Cabarrus-area libraries organize teen advisory boards

What do teenagers want?

That’s a tough question, but the Cabarrus County Library is trying to determine what teens want from their libraries with the creation of teen advisory boards.

Teen attendance and participation have traditionally been low, says library director Emery Ortiz.

So the purpose of these boards – eventually one at every branch of the library – is to help with programming, outreach, collection development and awareness so that teenagers can be better served.

Thirteen-year-old twins Nicholas and Matthew Koenig of Mount Pleasant say that a lot of the programming at the library is directed toward younger kids. They think there should be opportunities for video gaming (with more mature games), newer movies, outings and separate book clubs for guys and girls (since their reading interests don’t always overlap). Most kids, Nicholas said, think libraries are just for books.

A lot of people don’t realize the library has all these programs, Matthew added. The Koenigs see the role of the teen advisory board as helping people realize all the other stuff that happens at the library.

Mount Pleasant Branch Manager Jackie Mills said she hears people say, “I didn’t know the library did that” all the time. Teens, even more than adults, are unaware of all the resources available at the library. “We’re so much more than we used to be,” Mills said. “Not everything is book-based.”

Brandon Woodcock works at the circulation desk at the Concord Library and talks to people all day about the library. He says that part of the purpose of the teen advisory boards is to make the library relevant to young adults, and to help spread the word about the resources and opportunities available there.

Woodcock, who at age 30 is “getting older and less cool by the minute,” said it’s important for libraries to keep pace with the Internet era: “E-resources are under-utilized at the moment,” he said.

Teenagers, the population most comfortable with and likely to use electronic materials, don’t know what is available at the library for free.

“It’s really a matter of making connections and letting them know it’s cool to be enthusiastic about the library,” Woodcock said.

So what do teenagers want from their library?

Woodcock says it’s stuff that’s “in vogue,” but which they think will have permanence: anime and cosplay clubs, networked gaming, changes in furnishings and artwork.

Mills has also heard interest in writing and graphic novel clubs, opportunities to learn computer coding, crafts and social outings.

Mills and Woodcock agree that teen advisory boards are part of the library’s “strategy for longevity.”

“The library is a center for information and we have to stay current,” Woodcock said.

“What teens want is the future of libraries,” Mills explained. And she pointed out that just about every librarian she knows started as a volunteer in their local library. So not only are teen advisory boards improving libraries now, they are creating librarians for the future.

Marcia Morris is a freelance writer:

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Organizational meetings for teen advisory boards in Concord and Mount Pleasant are ongoing. Contact your branch if you are interested in joining.