(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Libraries in Philadelphia are currently closed due to the coronavirus.)
The Queen Memorial Library has always been a place of learning for all ages.
Located at 23rd and Federal streets in the Point Breeze neighborhood of South Philadelphia, the building has a history of education as a former elementary school built in the late 1800s.
It was later renovated into an apartment complex for seniors, and the lower floor became a library in 1995 with a split level separating adult and children sections. It never really had a designated space for teenagers.
Last week, the library formally opened a new Teen Space at the library with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It was a longtime vision of the Friends of Queen Memorial Library which desired a place that local teenagers could call their own.
“When I saw the little children and big children up there, together, I thought this is not going to work,” Friends of Queen Memorial Library president Betty Beaufort said. “We sat down for two hours every week and looked on the internet to see what different libraries were doing for teen space. We did a lot of research. It was a lot of work but it was worth it.”
Children’s librarian Liz Gardiner also saw the void of a teen-specific area as a problem and didn’t want to lose children who enjoyed their time at the library.
“All of the kids who did come to the library were getting older,” Gardiner said. “And now instead of dropping off the map, they’ve continued to come to the library. We’ve seen our teen population mature into that age, and with that, we come into issues that they can’t be sharing the same space with toddlers and pre-K. And yet there was nothing interesting for them down here in the adult area. We thought the perfect space needed to be made.”
The planning, fundraising and grant-seeking began.
Kate Goodman, community organizer for the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, helped the Friends group and the library secure about $4,000 in grants and private donations, with the largest portions coming from Bloktoberfest and local business owner Gary Patel.
“She really helped to keep us on track for applying for grants and keeping government officials accountable with their promises,” Gardiner said.
The staff and students then went to work, shifting the librarian desks and computers to a different side of the room and opening up a space for comfortable chairs, dry-erase tables, books, games and other activities.
Twelve-year-old Micah Lincoln is a seventh-grader at Edwin M. Stanton School at 17th and Christian streets and is a regular at the library.
“All my friends are here and I get help with my homework,” Lincoln said. “I love picking out books to read, and the cooking class is fun and I really like the staff members.”
Lincoln hinted at some of the programs the library provides, which include movie screenings, cooking classes for kids and music clubs. The library aims to give children the tools to build a strong foundation of learning.
“I am very proud because our children need ownership,” Beaufort said. “Ownership can give them a new mindset. Once you have the right mind, you can live in this world and when you’re 15 or 16 years old, you’ll be able to face life’s challenges.”
Beaufort said those attributes need to start early.
“Once you plant the seed, it will grow,” she said. “But first they need to know who they are inside and know there’s something there, they can blossom. I know today a seed has been planted.”
Interested event participants should check the library’s website at https://libwww.freelibrary.org/locations/queen-memorial-library for cancellations due to the coronavirus.