(In the interest of full disclosure, I worked at Forest Park Public Library back in 2006/2007, and I must admit that every single time I worked a desk shift, I would stare balefully at the local history room. Not that I dislike local history, mind you, but because I like and care about teenagers more—and I could see, even then, that the teens in Forest Park that were coming to the library deserved a place of their own to hang out and be themselves. I wanted to take over that room that was being used by the historical society and put it to use for the teens. I was continually annoyed that this public library space was only accessible by appointment when we had a sizeable group of teens who would love to be able to sprawl out in a space that they could call their own. Being the rabble-rouser that I am, I would state my opinion on this topic to my manager at every possible opportunity. My manager indulged my rambling, but was wise enough to know that such a project would be incredibly involved and difficult and while I waxed philosophical, she bided her time.
Eventually I left Forest Park for other opportunities, but my strong feelings about those teens and that room persisted. So when, a few months ago, I saw an article about FPPL’s new teen space, I knew I wanted to hear more about, so I interviewed the current manager, Susan Kunkle, via email about the project.)
The Youth Services department in Forest Park serves birth-12th grade, which is an incredibly wide range of ages to serve in a space that is essentially one open floor with little division. This was a bit of a problem, Susan wrote, because “[t]eens like–and need–to work and socialize in groups and there was no carved out place for that. We had this open room, but no areas to just sit and talk without having little kids right there too […]. Our tables really only fit four to five comfortably. We would regularly have eight teens try to cram themselves in a small study room or one day over a spring break there were easily fifteen kids, who had just pulled chairs from everywhere out to the middle of the floor so they could all talk together. We would have to break them up for practicality’s sake because of noise, or to avoid people getting hurt, or because people couldn’t get around them—but they weren’t doing anything wrong. We wanted them to feel like it was okay to hang out. We just needed a better option. I was leading the Teen Advisory Board at the time, and I had really come to know and care about these kids and honestly, they really wanted to be there. We needed to give something back to them and show them that it worked both ways.” (Emphasis added).
After my departure from FPPL, it seems that the idea for having a teen space in the library really started to gain momentum. According to Susan, it was around a three year project, with “[t]he former manager Lindsey Dorfman and our Director Rodger Brayden really set[ting] down the groundwork, collaborating with our board, and feeling out the possibility. Our door counts and circulation were up, we were seeing a lot of growth in our program attendance and there was a lot of discussion in the community about creating more safe spaces and safe activities for teens, so it really felt like the right time.”
Susan, with the support of her director and board, was able to negotiate the Historical Society’s leaving the room so the library could resume its use. With that in place, the exciting process of bids, meetings, planning, and input began. Susan consulted with her teen advisory board regarding how the space would be used and how it would look. From a narrowed down selection of choices, the teens gave their input on fabric, furniture, and materials, and Susan was surprised with what they picked.
“I really liked their choices. So many times I think people are afraid to open themselves up from feedback from kids because they feel their suggestions are all going to be way out there or unreasonable, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in YS it’s that it always pays off to listen to them. Kids are more practical than we give them credit for sometimes and at the end of the day, don’t we want them to be invested in what we do?”
Yes, we do. Great job, Susan!