Last week, we read the MacArthur Foundation study about kids’ informal learning with digital media. I’m lucky enough to be visiting Chicago and am at this very moment sitting in the YOUmedia space. This is a special privilege, as I no longer work for the Chicago Public Library’s Teen Volume Project (which also uses the space), nor am I with Digital Youth Network, the organization that mentors youth in the space and teaches them about the digital media. And I am definitely not a teen. Because I am not any of these things, normally I would not be allowed to sit on one of the couches, use the computers, check out the fancy equipment or participate in the workshops. These are for teens only. When I say teens, I mean teens in high school. So most of our tweens wouldn’t be allowed in this space either, unless they were browsing the YA collections, which are also housed in the space.
I have special permission to be here, from the wonderful librarians in the space, Taylor Bayless and Anita Mechler, both young, hip librarians who have as much energy as the teens in the space. I asked them about the age policy and how it’s been working out for them since the space opened in July. They reported that most of the time, adults in the space are approached and asked to move on by the wonderful security guard in the space. But what about tweens? Some of them look like teenagers, right? Some of them are technically teenagers (though Chicago Public Library (CPL) has defined teens for many years as 14-19 in their literature). It turns out that many of the middle school kids do approach the desk, to find out how to check out all the digital cameras, laptops, or just use a desktop computer. And to do any of that, you need a high school ID which they don’t have. So they are told about other library services and sent on their merry way.
Apparently, they haven’t had any real problems with the age limits on the space. Parents wanting to experience the space with their teens generally understand, especially when staff informs them that this policy keeps out other unknown adults. At first, I thought the tweens might be upset about being barred from the space. But after talking to the librarians, I would assume that the younger teens who are turned away can look forward to the privileges they will receive when they enter high school. When I was working for CPL, there were a lot of enthusiastic tweens who really wanted to participate in the teen programs. But once you allow tweens in, the programs and spaces cease to appeal to high school students. The high school students need their own space and they have it here in YOUmedia. As I type, a dating couple has just plopped down into a bean bag next to me and is discussing their AP classes. I feel lucky to be allowed to sit in the teen space undisturbed–except for some snuggly noises and a small kiss every once in awhile–and fortunately, my computer makes me look like one of them (at least for now).
Tweens will need their own space at some point in time, probably one that is distinct from the children’s area, even if it is in the same space. This class has only enforced the fact that tweens are a distinct, if wide-ranging age group. But for now, I’m just glad that CPL has this incredible space just for teens. They deserve it and it is the only “teens only” space in the Chicago’s library system.