The Teen Open Lab (TOL) started in spring of 2013 with a simple idea--build Library services for teens based on what the teens themselves tell us they need and want. To initiate conversation, teen librarians at The Urbana Free Library held meetings with several regular teen patrons and asked them what aspects of the Library worked for them and what didn't. The Urbana Middle School allowed us to continue this conversation with students at school, and a survey (developed by the UMS students) brought back over 130 responses.
One thing became clear--the first-floor teen space at the Library was too small. Library-wide support allowed us to use the Lewis Auditorium on the ground floor during afternoon hours when it was not otherwise occupied. We then worked with the teens to design a (changeable) layout for the space.
Collaborations are a big part of the success of the Teen Open Lab:
- The Champaign-Urbana Community Fab Lab works closely with the teen librarians to provide equipment and volunteers.
- The Makerspace Urbana has done excellent workshops at Teen Open Lab, and continues to work with teen librarians on maker-related events both in and out of the Library.
- Other important partners include the S.P.L.A.S.H. program at Urbana Middle School and University of Illinois School of Information Sciences.
- The Teen Open Lab is a teen-guided space. It is important that our teen patrons take ownership of the space, feel safe and supported, and know that their opinions matter. Teen librarians, library staff, and volunteers collaborate with teens on nearly every aspect of the program.
- We are flexible. Because we set up and tear down our space for every event, we have built-in flexibility on what resources are needed on any particular day and the layout of the room. This means we are better able to reflect the needs of our patrons on a daily basis.
- We foster an atmosphere of collaboration and peer instruction. Teens are encouraged to share ideas, teach and learn from each other, and teach volunteers and library staff!
The Teen Open Lab is open most Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 3:00-5:30 p.m. Teens in grades 6-12 are invited to join us, and parents are welcome. Contact Joel Spencer (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.