The East Baton Rouge Parish librarian last week unveiled a new, airy, glass teen room with funky furniture and colorful lights at the Bluebonnet Regional Branch Library, signifying what’s coming to most of the other branches.
Renovations to the Bluebonnet library started in 2015 and were budgeted at about $1.4 million. But thanks to the public’s affirmative vote in November for 10 more years of an 11.1-mill property tax dedicated to the library, the renovations at Bluebonnet are the tip of the iceberg for what’s ahead.
Seven libraries in the system are slated for upgrades over the next several years. Teen rooms — which are a relatively new feature to libraries — and meeting spaces are among the early plans for all of them.
“Twenty-five years ago, you were lucky if you had one bookshelf with a few sports books on it that said, ‘young adults,’ ” East Baton Rouge Parish Library Director Spencer Watts said.
Teen rooms are now one of the most requested features at a library and provide an area where young adults can read and use technology to interact, build and create.
Such features will top priority lists as renovations to the branches come down the line.
The two libraries where renovations are set to begin this year are the two oldest in the system: Jones Creek Regional Branch and Greenwell Springs Regional Branch. Construction should also finally start this year on the new downtown River Center Branch Library.
Once those renovations are underway, the others on deck to follow are the Baker Branch, Scotlandville Branch, Central Branch, Zachary Branch, and Delmont Gardens Branch.
The library system plans to spend between $3.5 million and $4.5 million on each of them.
Before renovations begin, staff members will hold meetings with patrons who frequent the branches to find out what additions they would most like to see.
River Center Branch construction should soon kick into high gear. The Metro Council will vote later this month on hiring a company to move the building’s furnishings into temporary locations during construction.
By March, Watts said, he’s hoping they will start moving the contents from the River Center Branch to its temporary location on Third Street. He said it could take six months before demolition of the River Center Branch begins.
The new River Center Branch Library also will have a huge teen space and a large “maker” area where young adults can use green screens, digital sound labs and more to make movies, music and other projects.
The teen room and “maker” spaces at Bluebonnet are slightly smaller but still bring excitement to the tweens and teens who walk through its doors.
The teen area is an airy, glass room with funky furniture, colorful lights and shelves upon shelves of adolescent literature. Similar features are on the way for the Jones Creek and Greenwell Springs branches, neither of which currently have separate teen rooms.
Assistant Library Director Mary Stein said teen rooms show the younger generation that the library system recognizes them and wants to give them a space to be themselves. She also said they allow teens to have a space where they can make some noise without bothering the adults who seek the solace of a silent library.
“It’s controlled, but you want that lovely, lively, creative energy,” Stein said.
The American Library Association’s “State of America’s Libraries” report for 2015 identifies teen services as an important trend among libraries. In early 2014, the Young Adult Library Services Association called for more resources to be brought to teen libraries nationwide.
“Teens are drawn to libraries to access the library’s Internet or computers, use the library’s research resources, study, read, write, discuss books, socialize, participate in programming, and just ‘hang out,’” according to the Young Adult Library Services Association’s “Call to Action.”
At Bluebonnet, Teen Librarian Vita Mitchell even leads a teen council. Her young charges are already reporting satisfaction.
Annie Deng, 12, said she and friends frequent the library after school, and they have been waiting for months for the new room to open.
“This room looks like it’s from the future,” Deng said of the new teen room.
The entrance to the Bluebonnet library also is unrecognizable from its pre-Christmas look, with the former young adult area that was near the doorway now is nowhere to be found.
“It was fast and furious,” said Bluebonnet Branch Manger Kelley Young about the quickness of the move.
The former “young adult” gold lettering is now walled off in a construction area where multipurpose rooms will go. Construction on those is expected to be completed in March.
Some of the tweens spending time in Mitchell’s area reported they prefer the new Bluebonnet teen room to the popular one at the Main Library.
Watts said he is not surprised that certain rooms, just like certain libraries, appeal to some more than others.
“They’re not all cookie cut the same,” Watts said. “(There’s) a little bit of a different feel at each one.”