Editor’s note: Year after year, the Library Journal Index of Public Library Services, a public library rating system, has designated Telluride’s Library a five-star institution. And in 2012, it earned its fifth star in a row, which puts The Wilkinson Public Library into an elite club of 30 libraries that have seen stars five years in a row and third in the nation among public libraries with annual budgets of $1 – 5 million, hence the name of library director Barb Brattin’s semi-regular column, “Five Stars.” This week the library’s head honcho talks about what really happens within its walls after school.

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary

Barb Brattin, director, Wilkinson Public LIbrary (and Finn)

As I talk to community members, I sometimes hear diverse opinions about the after school programs we offer at the library. Some say we run a babysitting service; others say kids play video games and do nothing constructive. Our staff knows a different story. I thought I’d share the following inspiring examples taken from our teen manager’s most recent report.

February was jam-packed with fun events in the Teen Services Department. The Hip Hop Club has grown into a tight knit group of teen boys, who explore their linguistic and musical talents together every Tuesday after school.

The club is led by Teen Services staff member Tony Saab and local teen musical star Skoolkidd who recently performed one of his hip hop songs at the Telluride AIDS Benefit’s teen fashion show. The group has named their band “The Wardens.” Over the past four weeks, “The Wardens” have learned about the history and evolution of hip hop as a music form, created a beat from scratch, and written a chorus together for the song. The chorus is as follows:

The Wardens keep it jumpin’ like a game of hop-scotch,
Here to save the game ‘cause hip hop’s lost,
The industry has changed, what does hip hop cost?
But we going to keep it rollin’ ‘til hip hop stops

In coming weeks the boys will compose their own verses and record themselves rapping over the beat. One of the Hip Hop Club’s most devoted participants is usually an avid skier in the winter time, but tragically he broke his back six weeks ago. Since the accident, the boy had been at the library every day and having a hard time controlling himself in the Teen Area, because he is a high energy teen used to blowing off steam through sports. Hip Hop Club, however, has provided him a perfect outlet for his pent up energy and also allowed him to explore new skills. As a talented film editor with a lot of experience editing his skiing and skateboarding footage, he easily learned beat-making with Garageband from Tony. The boy and another Hip Hop Club participant are hoping to use the song they create as the musical score in one of their upcoming ski videos.

Another devoted Hip Hop Club participant was suspended from the library for the month of January because of his involvement in a cyber-bullying incident. It has been wonderful to see him return to the library and hear him say how much he missed being here. He has been especially appreciative and engaged since his return. As someone who is self-conscious about his weight, I also believe writing for Hip Hop Club is helping him work through his insecurities. His personal verse touches on how he’d like to get more fit.  This particular teen is also an avid Cooking Club chef and to welcome him back to the library after his suspension, we encouraged him to bring in his family recipe for chicken adobo.  The boy only recently moved here from the Philippines with his mother and the rest of his family has not had the chance to join them in the U.S. Cooking his family recipe with his library “family” gave him the opportunity to share a piece of his culture.  That day, everyone at the library raved about how good the chicken adobo smelled and the Youth Services staff was so impressed they asked him to teach the younger ones to make it at their Kid’s Cook program in March. This is a teen who often does not make healthy snack choices (ramen and soda from Village Market is his usual after-school snack), but at Cooking Club he can share a healthy family recipe and feel supported by his new community.

Teen Services staff member Dennis Andrejko and I also had the opportunity to present at the school on the library’s databases. Our audience, the 7th and 8th grade computer literacy classes, loved learning about what the Wilkinson has to offer. The students were particularly excited about Freegal, which allows each patron to download five free songs a week. Dennis and I also provided the students with information on what a database is and why it is more useful than Google in many instances. Their teacher, Mr. Earthtree, has asked them to make an infomercial about their favorite library database and many of the students have been coming by the Teen Area to get help on the assignment.

Space X recently sent their space shuttle, the “Dragon,” into space to deliver a resupply to the space station. And Space X hosted a webcast to answer questions from the public about the mission. Anyone could submit a video of themselves asking a question, and Space X would select their favorite video questions to answer during the webcast. I got a group of teens together and we filmed three videos and submitted them online to Space X. Though none of our videos were chosen, the teens and I had a fun time coming up with questions and reading about the mission on the Internet. The process generated a lot of great conversations about space travel, related careers, and the mysteries of the universe.

For my reader advisory tale this month, I would like to highlight the importance of the library’s role in connecting young readers with age-appropriate books.

Earlier in February, a teen who spends a lot of time in the library, but rarely shows interest in reading approached me to ask if I could help him find a book of ghost stories he remembered reading when he was younger. He said he’d like to read it again because he had suddenly realized he hadn’t read a book in ages. We located what he was after in the juvenile collection and I asked him what he really enjoyed when he’d read it previously.  He said he loved the creepy vibe. In response, I suggested he try “Lockdown” by Alexander Gordon Smith, a great sci-fi book for the reluctant teen read. He ended up checking out both the books and recently returned to check-out the second book in the “Lockdown” series. We bonded over our favorite parts in “Lockdown” and the boy mentioned that though he had a fun time re-reading the ghost stories, he’d actually enjoyed “Lockdown” much more. I felt good about having successfully directed him toward a more age-appropriate series without having had to discourage him from revisiting the book he’d loved as a youngster.

Conversely, a 4th grader who I’ve known since I had her in camp at the Telluride Academy as a 1st grader, approached me one day wanting to check out “It’s Kind of a Funny Story, ” by Ned Vizzini. The book from the teen collection deals with intense themes of depression and suicide. The girl said she’d read the inside cover and thought it sounded really good. Previously, she has confided in me about her life before Telluride and the reality is she and her mother were homeless for the first five years of her life. She has seen many things most kids have not and is very wise for age, so she probably could have handled the themes. However, for her reading level and because I know she is irrepressibly silly, I told her that I thought she’d enjoy “Boom,” by Mark Haddon much more.  Written for 4th to 6th graders, “Boom” tells the hilarious story of a boy who finds out his teachers are aliens. She ended up going with my recommendation and has since told me that she laughs out loud while reading.

I hope these stories make you smile. It may be a little loud in the library after school, but I promise our young people are being nurtured and that’s something to make us all proud.

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