It's All About the Connections: Staff Notes from the Downtown Library's Teen Center
Library staff in the Downtown Teen Center help youth who are working on school projects, finding books to enjoy, researching job opportunities, and lots more. An important part of their work is creating a positive place for teens to drop in and connect, as described in this recent report:
Every day in the Teen Center brings great conversations with kids. They pour into the library after school or first thing in the morning on the weekends and head straight for “their space” and know that we will greet them with a smile and be happy to see them. Occasionally, they don’t have the social graces of adults and so their loud, boisterous voices can carry pretty far. Some teens will come in for just a day or two and we never see them again and others will come in on a regular basis so we get to know their names.
It takes intention to build relationships, and working with this age group is no different. They really want what we all want: someone to act like they care and are genuinely happy to see us. One teen who has visited regularly for a couple of years has been coming in recently and sharing with me about a serious illness in his family. I feel honored that he is comfortable coming up to me and talking about what is going on at home and school.
This summer, I was sitting at a table in the Teen Center attempting to put a jigsaw puzzle together and a few kids wandered in. I invited them to help me and they all sat down and started working on the puzzle. None of them knew each other so I introduced everyone and next thing you know, we were all talking and everyone seemed to be relaxed and enjoying themselves. I’ve seen this many times -- shy kids who didn’t know anyone there start losing their self-consciousness and become more social with the other kids in the room.
A few weeks ago, one of the younger girls and I were sitting together coloring and she told me that she was really nervous about starting middle school. She worried about forgetting her locker number and getting lost trying to find her classes. A teen who just graduated from high school joined us and shared how she remembered feeling the same way at that age and reassured the younger girl. It was so sweet and very moving. I could see the younger girl visibly relax! This was a moment in time that possibly had a huge effect on quelling the 7th grader’s worries.
These experiences make it very clear to me how important this space has become to the teen community in Eugene. I feel grateful that we are providing a much-needed place for kids to come after school and on the weekends. Our library offers a safe, free, and welcoming environment. There’s always some fun activity to do, including games and art supplies. I believe that the positive relationships we are building with local teens are a sound investment in creating a better future for everyone in our community.