Unlike the hushed and stuffy institutions parents may recall from their own childhoods, today’s public libraries are being modernized into vibrant community hubs with dynamic spaces, engaging programs and exciting new technologies that invite young people, from tots to teens, to create, collaborate and just make themselves at home. “I think for children and teens, the role of the library is kind of changing,” says Joanne Adam, director for the Huntington Public Library. “The library is becoming more of a community center for families, and a place of support for new parents with their children. As the children grow up in the library, they become more comfortable, and it becomes second nature for them to become library users.” This may help explain why many Long Island libraries report swelling numbers of youth visitors in recent years. To accommodate this welcome surge, libraries are reimagining their spaces with their young patrons in mind -- often with direct input from the kids themselves. Here's a sampling of recent youth-focused and -driven remodeling projects at Long Island libraries.
Imagination takes center stage in West Islip
WHAT'S NEW A pirate ship, a puppet stage and dangling cutouts of sea creatures -- all part of a recent under-the-sea-themed redesign in the preschool area -- inspire imaginative play among the library’s youngest visitors. And for parents and caregivers, who must remain in the building while their preschoolers attend story time, there’s a new spot to steal a few minutes of grown-up time: a recently completed reading room for adults features a fireplace, a coffee machine and plenty of places to plug in.
ACCESS The library’s technology, resources and spaces, including the preschool area and reading room, are open to the public. Programs requiring registration are open to residents and residents’ grandchildren.
INFO West Islip Public Library, 3 Higbie Lane, West Islip, 631-661-7080, westisliplibrary.org
Teens get a voice in Brentwood
WHAT'S NEW High school students write and produce their own weekly podcast, “Average Brentwood Teens,” at the Brentwood Public Library. “We have microphones and the hook-up to the internet all set up for them,” says library director Tom Tarantowicz. “It’s theirs, they do it, and they do a really good job.” The podcast is just one of a number of new youth programs that have launched since the recent construction of the Idea Lab -- a makerspace for STEAM programming -- and a glass-enclosed teen center, equipped with charging stations and touchscreen laptops for gaming and more, all developed with input from local teens. Tarantowicz says the new spaces have made it possible for teens to make new connections within their community; for instance, Suffolk County police officers have joined teens for video gaming.
ACCESS Anyone is welcome to use the library; a library card is required to check out equipment or materials. While programs requiring registration are restricted to residents of the Brentwood Library District due to space limitations, events such as concerts and family movie nights are open to the public.
INFO Brentwood Public Library, 34 Second Ave., Brentwood, 631, 273-7883, brentwoodnylibrary.org
Kids get interactive in Port Washington
WHAT'S NEW The children’s library was recently expanded to include designated spaces for storytelling and play, an LCD monitor with interactive programs for kids and a workshop area for crafts and technology programs. Library director Keith Klang says the new setup allows the library to offer programs that weren’t possible before the remodel, such as a video game creation class for children in grades five and six. “We didn’t have the space or the technology in our room to do that before, so that’s an exciting program we’re doing,” Klang says.
ACCESS Port Washington residents get priority when registering for programs, but non-residents are welcome when space allows. Non-cardholders are also free to use the children’s room, computer lab and makerspace technology, such as tablets with Bloxels game creation software.
INFO Port Washington Public Library, 1 Library Dr., Port Washington, 516-883-4400, pwpl.org
Youth get a place of their own in Patchogue
WHAT'S NEW The 100-year-old Carnegie Library, a 2,300-square-foot building located about a quarter mile from the Patchogue-Medford Library’s main building on Main Street, was restored and reborn in 2016 as the library’s new Teen Center -- a space dedicated specifically to this age group, with amenities such as movable furnishings, wireless access and a rich collection of young adult literature. There’s even a Lego table and coloring materials available for the younger siblings of teens who babysit. Teen programs include gaming -- both plugged and unplugged varieties -- crafts, homework help and community service activities.
