In Evanston, teens have several places to go after the bell rings. Some may go to hang at their buddies’ places. Others may go to the local coffee shop for caffeine and cramming. But many teens blow these places off to go to the Loft at the Evanston Public Library.
The Loft is indeed the ultimate teen space, run by librarian Christie Chandler-Stahl as well as Jarrett Dapier and Bridget Petrites. An array of services and projects assure that the teens involved with the Loft are never bored. In addition to rows of shelves full of teen books, the Loft has several study rooms, plenty of computers, and a lounge area full of plush and comfy furniture.
If searching through the rows of books for just the right one proves too challenging, there are always the booklists, set up by the Loft librarians. With genres ranging from realistic fiction for guys to “Hunger Games” readalikes, there are lists that appeal to everyone.
The Loft isn’t just a phrontistery, used solely for reading and studying. The computers are normally full of teens working, social networking, and watching videos online by two in the afternoon. And on certain days, special events are scheduled. Upcoming events taking place in the Loft include rehearsals for the theater group’s newest play, “The Sledding Hill”, a performance of said play, a Junior Science Café, and movies shown hebdomadally on Saturdays.
The Teen Advisory Board is a group of around 25 teens that act as the backbone and the heart of the Loft. Composed mainly of high schoolers and eighth graders, the Board takes care of everything needed to keep the Loft running smoothly; event scheduling, publicizing, and putting together resources are all on the agenda at the group’s monthly meeting.
The theater group started out as a reader’s theater group that eventually evolved into a Roscian wonder, drawing in kids from all over Evanston.
Though many of the events are chosen by the Teen Advisory Board based on what they think might attract kids, others are offered to be held there. The Junior Science Cafés, scientific demonstrations about subjects such as optical illusions and GM foods, are an extension of the presentations normally held at Boocoo, asked to be held at the Loft on Fridays in addition to the Boocoo ones on Saturday.
Another project going on at the Loft right now is Project Engage, a pilot art program chosen to take place at the Evanston Public Library by the American Library Association. This five-part art program was set up to increase civic engagement in high schoolers. It features the use of different mediums each session in order to convey the message of the theme through pieces of art that, after a final reception for the participants’ family and friends, will become part of a traveling art tour. Themes include growing up, participation, dreams, signs and symbols, and community, while mediums include photography, mural, and sculpture.
For the growing up theme, which is represented through photography, an intergenerational project was set up. Blank falcon cutouts are to be distributed to both senior citizens and young children, keeping with the library’s falcon motif. Once colored in, the owner of the flat falcon is to take a picture of the falcon in their favorite place in Evanston. These photos create in essence a chronicle of the changes in what one would value in a favorite place throughout life.
For teens whose eyes get sore quicker than others’, there are also Loft-initiated Podcasts. The teens involved gather in the community room at the library and just talk, normally on early dismissal days during the school year. Imagine a book group where no one’s face was visible. Subjects vary from violence to respect to haikus composed from recently read books. The main function of these meetings isn’t to be a source of entertainment, but to act as a vehicle to capture thoughts make them heard. Podcasts are uploaded regularly to the Loft’s website, where previous recordings can also be found.
So not only is the Loft a place set up for teens, but also a place set up by teens. All the programs are teen-inspired and teen-led. Pure adolescent power is concentrated here, making this a completely organic hangout. Better than being mall rats.