Pennsylvania Humanities Council Expands Successful Program for Teens

January 4, 2018

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has expanded its award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program to twelve sites, including eight libraries across the state and four out-of-school-time sites in Philadelphia. The primary goal is to leverage the humanities as a tool for positive youth development, with an emphasis on engaging low-income youth and youth of color. 

“Traditional programs for teens follow the ‘if you build it, they will come’ model,” said Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director. “Teen Reading Lounge is different because we start by asking teens what’s important and interesting to them. We’ve seen some very positive outcomes—and as we move forward and expand the program, we want to ensure its participants are as diverse as the population of our state.”

First launched in 2010, Teen Reading Lounge is an interactive book club for youth ages 12-18. Through youth-focused book discussions and hands-on projects, teens come together to explore their communities while building valuable 21st century learning skills.

Beginning in fall 2017, PHC re-envisioned Teen Reading Lounge as a longer-term investment in public libraries that focuses on building capacity to engage teens through humanities-based programming. PHC will provide eight participating libraries with funding, training and technical support through an extended commitment from 2017 to 2019, working with library leadership as well as frontline staff and volunteers.

The funds PHC provide will cover program expenses and an outside facilitator—a local professional with expertise in working with youth who can help library staff develop and deliver the program. Beyond direct funds, library staff will also receive training in working with facilitators and teens to design a program that’s meaningful for their communities.

Since its inception, Teen Reading Lounge has run in more than 80 communities and engaged more than 1,000 youth in rural, urban, and suburban areas across the Commonwealth. Participants show improved skills in the following areas: communication; interpersonal relations; critical thinking, problem solving and creativity; literacy and media. 85% of teens say they would participate in the program again, and 80% report they would tell their friends to join.

Increasingly PHC has worked with Teen Reading Lounge sites to design programs that encourage teens to become active in their community and improve skills directly related to civic engagement. As a result, 60% of recent participants said that they would help site staff develop new programs for teens, and 40% said that Teen Reading Lounge made them want to get involved in activities that would improve their community, school, or neighborhood.

In addition, PHC has partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) to launch Teen Reading Lounge in out-of-school-time (OST) sites across the city. DHS funds OST programming for over 16,000 youth each year. In this initial pilot cycle, DHS identified four OST sites that are a good fit for Teen Reading Lounge from among the more than 70 providers and hundreds of programs it oversees. PHC has provided the Teen Reading Lounge framework and experienced facilitators to train provider staff and help implement the program.

Through all Teen Reading Lounge sites, in all settings and all geographic regions of the state, PHC is committed to improving access and equity in education. Pennsylvania is a “regressive” education funder (meaning the poorest schools receive the fewest resources), and in recent years PHC has shifted the focus of Teen Reading Lounge to engage students who are disproportionately harmed by this inequity: youth from low-income backgrounds and youth of color.

A recent program evaluation shows that, among all Teen Reading Lounge participants, these youth are most likely to show improved skills and a stronger sense of identity. All sites participating in the 2017-18 Teen Reading Lounge program currently serve low-income youth, and PHC will provide all with further training in engaging and working with diverse and low-income youth.

Sites hosting a Teen Reading Lounge in the 2017-2018 program year are listed below by county:


  • Baden Memorial Library and Laughlin Memorial Library (program co-hosts)
  • B.F. Jones Memorial Library


  • Kutztown Community Library
  • Muhlenberg Community Library       


  • Raymond M. Blasco, MD Memorial Library-Erie County Public Library    


  • Priestley Forsyth Memorial Library   


  • Free Library of Philadelphia—Lucien E. Blackwell Branch
  • John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School Out-of-School-Time Program
  • Northeast Frankford Boys & Girls Club
  • Sunrise of Philadelphia at South Philadelphia High School
  • University of Pennsylvania Netter Center for Community Partnerships at UACS West Philadelphia High School


  • Public Library for Union County       

Teen Reading Lounge is made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. As a key part of its prevention focus, The Philadelphia Department of Human Services provides financial support to operate the Philadelphia out-of-school-time pilot sites.

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