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Burnaby library’s ‘community living room’ for teens fills need for youth space

The new space for youth aged 13-19 at the Tommy Douglas Edmonds branch serves "a kaleidoscope of needs and interests" for teens. Celebrate the grand opening on Saturday, July 9.

When the Burnaby Public Library soft-launched its new teen space last month, youth immediately claimed it as their own.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a teen space so instantly used by teens. … I think it goes to show there really was a need for space specifically for teens to use,” said Duncan Olenick, teen services librarian.

Burnaby Public Library’s Tommy Douglas branch is hosting a grand opening for the teen space this Saturday, June 9.

A ‘community living room for teens’

“It’s a space that has a kaleidoscope of functions and serves a kaleidoscope of needs and interests,” said Olenick.

He said the teens made it clear that having a physical space specifically allotted to them made a big difference in their willingness and enthusiasm to engage with the library.

“It’s kind of like a community living room for teens,” he said, noting the space has the ability to change depending on who is using it and how.

He said options for public spaces for teens are limited, especially options for non-commercial spaces.

“This is a space where teens can come, and they don't have to buy anything to spend time in that space — and that’s unique, that’s a unique service to provide.”

Teen space created in collaboration with youth

The space has been in the works for the last three years, a joint project with the library and its teen advisory group, made up of youth aged 13-19.

The collaboration has turned an underutilized computer room into a space that’s bright, airy and filled with plants.

Teens can use it like a makerspace: the library has purchased two sewing machines for the room; there will be craft supplies and a Cricut machine for do-it-yourself creations.

Youth can brainstorm ideas on a shared whiteboard, then share their art publicly on a large bulletin board.

New tech has also been incorporated into the room: there will be a smart TV with gaming features, and a digital synthesizer with lendable headphones.

In the coming months, teens will also be able to check out iPads to use.

The space includes a variety of electrical outlets to charge tech.

The teen advisory group informed the library on what teens wanted from the space.

Suggestions for the room’s design included theming it as a 1950s diner, like the set from the TV show Riverdale.

Other ideas included a skate-park theme, adding a “pink crystal chandelier” or disco ball, or even a floor-to-ceiling, all-black room.

“The all-black colour scheme, that was controversial,” said Olenick, laughing.

“There was a lot of feedback that it doesn’t need to be theatrical, it doesn’t need to be a theme park, it can just be a really calming space where teens can come in and do their own thing,” he said.

The plants came as a response to the teens’ research into their favourite community spaces. A recurring favourite was iconic, plant-filled Burnaby coffee shop La Forêt.

“People really commented on the lushness of that miniature forest, and how it’s like escapism to go in there,” Olenick said.

The space is adjacent to the young adult section of the library, where there’s a diverse assortment of reads for teens, including in multiple languages.

Diversity and inclusion at the forefront

The teen advisory group also connected with gender and sexuality alliance groups in schools around the city, discussing how to make the library, and its spaces and collections, more inclusive and diverse.

Out of these discussions came the realization of the need for visual representation of inclusion.

As a result, one of the room’s highlights is a neon rainbow sign, with the word “Teens” shining in colourful capitals.

The teens also opted for lightweight, easily movable chairs that give more access to tables for teens who use wheelchairs.

Teen spaces will also be included in the new Cameron Recreation Centre, as well as the renovated Metrotown library.

At the grand opening on Saturday, Glenburn Soda Fountain and Confectionery will give out free ice cream.

When: Saturday, July 9, 2-4 p.m.
Where: Burnaby Public Library, Tommy Douglas branch (7311 Kingsway)
Cost: Free

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