Inside the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library in Midtown Manhattan is a special space dedicated to teens where they study, learn to embroider, make music or simply talk, laugh and socialize.
Before the Teen Center opened in July 2021, there were no public spaces solely for teens in the midtown area besides the teen center located in the basement of The Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the New York Public Library’s main branch, but it was the size of one of the study rooms at the new Teen Center.
“The Teen Center hopes to be a space that encourages young people to thrive in ways that are meaningful to them,” said Ricci Yuhico, managing librarian for young adult services at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library. “Literacy is not just reading. It’s becoming literate in yourself and literate in the ways that you want to grow and continue becoming.”
Kids commute from every borough and even New Jersey to use the center. Many go to school close by and use the center each day after school to do homework, hangout with friends and even apply for college or jobs. Some college freshmen also use the space to study.
“I definitely feel like it is a safe space, and it’s also a space where I feel valued in the sense of it’s a space specifically for teens which is not something that I typically see,” said Kaelin Motsoasele, youth civics intern at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library. “The space represents the change that I want to see in our society in the sense of a focus on younger voices.”
The Teen Center includes a curated selection of books, a computer lab outfitted with media production software and hardware such as the Adobe Creative Suite and 3D printers, study rooms, groups tables, reading nooks, and a state-of-the-art recording studio.
“When I heard what it was called, I was like, ‘Literally yes.’ Like that’s what it is- it is literally a teen center. It’s for the teens, and it’s so nice because there’s teens studying but also making music and talking and playing games,” said Maya Smith who goes to the center after school. “It’s so great.”
Olivia Donato goes to a performing arts high school and uses the recording studio to create and practice music.
Before the center opened, Donato would hang out with friends in Bryant Park after school.
“This place helps us a lot because there really are no other places just for us,” said Donato who now hangs out with friends and studies at the Teen Center most days after school. “I cannot do my work at home because I can’t concentrate, so I need a place to be able to sit down and do my work so that’s another way that this place has really helped.”
Motsoasele also uses the center to do work and avoid distractions at home. Since the center is centrally located, Motsoasele also uses the space to meet up with friends before making plans.
Many of the teens had never visited the library before the Teen Center opened. Now, teens from all different backgrounds and schools are able to meet each other and learn about one another.
“It’s a place where teens can feel safe and brave enough to be themselves, and it’s a place for exploration and multiple tiers of engagement,” Yuhico said.
On Nov. 30, the New York Public Library announced that more new and enhanced teen centers will be located at branches across the city, in response to unique needs that surfaced during the pandemic.
The teen centers will focus on interest-driven learning, teen empowerment and civic engagement, the exploration of teen voice and social identity, mental wellness, digital and tech fluency, and mentoring opportunities to learn about post-secondary options.
“Our hope is that we are a space where teens can find what they need, whether it’s a place to hangout, read or pursue their passions. We are here to help them find what they want out of the center,” Yuhico said.