TeenHQ: A Place All Their Own

“Age is foolish and forgetful when it underestimates youth.”

According to the wise Dumbledore in J.K. Rowling’s Harry and the Half-Blood Prince, youthful ambition and ingenuity is abundant. And at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in downtown San José, CA, that sentiment is present far beyond a book in the stacks. Youthful achievements are evident all over the mezzanine level of the library. That’s where you’ll find the TeenHQ, a new space exclusively created for and by 12-18 year olds.

Well, actually, you’ll only find it if you are a teen yourself. Aside from a handful of supervisory staff, no other adults are allowed in. Period.

With a commitment to providing a safe, comfortable environment to flourish, the San José Public Library developed this teens-only space to enable access to technology and innovative programs that would encourage them to become groundbreakers. And since the idea for the teen venue first took shape, local teens have been proving them right.

“Our librarians began recruiting at schools, talking to teachers, and asking for recommendations from parents who followed us on social media,” said Elizabeth Castañeda, Marketing & Communications Manager. “If it could help motivate kids to participate, we wanted to know about it.”

Area educators and administrators were also very thoughtful about the process. They conveyed what would resonate well with teens, pointing out challenges such as how to re-route teens that would rely on public transportation and how to provide bus passes to the TeenHQ.

Within weeks, King Library was able to create focus groups from an aspiring group of teens who showed great desire in becoming peer leaders. The participants were asked about everything that interested them—from what they shop for, to their favorite game and console, to their top book and music picks. Many had a penchant for interior design, with budding skills that served them well as they helped a consultant select every color palette and piece of furniture.

For a year, these teen recruits provided input on the kinds of programs they wanted, the giveaways they liked, and even the look of their own logo and its tagline: Be You at TeenHQ. On grand opening day, backed by elected officials and Bay Area partners, they were able to introduce their friends and peers to a collaborative space like no other. Architecturally, the TeenHQ is represented by a gamer lounge, makerspace, recording studio and hangout zone, but it is truly a great reflection of the ideas, collaboration and partnerships that are created there.

Many well-known Bay Area companies and individuals are so impressed with the TeenHQ, they have stepped up to mentor and support the teens. Microsoft Silicon Valley funded the entire recording studio. A local hip-hop artist agreed to do a special program to explain the dos and don’ts of creating music and record a song. A video game company is next on the docket, with a plan to help teens create their own games.

“We are overwhelmed by the support adults and city leaders have shown,” said Nancy Macias, Public Information Rep for City of San José Public Library. “Adults just love it! It just goes to show, if your library truly has a passion for something, companies and organizations will provide the upstart. People see the value and are willing to make it happen.”

Already, the teen hub has become an incubator for musical talents and artists. It is not unusual to see adults and families admiring the five-panel mosaic mural hanging at the entrance to the center. Designed by students from the Latino College Preparatory Academy, the art piece represents different stages in life, and draws teens and families from all over the city. In fact, the installation is so admired, several individuals have asked to purchase it.

The marketing communications staff spent two months preparing all the outreach components to promote the TeenHQ grand opening in August last year. They approached schools and classrooms and found unique ways to encourage engagement, such as offering extra credit to attend, arranging a field trip, and even giving schools attendance credit for students who participated in a Saturday event.

The multi-lingual marketing campaign reached over 200,000 people, earned 84,000 social media impressions, and drew 400 opening day attendees. The San José Library received a John Cotton Dana Award and a $10,000 award in recognition of this outstanding public relations campaign.

Still in its first year, the TeenHQ offers events such as makerspace and recording studio trainings, game development club, open mic night, and a life skills academy that teaches good budgeting and money management skills. San José is already working to help extend its programming into 23 other branches. Each branch already has some form of a teen center. Now the library hopes to incorporate more resources and activities similar to those in the TeenHQ, making them accessible to youth in other parts of the city.

“These teens are our future. They will be the innovators. So we want to support them with the technology and tools now,” said Macias. “This is our time to educate them on the importance of libraries and create a chain reaction that instills real value as a substantial resource for the next generations.”

For more details about the San Jose Public Library TeenHQ, visit sjpl.org/teenhq.

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