A ‘third space’ for teens

If you’re a millennial you might be familiar with “third spaces,” spaces outside of home, work or school where people can gather socially. The term has been all over our social media and news feeds over the last few years, highlighting how the lack of these spaces prevent cost-effective social gatherings to occur. Examples include parks, community centers, or any space in which you can sit and relax without having to spend money. As a teen, there are very few places that allow you to hang out without buying something. Looking back on my own experiences growing up in Princeton, I began to think about how the library could help fill this void for the teen community. 

The beautiful thing about libraries is their ability to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of their communities. Over the last few years, the Teen Center has blossomed into a meeting place for teens after school and on weekends. With the help of the library’s Teen Advisory Board, the Teen Center has board games, card games, and puzzles all pre-approved by teens. You can often find them playing Uno with friends or Solitary by themselves in between studying; on weekends you can find families playing board games together. Seeing the space full of teens using it, not only as a place to study but also as a recreational space, feels right. Teens aren’t pressured to buy something and there’s no time limit on how long they can sit at the tables. It’s somewhere for them to inhabit, explore, hang out, and just relax.  

To foster the feeling of community, I dedicated our whiteboard to serve as a space for the teens to engage with each other as well as the library. Weekly questions are posted and the teens have a lot to share about their favorite musical artists and places in town as well as their biggest pet peeves and phrases that should be retired. In addition to our monthly Teen Take & Make crafting kits, teens can find monthly passive crafts. 

During the winter months string lights were hung to create a “vibe” (as the teens call it), and over several months they helped decorate the space with paper snowflakes. I left all of the supplies for the craft available to them and, over time, the pillars were filled. The library’s Teen Advisory Board contributed by making a paper fireplace for a program which was reused in the Teen Center to add to the cozy winter decorations. 

It’s clear that the Teen Center is more than just a “vibe.” We offer resources created by teens for teens. Our Teen Advisory Board has made several thoughtful local guides, including one on thrift stores which compares price points and their proximity to town. Our latest is a bubble tea guide with descriptions of what each location specializes in and how far each of them is from the library. (Jumbi wins at only 289 feet away.) You can also find the latest edition of Princeton High School newspaper, The Tower, along with mental health resources supplied by the New Jersey State Library. 

As a library, we are fortunate to be within walking distance from three of the public schools. After school is a busy time for the Youth Services floor and providing a free space for teens has had an impact. It’s not uncommon to see teens making friendship bracelets after school or working on a Take & Make craft project. But as the day wanes, the area transforms from a social space to a quiet study area where you might find students until the library closes. A key to this success has been engaging the teen community in the changes, from the help of the Teen Advisory Board to asking teens at outreach events what they would like has helped shape the space. 

This is only the beginning. To further the awareness of this third space for teens and foster a collaborative environment, we have partnered with high school clubs on programs and will be working with a teen-run nonprofit to decorate a bulletin board to showcase their work. It’s an exciting time for the library’s teen space as it continues to evolve. 

Photos by Marissa Warren

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