For previous generations of young people, the library was a quiet place to check out books. But today’s teens are looking for something different.
“They use it as a community hub,” said Jennifer Collins, teen services coordinator at the San Francisco Public Library. “They meet their friends here and it spills over into after-school [activities].”
Collins admitted that the small teen section on the third floor of The City’s Main Library is not well-suited to homework sessions and noisy group work, but a recently announced $100,000 grant — one of just 12 awards in a nationwide competition — will help.
“This space was not designed by teens,” Collins said, noting the current arrangement of tall shelves and two desktop computers. “That will be a clear difference.”
The grant, from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the MacArthur Foundation, will allow the library to begin turning the teen section into a “21st Century Learning Lab,” replete with technology such as iPads, laptops and video-recording equipment.
The goal, library officials said, is to bridge what they say is a “digital divide” between rich and poor teens.
“People are energized by this grant,” Collins said. “We’ve been overwhelmed with calls from students and teachers and scientists.”
Planning will begin next month, and library officials will consult teens about what they would like to see.
Erika Lockington, 15, a Wallenburg High School sophomore who comes to the library to do her homework nearly every afternoon, was pleased to hear that the teen section would be transformed. She said she wanted to see more computers.
Chenxing Ouyang, 16, a Balboa High School sophomore, said he would like large round tables where students can collaborate on group projects.
Collins said the learning lab would be a place where teens could be themselves, without worrying about getting shushed. As she was speaking, another librarian told a pair of high school students to keep it down.
“That’s too bad,” Collins said. “In the new teen center, they won’t have to do that.”