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Posted 12/08/2023 by Farah Djama

After months of gathering data and renovating, the teen space at Ross U-Hills is up and running. photo by Farah Djama

Ross University Hills Branch Library recently renovated their teen space, keeping public libraries in the minds of the youth.

Often called third spaces, libraries are some of the first things that come to mind when thinking of areas outside of home, school and work. The city of Denver is no stranger to libraries, as 25 different locations are currently a part of the Denver Public Library Branch (DPL). In most of these libraries, there is a designated children’s section and an adult section, with the teenager section being a desolate, barren wasteland. The teen section in the Hampden Library, for example, is tucked away in a corner behind the rest of the collection while the children’s section has its own wing of the building. 

Between juggling school, homework, sports practice, jobs and internships, and spending most of their free time on social media stuck scrolling and scrolling for hours on end, many teenagers rarely make time to visit third spaces. “This is a third space – you are welcome here. Not only that, but we want you here and we need you here,” said Rachel Nickell. As of September 2023 she was the teen outreach coordinator at Ross U-Hills Library. Starting in December, she will be the Teen Librarian. Nickell, who has a master’s degree in library sciences, thinks that libraries can function as community hubs, providing resources and services for those in need. 

The Ross-University Hills Library was built in 1962 with its last major renovations in 1992. The library is planning to renovate their teen space while also trying to work with the supplies and budget they have before they receive funding from the DPL system. Their teen space is located behind the non-fiction section of the library, using the shelves and a wall painted purple to create a more defined space. “We are restricted spatially at UNH: with the children’s section, [the teen section] became an afterthought,” explained Nickell. Along the purple wall, there is a table with library computers that have been dedicated to the space and a Victrola turntable vinyl player. ‘Sour’ by Oliva Rodrigo, Taylor Swift’s ‘Fearless,’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ are stashed on the main reference desk. Furniture of all kinds is stretched out across the floor: bean bags, cushions in funky shapes, and even a couch. Resting to the right of said couch is an adjustable ring light. A book stand filled with young adult fiction recommendations is located off to the left. Bringing attention to the front, a table with four chairs lies in front of the book stand, acting as a study space. In the middle of the table is a basket with cootie catcher templates that can give youth book recommendations. At the front of the table is a whiteboard on wheels; one side features a survey asking which color is the best color, “Purple or Red?” On the other side, magnetic words decorate the surface, encouraging library-goers to create a poem. There have also been other surveys on the topic of larger scale renovations.

As of now, the teen space at Ross U-Hills is just a rough draft of what the actual renovation could look like, there is still information that needs to be gathered. “Some of the research I’ve been doing has been dedicated to looking at how to redesign spaces with teen voices,” explained Cameron Gillespie, a shelver at Ross U-Hills in the process of getting her master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences. She is conducting her research through a variety of methods that are mainly user-centered, including direct input from teenagers. This includes polls that are hosted at the library on large sheets of paper with different options. Which aesthetic to base the renovation off of, for example. Steampunk, Enchanted Forest, Art Deco, and Dark Academia were some of the many options. There was another poll deciding which color the defining wall of the teen space should be painted (purple won). In the future, the library staff hopes to field surveys directly at high schools in the neighborhood in order to gather more information.  

All of this is asked in order to bolster the library’s usefulness for individuals. As of October 2023, the Ross U-Hills Library doesn’t have a teen advisory board, which is why Nickell wants to “promote the teen space.” Gillespie explained that, “once every 3 months or so we’ll spend a week tracking and logging every single question we get from attendees. Not the question itself, but if the person asking it was a child, a teenager, an adult, and the subject of the question.” They found that teenagers only ask about one percent of the questions at the library, despite making up between three and six percent of the population of the University Hills neighborhood. Another research method Gillespie is using is comparative analysis, defined as looking at other library branches within and outside DPL with high teen attendance, examining possible patterns or trends in common features present at those libraries. The Blair-Caldwell Library invited the DPL service team to gather some information and gain ideas. There they found that the library had used glass walls to further define their teen space while also helping create a sense of privacy.  

At Ross U-Hills, the previous teen space had blended together with the non-fiction and adult fiction sections of the library. Now, the space is becoming more defined as DPL utilizes their current supplies and budget to renovate. DPL has funding set aside to renovate all of their buildings, and since the Ross U-Hills library is a newer building, it will be given its funds only after older buildings have already received theirs. Although Ross U-Hills hasn’t yet received their renovation funding, they’re still putting in the work to take teens into account in Denver libraries. After all, as Nickell said, “we need more libraries focusing on teens.”