I’ve been waiting a few days to write about the Teen Third Space because I’ve been allowing it to sink in.
I work in one of the oldest branches of my system. The teen space has one long table dominated by laptop users. Luckily we have a significant chunk of shelving, but the books aren’t new and shiny. In fact, everything is old, uncomfortable, and stained. The only thing that makes the teen area a teen area is the fact that it says “Teen” on the wall. Cuz there aren’t any teens sitting there. They’ll go anywhere else in the library to hang out, but do not want to be in the teen space at all. As the incoming teen librarian at this branch it is *the* major thing I need to fix.
So the President’s Program got me at just the right time. Titled “The Teen Third Space,” the session covered physical space, seating selection, and the electronic third space.
The idea of third space comes from Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place. He argued that this third place between work and home has to be a social environment that contains some element of community building. For teens that could be a library’s teen space.
Kimberly Bolan spoke first. Her presentation showed a lot of pictures of teen space renovations on small, large, and practically nonexistent budgets. Her book, Teen Spaces: The step-by-step library makeover is going to be updated soon, so I really look forward to seeing more pictures there and reading more about the research that she has used to modernize many libraries’ teen spaces. Some of the statistics that Bolan was showing were amazing. She said that by revolutionizing the teen space, many of her test cases were reporting an increase in circulation by 50-300%! By inspiring teens with images and photographs of what *can* be done in the teen space, teen councils out there can really help library administration understand what kinds of furniture and designs should be placed in these spaces. You can look for a lot more information on Bolan’s blog.
The second speaker, Professor Anthony Bernier, talked specifically about seating in teen spaces and how libraries have been getting it wrong. By assuming what teens want, libraries have been throwing bean bags and other supposed “teen friendly” furniture a corner and calling it the teen space. Instead, Bernier argues, it would be better to actually ASK the teens what they would like to see. He also encourages libraries to follow four basic rules for arranging their seating for teens:
- Maximize the options at our disposal.
- Mix and don’t match.
- Offer movement in furniture. (Don’t think that everything has to stay in the same place all the time and think about swiveling furniture and rocking furniture!)
- Explore the floor with carpeting, funky furniture and platforms.
The best point, for me, that Bernier made was actually a very simple one. Libraries should move away from privileging the collection to privileging the social experience that libraries can support. Collections should be used to support social interaction.
The third and final speaker, Angela Sigg, discussed the virtual third space and the Denver Public Library’s place within it. Since teens don’t remember life before the Internet, it is only appropriate to think of a library’s website as an extension of the library’s physical space. Sigg offered several ideas for making the website a teen’s virtual third space including:
- Brainstorm with teens — the space is for them, ask them what they want.
- Get feedback from staff. Consider setting up a wiki to show mockups of the site.
- Look at other teen library websites for inspiration
- Think about ways to bring teens back with fresh content. Denver Public Library has integrated podcasting and podcasting workshops, youtube contests, original teen art, and teen reviews (their most popular feature).
Sigg said there are several pitfalls to avoid in building your website as well. So if you want to do one, keep these in mind. They include:
- Too much text. Teens don’t want their third space to feel too much like being in school.
- Being boring. It’s the kiss of death.
- Trying to talk like teens. It just won’t work.
- Not continually offering new content. Commit to keeping it fresh so teens have a reason to return often.
- Not listening to what teens think. It’s their site, they should like it!
For me, it was great to hear other librarians talk about the next evolution in teen space. It’s been too long that we’ve been happy just because we have more than five shelves for teen materials. By thinking about the library as a teen’s third space, we can move into a position that allows teens to get what they deserve without having to beg, borrow and steal from other areas of the library!