The local library isn’t commonly recognized as a popular teenage hangout, but Itawamba County Library head Jeffrey Martin sees no reason why that can’t change.
The Lee-Itawamba Library System, which includes the libraries in both Tupelo and Fulton, recently received a $3,000 Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant from the Mississippi Library Commission. The money was split 50/50 between the libraries.
Locally, the grant money was used to purchase 120 books for youth, which has been used to purchase materials for youth and young adult fiction sections — areas which Martin said needed a little bolstering.
Martin said the books purchased include entries in popular teen series like “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Graceling Realm” trilogy.
Additionally, the library is going to be hosting a number of events aimed at gathering feedback from local youth. On Friday, Dec. 20, the library is hosting a forum for teens to sound off on programming that might interest them. The forum will be open to teens aged 12-18 and will begin at 4 p.m.
Along those same lines, there will be a game day kickoff on Dec. 28 featuring video and tabletop games. During this event, Martin welcomes any teen to challenge him at a competitive video game of his or her choice. If Martin wins, the challenger has to read a book of his choice; if the challenger wins, he or she gets to shove a pie in Martin’s face.
Martin hopes to garner some good feedback from these events and build a rapport with local teens. While libraries are popular with young children, Martin said kids typically lose interest in reading just prior to their teenage years, when their lives begin to pull in numerous directions at once.
“They are in middle school and just getting a taste of the busyness of life, with things like sports, band, and social time taking up most of the hours of their days,” Martin said. “I think teens just have so much going on that they don’t have time to slow down and read a book.”
Which is unfortunate, he said, because there’s a lot to be gained from exploring the pages of a good novel. There’s a reason why schools place so much focus on developing reading skills: It’s a flat-out important skill for a number of reasons. Reading is the basis for learning and can help lay the foundation for both intellectual and emotional growth.
“It’s a tough age; everything is changing,” Martin said of the formative teenage years. “When you are a teenager, you have to make some tough decisions that affect the rest of your life. I think if we can keep teens reading during this time, there will be significant emotional and intellectual benefits.”
Martin elaborated on the ways in which books can help smooth the rough patches during teenage years.
“Emotionally, I think some of the materials for teens out there today can help them feel less isolated and help them know that others have gone through the same issues with friends, family, etc. that they have. Intellectually, the benefits of reading on things like vocabulary, comprehension, and more have been proven time and time again,” he said.
If that’s the case, it makes the library’s role even more important. If teens aren’t going to seek out the library, it’s the library’s job to seek out the teens.
Martin believes he’s up for the challenge; he just needs to get things started.
“I think the paradigm has kind of swung back to where everyone sees the opportunity we have with teens,” Martin said. “I want to do a lot of interesting stuff with our teens — craft projects, volunteer opportunities, science fairs and more. I just need some involvement to get this accomplished.”