Congratulations to my library system who was recently awarded the 2010 Joseph F. Shubert Library Excellence Award for their "Queens Library for Teens" in Far Rockaway!
Those who work in public libraries are familiar with the challenge of balancing the energetic behavior of teens with the needs of other users. A few years ago, the situation at the Far Rockaway library was further exaggerated: the neighborhood is located on a peninsula isolated from the rest of New York City, with high unemployment due to the difficulty of commuting and local housing projects filled with gang activity. The library was a small yet highly used building without a separate space for young adults. With nowhere else in the community to gather, large groups of teens would congregate, disrupting and intimidating others with noise and horseplay. Expanding the current facility wasn't an option.
Rather than kicking out those most in need of a positive influence, Queens Library pursued grants to rent an empty storefront a few blocks away from the existing library and completely renovated the space, opening a building just for teens with specialized programs, technology, and collections.
Working with an interior design consultant who specializes in teen areas, a contemporary space along with 40 internet computers entices teens, with attendance averaging 120 each day. A recent addition is a sound studio, complete with a vocal booth, a recording computer and three computerized editing stations, funded by New York State Assembly members.
Some notable distinctions:
-staffing the library with youth counselors, not librarians. They provide service, referrals and act as positive role models, while librarians at the nearby branch offer traditional reference service. A licensed teacher and social worker are also available onsite.
-sign in upon entering. No gang signs or colors are permitted. If someone acts out, they are asked to leave, and if repeated will lose privileges for longer. There have been no incidents beyond this; teens want to use the space and respect the stated boundaries.
-after-school hours of service, from 2:30 - 6PM.
-specialized programming including pre-GED classes, Wii gaming, urban author visits, job readiness fairs, open mics, college fairs, computer skill workshops and more.
-no circulating collection. Due to the cost of duplicating collections and offering circulation staff, teens can browse magazines and online resources, and otherwise go to the regular library to borrow materials.
-relaxed rules. Food and cell phones are allowed and multiple teens can crowd around a computer.
In 2013, the Queens Library for Teens will be doubling in size in a newly constructed $19.3 million facility funded by Borough President Helen Marshall. More information on this initiative is available from School Library Journal, Library Journal as well as a video on NY1 featuring teen volunteers who mentor their peers.
And for even more reading on teens in Queens, visit the Queens Library Teen Challenge blog. The Coordinator of Teen Services has promised to donate $500 of her own coffee money to a charity of young adult librarians' choice if 10,000 teens register for Summer Reading 2011. Read it each Thursday to see the amount saved so far, along with ideas and thoughts on teen summer reading.