As the national spotlight shined on Pennsylvania during the presidential election, young people at Sayre Public Library’s new Teen Reading Lounge used their virtual meetings as a space to make sense of the divisiveness they were seeing on the news and in social media.
Teen Reading Lounge is an award-winning, nontraditional book club created by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. With the support of trained facilitators, participants co-create a reading list and participate in conversations and civic engagement projects that connect to themes in their books.
The teens at Sayre centered their dialogues on books related to the election process, including The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert and The State of Us by Shaun David Hutchinson. During this polarized time, it can sometimes be difficult for young people to speak up and be heard, but Teen Reading Lounge cultivates an environment where they feel safe to share their ideas and opinions.
“We all really enjoyed discussing The State of Us,” said Linda Zhang, a teen participant in the group. “It illustrates how a lot of us are feeling... We don’t have much longer until we vote ourselves.”
Emma White, a ninth grader, appreciated learning more about the election process. “It's really important to discuss why your vote matters, and how you should educate yourself on each of the candidates,” she said.
The program is co-facilitated by Heather Manchester, director of Sayre Public Library, and Kayla Eberth, a local healthcare worker. They emphasized that they get as much out of the program as the teens do -- and their conversations and fun creative projects make them more optimistic about the future.
"It's great to talk to the generation that's coming up,” said Manchester. “They might be the ones to actually do something to take action to change things. That makes me feel good about the world."
“It gives me hope,” agreed Eberth.
At a time of social distancing, Teen Reading Lounge has been a lifeline for young people eager for more social interaction and provides a unique opportunity for engaging conversations about issues that are important to them.
“I’ve gotten to meet new people,” said Zhang. “I don't really get to have these discussions with my friends or family, so it's really nice to have a chance to do it.”
Teen Reading Lounge is made possible by Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) funds from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, Department of Education, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, Governor. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, generous individuals, foundations, and corporations.