Part of the fun of getting ready to open a new library is telling people about it, and seeing their reactions. My coworkers and I have recently attended farmer’s markets and back-to-school nights in the Gum Spring area of Loudon County, VA, to spread the word about the new public library and answer questions about our resources and programs. Although many of the folks we’ve talked to have been very enthusiastic, but we’ve also met residents who have never visited a public library and are fearful of it. While we appreciate the former group’s support, the latter group is what drives me to attend outreach events, in hopes of talking to them about the benefits of having a library, so that when we open in spring 2013, they’ll understand our mission and want to learn more about us.
Right now, if you live in Gum Spring, the nearest public library is nine miles away. To reach it, you have to drive on construction-laced, heavily trafficked roads into a neighboring county, and that’s why many adults don’t use the public library and aren’t familiar with its resources. At one of the back-to-school nights, parents of middle school and high school students were shocked to learn that we’ll be offering free ebooks, as well as computers, printers, scanners, and a 3,000-square-foot teen center that will be right in their own backyard (or, no more than a five-minute drive). When she heard the news, one parent sighed and said, “Why didn’t I know about this before now? I would have saved so much money!”
Unlike some of their parents, most teens are thrilled that they’ll finally have “something to do” when we open. Currently, there are no teen-friendly hangouts nearby, and our teen center will be a welcome addition for them. Unfortunately, some community members have already expressed concern about teens loitering around the new building. “Will the teens be loud and disruptive?” they’ve asked. “Will they compromise the safety of the library?” To which I’ve proudly responded, “No.” Not only does the library have rules regarding appropriate behavior, but teens, though sometimes loud, aren’t a pack of hooligans looking to cause trouble. In fact, teenagers are the perfect library users, checking out materials they need for assignments, browsing the collection for fun stuff (including DVDs, games, and good books), forming groups and working collaboratively, using technology, and keeping librarians aware of emerging tech trends. Sure, some kids may loiter, but that’s what we want them to do! We want them to take advantage of our free resources, talk to us, and form their own community. We want them to learn, teach, and grow, both with us and because of us.
Some adults fear teens because they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be one. Teens are works in progress, trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. Libraries encourage individual growth by recommending books, hosting age-appropriate programs, and providing resources and opportunities for kids to develop. The library can also bridge the gap between the generations by creating opportunities for adults and teens to interact on a level other than parent to child, or teacher to student. Teens, being naturally adept at all things technology, can assist reference librarians in running computer and technology programs for adults. Mom-and-daughter book clubs, intergenerational gaming nights, and even volunteering side-by-side in the library are just a few ways that adults and teens can foster mature relationships inside the library. To use this decade’s buzzword, these are genuine “teachable moments.”
Although the new library will soon be the new kid on the block that every teen wants to get to know, some adults are bound to feel uncomfortable with that. But if we can properly educate them on how to use the new library and help them see that the teen center is a safe, supportive space for kids, then our library will become a true community center.
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