A ‘motivating’ literary environment: Island library offers teens a cool place to hang out

Take a quick look at the teen section of the Mercer Island Public Library and among the wide selection of teen books you’ll see vending machines, comfy chairs and couches, large tables, and a skateboard hanging from the ceiling. “I really like it,” said MIHS junior Audrey Col-Spector. “It’s a nice place to come and read a book or hang out.” This teen-friendly corner of the library is one of many ways in which the library’s dozens of volunteers and staff continue to work to create a more appealing literary environment for teens.

In addition to being a welcoming place to hang out, the library offers various teen programs, many of which were recently established by teen services librarian Jennifer Fleck, all aimed at inspiring teens to read, write and become comfortable with the library as their resource. A Teen Writers Club, Anime Club, and Annual Teen Poetry Contest and Poet’s Cafe, which this year attracted more than 50 entries from students 12 to 19 years old, have all provided teens an outlet to share their enthusiasm for literature with the library and surrounding community.

Many students need a little more motivation to do summer reading, and the “Get A Clue” summer reading program centered on the theme of mystery fiction does just that. By keeping a record of their reading over the summer, students can be eligible for free books through the “Read Three, Get One Free” program and the chance to bid on an iPod Nano with “BookBucks” (1 BookBuck = 1 page read) or enter to win gift cards, a Microsoft Zune or a laptop computer.

“I think it’s beneficial to kids who need some incentive to read more,” said MIHS senior Jenny Vandenbelt. “It’s also good that it’s social — kids are more likely to do something when their friends are involved, too.”

Fleck observed similar positive results from the program: “Parents tell me that they really like seeing their kids get rewarded for reading.”

Many teens have found their place at the library in volunteering. The library’s Teen Advisory Board gives students the chance not only to volunteer, but also to voice their opinion on programs, books, and events they’d like to see at the library. “It’s an organized way for teens to volunteer,” Fleck said of the program, “and they do help me a lot!” With the Teen Advisory Board and Book Buddies program, in which Island teens volunteer to read to younger children, as well as volunteer opportunities for special events and in the library’s day-to-day operation, there are plenty of ways to help out.

Lauren Byun, an MIHS sophomore involved in the Teen Advisory Board, Book Buddies and planning for the upcoming Harry Potter book release party said, “I do random [volunteer] jobs here that I enjoy … it feels good doing something for the community.”

Of Byun’s and many other teens’ volunteer work at the library, Fleck said, “I think in general they’ve been really well-received. People like coming to the library and seeing what the teens have done.”

Library staff has also enjoyed seeing the teens’ contributions. Children’s librarian Margaret Martin, who leads the Book Buddies program with Fleck, said, “It’s been wonderful to see teens and younger kids together at the library. The parents seem pleased and it’s a wonderful connection to see.”

And as the Island’s teens are becoming involved at the library, they’re participating more in the library’s primary purpose — they’re checking out books, and more of them. “I like to see how busy we are lately with all the teen check-outs. [When processing teen check-outs] I’ve been noticing a wider range of books than just graphic novels — a lot more classics, more regular fiction. We’re getting more questions from teens about finding books than just kids looking for last minute research for a paper the night before it’s due,” said librarian assistant Carolyn Siscoe. “They seem very comfortable here and they love to help [Fleck]. She’s incorporated the whole range of teens, the younger ones and the older ones, and I think that’s always a plus.”

One of the library’s most anticipated upcoming events, which would certainly appeal to all ages of teens and beyond, is a huge Harry Potter party on July 20 at the Community Center at Mercer View presented by Island Books, Mercer Island Parks and Recreation, the Mercer Island Public Library, and local businesses that are contributing volunteers, products, and services to the event. Featuring live music, a Harry Potter movie viewing, and wizard-themed food and activities, the party will culminate with, of course, the release of the series’ final installment, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Overall, Fleck said, “Everyone pitches in to help make the programs successful. I only hope we can find more ways to make the library a better place for teens!”

Gennie Gebhart is a self-proclaimed bookworm and incoming junior at Mercer Island High School.

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