Making teens feel welcome in the library is an art, not a science. As each community is different, so are its teens. But, they do share one major trait: in order for teens to feel welcome, they need to feel like they have a space to call their own. Finding a space for teens in the library does not have to call for a capital funding project, sometimes creativity can be key when thinking about how to find space in the library for teens.
Space is always at a premium at libraries, no matter where or what type they are. But space planning should include all segments of the library population, not just adults and children. Teen areas help those transitioning out of the children's area to find a new home at the library. For those in the tween years, the transition can be a bit of a shock if the teen area is small or non-existent after the largess experienced in most libraries children's rooms. This is often where the library loses readers.
If tweens and teens feel like they have lost their "home" at the library, they will find it difficult if not impossible to come back. The sense of loss can be very real, particularly for those children who visited the library often for storytimes and programs. The teen area of the library should be comparable to the other sections where space allows. If space is at a premium, perhaps reconsidering how other space is used would help.
For example, I worked for a tiny library in a rural community. The teen area consisted of a shelf and a half of books in the back corner. The teen population was almost non-existent as a result. All those children who came to storytimes and programs found that there was no place for them to go after they were too old for the children's room. A survey of library patrons lamented the loss of the use of the library by tweens. Parents of children who transitioned out of the children's area felt that their kids had been ousted from their favorite reading place.
Building an addition onto the library was not in the budget, so looking at the space with fresh eyes was in order. A teen advisory board was formed after several visits to the local schools to ask about interest in having a teen section at the library. Teens and tweens, interested in being part of the project showed up by the dozen.
After reevaluating the entire library's space over a period of several months, it was decided that half of the meeting room space would be allocated for the teen section. The room was able to be divided by a movable wall for those meetings that took place in the library. When there were no meetings, the wall came down and was a great place to show movies.
Teens were given a budget. They chose paint colors, furniture and posters to create their space. Books, movies, and audiobooks were purchased from money moved from the materials budgets in the adult and children's sections. Two computers with workstations were repurposed for the room for teen use. Teens worked in conjunction with the library staff to paint and decorate the space.
Unused free-standing shelving was moved from staffing areas and installed in the space. As so often happens, the teens told their friends who told their friends about the new space. They came in droves to visit the library. The younger children, excited to see where they could go "next" were agog at the new space and could not wait until they could move up to the "cool teen space."
The budget for this project was relatively small, but the rewards were great. Take a look at the teen section in your library. Is it all it could be?