Library Brinley photo

Jennifer Brinley, teen services manager in the new Teen Room at Scarsdale Public Library.

When the digital revolution made virtually all books and data available with just one click, public libraries and even bookstores seemed imperiled by the flexibility, convenience and immediacy that a search on Amazon or Google could provide. But with its remodeled and reimagined space, Scarsdale Public Library (SPL), as its mission states, has set out to “encourage the joy of reading, the exploration of ideas, and the pursuit of lifelong learning for children and adults in the community.”

Students in grades 6 to 12 are among those whom the library will welcome back when it finalizes its plans to reopen to the public in a limited capacity.

Teen Services Manager Jennifer Brinley has taken cues from the library’s strategic planning process where more than 30 teens and their parents participated in roundtable discussions to express their priorities for teen services at SPL.

As SPL’s teen librarian, Brinley curates ideas and content for the YA (young adult) audience via a network of colleagues and fellow stakeholders in youth education, empowerment and librarianship.

“Scarsdale has a very effective grapevine, which often connects me with subject experts who offer teen programs,” said Brinley.

The expanded library will have a Teen Room equipped with comfy chairs and a smart TV but, for now, Friday game nights and Saturday movie nights remain virtual.

A former senior librarian for Young Adults at the New York Public Library in the Bronx, Brinley joined SPL in December 2020 and recently launched SPL’s teen-friendly newsletter full of links to activities, interactive options and recommended reads for young adults like Version Control by Dexter Palmer and Marvel’s Scarlet Witch or Wanda Vision, now a series currently streaming on Disney+. There are also spring recess puzzle lunches, vegan cooking demonstrations, poetry with magnets and college admission seminars. 

Brinley has initiated programs with teens in mind. However, she said, “in this all-virtual world, the lines between children’s, teen, and adult programs are notably blurred.”

“There is often interest from children and older adults in the programs I offer, and because geography is not a barrier right now and a lot of teens have Zoom fatigue, I am happy to open up my programs to people who want to participate,” she said.

Those might include women’s history month recommended reads and virtual events, a conversation with actress and author, Annabelle Gurwitch (a recent guest on Real Time with Bill Maher) discussing her new book, “You’re Moving When?” and, last but not least, a menu from SPL’s café, Apiary.

“In our survey of Scarsdale residents during strategic planning, more than 40% were eager for the inclusion of a café in the library’s renovation,” said Brinley. “The next-nearest restaurants to 54 Olmsted Road are more than a mile away.”

Takeout ordering is currently available online via ChowNow, or via the app, Apiary @ The Library, available on the iPhone App Store or Google Play.

Brinley is working with a teen advisory board (TAB) comprised of 12 students in grades 8 through 11 who offer input on how best to prioritize her time and program budget to deliver relevant and timely services to them via the library.

“They are proposing programs ranging from art and photography to mental health, wellness and research skills,” said Brinley.

“Teens know best what their needs are and which ones are not being met in school, at home, or elsewhere in the community.” She relies on the TAB to communicate those needs, “so that I do not waste time, energy and resources offering things that aren’t necessary.”

A space of their own?

Brinley agreed that sometimes teens prefer to find their own spaces to occupy.

“It is rather presumptuous for adults to say, ‘We designed this space for you so you should hang out here.’ But the fact that I hold this position debunks some of that. My raison d’être is to help them successfully to navigate the library’s often less-than-user-friendly systems.”

Asked what Brinley’s impressions were about today’s teenagers as readers or as young patrons of the library, she said, “As a literacy professional, I approve of all reading. It does not matter to me what a young person reads — the level (below, at, or grade level), format (novels, plays, media posts) or genre (literary classics, sci fi, self-help books).

“If a young person finds reading enjoyable and immersive, then they are stimulating beneficial brain development, building literacy skills, and increasing empathy. Teens have diversified reading habits due to the academic and social realities in the 21st century. Their choice of reading material should not be judged or shamed by others,” she said, adding, “Reading is reading is reading.”

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