Teens developing ‘Teen Space’ at Warren library

Times Observer photo by Lorri Drumm Jennifer Franklin, teen specialist and director of adult services at Warren Public Library, meets with local teens on Wednesday who are part of the Teen Advisory Group contributing ideas for a planned Teen Space at the library.

Public libraries have morphed into much more than shelves filled with books and endless rows of card catalogs. One need only take a few steps inside the Warren Public Library to notice the lush greenery and fun decor in the children’s area and the wealth of video and audio collections just waiting to be checked out.

There’s also an excitement in the air as what has been a dream for several years is beginning to take shape.

The bottom floor of the library will be transformed into a Teen Space. The concept is currently in the planning stages, according to Kelli Knapp, library director. The ideas for conversion of the space are coming from local teens. “The space isn’t about them, it is them,” Knapp said.

“The Teen Space will be teen-led,” said Jennifer Franklin, teen specialist and director of adult services at the library. “We’ll be there for guidance but not to tell them what to do.”

A Teen Advisory Group has been meeting for several months to provide input and ideas of how to create a place that’s safe, comfortable, fun and just for them, according to Franklin. “They’ve actually thought of things we hadn’t thought of,” she said. Their suggestions include everything from cooking lessons to a recording studio.

While the teen space will be created based on the specific needs of Warren-area teens, Franklin and Knapp have spent months researching and sharing ideas with other libraries that have created similar designs in their communities.

“We sent out surveys and had online surveys,” Franklin said. “We’ve talked with a lot of people. Teen specialists at other libraries have been a huge help.”

The pair recently visited 10 libraries in two days that are part of the Carnegie Library System in and around Pittsburgh, Franklin said. They found plenty of teens who chose to spend snow days enjoying the space they helped make reality.

Those teens were happy to offer their opinions. “They were really proud of what they had,” Franklin said. “We got great advice and each neighborhood library was different”, as it suited the needs of the teens who use it.

“We wanted to glean expertise from all areas,” Knapp said. “Librarians have had some great insight also.”

With the concept coming together, logistics now come into play, according to Knapp.

“We have a very limited budget for this project,” Knapp said. “There won’t be money to fund this without help from the community and grant funds.”

Grant funds can’t be applied for without estimates. Fortunately, according to Knapp, models, concepts and estimates have been provided, free of charge, from R.W. Larson Architects.

“We’re looking at architectural work, electric, plumbing and more,” Knapp said. “It will be a long process.”

The physical transformation may take a while but Franklin and Knapp encouraged teens and others who want to contribute to get in touch now.

The Teen Advisory Group (TAG) meets once a month. “We would love to have more teens attend or send me their ideas,” Franklin said. She can be reached via email at jfranklin@warrenlibrary.org. The next TAG meeting is Wednesday, March 6 at 5:30 in the Jefferson Room at the library. Meetings are planned for the first Wednesday of each month. Community members who would like to offer services or financial support can reach Knapp via email at kknapp@warrenlibrary.org.

The timeline for creating the Teen Space depends on funding, according to Knapp. “If we are up and functional by the end of 2020, that would be reasonable,” she said.