When I first hopped off the 57 in Hazelwood, I didn’t have anything in my backpack except paper and drawing pencils. I was heading to my first day, and first Labs Workshop, at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Hazelwood. Hazelwood was one of two new weekly locations for Labs programming—the other being CLP – Beechview—and I had to figure out how to re-create the magic that had built up over the past four years at the original three Labs locations.
Hazelwood was much different from these other sites, located in a tightly-knit neighborhood of about 3,000 people who had seen Pittsburgh through the lenses of its biggest booms and busts. There were no Macbooks, no storage spaces or closets full of soldering irons ready for me. So, I sat with a talented and passionate teen named Cerise and drew faces while we talked about her school and her cupcake-selling business. She showed me the logo she’d designed and it was edgy and eye-catching. I felt a little guilty I hadn’t brought any technology or gadgets, but she was excited to find out when I’d be back.
A few weeks later, Cerise was nowhere to be found, and her younger sister, Shaurice, was slowly circling around the teen area. She would look in, walk away, and come back a minute or so later. I’d seen her talking to Cerise, but she had never approached me. Eventually, the Hazelwood Teen Specialist, Terrel, shouted for Shaurice to come over. A few minutes later she sat down and asked me what I was doing. She glanced up at Terrel every now and then to make sure he was still there, and finally settled in to the activity. Over time, Shaurice became an even more consistent program attendee than her sister, and I watched her confidence blossom as she tried things she never thought she could do. She stopped comparing herself to Cerise, and began to identify her own skills and interests.
Over time, teens at CLP – Hazelwood and CLP – Beechview associated me with creative technology programs, and also began to see me as a trusted adult figure. I offered something “extra,” and it was common for teens to shout, “What are we doing today?” to me as a greeting. Despite the fun and the extras I brought, I was no replacement for JJ or for Terrel. Teens relied on us all. Now, a month or so into my new role as a Teen Librarian, I am once again building relationships with new teens in a new neighborhood. This time it’s the other way around, with myself as an “everyday” presence in the Library. I don’t always bring something fun or new, but when I suggest a program to a teen, they give it a second thought.
By Sienna, a mentor at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh