Unlike most libraries, Muhlenberg Community Library is in the enviable position of being on the same campus as the local public schools, creating a prime opportunity for drawing in young people. Jacki Clark, Youth Services Coordinator, sought to capitalize on this good real estate by developing a Teen Reading Lounge group in 2018.
“I looked online at what it was all about ... and the excitement behind it and was like, ‘Okay, this could be interesting... this could grab kids that maybe don’t want to read,’” said Clark.
Teen Reading Lounge quickly became a hotspot for area youth after it launched. Clever marketing and word-of-mouth has led to sessions filled with twenty or more teens engaging in book discussions, deliberating over current events, and working together on projects inspired by their readings. The kids drawn to the program represent the growing diversity of Berks County.
"I feel welcomed in this room and, for once, being one of the only black kids isn't a bad thing,” said Jayla Kearny, a tenth grader. “People are nice and understanding -- they have open minds.”
The bustle of activity during a Teen Reading Lounge session has the warmth of a big family gathering with Clark playing a supportive role, encouraging the diverse group of teens to reflect deeply on the humanities.
“They have their game plan in mind and honestly, I don’t always feel like they need me! They’ve got it together,” said Clark.
With the support of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council the teens have had speakers, such as local hip hop artist Rich Flizzy Flow, and have embarked on educational trips to the Reading Public Museum, Knoebels Grove, Mi Cocina Cooking School, and the Genesius Theatre. The group has developed creative projects together, like their recent Tear Apart Hate collage, that center on their shared readings on topics like justice and inequality.
“I'm always looking forward to the book discussions -- that's my favorite part,” said tenth grader, Veronica Lyons. “No where else can you focus on things like this.”
Encouraged by the growing enthusiasm in Teen Reading Lounge, Clark now aims to give teens the responsibility of facilitating the discussions themselves, creating opportunities for leadership development and building public speaking skills.
“I don’t know exactly what will be in store for 2019 but I know it will be awesome,” said Clark.