Torrie Thomas (standing), of Irvin L. Young Memorial Library, leads a recent “Tween Talk” conversation that aims to learn what types of programs might benefit Whitewater Middle School students and other area kids in that age range. (Tom Ganser photo)

‘Tween Talk’ happens in Whitewater

By Tom Ganser


A dozen Whitewater Middle School students gathered at Irvin L. Young Memorial Library Oct. 13 for the first “Tween Talk.”

Held in the library’s media center, the talk was lead by Torrie Thomas, programming and makerspace librarian, and Deana Rolfsmeyer, youth educational services librarian.

Two parents also attended the talk.

The event was a first step in the implementation of a project supported by a competitive grant awarded to the library as a participant in “Libraries Transforming Communities: Focus on Small and Rural Libraries,” an American Library Association initiative that helps library workers better serve their communities.

“We chose to target the tween and teen population in our community because this age group tends to have very low participation in library programs, and so we wanted to connect with them to make sure that we are in touch with their interests and what’s important to them,” Thomas said. “The goal of the conversation is to hear directly from students about their current needs, challenges, and interests and to improve our marketing and delivery of library programs to this age group.”

The program also works to help young people feel a sense of ownership and agency over what the library does for them.

After a brief discussion about resources available from the library – including books, music CDs, free WiFi, a program called “Help Now” for homework assignments and apps like Libby (online library access through an electronic device) – Thomas asked students to share the experiences they’ve had with library services.

She also asked the students to describe challenges they’ve faced – or challenges they’ve heard of – and to share ideas of what the library might want to consider.

Following the meeting, Thomas admitted that she was a little surprised that the students were very eager to participate and to open up about what’s going on in their lives, and their current worries and challenges.

“I was really grateful for their bravery and vulnerability in sharing what’s going on in their lives and what they’re dealing with. They were amazing.”

For Thomas, two important takeaways included learning that “a lot of these kids are under a lot of stress, both at school and at home, and they do feel that they need a safe, calm place to come to” and that “Beyond just being concerned for other people some of the students even expressed a desire to be more involved and to help other people in their community who don’t have what they need.”

Regarding library programming, Thomas noted a great deal of interest among the students in science and animal programs, along with book clubs and competitions like cooking competitions.

She reported that over the next few months the library staff will develop and implement new programs for the tween and teenage group.

The pandemic

Taking in the comments of the students regarding virtual vs in-person experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic, Thomas observed, “That’s something that we’ve been thinking about in library services. I don’t think virtual is going to go away.

“I think it’s going to be a new reality and we are probably going to continue to offer a combination of in-person, virtual, and even hybrid programs for the foreseeable future,” she added.

More immediately, a new, recurring program called “Stress Less Saturdays” will begin in November.

The program is intended for students in grades 6-12.

“This is going to be a laid back, unstructured hang out times for teens where we will offer snacks and various stress reducing activities such as coloring, crafts, games, movies, and we are hoping have some therapy animals visit sometimes soon as well.”



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