Last spring, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) sponsored a literacy program at the Community Library of Allegheny Valley (CLAV) in Natrona Heights, PA, called Teen Reading Lounge (TRL).’  PHC developed TRL to be a resource for public libraries interested in engaging teens in the humanities through the reading and discussion of popular YA fiction and creative experiences. Like many of the libraries participating in the program, CLAV was hoping to kick-start something long-lasting with TRL.pennsylvania

To launch the program at CLAV, Young Adult Librarian, Susan Wilson connected with a local educator, Dr. Sandra Reidmiller. Sandy and Susan capitalized on their respective experiences and individual strengths to create a program that would resonate with teens.’  Sandy said, “Teens were able to “unplug” and meet face-to-face to discuss contemporary young adult literature and the current issues.’  We selected books like The Hunger Games that had wide appeal in order to launch the program.”

In addition to book discussion, teens had the opportunity to make the books “come to life” through games, art, journaling, and guest speakers.’  “A Native American survivalist came in to talk to the group about survival skills so teens could really get into Katniss’ mindset,” Susan said. “We also asked a local theatre’s costume designer to talk about the role of costumes in the Hunger Games. Teens also built their own Hunger Games arena.”

Susan and Sandy noticed that the teens were drawn to the fun, relaxed quality of the program. “There was no pressure to perform or remember facts for a test,” Sandy said. “The focus was on their own creativity, spontaneity, and expression of their own opinions.’  Teens were given a voice and all were encouraged to contribute – which allowed them to build communication and critical-thinking skills.”

When the program ended in summer 2014, the library decided to continue TRL on their own. Most recently, the group explored the Divergent series and designed complementary activities like inviting a hypnotherapist to come in to talk about the role of mind manipulation in the book. “This is the direct result of the teens’ request to replicate the experience,” Susan said.’  “Previously, I had trouble getting them to commit but through TRL my teens discovered they had a place in our library.’  “There has been increased rapport not only with me but with library staff. The whole experience has been transformative for them.”

PHC’s Teen Reading Lounge continues this spring in eight new libraries in Northeast Pennsylvania. Funding is provided by the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds administered by the Office of the Commonwealth Libraries, and supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Submitted by Susan Pannebaker, Youth Services Advisor
Pennsylvania Bureau of Library Development

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