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September 08, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Libraries focusing on teens Libraries focusing on teens (September 08, 2004)

New homework center, other services could mean space cramp for Main Library

by Bill D'Agostino

Teens today have Google, so do they still need libraries?

Palo Alto Library Director Paula Simpson believes they do, and she's beginning a new campaign to reach out to middle school students who have been historically underserved by the city's libraries, especially the Main Library, on Newell Road.

"The Main Library has been predominantly a library for adults," explained Laurie Hastings, who Simpson recently hired part-time to be the new senior librarian for teen services.

This afternoon, Sept. 8, Hastings is launching a new weekly homework center for students in grades six to eight in the Main Library, open from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Librarians are also forming a teen advisory board, to give librarians advice on how to make the entire five-branch system more teen-friendly.

"We realized that we have to make much more of an effort to keep kids interested in books and reading," Simpson said.

Once Palo Alto youth outgrow the Children's Library, there isn't much for them, Hastings noted, adding that the middle school grades are critical years. "There's a lot of stress," she said. "There are a lot of decisions and choices they have to make."

The new 2.5-hour, one-day-a-week homework center may pale to the 50 hours a week a student can get homework help in Redwood City's libraries, but it's still more than what has been historically available. Two experienced homework helpers will be on hand for assistance.

Last year, the library nabbed funding from the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund and the Friends of the Palo Alto Library for the homework help. However, the dollars didn't come with more space for the program, and there is precious little area in Palo Alto's Main Library.

"This is really, really an antiquated space that really doesn't meet the needs of the community in the 21st century," Hastings said.

To make room, shelves and furniture will be rearranged, which could lead the library to seem more cramped for other visitors. "It's going to be pretty tight," Hastings said.

A similar effort was begun last year at Mitchell Park Library, which boasts a "Teen Zone" crammed in among various other programs in the 12,150 square foot building.

Meanwhile, Hastings is currently accepting applications for students wanting to serve on the Teen Library Advisory Board, nicknamed T-LAB. The group will give librarians advise on what books and multimedia items to add to the entire collection, what special events to hold, and what other services to create. However, more funds will be needed to implement the teens' ideas.

The library's DVD collection is perhaps the clearest indication of the dearth of materials for young adults. While adult film buffs may brighten at the availability of Krzysztof Kieslowski's 10-part epic "Decalogue," and other foreign and independent movies, young adults have few films in stock for them.

The book collection is similarly centered on adults' tastes. Currently, young adults struggling with reading may have to travel back to the Children's Library for books appropriate for their reading level, a potentially demeaning trip, Hastings said.

"I don't think that feels so good," she added. Teens interested in serving on the Teen Library Advisory Board can contact Senior Librarian Laurie Hastings at (650) 329-2664, or at

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at

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