Niles-Maine District Library


A Hangout for Kids in Grades 5-8


Being a children’s librarian involves a bit of psychology, beginning with the need to see different segments of the PreK through Grade 8 population as having distinctly different needs. So it is with middle school students (sometimes dubbed tweens): they know they are way different from elementary school kids, and different yet again from the high school students who rule the Teen Underground on the Lower Level.

Now they rule their own turf — Middle Ground (located in KidSpace), a glassed-in 475-square-foot area with colorful furniture and high tech tools. If students want to study away from everyone else, they can. If they want to play Xbox or Wii games on a ginormous screen, they can. If they want to get on PCs for anything from research to recreation, they can… Six PCs line one wall, opposite the Xbox and Wii station. Students have their own (glass) door they can keep shut to anyone younger than themselves, and the sign on the door clearly says the space is intended only for Grades 5-8.

If we could have “heard” what middle school students were thinking back in the day (say, a year or two ago), it might’ve been something like this: “Hey, high school students have their own space, how come we don’t?” (Young Adult space was severely restricted in the old design: a short Main Floor corridor between a wall and the stairway to the Lower Level. Providing the roomy glassed-in space on the Lower Level devoted to Grades 9-12 was one of the main reasons for the recent renovation.) Discussions with the architects revealed the feasibility of creating a similar space in KidSpace, which (because it seemed likely to serve fewer students) did not need to be as large.

Now Middle Ground is “home” to several dozen middle school students who hail from Culver, Stevenson, Gemini, Mark Twain, and elsewhere. There are tables where students can eat and drink (not near game consoles or PCs, though!) and work on projects. Middle Ground has some rules, though: kids are expected to respect each other and respect the space (pick up and dispose of trash, for example). All Middle Ground users sign a form promising to do these things, and occasionally a violation causes someone to be asked to leave for the remainder of the day.

How do students feel about Middle Ground?

They appear to LOVE it, and it stays busy from about 3:05 until after 8:00pm on schooldays (and intermittently busy on weekends). Sometimes it is packed. In other words, it is doing what it was designed to do.

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