Emerging Tech Planning: Engaging Teens in the Design of Teen Spaces


Teenagers are an important part of any community, but it can be difficult to plan library programs and services for them. Most teenagers are very busy, trying to manage schoolwork, planning for their future, and maintaining a social life. With popular culture changing all the time, it is hard to keep up with what teens are interested in. I work at the Alameda Free Library (AFL), a small library system located in the Bay Area. The Main Branch has a seperate teen center upstairs. This plan is centered around if it is decided that the teen center  needs to be redesigned to better accommodate teens’ needs.

Goals/Objective for Service:

Libraries have become a more dynamic environment, where librarians are not authoritative deciding what types of services/programs are best for the patrons. They want to hear from the people they serve to determine if they are successfully meeting patrons’ needs. Expanding on the idea of teen advisory boards/groups that can help to plan programs and services, teens helping to design the teen space helps ensure that it can meet their needs. Participating in the design process can ensure that teens’ voices are heard by administration. This type of engagement can also help teens learn leadership and communication skills, which can come in handy in their future endeavors, whether that may be going to college or something else. As Casey and Savastinuk (2007) explain, “Allowing customers to personalize their spaces encourages them to become regular users of your service” (p. 63). 

The Mix at San Francisco Public Library designed with help from teens (Photo credit: SFPL)

Description of Community to Engage:

I wish to engage the teenage patrons who utilize the main branch of the Alameda Free Library.

Action Brief Statements:

For Teenage Patrons:

Convince teenage patrons that by helping to design the teen space in the library they will see that the library is taking an active role in identifying and addressing their needs which will increase their trust in and use of the library because the library wants to empower teens to utilize library services to improve their well-being.

For Staff:

Convince staff that by working with teens to design the teen space they will help build teens’ confidence in the library which will encourage staff to continue to work with the teens to further develop programs and services for them because the library wants to tailor its offerings to meet patrons’ needs.

Evidence and Resources to Support Service:

Agosto, D. E., Bell, J. P., Bernier, A., & Kuhlmann, M. (2015). “This is our library, and it’s a pretty cool place”: A user-centered study of public library YA spaces. Public Library Quarterly, 34(1), 23–43. doi:10.1080/01616846.2015.1000777

Brisson, S.-A. (2014). Teens at the Brossard Public Library: A necessary adaptation of space and services. Feliciter, 60(6), 23–25. Retrieved from http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lls&AN=100262026&site=ehost-live&scope=site 

Chant, I. (2016). User-designed libraries – Design4Impact. Retrieved from https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=user-designed-libraries-design4impact

Glusker, A. (2015). Thematic analysis of videos suggests that YA space design should be user-driven, user-centered, and flexible enough to enable multiple uses. Evidence Based Library & Information Practice, 10(4), 230–232. Retrieved from http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lls&AN=112044532&site=ehost-live&scope=site 

Kuhlmann, L. M., Agosto, D., Pacheco Bell, J., & Bernier, A. (2014). Learning from librarians and teens about YA library spaces. Public Libraries, 53(3), 24–28. Retrieved from http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lls&AN=96736816&site=ehost-live&scope=site 

Rottmund, K., & Morgan, K. (2018). Teenspace: A space to be. Young Adult Library Services, 17(1), 25–29. Retrieved from http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lls&AN=135603259&site=ehost-live&scope=site 

Velásquez, J. (2016). Lessons learned from a new teen space. Young Adult Library Services, 15(1), 31–33. Retrieved from http://libaccess.sjlibrary.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lls&AN=118843607&site=ehost-live&scope=site 

YouMedia, (2015). In San Francisco, teens design a living room for high-tech learning at the Public Library. Retrieved from https://youmedia.org/news/in-san-francisco-teens-design-a-living-room-for-high-tech-learning-at-the-public-library/

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to this Service

To implement this service, the librarians will consult with the administration as often as necessary. While this service is for the teens in the group and their peers, it will impact teens in the future. One of the goals of the AFL’s strategic plan is that “Alameda teens will have space to socialize, to share thoughts and ideas, and to attend programs relevant to them” (Alameda Free Library, 2013, Sect. Goal 3). Teens are recognized as an important portion of the patron population who have their own, unique needs that the library can fill. Allowing teens to participate in the design of their space creates a dialogue that can benefit the library. The AFL wants to increase circulation of teen materials and one way to do this is to have a teen space that teens want to spend time in. Incorporating their feedback into the design of the space is the best way to create a sense of inclusivity. 

