In San Francisco, Teens Redesign the Library


7.18.12 | The San Francisco Main Library’s teen center, described by San Francisco Chronicle writer Neal J. Riley as a “lifeless space,” needed a digital makeover – and 17 area high school students have been chosen to “design and equip a center where a teen can be a teen.”


Photo by Kevin Wong.

The need for a communal, youth-oriented space was recognized by Deputy City Librarian Jill Bourne. “There are 42,000 teens in the city, and they need a place to go,” she said. Bourne told Riley that the library’s current center “doesn’t provide a unique area for them to convene, to create, to engage with each other”—something that the new space will hopefully enable.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation, the new space is expected to be more than just a room with a few computers. The teen advisory board, which holds biweekly meetings over pizza, decided it wanted to use state-of-the-art technology to incorporate video editing wizards, DJ equipment and coding programs. The members even sketched out a potential mobile app for the center where members could plan events and chat with other center users.

The new Teen Media Center will be modeled after YOUmedia, a digital learning space at the Harold Washington Library in Chicago where teens are encouraged to follow their passions, learn new skills with the support of mentors, and collaborate with others. As Heather Chaplin reported for Spotlight last week, YOUmedia sites are expanding around the country—in libraries, museums, and even on the ground floor of an affordable housing building.

In San Francisco, teen advisory board members are looking forward to developing and sharing their skills. High school senior Mason Michelson, 16, spent last summer as a member of the nonprofit DJ Project and is hoping he’ll be able to use the new space to teach others how to “beat-match.” Buffy Almendares, a 17-year-old high school senior, wants to use the video editing and production skills she gained during an internship with the Bay Area Video Coalition, a nonprofit partner of the library. Almendares told Riley she was interested in the new space, particularly because it’s difficult to access computers in the library.

“It’s always full. It’s kind of hard to get around the adults, and once you’re about 13, you can’t use the kids floor anymore,” she said.

The students are working in conjunction with the library to complete the design process by next year, and, according to Bourne, if everything stays on schedule the new tech-savvy space could be completed by 2015.

One of Bourne’s goals for the space is to have a balanced mix of youth and inspiring adult mentors, recruited to staff the center. “The technology is a draw and it’s a tool, but it’s not the program,” said Bourne. “What really is the focus are the relationships between the mentors and the youth.”


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