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'Teen Alley' helps make Florissant Valley library cool

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 21, 2010 - Contemporary furniture, a rich color scheme, thousands of books and years of planning have resulted in "Teen Alley," the newest addition to the Florissant Valley branch of the St. Louis County Library system.

When Laura Kasak became Florissant Valley branch manager in July 2008, her experience from more than six years with the St. Louis County Library system told her that this library was missing something.

"One of the first things I wanted to do was rearrange," Kasak said. "Not only did it then accommodate the teen area, but it also opened up the entire library and made it look a lot better."

With the Florissant Valley branch being the largest in North County, Kasak said the area needed a safe place where teens could hang out after school and on weekends. After the readjustment, provisional furniture and shelving was bought to distinguish the "Teen Alley" from the other areas.

"Knowing that our master plan involved having teen centers installed in all of the St. Louis County branches, I knew we would eventually be able to go a bit further," she said.

And further it did. At 9 a.m. on Dec. 16, the Florissant Valley "Teen Alley" held a grand opening. Teenagers and members of the Library's foundation alike braved icy weather for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in the 625 square foot room.

Although the official grand opening was last week, Kasak said remodeling and decorating of the teen center has been complete for about two weeks and the branch instantly saw an increase in after-school and weekend traffic.

Jennifer Richardson, youth specialist at the Florissant Valley branch, said her job, a relatively new position, is to help the library cater to children ages 0 to 18. Richardson formed a Teen Advisory group that, she said, helped with the plans for the center.

"We started taking surveys and finding out what the teen population in this area really wanted and needed from this space," Richardson said.

Richardson said five branches in the St. Louis County library system had Teen Centers before "Teen Alley" at Florissant Valley.

"We started looking at what they did; what we liked there; what we didn't like; what kind of programming, furniture, and all that would fit in best at our location," she said. "We also stopped and thought about 'OK, what kind of space would I personally like to be in, as opposed to being at home, or at school, or at work? What kind of space would I like to go to and would make me feel comfortable?' We started thinking along the lines of an art gallery, or a coffee shop; really a place that you don't want to leave."

Current branches with teen centers are Daniel Boone on Clarkson Road; Cliff Cave on Telegraph Road; Indian Trails on Delport; Natural Bridge and Tesson Ferry.

Richardson said some of her personal interests dating back to her theater days in college brought the biggest crowds in the programming selection schedule in the Teen Center.

"Anytime I did a theater program with improv or acting, people showed up," she said. "We did a video production camp, podcasting, all of that seems to really be bringing out their interests."

Funding for the teen center came from the Starcatcher's gala held in September organized by the St. Louis County Library Foundation. The gala raised more than $60,000 for the St. Louis County Libraries. Each branch, however, has a $25,000 limit for construction, programming and material costs, said Sarah Wood, St. Louis County Library teen services coordinator,

Wood said two other county library teen centers are in the works, both slated to be complete in 2011.

"The next teen center going in at the Bridgeton Trails branch will be named the Laura Bush Teen Center because after Laura Bush came and spoke last May, money came from tickets sold to hear her. The next one will be the Nancy Greenwood Teen Center at the Samuel C. Sachs branch in Chesterfield, named after a former Mayor of Chesterfield," Wood said.

Wood, Richardson and Kasak agreed on the center being a necessity for North County area teens.

"Historically, the library has really catered toward kids, but now we really want to focus on teens, which is often the age where we, at the library, lose them," Wood said. "This is really just to say that we are interested in keeping them coming and that we have resources they need and could benefit from. We want to give them their own space, because at that age, they need it."

Leah Randazzo, a senior at Missouri State University, is a Beacon intern. 

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