June 19, 2018
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Event at Presque Isle library to attract teens, enlist their advice

By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials at the Mark and Emily Turner Library in Presque Isle and two collaborators are working together to make the facility more exciting, stimulating and attractive to teenagers.

From 6 to 8:45 p.m. on Friday, they will host the “Mark and Emily Turner Expansion Expo: Teen Night at the Library.” The evening will feature library explorations, hands-on activities, presentations and discussions, all designed to invite teens to learn more about library offerings, to help library staff learn what motivates teens to make greater use of the library, and to help teens make the case for teen-specific needs in the library expansion plans.

Last June, Mary Barton Akeley Smith, a California resident with ties to the community, donated $1 million to the library to fund an expansion project.

Smith’s ties to The County are strong. Her grandmother Beulah Barton Akeley was the librarian in Presque Isle from 1932 to 1945. Her father and mother were born and raised in Aroostook County.

Smith came into the library to use a computer while visiting Presque Isle sometime in the past year. While on the computer, she overheard another patron who was using the phone to call potential employers to whom he had sent resumes in order to make sure they had received them. When she overheard the conversation, she realized how important the library is to the community and to its residents. That realization prompted her to make the donation.

After hearing the news about the expansion, a group of teens from the Presque Isle High School Community Service Initiative set out to ensure that their needs also would be addressed.

“The library has an incredible history of enriching Presque Isle and its surrounding communities,” says Paul Elish, a senior at PIHS who was instrumental in spearheading Friday’s event. “Now, with technological innovation defining our society, the library is looking to continue fulfilling its role as a focus of community activity. This Teen Night seeks to generate conversation among teens about the library’s evolving role in Presque Isle. The library has been a wonderful partner.”

Elish was assisted by Jennifer Bourassa, an English and psychology teacher at the school. Elish and Bourassa were selected as 2010 Bezos Scholars at the Aspen Institute, among only 12 public high school juniors and 12 educators from across the nation to receive the honor. As part of that event, they were encouraged to return to their communities and create festivals based on their passions and issues of relevance in their communities.

Dianna Leighton, the facility’s youth librarian, said recently that the library sees a huge number of users who are children, but that use drops off when they get to be 13 or 14 years old. That is why the library is looking for ways to cater to them a bit more.

“We know they have massive academic and personal schedules and we work hard to find ways that the library can fit into their lives,” she said. “We want it to be a welcoming and safe place with nooks of activities where teens can freely wander and learn.”

To engage them, the library will be expanding its e-books and technological services. Leighton said the facility also will offer video book reviews and social media. A Nintendo Wii gaming system and Kindle e-reader will be made available for use Friday to help determine whether such services will be offered more permanently. The event also will offer music, a creative writing presentation and prizes.

She also has started to go to PIHS on a regular basis to engage with youths so that they will recognize her and also be aware of what the library is offering.

“Once they know all our offerings, we hope they’ll become community advocates for the library,” she said. “We welcome their feedback as it will allow us to be even better at our jobs.”

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