A shoutout to Gretchen Hams and her people at the Muhlenberg Branch of the New York Public Library for the creation of their brand new teen space! I went to school with Gretchen and I know this has been a long time in the works. There will be a soft opening for the space this Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to going and checking it out.
Creating teen spaces in public libraries is a welcome trend. Teens use our libraries. We want them to use our libraries, so the consensus has been “lets make them comfortable”. Put differently and perhaps coldly, a user need exists so we create a space that best fits the program for that user’s needs. What would happen if we didn’t make the spaces for the teens?
They would define it themselves.
The reappropriation of space is an activity that children, teens and young adults excel at. Cities, particularly New York (my city) are wonderful places to watch space be recycled and reclaimed by new tenants and spontaneous participants. Every single loft conversion, from SoHo to Bushwick, from TriBeCa to Long Island City represents a space someone saw as an opportunity for innovation and change. Skateboarders are great reappropriators of space as well, take a look at any waxed up curb or handrail for evidence. A lot of people have really enjoyed the reappropriation of the McCarren Park pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn as a performance space. Some of our great museums have been converted and retasked as well: PS1 is an old school, and the New York Hall of Science was a 1964 World Fair pavilion.
I am of the opinion that this reappropriation is healthy and developmentally important both for the spaces and for the users or participants creating those spaces. One of my greatest hideouts as a kid was the shaded area underneath a large pine tree that was otherwise surrounded by dense brush. My sister and I turned that area into our “fort”, where we spent hours mixing concoctions out of mud and tree sap, whittling away at walking sticks, being creative. Isn’t it great to think of our teen spaces and our children’s rooms in public libraries as little forts, creative havens for young minds to explore tangents?
Space is never static, immutable, or closed, it exists for and because of its users. When these NYPL librarians watch the way their new teen space functions, they will be watching to make sure it exists in harmony with the patrons it was intended for. The teens will determine how successful the space is as they use or don’t use it. It is the librarians’ job to make sure that in six months if something needs to change, if the entire place needs to be rearranged because it is being used differently than they had anticipated, they will do it. Being a good librarian is a tough job… you have to be a service interface designer, an architect, a behavioral psychologist… ☺
Congrats to Gretchen and company for their success!