What do you do with middle school students acting like…well, middle school students? Give them a Room of Their Own! Teen spaces are becoming an increasingly common means to keep teens coming into the library once they reach that awkward age of too old for the kids section, but needing their own space. The path to teen-centered spaces in libraries has been paved by advocacy.

“When I wrote the first edition of Teen Spaces in 2002, no one was even really thinking about teen spaces with the exception of a few like Phoenix and Los Angeles,” says author and consultant Kim Cullin. “In the mid to late 90’s I had worked to create teen spaces in a several rural libraries and ended up doing a ton of public speaking on the topic to motivate others to do the same. It became a mission!” ‘ Cullin goes on to say that by the time she started working on the second edition, teen spaces had become increasingly commonplace. ‘ â€œI had so many wonderful examples to show people as compared to the few and far between that were out there while writing the first edition.”

Charlotte Johnston, Children’s Services Coordinator at the Dorchester County Library in Summerville, South Carolina knows first-hand the difference advocacy can make in creating teen spaces. Her library system has two branches – a medium sized suburban one and a smaller rural one. Neither branch had a dedicated “teen” area , but during the past five or six years they have been able to carve one out at each location.

Charlotte’s efforts to establish a teen area at the smaller rural location met with little resistance. At the larger,suburban location, she had to advocate for change, and the change was gradual. Initially the teen materials collection was split up amongst the adult and children’s sections, with no specific magazines, music or movies for teens. ‘ There had been no attempt to develop a dedicated teen materials collections, which made it easy not to have a dedicated teen space. Charlotte advocated for shifting the existing collections to establish a teen-centered space. She faced some objections from library staff and administration who didn’t see the value in changing a system, which they felt was adequate.’  Ultimately, she was able to present an acceptable compromise and was able to re-design the space to include dedicated room for teens.

The space is small, but with some furniture, ‘ manga and magazine racks, and additional book shelves, it works nicely. ‘ â€œWe have a display board at the end of one of the shelves to advertise programs, and a plaque with names of our most dedicated TAG members. We add names as the members graduate from high school.”

The teens themselves have helped advocate for growth and change in the “teen area” by attending programs and stopping by the library after school. “Regular staff see the kids more often, and I think that visibility has helped keep everyone on board,” says Charlotte. ‘ â€œHaving our Friends and volunteers ‘ see how popular the ‘ teen collection is, really helps strengthen support for it.”

Advocating for teen spaces doesn’t always mean raising money for a new space. Often it means advocating to accommodate teen patrons working with what you have.’  Looking to establish a teen space in your library? Check out Kim Cullin’s White Paper on Teen Spaces for YALSA: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/profdev/whitepapers/teenspaces.cfm.

Have you advocated for a teen space at your library?’  Enter YALSA’s Thinking Big About Advocacy Contest and you could be awarded the $500 grand prize.

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