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Teens Find Community in the Underground

We visited the Teen Underground to see exactly what was happening. Here’s what we saw.

The scene is set: teen boys, aged 13-15, sit anxiously in front of computers. They’re playing Minecraft in the Lower Level of the Library where two librarians—Donna Block and Rachel Colias—have worked together to energize Teen Underground, a space where teens aged 13-18 can be together. “Teens have all the same needs as kids and adults,” Donna says. “They need a space to be able to do that safely and comfortably.” Donna and Rachel have done just that; created a space where teens not only feel heard, but also feel safe and understood.

Enter Josmi, a freshman at Niles West High School who has been visiting Teen Underground since the 7th grade. “I can literally open myself up here,” she begins. “This is our time to find out who we are.”

“Libraries are supposed to serve community members at every stage in their life, so providing a space tailored to fit where teens are developmentally and staffing that space with adults who understand their unique experience is not only invaluable, it’s mandatory,” Rachel adds.

And she’s not wrong. According to a study by the Young Adult Library Services Association*, adopting a continuous, year-round approach to library services, public libraries can give significant value to their community by supporting healthy adolescent development, providing safe spaces for teens to explore their passions, and preparing teens for college, careers, and life.

Having asked quite a few teens why the space is so important to them, many responded with the same feeling: “When I first came to the Library,” Tarilja, an 8th grader at Culver School begins,“I thought Teen Underground was about books, but it was more than that. You can meet friendly people, too.”

Natalia, Daniah, and Steven, all freshman at Niles West High School, sit together near the TV many use to play video games and watch movies. When asked why they love Teen Underground, Natalia sits up excitedly and says, “It’s like a second home.”

*“The Value of Continuous Teen Services: A YALSA Position Paper”, American Library Association, April 18, 2018. | http://www.ala.org/yalsa/value-continuous-teen-services-yalsa-position-paper (Accessed February 6, 2020) | Document ID: 49077794-ad7f-4ca1-9c14-633b25df0322

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