Photo: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL

The new teen space at the completely-transformed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) in midtown is open and thriving, offering innovative programs, robust services, tailored materials, and support for New York City teens who were disproportionately impacted by the isolation of the pandemic 

The space will be a model for a new series of enhanced teen spaces that are being planned across the NYPL system, and will open in waves over the next five years

As part of its critical role supporting learning outside of the classroom, The New York Public Library has committed to enhanced services for teens over the next five years, responding to unique needs that surfaced during the pandemic. 

The Library’s commitment to young adults, who were faced with unprecedented isolation for over a year, includes new and innovative programs informed by teens themselves, as well as a series of new, enhanced teen centers at branches across the city. These reimagined spaces will focus on interest-driven learning, teen empowerment and civic engagement, the exploration of teen voice and social identity, mental wellness, digital and tech fluency, and mentoring opportunities to discover post-secondary options. 

The Library opened the first of these spaces in July 2021: its flagship Teen Center at the completely-transformed Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) on Fifth Avenue and 40th Street in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Using that as inspiration, The Library is exploring funding and programmatic partnerships, and plans to open more of these sites in branches in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island over the next five years.

This effort to further support teens outside of the classroom is part of the institution’s overall, robust investment in lifelong learning and education, made possible in large part by a significant, $20 million gift from Library Trustee James Tisch and his wife Dr. Merryl Tisch in 2017. That investment was meant to build on, expand, and strengthen the Library’s robust work in the areas of early literacy, summer learning, adult literacy, digital equity, and technology training by developing innovative, cohesive programs coordinated across the Library’s network of branches and research libraries ​to educate learners of all ages. It also established the Merryl H. and James S. Tisch Director of The New York Public Library to lead these efforts.

“As part of its critical role supporting students and their families with a wide variety of educational and recreational programs outside the classroom, The New York Public Library is committed to enhancing efforts to engage teens and address their unique needs,” said Brian Bannon, the Library’s Merryl and James Tisch Director and chief librarian. “Teens, who already face challenges in a world of rapidly changing technology, were hit particularly hard by the isolation of the pandemic, and the Library has decided that providing them with welcoming spaces filled with the technology, materials, and staff expertise they need should be a top priority.”

The center at SNFL, which opened with the rest of the building in the summer of 2021 but only recently began offering on-site programs, was opened as the premiere library destination for teens, easily reached by public transit. It includes a curated selection of books, a computer lab outfitted with media production software and hardware such as the Adobe Creative Suite and 3D printers, exclusive teen only study rooms, a variety of seating, and a one of a kind, state-of-the-art recording studio. Of particular note, the Teen Center offers programs responsive to the needs of teens, ranging from job search and college readiness assistance, to “adulting” classes to other recreational programs just for fun. The SNFL teen center serves as an inspiration for future centers for our young patrons, purposefully structured as an open environment for them to engage with the resources and the staff in a variety of ways so that they are empowered to pursue their own interests and passions.

From July 12 until November 16, 141 programs and events have been held in the center with over 800 attendees (the center also resumed class visits, although they are limited due to COVID restrictions at local schools). On any given weekday afternoon, there are up to 50 teenagers in the space, utilizing the full range of offerings. Just a few highlights of what has happened in the center so far:

  • Teen-Led Events: Teen volunteers have already hosted two events, including a Friday Fright Night event for Halloween. The volunteers did all the decorating, planning, and facilitating, and about 50 teens participated in a murder mystery and scary movie watch party with crafts. Beginning in 2022, the teen volunteers will be hosting and planning monthly Teen Night Takeovers.  
  • College and Career Pathways: The Center offers a wide-range of drop-in programs tied to college and career, including “adulting 101” courses, 1:1 counseling and college application essay assistance. It is also part of NYPL’s broader College and Career Pathways program to offer intensive, personalized assistance to a smaller number of students. These students receive ongoing, customized support with library staff.
  • Teen Recording Studio: Classes began in the teen recording studio, and booked up almost immediately. Teens who took a required three courses and passed an assessment were given a new library card which allows them to reserve independent time in the recording studios. So far, 42 hours of studio time have been booked by the graduates. Additionally, teens have created a podcast for teens by teens using the studio called “Keeping Up With Gen Z.”

