Teens can find their voice, passion at Pima County libraries

This article by Amelia Marsh was originally published in the Arizona Daily Star on Jun. 15, 2019.

After 3 p.m. on most school days, the Joel D. Valdez Main Library’s teen 101Space rings with laughter and conversation.

Teens gather and pull out homework, borrow headphones and unwind with Fortnite or Minecraft, chat with their friends, or grab craft supplies so they can paint, make pinback buttons or work on school projects.

Our youth are loyal customers. Most come in almost daily and stay for multiple hours. They use the library regularly and with depth, allowing for a deeper involvement with their community and peers.

Most young people start coming to the library because they want to see their friends and use computers, but as they build relationships with the library staff and one another, they grow their involvement and become library volunteers, members of Teen Advisory Boards, or partners that create and present special programs.

One of the things I love most about my job is helping teens understand local government and connecting them to the resources they need to take their leadership to the next level. I feel lucky to work with them to build engaging programs, make cool stuff, and create a tight-knit community where people feel safe and welcome.

This past year I’ve worked with 14 teen volunteers and numerous youth interns and staff workers. The projects they work on mirror their interests and strengths. They provide homework help, teach the basics of coding, host podcasts, offer support in 3D modeling and printing, and lead Dungeons & Dragons for tweens, among other projects.

We recently partnered with El Rio Reproductive Health Project Youth Leadership Team, which hosted a Pizza Protection Party at the downtown library. This peer-led conversation helped educate youth about reproductive health-care options and where to get care.

We also hosted a Clothing Swap hosted by Swap Party, a youth-led startup that seeks to disrupt fast fashion. Other teens have taught their peers how to 3D Model with Blender, solve Rubik’s cubes, and make soap. All of these programs provide a unique and fun learning experience driven by social bonds.

I’ve also worked with youth presenters and volunteers on our annual Rising Voices Youth Summit, an event I started when I was 19 and working with the library as part of the Youth Design Team (a team of young people hired to make sure youth voice was a foundational part of the library’s 101Space).

This year, 65 teens attended and learned strategies about using their personal strengths to get involved in the community through activism and civic engagement. The event featured youth-led workshops, and all participants worked in teams to create projects addressing timely issues. Topics included mental health, the environment and student rights advocacy.

Over the last year, we have all seen high school students lead two major movements: the March for Our Lives, and the School Strike for Climate. These movements both call on politicians to take action to make the world safer for everyone, especially our most vulnerable populations.

All of this is happening not a moment too soon. Young people are vital participants in conversations that will affect everyone’s future. I see their creativity and intellect in action every day. It’s a privilege to work in partnership with them.

Stop by and join us!

Amelia Marsh is a Library Associate at the Joel D. Valdez Main Library.