Library News

CITIZEN JOURNALISM: D.C. library adds new learning tools

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in downtown Washington has unveiled its new and expansive Young Adult Services Division, designed to meet the educational, recreational and developmental needs of teen library users and provide support to the adults who serve this group.

The library -- which is the D.C. Public Library's central facility -- opened in August 1972 and since 1982 has had a dedicated teen area. The area initially was known as the Other Place, and there has been an equivalent of a Young Adult Services Division (YASD) since then, although its location in the building has changed several times over the years.

The new division is greater than three times the size of the temporary space that was being used on the southwestern corner of the first floor.

Kiana Guinn, 17, a graduate of Cesar Chavez Public Charter School Capitol Hill and a freshman studying psychology at Temple University, began working for YASD as a teen aide last October.

While in high school, she used the library to borrow books that were on her school's reading list. She also took advantage of workshops on how to finance a college education and subsequently researched scholarship opportunities, which aided her college decision.

"With the library extending teen facilities, kids are able to use resources more efficiently. More kids will be attracted to use the computers," Miss Guinn said.

"School is where you have to go. The library is where you go to learn on your own. If the library closes early, all the resources available to teens would go to waste," she said.

The young-adult division boasts more than 20 Mac computers and several PC laptops for teen use. The computers feature Internet access and word-processing capabilities. Additionally, the YASD will add a Nintendo Wii, a flat-screen television, and an improved and expanded materials collection as well as a teen-only vending area, said Elsworth Rockefeller, chief of teen services.

"The space is a visible reminder of the library's commitment to teen services and will accommodate group visits and individual teen needs in a more dynamic way than ever before," Mr. Rockefeller said. "We will be able to continue offering programs, including our popular cupcake decorating, teen yoga, chess classes and tournaments and book discussions, and expand in new directions with programs and events."

Imani Dawson, 17, a senior at Bowie High School, praised the Live Homework Help available through the library system's main Web site, where students can receive one-on-one attention and tutoring via the Internet.

"Both of my parents didn't go to college. I use MLK for SAT and college information. It helps with the college process," said Imani, who frequents the DC College Success Foundation on the second floor of the library and anticipates using the Teen Space to assist her college search.

"The beauty of the library is that anyone can go and find something resourceful," Miss Guinn said. "The new Teen Space will be more welcoming, and thus it will increase, by nature of being in the library, the academic focus of young adults in the city."

On Monday evening, Jamar "Jay" Byrd, 15, a ninth-grader at Preparatory School of the District of Columbia off Georgia Avenue Northwest, arrived at the YASD to get a sneak preview.

Jamar, a self-described "philosopher" with a "lot of ideas," is a familiar face to library staff, but he was denied entry as finishing touches were still under way. He said he would be back on Tuesday.

"For kids on the go, it is important to have reliable computers that are fast," Jamar said. "The other computers downstairs, you never knew if they were going to work or not."

The new YASD provides an improved, safe and secure learning environment for teens to do homework but also to socialize around interests such as chess or politics, Jamar said.

"Now you'll know that a mission downtown to the library won't frustrate you. It will excite you as a student first, and teen second," he said.

"Many teens around the city have already discovered that the library is a place for studying and so much more," said chief librarian Ginnie Cooper. "Teens can hang out and surf the Web in addition to reading and checking out books. Teen Space's new layout, furniture, computers and gaming systems are designed to encourage work and play at the library."

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