Not your grandma’s library: Local libraries attempt to reach teens on the digital front
Over the past year, Vail Public Library and the Eagle Valley Library District have made attempts to engage the county’s teens through a number of unique programs
Public libraries are a valuable cornerstone for communities. They provide essential and accessible resources, amenities and services to local residents, enhancing the quality of life for anyone with a library card.
When Sabrina Unrein first joined the Vail Public Library as a library associate in January, she saw that the library was missing opportunities to extend these amenities to the town’s teen and tween residents, or those between the ages of 13 and 18.
“We want to keep the library users that we have when they’re coming in as a kid, we’d love for them to keep coming throughout their teen years and to stay users at the library. We’re just seeing a drop-off after elementary school and middle school,” Unrein said. “We haven’t been supporting our teens in the way that I think we should be. I think it’s just because it’s really difficult, at the library, to wear all those different hats. ”
In the recent months, to combat this trend, Unrein has been attempting to get teens involved at the library through a variety of new programs and volunteer opportunities. One of the first services she implemented was a Discord server, only for teens.
Discord is a communications platform — primarily used in the video gaming community — where participants can engage in voice, video and text messaging in both private and group chats within a private, community-oriented server. Teens can fill out a Google form to join the server and have access to the library’s virtual programs, chat rooms, community and its game nights.
Unrein first started the library’s first game nights — with a game called “Among Us” — earlier this month as a way for teens to have fun, meet new people and collaborate. “Among Us” is free to play and can be played on any device.
“While it is fun and silly in concept, it does require communication and particularly, digital communication, without the pressure of real-life consequences,” she said.
While the game nights — and the Discord server — are in their infancy, Unrein hopes to continue to experiment with these offerings and see what engages and entices the most teens.
“I think [Discord] has a lot of different utilities and it’s a matter of finding what fits our community best,” Unrein said. “Hopefully, it’s a fun way to get involved and to meet new people.”
And in order to really understand how the library can serve this age group, Unrein is also planning to form a teen advisory board at the Vail Public Library this fall. The board will not only receive community service hours, but the teens will be able to inform and interact with the library to bring services and programs they and their peers want to engage in.
The Eagle Valley Public Library District, which serves Avon, Gypsum and Eagle, has also been increasing its offerings for teens. While the library district has been building its dedicated teen program since 2007, this past year has been the year for its digital expansion for its teens.
“This year, we focused on expanding our digital content while continuing outreach to schools and moving our most popular programs online during COVID-19, though we are now moving back towards socially distanced, in-person programming,” said Nick Dawson, teen librarian for the Eagle Valley Library District.
This included the launch of its own Discord server last April. The district has used this server has a way for teens to stay in contact with the library every day, implementing game nights and encouraging community building. It will also be using the server to host weekly programs and activities in coordination with its upcoming summer reading program.
“The server helped the library maintain contact with its regular youth patrons, and maintain the community that had existed up to that point in the teen room itself,” Dawson said.
Outside of Discord, Eagle Valley libraries have also implemented virtual programs like teen book clubs and online “Dungeons & Dragons” to keep its teen community engaged.
As the libraries begin to go back toward more in-person programming, both Vail Public Library and the Eagle Valley libraries will maintain their digital outreach — particularly for this age group — moving forward.
“We’re just trying to take advantage of what libraries had to use out of necessity because of the pandemic, but I think it’s a thing that we can keep using because we can see the benefits,” Unrein said. “The in-person programming is also wonderful and fantastic, but we are all evolving this new means for holding programs and reaching out to people.”
In addition to the local libraries newer digital programs, they also offer a lot in the way of in-person services for teens. Aside from providing access to all the libraries’ resources, books and regular services, it includes additional educational, recreational and volunteer programs specifically for this age group.
“Our teen spaces allow teens a safe environment for socializing, learning, recreation and to be themselves,” Dawson said.
Some of these offerings for the Eagle Valley Library District include a Reading Buddies program, anime clubs, a summer learning program and its own teen advisory groups. The library district also partners with local schools to teach research skills and support both students and educators.
For Vail Public Library, Unrein has been focused on creating unique community service opportunities for the age group. This summer, the library will offer opportunities for teens to help repaint its Little Free Libraries throughout the Valley, to help plant trees and shrubs along Gore Creek in partnership with the town of Vail, and hopefully an art program with Alpine Arts later this summer. The library will also have a summer reading program, with a section of it specifically geared toward teens.
As both libraries continue to expand their digital and in-person programming for this age group, they will carve out new opportunities for Eagle County’s teen-aged residents, giving them a new sense of freedom through education and community.
“I think there is also a feeling of independence that the library grants, that is an opportunity for younger people to start experimenting with feeling independent,” Unrein said. “They can go to this space that is safe and they can study by themselves, they can pick what they want to read, and I think that that is really nice.”
To learn more about teen programming, or offer any suggestions, at Vail Public Library, contact Sabrina Unrein at firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions about Eagle Valley Library District’s teen programming, or to sign up for the programs, contact Nick Dawson at email@example.com.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.