At a library in a suburban neighborhood outside of Pittsburgh, a group of teens sit in a circle and passionately debate morality, sacrifice, and responsibility in Suzanne Collins's blockbuster series, The Hunger Games. They've been meeting for several weeks, and many of them were new to the library and to each other when the meetings first began. Although boisterous, they take turns talking and listening to one another, and on some points, agree to disagree. Later, they break up into groups to finish their models of the Hunger Games arena, a project they have been working on since the start of the program series. Teens huddle together to discuss the best way to represent their artistic vision, and finish their design. The atmosphere is fun and creative, peppered with laughter and excited exclamations as new ideas are shared.
This is Teen Reading Lounge (TRL), an interactive reading and discussion program, designed by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC), library staff, educators, literature experts, and artists. The aim of TRL is to bring teens together around popular young adult books to discuss issues important to them and involve them in activities that encourage innovation, collaboration, communication, and creative problem solving.
A Partnership for Success
In fall 2012, PHC pursued a partnership with Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) to bring TRL to eight libraries in Allegheny County. The project was dubbed the Allegheny Project and funded by federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds administered by the Office of the Commonwealth Libraries, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This partnership was a natural extension for both PHC and CLP and built on two pilot rounds of the program in libraries across the state. CLP, for its part, had recently prioritized teen services with the creation of teen spaces in two neighborhood locations and the hiring of more teen services staff This project marked the first time PHC was partnering with a teen services provider, and they were interested to learn how TRL achieved the program's two goals: increase the capacity of libraries to offer humanities programming for teens and engage teen audiences in humanities activities that builds 21st century learning skills. CLP wanted to add another resource to its impressive lineup of programming, and to learn how an interactive book discussion model like TRL might work with teens.
Choosing host libraries was the first step in the process. PHC staff worked with the Teen Services Coordinator from CLP to find sites that were interested in building their capacity for teen services and offering humanities programming for teens. Eight sites were chosen in Allegheny County: five CLP locations in Pittsburgh (CLP-Allegheny, CLP-Beechview, CLP-Brookline, CLP-Carrick, and CLP-Hazelwood) and three libraries outside of the city (Coraopolis Memorial Library, Community Library of Allegheny Valley (Harrison), and North Versailles Public Library). The number one quality PHC measured was motivation to improve services, and interest in the humanities as a way to engage teens. Some libraries within the system had tried book clubs, but didn't see much success. TRL host libraries were eager to see how the discussion and activity hybrid might be successful, especially if the teens had a say in book choices and in developing activities that reflected their interests.
After libraries were chosen, teen services staff selected local educators to serve as program facilitators. The purpose of this was twofold: local educators had experience facilitating humanities discussions and activities with teens and could model best practices for library staff; in addition, including another individual added another perspective to programming and more support for library staff that already had a lot on its plate. One CLP staffer said, "My facilitator was a great role model for me. Observing her leading the discussions, guiding the group dynamics and learning her planning tips and strategies was helpful to my learning. …