ACCESS Programs are primarily for residents, but non-residents are welcome when space allows. A library card is required to check out materials and use the computers, but anyone is welcome to come in and use the free WiFi.
INFO Carnegie Library, 160 W. Main St., Patchogue, 631-654-4700, ext. 501, pmlib.org
Library makes room to grow in Huntington Station
WHAT'S NEW The Huntington Public Library System leased an additional floor in 2018 in the building its Station Branch occupies on New York Avenue. The addition made it possible for the teen area to be relocated to a larger space and updated with new technology, new furnishings and a wall mural by Splashes of Hope. Library director Joanne Adam says librarians and security staff provide friendly supervision to create a safe and welcoming environment for the library’s sizable after-school crowds. “We were so happy to get more teen space, because we want to keep them in the library,” Adam says. The children’s area and program room were also rearranged to be more open and functional.
ACCESS The library is open to the public. Walk-ins, including non-residents and non-cardholders, are welcome to participate in teen programs, such as virtual reality for ages 12 and up. A library card is generally required to register for children’s programs, but non-card holders may register if space allows.
INFO Huntington Station Branch of the Huntington Public Library System, 1335 New York Ave., Huntington Station, 631-421-5053, thehuntingtonlibrary.org
Jericho Public Library explores the possibilities
WHAT'S NEW To accommodate a surge in popularity and usage among the high school set, the Jericho Public Library recently introduced its newly expanded young adult area, the Teen Scene. “We increased the square footage of the space, added several computers, increased seating and hired a teen librarian trainee to assist with programming and Teen Scene management,” says Gina Patronaggio, who works in teen services. The children’s space was also updated with a designated preschool area, a Duplo table and an arts and crafts area. And all that may be just the beginning: Plans are on the table for future expansion and modernization of the library.
ACCESS A library card is required to register in advance for children and teen programs; if space allows, registration is opened to non-cardholders on the day of the program.
INFO Jericho Public Library, 1 Merry Lane, Jericho, 516-935-6790, jericholibrary.org
In the works
Updates are underway at these Long Island libraries to bring enhanced offerings to kids, teens and families in the near future:
Roosevelt Public Library
Young library patrons (and adults, too) will soon be able to gain behind-the-scenes skills and insights into the music industry, in the library’s new state-of-the-art recording studio with Pro Tools music software, projected to open by early February. The goal, says library director Lambert Shell, is “to teach them to create and go into business.” The young adult area already features new technology such as a green screen, animation station and 3D printer. Most of the library’s offerings are free and open to the public; the recording studio policies have not been finalized, but Shell anticipates that an appointment and a small fee may be required.
North Bellmore Public Library
For the first time since the library was built in 1964, North Bellmore teens will get their own space when an ongoing construction project is completed this summer. The children’s room will double in size, and the library plans to create a special a needs-friendly area with input from the North Bellmore School District Special Education PTA. There will also be a dedicated children’s activity room for programs such as storytime and crafts. The library and public computers are open to the public; programs requiring registration are open to North Bellmore residents, but non-residents may register if space allows.
Southold Free Library
The simultaneous restoration and modernization of this historic 1891 building will be completed in the fall of 2019. “The teen area on the second floor will be completely up to date with all sorts of cool technology and devices,” says library director Caroline MacArthur. “We asked a lot of teens in the community what they wanted, and used those suggestions.” Specifically, the teens will have multiple spaces to serve different needs -- informal areas for group projects or gaming, and a separate quiet space for studying. The children’s area will be relocated to a brighter space on the first floor. During the school year, programs are open to the public; during the busy summer months, programs are open to residents and library cardholders and their grandchildren.
Henry Waldinger Memorial Library in Valley Stream
Making the most of a small space, this library transformed a former magazine display area into a modern makerspace, set to open later this month. Windows on all four sides will showcase technology such as a 3D printer, robots and microscopes, to spark the curiosity of library patrons of all ages. No library card is required; residents and non-residents are welcome to use the equipment, mostly by appointment. There may be a small fee for consumable items.