A room packed with teenagers and Xbox controllers. A somewhat noisy area full of gossip, couches and cell phones. It’s not what one would expect to find in a library, yet it’s to be found on Sandy Lane.
The bookshelves and computers are familiar, but the absence of overworked adults shooting resentful glances at the boisterous younger generation isn’t. The room is devoid of librarians reminding kids to use their indoor voices. Just the atmosphere, more reminiscent of a student center than a study area, makes one wonder what kind of library they just stumbled into.
The Warwick Public Library Teen Space opened in early March, and has since experienced success in building relationships with Warwick area teenagers.
“The kids have been really happy,” says Ellen O’Brien, coordinator of children’s and teens’ services. “They really feel that this is their space.”
Renovated at a cost of $64,880, and funded by a $59,880 grant from Champlin Foundations, and an additional $5,000 from Friends of the Library and the Warwick Library Trustees, the room was formerly a quiet study area. Now it serves as an attraction to teenagers who previously may not have felt entirely at home at Warwick Library.
“The kids that used to come here would make some noise and whatnot and often be asked to leave,” said O’Brien. “But we want them to be here.”
The library features a children’s library on the second floor, and an adult library on the ground level. However, there did not used to be much for the in-between age group – the teenagers.
“There was nothing for the middle group,” said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian. “Teens felt that whenever they were at the library they were getting in trouble.”
Warwick Public Library always had a teen space, but it was an open area where they had a difficult time getting comfortable.
“I don’t like adults staring at me,” said Ashley Gardner, a senior at Vets High School.
The inhabitants of the former teen space often had a disruptive effect on the other library patrons, and were frequently asked to leave when they got too noisy, which limited the previous area’s effectiveness.
“Teenagers are loud and they travel in groups,” said O’Brien, formerly a substitute teacher in the Warwick school system.
Loud groups generally aren’t conducive to a quiet library environment, but now the Warwick Public Library embraces Warwick teenagers and welcomes them with their own space where they can just be themselves.
“We’re a library for the entire community,” said Warwick Public Library Director Diane Greenwald, “and this is our investment in the teens of Warwick.”
“The goal is for them to feel comfortable,” said children’s librarian Christine Kayal, “and to attract kids who previously may have felt that the library did not have a lot to offer them.”
Open at all library hours, but reserved for teenagers once schools get out, the Teen Space isn’t exactly what one thinks of when one hears the word “library.” With its couches, video games and general hubbub, it’s an awful lot like a high school student center. There is an adult presence, and the room is clearly supervised, but for the most part the librarians simply stay out of the way. Activities are offered every afternoon, from art workshops to “Movie Mondays,” but typically the adults take a hands-off approach, allowing the teens to do their own thing.
“The room operates with a few basic rules,” O’Brien continued. “Respect the room, respect each other, respect yourself.”
“We still have expectations,” added Greenwald. “But, we’re acknowledging that teens are teens and their behavior is going to be different.”
Located in the middle of the ground floor, with a glass wall facing the front desk, the Teen Space is still a part of the library. The bookshelves packed with every genre imaginable make it clear that this is a library room. Yet it’s obvious just from the atmosphere that it is not the classic quiet study area. This is teen space.
“We have our own space,” said Gardner. “We have our own personal area where we can just be teens.”
“We’re really building relationships with the kids,” said O’Brien. “The Xbox and the computers are obviously popular, but pretty much everything we put out is used.”
“The library has worked hard to tailor things to people that they were not reaching before,” said Mayor Avedisian. “ The goal was to change the face of the library and explore possibilities to draw in un-served markets.”
“We want to encourage them to be here,” concluded O’Brien.
Based on a one-month sample, it’s working.