A view from below an artistic structure which will become the second floor reception desk of the new library.

After years of hearing “shhh!” at the Gilroy Library, teens can now be teens. In the old and interim library building, boisterous teens would often get hushed by older patrons, and sometimes even asked to leave by staff.

“There was a constant clash between generations,” said Lani Yoshimura, head librarian. Yoshimura said that the old building was too cramped  (the new building is nearly five times larger than the old building) to foster both teen involvement and attendance of old–fashioned, more conventional library users who believe that upon entering a library, a sacred trust of silence must be made.

“The culture is no longer that way, and teens learn by participating – even if that means they aren’t perfectly quiet all the time,” Yoshimura said.

So the new library was built with this notion in mind. The building is large enough, Yoshimura said, for adults to enjoy peace and quiet and for teens to learn and explore in without being stifled.

But the new building has a section especially designed to be inviting to teens. The furniture is unique and edgy: curvy, brightly colored bench–style padded chairs in a cozy corner. There is a soundproof study room where teens can meet after school to work on homework in groups without bothering other patrons. The room is designed strategically to give teens privacy while still allowing staff to keep an eye on them – two of the walls to the room are entirely glass.

“I really think the environment here will draw in a lot of teens,”  said Kelly McKean, Gilroy Young Adult librarian.

McKean’s goal this year is to recruit teen library volunteers and a teen advisory board. She said that teens enjoy, and learn by being engaged and having responsibility. If teens feel like they are important and valued in decision making at the library, they will be more involved, McKean said.

Sarah Flowers, president of the Young Adult Library Services, a national association of librarians whose mission is to strengthen library service for teens, said that libraries can prevent teen gang involvement and drug use by providing a safe place where bullying is not tolerated and they are treated with respect.

“The library can be a place where teens can learn a lot about themselves and about their world,” Flowers said. “It can really support teens in a lot of ways.”

Flowers said that because teens are used to collaborating at school and using social media, they have a need to interact with others to learn. In the past, that kind of learning has been discouraged at libraries.

To reach out to teens, Yoshimura said she knows that not all activities should be centered around books alone. She said that the Young Adult staff of Santa Clara County libraries meet once a month to brainstorm events and services that attract teens, such as poetry contests and other types of competitions, film forums, outdoor concerts and more.

Sometimes events are as unusual as a microwave–cooking class, where teens can learn how to make “cool microwavable snacks” for after school if a parent is not home.

“It’s not always about reading, but it brings them into the library,” Yoshimura said.

While the Gilroy librarians have worked at cultivating relationships with teens and events for teens in the past, Yoshimura said that they were limited by the old building.

“I think things will start to build here. We’ve always had the desire to reach out to teens, but now we have the vehicle.”

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