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A Branch Library Builds
Trust with Local Teens

“Teens never come to the library”—this is a classic problem in the library world. When we, the staff and volunteer group at Aaby branch library in Aarhus, Denmark were asked what challenges we would like to address in an exploratory project with participatory budgeting, the lack of teens was identified as the most urgent issue.

We had multiple explanations, most of them along the lines of: “The young people
today find the library boring”; “Teens are too hyperactive to find a library setting
attractive”; “Our activities are not funky enough” —and then finally someone said:
“We don’t even know them….”

To start the project, we got to know the local teenagers. We conducted multiple
workshops at their schools and afternoon activity clubs, where we talked to them
about what libraries mean to them and to society and what could make libraries
relevant in their lives. They told us so much we didn't know, but most importantly: they told us that they didn't feel welcome or comfortable in the library. What a
painful insight that was.

Our How Might We question spoke to that insight: How might we (through
participatory budgeting) involve local teens in transforming the library into a place
where they feel welcome and comfortable?

Once we identified our How Might We question, we did more workshops and a
collective brainstorm through digital installations in the schoolyards: this gave
us more than 100 ideas to work with that we conceptualized and prioritized
with the teens. We ended up with 10 strong concepts and asked the teens to
vote for the best one— there was a participation of 80% of all 8th-grade students
from the community. 

And the winner was: the Chocolate Corner, a remake of a corner of the library
with soft furniture, board games, PlayStation, an electric tea kettle, mugs and
most importantly 5000 DKR set aside for a stash of hot cocoa powder. (Our budget for the entire project was 25,000 DKR or 3,500 USD, so a large percentage was spent on hot cocoa).

The teens helped out by decorating and choosing furniture and really helped shaped the space. The value of the cozy corner with hot chocolate is greater than just
having a special treat. It creates a sense of ownership and community, they feel
the space is theirs, and they have something there that they chose and can
enjoy together.  

Now the library, and this space in particular, is flooded with teens—especially
on Chocolate Tuesdays and Thursdays. And there is a clear spillover effect on the rest of the week, plus a lot of other citizens enjoy the Chocolate Corner for mother group meetups, students studying and families relaxing.

The next How Might We question for us is: How might we transform our services
to fully express this sense of community and ownership in the library?

story by Helene Bruhn Schvartzman