Teenage Readers

Local library creates programs to promote youth reading for fun

Officials at the Onondaga Free Library, hoping to promote a love for reading among local teenagers, embarked on a series of events to make the library a natural stop between home and school. The library ought to be a “third place,” where teens can energize their minds and find a sense of community, says Alyssa Newton, the library’s assistant director in charge of young-adult services.

Assistant Director Alyssa Newton is in charge of young-adult services at Onondaga Free Library. | Steve Davis, Staff Photo

“I like seeing teens using the computer space for homework, and I try to let them know they can come here when school isn’t open because my staff and I are always happy to help them,” Newton said.

With its staff’s initiative to help, the library wants to become a free or inexpensive place outside the home or workplace where community life can be fostered. The term “third place,” coined by author Ray Oldenburg,
was the main focus of his 1989 book, “The Great Good Place,” about the importance of gathering places in community life.

This fall, the library sponsored Teen Read Week, a national adolescent literacy initiative created by the Young Adult Library Association. The program, which ran from Oct. 13 to 19 on the branch’s second floor, contained an exhibition of books pertaining to this year’s theme of “Seek the Unknown.” Teens were encouraged to read and check out these books as they explored and learned about the unknown through mystery, adventure, science fiction and fantasy literature.

Newton felt adolescents were becoming overlooked at the branch, which provides story time for young children and a book club for adults. “It’s very easy for us to focus on the programs we provide for kids and adults, but teens are sometimes left out of the equation,” Newton said. “Teen Read Week was about teaching teens how to be regular library users.”

Teens are often preoccupied with school, sports and other extracurricular activities, so it can be difficult to get them into the library to read for pleasure, said library staff members. Newton hopes the program has ignited teens’ undiscovered passion for reading.

Teens had an opportunity to write book reviews and vote in the Teens’ Top Ten yearlong campaign on the American Library Association website. “We wanted to figure out what books they like to read and for their voices to be heard,” Newton said.

Teens’ Top Ten is created by teens nationwide. Starting each April, teens nominate 25 books for the list, and the American Library Association encourages teens across the country to read them over the summer and vote on their favorites, said Nichole O’Connor, the association’s program officer for events and conferences. After Teen Read Week, the association announces the winning 10 titles that get the most votes.

During Teen Read Week, the Young Adult Library Association held a Twitter chat for librarians to discuss the importance of teen literacy. “The chat provided them a place to talk with other librarians and find out the best ways to encourage teens in their library to start reading for the fun of it,” said Jaclyn Finneke, the association’s manager of communications. With over 20,000 Twitter followers, the association wants to reach a broad audience of librarians and be a teen literacy resource for them, library staff members said.

Whether teens go to the Onondaga Free Library or another branch, library officials hope Teen Read Week will have prompted them to make reading part of their daily routine.

“We have a lot of books and resources we can provide for teens,” said Paschal Ugoji, the young-adult librarian at Beauchamp Branch Library. “We are here to support teens and make the library a fun and safe place for them.”