Library Gets “In the Zone” for Teens

When the newly constructed 60,000 square foot Mountain View Public Library was opened in October 1997, it was met with great enthusiasm from all segments of the community. It has since become a model for other libraries and welcomes visitors from neighboring jurisdictions seeking to implement a similar cohesion of utility and aesthetics at their library facilities.

In 2002, the newly appointed library services director surveyed the community and analyzed the library’s services. She determined that teenage patrons were not being reached as effectively as other members of the community. The challenge was to find a way to meet the needs of teenage patrons within the existing structure of the library. The goal was to create an economically feasible “teen zone,” reflective of the desires and needs of the target population, where teens could gather to view resources, receive homework assistance, make social connections and find a safe area to visit when school was not in session.

Staff surveyed teens in the community, including those who already used the library and those who were not current users. Library staff also coordinated with the city’s Recreation Division staff, gathering feedback from the city’s very active Youth Advisory Group members and creating a new Library Teen Advisory Group (LTAG). Input also was received from the City Council Youth Ad Hoc Committee, library board, city staff who worked with youth, and community members.

Teens Only

The survey indicated that teens were seeking a “teens only” gathering area. The challenge was to find an underutilized space that would provide a space for teens to do homework, socialize and build a sense of community. It needed to be isolated enough so teens could socialize without interfering with other patrons’ use of the library. Fortunately, there was an ideal 1,500-square-foot reading room on the ground floor. The space was large, close to where the young adult books were shelved, and located at the end of a wing to provide more privacy for the teens and noise protection for the other patrons.

Staff then began seeking funding for the project. They shifted some resources and secured private contributions of more than $10,000 from a number of groups, including Wal-Mart, Friends of the Library, Target Corporation and Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.

With funding in place, library staff finalized a design concept with LTAG and the professional designers who had created the design scheme for the library. LTAG indicated that priorities were comfortable chairs, computers with high-speed Internet access, teen-centered materials, games that would encourage socializing and break down barriers, and desks for homework.

In August 2003, a half-time teen services librarian was hired. Since the addition of dedicated teen services staff, the number of teen questions has increased by 50 percent. A grant from the Silicon Valley Association of Realtors (SILVAR) made it possible for the library to hire two students to provide homework assistance Monday through Thursday.

Grand Opening

The new Teen Zone opened on March 3, 2003, with a party attended by more than 350 people. The end result of the collaborative effort is a bright, inviting area. The walls are decorated with teen art and a magnetic poetry wall that encourages self-expression through words. There are shelves with games, desks for doing homework, computers and plenty of teen reading materials. Computers are a helpful resource for teens from lower-income families with limited access to technology in their homes.

Another positive outcome of the Teen Zone is that it creates a gathering area for teens who might otherwise have no other place to engage in productive activities outside of school. Programs include a teen book club, homework assistance, scavenger hunts, crafts, teen book reviews, an intergenerational knitting and crocheting club, and more.

Teen Use and Patronage On the Rise

Prior to the opening of the Teen Zone, the library had a budget of $500 per year for teen materials, and monthly circulation figure for teen materials was 500 items. By February 2006, circulation was more than 5,000 items per month. The annual budget for teen books/media is now $19,500.

Mountain View created a place with a new sector of services that helps teens access the information they need to grow civically, academically, interpersonally and artistically. The Teen Zone is always crowded, and patrons say that it has become a “home away from home,” providing them with a social network and an area where they can complete their homework.

The goal of creating a teen oasis in Mountain View has been successful due to the cooperative efforts of the city council, library staff, teen service providers throughout the city, corporate partners and foundations, community members and, of course, the teens themselves whose input and enthusiasm is reflected in their comments.

Jill (age 15): “I really like the Teen Zone. At most libraries, it’s so quiet you can’t even think. In the Teen Zone, I can get work done while also hanging out with friends and meeting new people. I also like the fact that I can get tutoring for tough subjects. I love the teen artwork on the walls, poetry magnets, games and the crazy, fun people. It’s our place — my home away from home.”

Angeline (age 14): “The Teen Zone is really cool. I love all the books. Most libraries have a shelf or two of teen books, but the Mountain View Library has whole bookcases. I come here and it makes me want to find a job when I am older where I can be surrounded by books. Maybe I’ll become a librarian. If I could, I would live at the Teen Zone.”

The City of Mountain View won an Award for Excellence for this project in the Community Services and Economic Development category of the 2005 California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more about the award program, visit

Contact: Karen Burnett, library services director; e-mail:

This article appears in the April 2006 issue of Western City
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