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Willmar Public Library inaugurates new designated space designed just for teens

Victoria Lucht looks at a magazine Thursday while sitting in Willmar Public Library's designated teen area. The "teen zone" features comfortable chairs, big windows and a bright carpet and acts as a colorful refuge for teens to enjoy some quite time. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Shhh! Teens only, please. Comfy armchairs, a colorful rug, tables by the window and shelves laden with young-adult books mark a new venture by the Willmar Public Library -- a space set aside just for teens.

By giving adolescents a place of their own, library officials hope to encourage this sometimes-overlooked age group to feel at home in the library and foster a long-lasting love of reading and libraries.

"We're a place where they can come and they're welcome," said Chris Beyerl, head librarian. "If they've had a positive teen experience, maybe they'll bring their children."

Shannon Adkins, who is on the Willmar Public Library Teen Advisory Board and also works as a library assistant, said the teens she's talked to think the new space is "really cool."

"I think they definitely know it's their space," she said. "A lot of kids have been sitting there and hanging out."

Libraries have traditionally been strong on programming for children and adults. But there has often been a gap for the teen demographic, especially ages 12 to 14.

Recognizing a need to reach out to teens, the Pioneerland Library System, to which the Willmar library belongs, and the Plum Creek Library System have made it one of their priorities to develop more teen programming at the region's libraries. The regional library systems also provided funding to help.

The new teen program at the Willmar Public Library was officially launched last year, starting with the consolidation of all the young-adult material in one spot.

"There really wasn't a go-to place for teens and young adults to find materials, so that was one of the very first things we did," said Beyerl, who developed a successful teen program at the Redwood Falls Library before coming to Willmar.

A teen advisory board also was established to have a say in the kinds of teen programming offered at the library.

At first, the board had 10 or 12 members, Shannon said. "Now we have 20 and a waiting list to get on it. A lot of kids are really interested."

The idea of a space at the library set aside for teens evolved from all of this, Beyerl said.

"It's a meeting place for the kids where they can be in one spot," she said.

It's also easier for library staff to supervise -- and it preserves the quiet areas in the adult section, she added. "We're trying to serve a lot of needs all at one time by giving them their own space."

Shannon, who will be a senior this fall at Willmar High School, has an additional investment in the new teen space: Helping develop the space and pick out the furniture has been her service project for the Girl Scout Gold Award.

"Up until last summer we really didn't have teen programming at the library," she said. "It's good that kids have their own space now."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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