board
  • Town/City Facilities
  • Friends of the Library
  • Library Foundation
  • Architect or Interior Designer
  • Library patrons and donors
  • And anybody else who has helped out
But of course - it can be done! Sometimes you just have to do your best and be confident that your best work is really amazing.

Best Practices

A few things to keep in mind when working on your own teen spaces:
  1. They say it's best to keep the Teen Space away from the children's room, if possible.
  2. No matter what you are purchasing or adding, be an informed consumer - ask questions!
  3. Styles change quickly, so try for timeless major purchases and fashionable details and artwork that can be changed as times change.
  4. Keep your teens involved in the dreaming, planning, decision-making, fundraising, and installation as much as you can! (But you also don't have to take their ideas.)
  5. Use clear signage to make sure that your expectations are clear (no adults allowed, policies on food or drink, noise, music, etc.).
  6. Make your space welcoming for teens to come and relax, instead of seeming academic.
  7. Include books, if you can! 
  8. Make Tweens feel welcome (middle school is hard enough as it is!). Add tween books, magazines, comfy chairs, etc.
  9. Have fun with it!
We would love to see or hear about any teen spaces that you've transformed! Please leave comments here on the blog, on our Facebook page, or talk to us on Twitter!

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