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Thao-Vi Do

The Kirkwood Public Library has continued to provide teen programs over Zoom during the pandemic.

Bright lights and colorful decorations fill the teen room at the Kirkwood Public Library. It is busiest after school, when teens claim the computers to do homework or play games. On weekends, a group might be sitting at the large table playing Dungeons and Dragons. The back room holds more books, along with a TV to play video games on. The teen room hosts social events like trivia nights and community activities. But during the pandemic, the look of the library’s teen program has become bright screens and colorful backgrounds.

Although other libraries in the St. Louis area have opened briefly and reclosed, the Kirkwood Public Library has remained closed throughout the pandemic. Patrons are still able to check out books through the curbside service. Many programs the library offers in normal years have been canceled, while others have been adapted as virtual events. One of those programs, the Teen Advisory Board (TAB), was started in March as a way for teens to be involved in-person at the library and receive service hours. The program has continued over Zoom and grown to nearly 20 members since its first meeting.

“We wanted to still create a space and a way that we could engage and interact with all of our teens who either normally come into the library or are just looking for programs and things to do,” Chelsea Bedley, assistant director of Programs and Youth Services, said. “We’ve transitioned everything to being online and we’ve switched things up.”

Teens involved with TAB have also created other virtual clubs at the library. Art Club, Writing Club and Short Story Book Club all started from TAB members’ ideas. The teens are encouraged to present ideas to Shanon Barton, the TAB coordinator.

“I help mentor them, develop service hours and coordinate all that,” Barton said. “The TAB world is corresponding with 20 teens, having them tell me their ideas and then working to make those ideas happen.”

TAB offers teens a chance to be social with a different group of people and provides service hours to those who need them. The group is open to sixth through twelfth grade, with current members ranging from sixth to eleventh grade. There are six KHS students on TAB.

You get to feel like you impact something.”

— Mackenzie Klein

“It’s nice to be able to talk with other people your age and interact with your friends and have an excuse to do that, even if it’s over Zoom during quarantine,” Mackenzie Klein, junior and TAB member, said.

The librarians expressed their desire to return to in-person events, but Zoom has allowed their normal programs to grow. The shift has allowed the library programs to gain membership.

“Through virtual programming, we’ve seen an increase in the teens who are able to attend,” Bedley said. “I think a lot of that has to do with who’s able to drive and how you can get to actually being in the library versus popping onto an event that is virtual. We’ll probably in the future still offer virtual programming but mix it in with some in-house programming as well.”

Through TAB, teens are involved with library planning and get to interact with peers on decision making. It is a social and service event.

“You get to feel like you impact something,” Klein said. “Almost like you’re benefiting the community by helping to come up with ideas for the library and help them raise viewership.”