For several weeks this past summer, a group of teens from South Philly High School visited Fumo Family Library for summer programming. One day, a teen wondered aloud where she should sit. First she looked left and saw the children's area: brightly colored with its tiny tables and chairs; then she looked in front of her and saw the adult area, with its no-frills shelving and utilitarian seating, and then she looked at me. That's when it hit home—Our library didn't have a proper space for teens! Sure, we have the requisite teen books, comics, and manga; but it's not inviting. No seats. No charging station. Nothing that says, "Hey teens, you are welcome here!"
Our staff went into brainstorming mode. We surmised that if we moved a towering shelving unit out of the teen area and shifted some shelving around, we would have some room for a cool, little teen corner. Unfortunately, we couldn't stretch our budget to make this dream a reality, which is also the reality of many libraries. That's when we turned to our Strategic Initiatives department. Several times each year, this department solicits, selects, and funds innovations and ideas generated by Free Library of Philadelphia staff members.
After our idea to create a Teen Corner was selected, we recruited sixteen teenagers from Central High School, GAMP, Mastery Charter High School, Kirkbride, and a couple of homeschoolers to see what they would want in a teen space. Alexandra Romirowsky, an Innovation Analyst from Blue Cross, walked the two groups of teens through a design thinking exercise. She spoke about making assumptions, then flipping them, and encouraged thinking outside the norm. For example, one would assume there are desks in the teen area, but turn that concept around and you might have rolling tables with storage space built in, or lap desks or collapsible desks. The teens were asked to write one word on a Post-it note to describe how they wish to feel in the space. Some of the adjectives they chose included: calm, happy, comfortable, interactive, stress-free, versatile, creative, sympathetic, comfortable, happy, relaxed, uninterrupted, bright, and inspired.
The teens also used Post-its to describe what they wanted to do in the space: They want to study, learn, do homework, create art, seek or have volunteer opportunities, meet new people, read, relax, or just hang out. Lastly, the teens were asked to envision the space. In other words, what will this space look like? They wanted it to have plants, computers, charging stations, inspiring quotes, a TV, music, cool flooring, snacks, new books, board games, and dimmable lighting; a tall order for such a small space, but it's all part of the creative process and dreaming big is never a bad thing. The last piece of the exercise had them take all three aspects and make sketches based on their ideas and present them to the group. This following video explores how the teens came to their conclusions.
Where do we go from here? Our next step is to bring the teens back after we've narrowed down the furnishing options based on their wishes and let them select what they want the most. We are also planning a springtime fundraiser to bolster our grant, so we may make smaller modifications in the future. In the meantime, teens are invited to the library every Saturday at 12:30 p.m. for our DIY maker series, and future Saturday teen programming will include henna design workshops, stop-motion animation, and various arts and crafts projects. In May, teens will have a chance to show their skills in our first ever talent show. Just as our teen space is a work in progress, we will continue to make the library a welcoming and engaging environment for our teen patrons.