Despite predictions that the repositories of books would go the way of the dinosaur, Port’s library is more popular than ever with tech-savvy teens
If you come into the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington in the late afternoon or early evening, you may notice something a little different.
Groups of teenagers and preteens hanging out, using the wireless Internet connections, doing homework and, of course, reading.
That wasn’t supposed to happen in this digital age, when critics predicted the death of libraries and printed words. But it is, and librarians at the Port library are seeing firsthand.
“We’re seeing a renaissance of sorts,” Library Director David Nimmer said. “We used to never see teenagers here. Now, pods and groups of them are sitting around, working and hanging out. It’s nice to see.”
The library’s been working actively to cultivate that interest, he said, giving renewed emphasis to its young adult programs.
“We’re trying to reach out to them,” Nimmer said. “It’s a tough crowd. There are so many things to grab their attention. It’s nice to see they see value in grabbing a spot here and getting things done together.
“We’re going in the right direction.”
Part of the reason more teens are using the library is that so many good books are aimed at that crowd, said Annie Bahringer, adult services director at the library.
“There’s such a boon for younger readers now,” she said. “The Harry Potter thing started it all, and then the Twilight series happened. A lot of YA (young adult) books now are being made into movies — the Ender’s Game, Book Thief and Hunger Games series.
“It’s a connection, a feeling that these protagonists are people my age and look at what they’re doing. It’s inspiring.”
Robyn Laforest, the young adult librarian, said the movies definitely contribute to the library’s appeal.
“Books to movies is a big influence,” she said. “The teens see people reading the books after they’ve been to the movie, and maybe they’ll read one or two of them. They start to think, ‘These aren’t bad, maybe I do like reading. These aren’t like the books we read at school.’”
The uptick in library use has been coming on gradually, but the most drastic increase came after area students received Chromebooks and iPads from the Port-Saukville School District, Nimmer said.
The library had prepared for that, he said, changing its WiFi policy so teens coming in could automatically access it. Previously, students needed parental consent for that.
“If they’re using their school computers, the school can monitor it,” Nimmer said.
Teens are coming in regularly, using the wireless Internet access, sometimes in groups and other times by themselves.
“They’re sitting here, interacting with their teacher online,” Nimmer said. “It’s amazing.
“They get together in groups and work on projects, but they’re respectful of others, too. It’s really nice to see.”
In the process, he said, the teens are discovering the library and all it has to offer almost as a byproduct.
“Our book circulation for teens is pretty good,” Nimmer said. “There are a lot of teens that love to read. They’ll come in and check out whole stacks of books. They’re voracious readers.”
The library is working hard to become a place teenagers want to be, officials said.
“We’re redefining our role,” Bahringer said. “Before, the library was just a place to go between school and soccer. Now, it’s a place to do homework and hang out.”
Helping to coordinate that is Laforest, who’s been the young adult librarian since late summer.
Laforest, who has a teenage daughter, has worked at the library for seven years and said she enjoys watching teen minds turn as they’re exposed to more things. She’s determined to provide more of these experiences and increase the library’s appeal.
Not only is she increasing the books aimed at young adult readers, she’s offering programs aimed at bringing teens into the library.
On Thursdays, the library hosts a teen cafe, where kids can play Wii games, watch movies, play games and enjoy snacks and beverages.
“We’re trying to create a kind of coffeehouse atmosphere and provide a place where kids feel they can hang out without parents breathing down their necks,” Bahringer said.
They are hosting after-hours teen movie screenings modeled after the popular adult movie nights, and offering parent-child craft classes.
This week, the library hopes to begin offering about 160 magazines digitally, including some aimed specifically at teenagers, Nimmer said.
Laforest is also looking at hosting various clubs at the library, including a photography group, anime club and perhaps a teen book club.
The library’s past attempts at a teen book club haven’t been overly successful, so Nimmer said they may try an online book club, where teens could interact and post comments virtually when they have the time.
Perhaps most importantly, the library is working at creating a space just for teens to gather.
Many of the programs now are held in the community room, but it’s not always available, Laforest said.
“We want to find a space where, even if there’s nothing going on, they can feel comfortable coming in and hanging out,” she said.
Nimmer agreed, saying the teens deserve that.
“They fit in here and there, but it would be nice for them to have a place of their own,” Nimmer said.
Laforest said the aim is to make teens feel comfortable in the library, even when they aren’t there to work.
“We’re trying a lot of different things,” she said. “We want them here, and we want them comfortable in the library so as they get older, they continue to be library users.”
Image Information: TEENAGERS AND PRETEENS are becoming a common sight at the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington, drawn by the WiFi service and programs tailored to their age groups. Robyn Laforest, the young adult librarian, joined teens Kailee Wells, Sydney Laforest, Emily Poull and Abbey Schemenauer as they checked out those services. Photo by Sam Arendt