Funding Considerations for this Service

The primary source of funding for the AFL is through the city government, so the money for redesigning the teen space would ultimately come from there. The Library Director and the Library Board would determine how much could be spent on this project. If the library budget was cut, projects like these would be some of the earliest cuts because they would be deemed lower priority. Assuming the funding remains, it would be very important for the project to stick to the budget. As a public library, the AFL has limited resources so there would not be extra money available if the project went over budget. The group should consider any cost-saving measures if possible, which could also be a teaching moment for teens about the importance of budgets. 

Action Steps and Timeline

The first step would be to get approval on redesigning the teen room from the Library Director and the Board. This may take a little time because city bureaucracy can take some time to make decisions. After getting the approval, a budget needs to be established for the project so the librarians know how much money they are working with. Once the details of the project are set up, the librarians should make sure they understand what is possible and if there are any limitations to this project. This way, they can outline the parameters of this project at the first meeting with the teens. 

Once all the logistical aspects are set up, the librarians can begin recruiting teens. This will probably take a few weeks, so the librarians will need to take into account what time of year it is (if school is still in session, that may be a factor in how many teens sign up). When the recruitment period is over, they can begin the meetings. There should be one introductory meeting, so that the librarians can go over the details of the project and everyone involved can get to know each other a little. During the rest of the meetings, the group can discuss what they would like to see in the new teen center. These discussions will likely take a few months so that everyone can contribute and then the group can make decisions about the design. 

When the group has their design finalized, the Library Director will need to review it so she can decide if it will work. It is possible that she could sign off on it after she reviews it or it will need to be edited before she agrees to it. After this potential editing time, if she signs off on it, the proposal may have to go through the city so they can set up a schedule for when the work will begin. The construction time depends on how substantial the remodel is, and the time estimate may change once construction begins. The planning process would likely take at least six months and the construction time would likely be at least a few months.

Staffing Considerations for this Service

The two teen librarians would be in charge of managing the teen group and guiding them through the design process. Depending on if the number of teens participating is limited or not, more staff may have to help if there are more teens. In addition to librarians, the Library Director would be involved in making the official decisions. She may even want to sit in on meetings to provide feedback on the ideas being discussed. The teen group can brainstorm what they would want in the teen space, but the Library Director ultimately has to sign off on the design before it can be implemented. Whenever a design is finalized, the work would most likely be carried out by City of Alameda construction and design employees.

Training for this Service

Fortunately, staff do not need much training to provide this service. The teen librarians can work with the teens in groups to discuss the elements that the teens would want in the redesigned teen center. It is an expansion of the Teen Advisory Board (TAB), so the teen librarians are already familiar with this process. It may be helpful for the teen librarians to receive an overview of the design process, including a timeline for decision-making, a discussion of budget, and any official guidelines from administration regarding the design. If any of the teen librarians are absent, another librarian could cover the meeting.

Promotion & Marketing for this Service

It is critical to reach out to teens so they can participate in the design process. The teen librarians can design flyers to post in the elevator, throughout the current teen section, and on the library website. The teen librarians can also discuss this with the TAB to see if any of those teens would want to participate or if they could recruit other teens. Considering that there are only two teen librarians, there should be a limit on how many teens can participate. If there are too many teens, the librarians won’t be able to facilitate an effective discussion about the design. The number of teens participating could be limited to 15 maximum, that number could be adjusted if the librarians need to. This service could also be advertised on the library’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Social media can be a very effective tool to reach teens. The teen librarians would have to contact the reference librarian that runs the library’s social media and give them a copy of the flyer, but posting it should not be a problem.


The evaluation process for this service lies in the hands of the teen group since this service is for them. The librarians could hold a final group meeting, styled like a focus group. They could meet with the teens and discuss what they thought of the project and what they have learned by participating. Another option is to create a survey for the teens to fill out. Some may be more comfortable with the survey because the results are anonymous so they may feel they can be more honest. If there was a focus group meeting, the librarians could also encourage teens that may not be part of the TAB to consider joining. They can continue building those leadership skills that are great for college applications or helpful in the job market.


Alameda Free Library. (2013). Strategic Plan. Retrieved from https://www.alamedafree.org/files/sharedassets/library/strategic-plan-update-2014-2019-final.pdf

Casey, M. E., & Savastinuk, L. C. (2007). Library 2.0: A guide to participatory library service. Medford, N.J: Information Today. Retrieved from https://287.hyperlib.sjsu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Library2.0Text.pdf

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