MANCHESTER — Teens have a new hangout in town, and it's at the library.
The "Teen Loft," perched above Manchester Public Library's reading room, features the library's entire catalog of young adult books, a work table for group projects, a café-style counter and comfortable seating for reading and other activities.
Sixth- through 12-graders have exclusive access to the spot after 2:30 p.m. on weekdays and whenever school is out.
Members of the Teen Advisory Board, a group of 20 teenagers that help shape library initiatives, helped plan out the loft with library staff members, including Director Sara Collins and Teen Librarian Anne Cowman.
"(The Teen Board) wanted to create a respectful, supportive environment to work and study," said Collins.
The finished product, which opened last month, is a culmination of a 10-year effort to better cater to the library's younger patrons. In 2009, the library received a Serving Teens and Tweens grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners to reconsolidate the library's young adult shelves closer together and fund a part-time teen librarian (Cowman is the second person to serve in the position). Five years later, staff sought counsel from a group of advisers from the Massachusetts Library System and MBLC on how to better the library. Their recommendation was to make the library more welcoming for teens, specifically with their own area.
Town Meeting in April 2017 approved spending $7,500 from the town's general fund to design a "consolidated teen area" at the library.
Rob Doyle, a local architect who has assisted on multiple town construction projects, came up with the loft's design.
At the following year's Town Meeting, $40,000 was granted to begin construction. Kneeland Construction of Needham was hired for the project and Manchester Electric handled lighting and electricity. Additional donations from outside parties were used to purchase furniture.
"We're very happy with the space," Collins said. "It hits all the points that we wanted."
Manchester locals are equally as happy with the Teen Loft, she said, with multiple library patrons thanking staff for what they've done for the town's youth.
Although Teen Librarian Anne Cowman described the new space as "gorgeous" and "perfect," she said she's still trying to find ways to improve it.
"It's still a work in progress," she continued. "We just got a craft (supplies) cart put together, we've ordered a bunch of cool magazines, we're going to put a collection of board games, so it's developing over time."
To better serve the teens, the library staff plan on taking a hands-off approach this summer.
"The demographics of who uses the library shift constantly," Collins said. "We're going to keep a close eye on how its used and try to fill any new needs that come about."
Michael Cronin may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or firstname.lastname@example.org.