A community of readers: Hedberg Public Library's teen board makes its case

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, December 20, 2015

JANESVILLE--Young people still check out books at the library.

That's actual books, as in paper, cover and binding.

Of course, they also check out electronic books and movies, but you always want to start a story with the startling news first.

On Saturday, the Hedberg Public Library's Teen Advisory Board hosted an "Ugly Sweater Party” for the holidays.

Before the event, The Gazette sat down with members of the board to discuss the library's capital campaign.

At issue is a $2.5 million plan to renovate the library. The most significant changes would include an outside entrance to the library's program room, a more centrally located information desk and technology upgrades.

Under the proposed renovations, the teen/young adult area would more than double in size, said Laurie Bartz, young adult librarian.

Now, "Teen Central" is housed on the Main Street side of the building behind the new books area.  The new area would be on the river side of the building and would overlook the river and the park.

About 10 percent of all Hedberg Public Library card holders are between the age of 11 and 17, according to library documents. That translates to 6,699 cardholders. To give those numbers some context, the Janesville School District's has about 5,500 students in grades 5 to 12.

The Gazette challenged board members to answer questions potential donors and taxpayers might have.

Do teens really use the library?

Timothy Sveum, 17, is a board member, and spent a year working at the library. He attends North Central Technical College in Wausau.

"Many kids come here every single day," Sveum said. "You get to be a part of a good community. It's safe, warm place to be. You can check out books, you can watch movies, play games or bring your own electronics.”

Board members said that the library was safe, central and supervised--something that appealed to both parents and teens.

"Being homeschooled, I don't have a lot of school activities. I do a lot of stuff with 4-H,” said Board President Steffie Farrey, 16. "The library is kind of a place to talk to other people who have my own interests. A lot of my other friends aren't that much into reading or technology."

Board Vice President Rachel Wente, 15, said that people might not realize how many teens use the library.

"When you walk in, you see the kids (going to the children's area) and you see the adults," said Wente. "But we're way, way, way in the back, and that's why we might not get noticed as much."

Like Farrey, Wente has strong connections to the teen library community.

"At the library I can be my geeky self that likes books, that likes reading,” said Wente, “ I can be, like, 'Oh my gosh did you read this book?' or, like, 'Let's analyze all these inner workings of Harry Potter.'" 

Board treasurer Dakota Hicks, 13, attends Franklin Middle School. He noted that because of space issues, many teens end up using computers in other areas of the library.

How many young people check out library books?

Wente, who attends Craig High School, said she reads both electronic and traditional books.

Traditional books are good when she's supposed to be going to bed, and the harsh light of the screen keeps her up.

Wente has another, less tangible reason. It's something her electronically minded peers might not understand.

 "I just love having a book I can hold in my hand," Wente said. "And I like the smell of new book--it's fantastic!"

That's something her fellow board member, Jeannae Fairman, understands.

Fairman, 15, attends Oakhill Christian School, and serves as the board's co-secretary. She uses both the electronic and traditional reading materials.

"I have an obsession with freshly printed books," Fairman said, laughing.

She loves their fresh possibilities, the weight in her hands, and yes, that indescribable new book smell.

When asked to defend paying for the remodeling, space for more books was one of her primary concerns.

"We want to hang out and everything, but we don't have enough room," Fairman said. "And I'm always looking for I new book. If we had more room, maybe we would be able to get more books." 

Make your case for the remodeling plan:

Hicks noted that one of the plans called for the teen area to be downstairs, more like the teen center model.  This might have been "a little bit weird" to be so close to the coffee shop, and so far away from the rest of the library.

"It's your choice to spend money here,” Hicks said. "But we do want people to know that we are here and we want to be heard."

Lexi Farrey, 14, who is home schooled, said of course donating money was up to each individual, but she thought, "It would be a good thing if they did."

"I think if we put this out there, we will be heard," Farrey said.

Wente wanted to remind donors that the library was safe and supervised place.

"There's a lot of stuff in the current media that is like, 'teens are hooligans!'"  Wente said. "This library is a place for us to be in a good area, we're being supervised and there are staff that care for us. This is a really good environment for us to be in, and I don't see why people wouldn't want to support that."

Cody O'Connell, 13, attends St. Paul Lutheran School, Janesville.

“Seventy-three percent of people make up statistics, but I'm 100 percent sure that we need this,” O'Connell said. “The money—if we're going to spend on teen central—is not doing to go to waste. We need money to (help make) a safe community and a place for everyone to go.”

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