On the afternoon of November 16, a group of teens in the space shared their thoughts on the Center, :

  • Mekhai Woodson, self-proclaimed “King of Connect 4” at the Center who also created his resume with the librarians: “This is like an exclusive spot! It’s just a great experience to have here and I can’t find any other place like this . . . It’s a very comfortable place and I feel like I can just chill and be myself here. It’s just an amazing and welcoming place.”
  • Anya Geiling, a teen volunteer at the Center who enjoys reading books: “I know my brother – he’s a 9th grader – he’s into music and in the computer lab there’s also Logic Prowhere you can make music which I think is cool because at home we don’t have that. And it’s all for free, which is so nice and accessible. I live in Queens, so coming here – we go to Beacon High School, which isn’t far, so it’s a nice resource to have. And the staff here is really nice and welcoming. We’ve got all this programming, and we make different events for people to join, which is nice.”
  • Sian Phillips: It’s nice to have a place where I’m surrounded by other teens and I can just hang out and have a place that’s quiet but not very serious! And then having access to a bunch of stuff, computers, books, and resources.”
  • Vasialys Rodriguez: “They’ve got everything here – I go to a performing arts school so I’m telling people in my school if you want to record something, they have everything here. For the people who don’t have access to computers they have computers to use. I think that’s dope. The teen zone has always been a chill spot – a safe space. We don’t have to worry about anything, it’s just a place we can decompress and not get into any bad business.”
  • Kaelin Motsoasele, Youth Civics Intern: I’m trying to get teens around here to vote/register to vote. I’ve done button making workshops to incentivize people. I’ve also taught some workshops on how to pre-register to vote . . . I’m in 10th grade and my mom keeps telling me I should start thinking about 2024 and getting out the youth vote and she’s right. I thought this job would provide me with the experience I need to think about how I would launch a campaign like that . . . There’s a lot of library resources when it comes to civics. I’m able to get access to a lot of articles and databases. It’s really helpful because they’re professionally geared and I can find exactly what I’m looking for.” :

“In the midst of the pandemic, it was hard to see how we could ever gather together in a space again, but just four-plus months after our opening, the SNFL Teen Center is bustling, used nearly every hour of the day by teens from every corner of the city and beyond,” said Ricci Yuhico, managing librarian of young adult services at SNFL. “In the afternoon the tables and study rooms are full, teens in the media lab are experimenting with the 3D printer, teens are using the recording studio either independently or via instruction, teens are playing either old school board games or video games, and teens are navigating the college application process with staff — all at the same time. Under the stairs and on the couches, they’re combing through piles of books that they either pulled off the shelves, or that we recommended to them. During an immeasurably difficult time for all of us, they have had unique challenges, and while any one organization doesn’t have all the answers for every teen, the SNFL Teen Center is a welcoming space offering staff, programs, technology, and more to be a respite for the ones who have found us. And while the beautiful physical design of the building is set, the teens themselves will continue to shape it to meet their needs, as they will at all of our teen centers, making it truly theirs and as dynamic as possible.”  

The Library has long supported teens through a variety of spaces and programs, ranging from cozy young adult corners to larger teen centers, and inclusive of everything from book clubs and career panels to DJ-ing and fashion design. One way the Library is currently engaging teens is through a creative new paid internship in which teens tutor elementary age children in our after school homework-help programs, as well as collaborate to produce a literary magazine aimed at inspiring youngsters to love reading and libraries. The new commitment looks to enhance and focus these efforts, and to seek input and feedback from teens themselves on the design of spaces and programs.

“Now, more than ever, teens in NYC need safe, inclusive spaces where they can find caring adults to guide them as they explore new interests, learn about college and career opportunities, experiment with creative technologies, and carve out a voice for themselves,” said Siva Ramakrishnan, the Library’s Associate Director, Young Adult Services. “We’re thrilled to be able to invest in these library spaces in so many vibrant communities across our city. And we’re so excited to design these spaces with teens, so that they truly reflect their unique needs and perspectives.”

About The New York Public Library

For 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support. 

Photo: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL