April 27, 2005 - Almost three years ago, when the Oro Valley Public Library first opened its doors, one of the first tasks Librarian Tom Sommers was given was forming a teen advisory board.
"We wanted an opportunity for kids to get together, meet each other and discuss services that teens want," he said.
The young people chosen to serve on the board would have a serious charge. Not only would they need to think of the immediate needs of teens using the library, they also had long-term planning to do, making them an integral part of the library's completion project.
The library now is using 15,000 of its 25,000 total square feet, but has been planning to complete the remaining 10,000 square feet, currently an empty shell, with money from the 2004 Pima County bond issue. In early April, a contract was approved to move forward with construction completion, and Community Development Director Brent Sinclair expects the project to be finished by fall.
When finished, 1,000 of the completed square feet will be dedicated specifically to the 12- to 18-year-olds in town.
The teen advisory board meets once a month to discuss various issues relating to teens and their use of the library. Over the past year, much of that meeting time has been dedicated to planning the new Teen Zone.
According to Julie Lytle, a teen board member, deciding what to call the zone and what ages it would be used for was part of the earliest discussions.
The Teen Zone has four computers set aside for teen use, and that has not been enough with anyone 10 years old and older using them. There have been arguments over who should get to use those computers first - those doing their homework or those playing games. Lytle said she hopes that with the new Teen Zone there will be room for everyone.
The board members have met with the architects on the project and have offered ideas about how the space will be constructed. They also have met with the interior designers to plan a place that is comfortable, a little funky, and highly functional.
"This teen zone will be by teens for teens, literally," Sommers said.
A group of teens, with Sommers, visited the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix to see its Teen Central area, from which they drew inspiration for their own space.
Right now, the teens have a 100-square-foot space in the library, called the "teen nook" by those who use it. Sommers said the space is so crowded that teens often spill out onto the patio to study.
"There's just not enough space," he said.
The new design will create a comfy living room-like area, where teens will be encouraged to take their books and laptops to tables, couches or even the floor, if that's where they want to study.
The design of the new Teen Zone will make it clear that the area is set aside especially for teens. It will be separated from the rest of the library, most likely by French doors, and will have its own information desk. As you enter the zone, the light panels that are on the ceiling of the main library area will start to disappear and will be replaced by colorful light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Carpet, couches and workstations will be placed around the space to make different areas within the zone for working on different types of projects.
"The design says you are leaving the organized universe of the library and going into the Teen Zone, where you can let your imagination take off," Sommers said.
A meeting area is planned, as well as computer stations and an area for watching informational movies and listening to music.
One of the main amenities teens said they want for the new space is more computers. Sommers said the library is hoping to be a hot spot, meaning that wireless laptops can be taken anywhere on the premises and be connected to the Internet.
"We know that sitting at tables is not the only way that people learn," Sommers said.
Another idea that the teens came up with is to have community bulletin boards dedicated specifically to young people, so they can share happenings at their schools, announce concerts, plays, activities and just generally have a means of sharing information.
But while bond money is paying for the $1.1 million library completion project, the "extras" that the teens want will not be covered by the funding.
Extra computers and a flat screen television are high on the teens' wish list and are not covered under the project.
Also on the list of hoped for amenities are vending services, where teens can grab some juice, a granola bar or fresh fruit to help boost their energy as they research.
To pay for all their wants, the advisory board has been aggressively seeking funding, both on a grassroots, do-it-yourself level and from corporations.
When the Friends of the Oro Valley Public Library group held its most recent book sale, the students organized a corresponding bake sale to provide refreshments to the book browsers, raising more than $400. The goal of the group is to raise a total of $22,000.
The group organized another sale for the town's Earth Day celebration, held April 23.
Last week, the advisory board prepared for its latest fund-raising event by getting together to combine all the ingredients for trail mix, to sell at Oro Valley's first Earth Day celebration.
"We have fun when we're together, " teen board member Shannon Green said of the afternoon, spent with her friends. "We all get along really well, and we all want the same thing." Which, she said, is to create a great space for the town's teens.
Lytle agreed. She said that right now there is nowhere for Oro Valley teens to get together. On days when schools lets out early, Nico's restaurant on La Cañada Drive overflows with young people looking for a place to hang out. She hopes the Teen Zone will provide another venue.
On April 27, the Chipotle Mexican Grill, 7555 N. La Cholla Blvd., scheduled a Food with Integrity evening to benefit the Teen Zone. From 5 to 9 p.m., 50 percent of the net proceeds from food sales are to be set aside for the zone.
The company found out about the teen's fund-raising endeavor from reading advisory board meeting minutes, and decided it wanted to help.
Wells-Fargo Bank also has contributed to the pot, donating $5,000 in grants to the teens. In addition, the Oro Valley branch is distributing brochures to the public about the teen project.
Green has been on the teen advisory board since it was formed. She said she has stayed with it for nearly three years because the board has a mission that guides it.
"It's a very interesting time to be on the board because so much is going on with the Teen Zone," she said. "We are planning a whole new space."
Green said the decisions that are made by today's board will affect the way the library looks for many teens in the future, and the longevity of those decisions is something the teens take very seriously.
"It's so wonderful for the library to be letting us have a role in this," she said.
Green has seen the empty warehouse-like space that will become the new zone in the fall and has helped choose the chairs and couches, carpet and paint that will transform the space into a place for teens to come together or to get away.
Although she has helped plan the modern details and has worked to raise money to make it all happen, by the time it is finished, Green will be off at Arizona State University studying journalism. But even though she won't be enjoying it on a regular basis, Green said she wanted to help create this special place in town for teens, so more people can find happiness within its walls, the way she did.
"A lot of teens would agree that sometimes their houses are a busy place, with other siblings," she said. "A lot of them come here after school to do their homework and to hang out. This is the best place for them to be. It's safe. The larger the space, the more willing they will be to come here. And the more things we can give them to do, the better."
Teens use the Oro Valley library primarily for help with their homework, according to Sommers, who sees many young people come right from school with their backpacks, whip out the books and start studying.
The library offers Homework Help services after school, through which teachers and qualified tutors are on hand to aid students with their work. Sommers said many students return again and again to use the service because it is one of the only ones in the area and because it is free.
Also free are the library's SAT practice exams. Students can arrive for the sessions, take practice tests and return to go over their scores to see on which ones they should concentrate their efforts.
The top priorities for the teens in raising money are to save enough to buy the technology that will attract young people to the library and, of course, to fill its shelves with more books. Green said books are what brought her to the library, and they are why it is her favorite place in town to visit.
"I'm a book nerd, I probably always will be," she said.