The East Lansing Public Library has been closed for a little over a month, but the staff there is still working to reach our community’s teens.
On a typical weekday afternoon before the Stay-at-Home orders came down, the library on Abbot Road was full of East Lansing High School students – socializing, working in the computer lab, crafting on the 3D printer, or playing video games on the big screens.
Beth Scanlon, ELPL Teen Services Specialist, said the library used to host 50-80 middle and high school students on any given weekday. Regular programs like Maker Mondays, Digital Doodling, escape rooms, STEAM projects, and #RealTalk (a small group discussion of current events) took place like clockwork in the space.
Since having to close its doors, the library has been ramping up its digital resources to patrons, including transitioning teen programming to a virtual platform.
Scanlon first held the #RealTalk as a Zoom session just four days after the library closed, to keep the consistency of usual programming.
“Some of my regular teens showed up for the program, and it became clear very quickly during our meeting that they needed to be able to see each other regularly,” she said. “They needed a sense of normalcy, they needed to connect with folks who care about them, and to be able to talk about what’s happening in the world – or to not talk about it at all.”
#RealTalk was traditionally held each Tuesday afternoon from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m. at the library. Scanlon asked the teens what time would be good for them to meet, and created a program called Teen Time which meets every day from 1 to 2 p.m. via Zoom.
“I think of Teen Time as an extension of that after school hang-out at the library where teens might tell me about their day, or ask to play a game of Uno,” she said. “Teens show up virtually and talk about their days or ask for fun activities – one day we all applied skin masks during the meeting. Another day, they asked for a Scavenger Hunt, so I created one and posted it on Instagram.”
“Teen Time is about holding space for teens to be wherever they are at on any given day, and allowing them the freedom to express themselves or sit quietly and just ‘be’ with their friends. It’s very centered on their needs and is teen-directed…they pick what we do.”
The invitation has even been extended to other library staff to join, something the teens have enjoyed. Through discussions about other activities to include, the library has also added a weekly video game hour on Wednesdays at 3 p.m., called Game On! featuring interactive games, drawing and trivia.
Given the strange circumstances and people’s diverse coping mechanisms, Scanlon says she understands if not all teens want to connect virtually in this way right now. “We are here for them when and if they decide they would like to participate.”
For those who have participated, the digital platform has made the weekly programming more human – despite being virtual.
“It’s very humanizing,” Scanlon said. “The teens see me in my home ‘office,’ at my dining room table, and they meet my pets who bark or walk across the screen, and I meet theirs. In some ways, it’s a more genuine interaction because all the pretext of social pressure and ‘looking good’ have been stripped away.”
The program is accessible through a typical smartphone, something Scanlon said most if not all teens at the library have.
“During this time when there is a lot of talk about accessibility in regard to online education, this is a social program most teens would be able to access, provided they have the data plan to support the cell phone use.”
There is a core group of attendees each week, but Scanlon hopes that number continues to grow.
“We would love to have more teens join us, and getting the word out to them is key to making that happen. The teens who are attending really seem to benefit from having this time together, and having an adult who is not their relative check in on how they are doing.”
Spending an hour with the teens has been the highlight of Scanlon’s day.
“They laugh, they grieve, they share silly memes, and have impromptu dance parties,” she said. “The library is so much more than a hub of information, internet access, books, music, and video resources. It is a place where people gather in community, and it’s an honor to continue that tradition virtually during these unprecedented times.”
Local teens interested in joining the events can gain access by emailing Beth Scanlon. The ELPL Teen Page provides links to Young Adult books, reviews, blogs, and resources including virtual Escape Rooms.