Library is welcoming to all, helps teens find themselves

This article by Lauren Hebert was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Mar. 11, 2017.

Want to know the very best part about working in a public library? Knowing that I work in one of the few spaces where everyone is welcome.

There are too few places these days where all of us can go and not only feel valuable regardless of who we are, but also not feel obligated to spend money.

In our world, such a simple notion seems almost radical in its kindness and inclusion. And it also makes libraries fundamentally world-changing in a remarkably positive way. I am proud to be part of an institution that strives to be so welcoming to my community.

Much of my job involves working with teens in the 101Space at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library in downtown Tucson.

Many of my daily tasks are what you would expect when you hear the words library associate. I answer reference questions on the Infoline, I supervise and mentor pages, and I spend time working at all the public desks. I also have the freedom and encouragement to create programs for youth, something which brings me great joy.

My most-successful program is a weekly “Dungeons and Dragons” game for teens. “Dungeons and Dragons,” or D&D, is a role-playing and storytelling game where players work together to overcome challenges and embark on epic adventures.

I love D&D because it relies on imagination. Plus, it’s fundamentally cooperative. On your own, you can’t “win” like you might in traditional games. Instead, you work together with other players to overcome challenges and create an exciting adventure.

Whether you play a fireball-slinging wizard, a stealthy rogue, a tough fighter, or a healing cleric, every player has a role and something to contribute to the group and the story.

I’ve seen much during these weekly D&D games that shows the true value in role-playing games. I’ve seen teens team up with their peers to solve mysteries and slay dragons. But, they’re doing so much more than that. It’s the experience of working together that helps them grow into kind, thoughtful and imaginative adults.

Through these games, teens are learning about cooperation, collaboration and problem-solving in a supportive environment. Plus, it’s empowering — role-playing provides the freedom to safely explore their own identities.

When I was a teen, I wanted to play D&D, but the only people I knew who played did not want any girls involved. To them, it was a game for boys, and I wasn’t welcome. Many years later, I did have an opportunity to play D&D with friends and it has been a deeply rewarding part of my life since then.

This is just one of the reasons the 101Space is so important to me. It’s a place that I can help make welcoming, inclusive and supportive for all teens. Anyone, anytime is welcome to play D&D. The same thing goes for DIY Mondays or Tinker Tuesdays or any of the other programs we host throughout the month.

One of the concepts central to the 101Space is Connected Learning. Simply put, Connected Learning is all about building 21st century skills by connecting people through their interests and providing them the space, support, and tools to explore new hobbies and passions.

At the 101Space, teens can learn design with our 3D printer, make music in our sound booth or movies with our green screen, get homework and job help from skilled instructors and adult mentors, or just hang out with friends after school. We strive to facilitate a space where the youth voice is valued and where the interests and needs of teens drive the programming we create.

I once read a helpful quote from author Ayesha Siddiqi: “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” Empathy is central to my work in the 101Space and elsewhere in the library. This understanding and remembering of how frustrating and difficult one’s teenage years can be has helped guide me to mentor teens and provide them with some of the tools they need to be successful adults.

For this, I am grateful for the opportunity I have to be a part of Pima County Public Library and the 101Space.

Lauren Hebert is a library associate at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library, where she works on the Young Adult Services, Gaming, and Tech Liaisons teams. A fan of science fiction, art history and graphic novels, Lauren’s favorite books are Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Ursula K. Leguin’s The Dispossessed. She holds a bachelor of arts in art history and humanities from Northern Arizona University and two masters of arts degrees, in art history and information resources and library science, from the University of Arizona.