Teens playing games

After first stepping foot in the Oro Valley Public Library as a seventh grader, 17-year-old Jennifer Xiao said she quickly became a regular. The library was a “cool space” to study, discover new books and make new friends. Now a senior at BASIS, Xiao is still hanging out at the library and has helped create an even “cooler” space for teens to meet one another, discover new technology, get help with homework—and even play a few games.

Alongside her fellow members of the library’s Teen Advisory Board, Xiao recently raised a toast of sparkling apple cider and enjoyed cake to celebrate the grand opening of the 101Space.

For the past year and a half, the entire advisory board has been working under the supervision of young adult librarian Bethany Wilson to survey fellow teens to develop a space uniquely suited for students to congregate, do homework, prepare for exams and get to know one another.

With the opening of the 101Space, Xiao said that kids will not only have their own space to study, but a place to develop new interests. 

Even if that means a game of Dungeons and Dragons, or a bit of yoga.

“Libraries are more than just books,” Xiao said. “They represent an open democracy where all ideas are welcome, no matter how strange or weird. … It can be a cultural center where cool things are going on, and I was really glad to hear that the library was taking steps to adapt to the new, changing technology and new, changing social media environments. I was really glad to hear that they were going to be revamping the teen zone so that it was going to be a place for teens to hang out, a place for them to discover new technology,new hobbies in art or writing, and things like that.”

Like Xiao, advisory board president and Catalina Foothills High School senior Daniel Wieland, 17, said he first started coming to the library to read, though he too found himself more and more involved in volunteering. In recreating the teen zone as the 101Space, Wieland said he was interested in “preparing people to explore other passions.”

“I think that this space really gives people an opportunity to branch out and expand their own skills,” he said. 

The vision for the space was shared by all advisory board members, and the result includes computers, tablets with a variety of instructional, educational and developmental apps, 3-D printers and even a green screen for video production, with more planned for the future. In addition to the physical elements of the redesigned room, the library is hosting a variety of classes and programs, also developed by the advisory board. Initial programming includes a Dungeons and Dragons character building workshop, a yoga class and “Adulting 101,” to teach teens financial basics like budgeting and taxes.

Wilson was first told about the project when she made the move to Oro Valley more than a year ago. At first, she said that the assignment seemed daunting, as she had been at the large 101Space at the main library, and would be developing her own from the ground up. Not entirely sure as to what the teens would want in their own space, Wilson said the surveys conducted by TAB helped her greatly in developing both the space and the programming.

Holding true to the “for teens, by teens” motto, Wilson said that she knew her role in developing the 101Space with that information would be that of a facilitator, not an active participant. Keeping her opinion to herself, Wilson said she would watch for an idea to develop among the teens and would encourage the group to see where that thought could go.

“The focus of this space is to be able to come in here, a safe space, mess around with new stuff—maybe technology—but stuff you’ve maybe never had a chance to get your hands on. If you geek out on it, you can use the resources that we have here to learn everything that you can about it. Maybe you’ll turn it into a small business, who knows?”

That may just become a reality for Xiao, who said she would still be frequenting the library to take advantage of the internet access and conveniently located coaches to code her new Smartphone app.

While the creation of the 101Space in Oro Valley also took the work of several adults, Wilson said all of the credit should go to the teens.

“I’ve just a really good team of kids, and they were really gung-ho when I told them what was going to happen,” she said. “If I didn’t have a team that dedicated, that involved and willing to show up every single week to talk about it, then I don’t think it would have happened.”

The Oro Valley Public Library is located at 1305 W. Naranja Drive, on the northeast corner of North LaCanada and West Naranja Drives and is open seven-days-a-week.

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