A library only for young people between the ages of 12 and 19, WITHOUT books and WITHOUT librarians. This description immediately piqued my curiosity. Loida Garcia-Febo, who coordinated my library visits, was so kind as to personally drive me to the Library for Teens, which was a good hour across Queens to Far Rockaway.
The immediate thing that strikes you when you walk into the Library for Teens is the 60 to 70 PC workstations. Young people can do their homework there, fill out applications, surf and network. What also really caught my eye was the selection of 76 subscription magazines about things such as fashion, hairstyles, beauty, culture, health, music, entertainment, computer games, home decoration, and other trendy topics. Otherwise the only other print media is a shelf of reference works. All media are part of the non-lending collection. Those who want to borrow something have to go to Queens Public Library two blocks away—where, by the way, just about everyone is either under the age of 12 or over 19.
Behind the magazines, somewhat concealed, are two large screens that are connected to the Wii, Xbox, and PlayStation consoles. Upon request, teenagers can play different games right on site. A cupboard holds classic board games, which the library team takes out when the library is quiet. Games like Monopoly are particularly good at giving young people practice at handling money. A real highlight of the Library for Teens is the professionally equipped recording studio. The young people can bring in instrumental tracks on a USB stick or choose among songs available there, and sing their own lyrics to it in a soundproof room. The whole thing is recorded and can be edited and further worked on—if necessary, with the assistance of someone on staff at the library. By the way, it’s also a tradition that all international visitors to the library have to record a song of their own. Could this be the beginning of a second career?!
As in all libraries of the Queens Library system, here too there’s a real emphasis on special programs. From courses on earning a delayed high school diploma to educational programs against teen pregnancy and AIDS, to presentations about fashion and reptiles. Of course there was also going to be an event to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11, where the young people could creatively express their remembrances and feelings.
The work at the Library for Teens would be comparable to that of a recreation center for young people in Germany. The teens are greeted personally as they enter the library, and have to sign in with their name and school. That way the staff knows exactly who’s in the library, and the young people feel as if they belong to some manner of art club. There are only two rules: no headgear and no skimpy clothing. The most important thing is that the staff is there for the young people, regardless of whether it’s a technical or personal matter: In the Library for Teens, they’ll always find someone to talk to. The staff members all come originally from a social work background or studied something similar in college. The various life experiences and personalities of the staff members make it possible for every young person to find a “friend“ on the team. And especially in a socially underprivileged area, that’s of incalculable value.