Teen Services Coordinator, Jennifer Velasquez, took a different approach when the San Antonio Public Library Teen Library @ Central wanted to redesigning the library. By talking about what teens wanted to do in the library, versus furniture and colors, staff was able to truly understand what teens need and want in their library. Velasquez mentions that it is not only important to understand what needs want and need in a library, but why the use the library.
Based on focus groups with teen participants, teens expressed that they wanted quiet spaces, active spaces, and social places. Today’s libraries are now incorporating much of these aspects, and are important to remember when designing a new teen library or space. Velasquez’ model for the perfect teen library includes three spaces: participation, contemplation, and engagement. A participation space allows for “group work and activities.” A contemplation space allows for independent work, which would include, homework, studying, reading, etc. Lastly, an engagement space allows for comfortable seating for socializing, displays, technology–a fun, and safe place for teens to socialize. Although space can be limited in some libraries, and not all these spaces can be coordinated, many of these spaces can be made into programs.
At my branch, the teen space is fairly small. At the moment though, we are able to convert our space into all three of these types of teen needs with programming. On Mondays, we have quiet study time; on our calendar it is advertised as a time when teens can come and study in a peaceful area. During our board game and art club programs, still held in the teen area, we are able to have teens creating, playing, and being social. Of course, our space is not large enough for a makerspace, but on Saturdays we hold STEM Club, which allows teens to come and create with technology that would normally not be available to them. By doing programming in our spaces, and advertising this, our branch is meeting all the needs that Velasquez mentions teens want in a library.
Another aspect when designing a teen library, or teen space, is that it is just that– a teen space. Sometimes adults and children will wander in, and it is important to remind them that the library or space is for teens only. Velasquez mentions that it helps, and is important, to remind adults and children of the age range of teens (13 – 18) when, politely, asking them to leave. This is important because children and adults have their own space, and teens deserve a right to have their own space as well. “The presence of adults or children would drastically change the way teens would be expected to use [the] space and, as anyone who has experienced a hostile takeover of a teen space by ten-year-olds knows, can drive away the clientele the space was intended for.” Teen staff at my branch have experienced this a lot, and we kindly ask adults and children to leave. Many times this can be difficult because it is only a space, and sometimes it is not occupied for teens, but it is better to mention that teens can come in at any time. There are often teens who are homeschooled or teens who are suspended that will utilize the space during regular school hours and we want them to have their own area.
Velasquez mentions some final thoughts that are good reminders: the teen space will get messy, it will look “perfectly teen,” teens will move furniture to suit their needs, and it’s not a museum. The last two are the most important; a teen space is not to separate them from the rest of the population, but it’s a space to let them be themselves and explore. And lastly, no teen library or space is complete without dedicated teen staff. I like that Velasquez mentioned this because sometimes teen staff can be overlooked, but we are important, and we do great programs for our community. Our programs are just designed differently than children’s and adult’s programs, and that is what makes them perfect for teens.