Teens participate in designing new libraries


Since Multnomah County voters approved the Library Capital Bond in November 2020, the library has been hard at work with architecture firms to map out the design process for the construction and renovation of the Chapter One libraries. Throughout the process, the library and the firms have been meaningfully including teen voices with the help of two design programs.

The two programs coordinating teen involvement are Youth Opportunity Design Approach (YODA), and Your Street Your Voice. The YODA team has been working with architecture firms LEVER and Noll & Tam on the design of Albina and the North Portland locations. For the design of the Holgate and Midland libraries, Your Street Your Voice has been working with Bora and Colloqate architecture firms.

Both YODA and Your Street Your Voice offer teens a paid opportunity to help shape the design process and share what they want to see in their local libraries. The groups center the voice of teens coming from communities that are historically underrepresented in public processes. Through a multi-week cohort program students reflect on space and equity, and the messages that can be received from a space depending on who is considered throughout a design process. They are introduced into architecture as a career, while at the same time shaping library spaces in a meaningful way.

As soon as I knew the Capital Bond Project was happening, I was looking for how we could have more youth involvement in these spaces
says Sara Ryan, teen services librarian.
Two teen librarians and one youth librarian wearing face masks face the camera.

Pictured left to right are Sara Ryan (teen librarian), Isy Ibibo (teen librarian), and Cathy Parham (youth librarian).

The goal of both YODA and Your Street Your Voice is to see what kind of space the teens want to develop. “We work with students who don’t get asked ‘how could you change your environment?’ and this opens and unlocks their imagination. With the intention of the design team using their ideas and informing how the design will be executed, teens feel like we actually do care and want their input,” says Jacquelyn Santa Lucia, co-founder of Your Street Your Voice.

Your Street Your Voice provides opportunities and programs for students to get paid to learn about design as a tool for racial justice. The organization works with 12 local high schools, and has programs in and out of state. Your Street Your Voice works with primarily Black, Indigenous, and LGBTQ+ youth who live in the neighborhoods of the libraries they are providing feedback on. “All students are experts, so we want to see what they desire to thrive,” says Jacquelyn.

There has been a lot of engagement from teens in both of these programs. “A lot of the students had thought about place already and what were places that were meaningful to them and where they felt welcome. So we built on this existing interest, and can see that teens are connecting across different schools and cultural backgrounds when they are doing group work,” says Sara.

To showcase the type of innovative concepts a library could have, the YODA team went on a field trip to the Fort Vancouver Regional Library. “On the way there and back it was a great experience with the kids being happy on their own, making friends and having a good time,” says Isy Ibibo, teen librarian. Teens got to see what a more recently updated library looks like, and gather inspiration for what their library could be.

“The teens are concerned about comfortable seating in the library and a space that they could be in all day long and feel comfortable. But they also want a space that feels geared towards social justice and minority communities - BLM and LGBTQ+ rights. I’m very impressed that teens are thinking bigger than just wanting a cushioned chair,” says Isy.

There are different design teams and architects working with the teens on the projects. Each library is designed with the unique needs of each community and neighborhoods. “The overall approach is to have these teens be reflected in these specific areas, so there is different cultural and linguistic diversity,” says Suzanne Chou, community engagement coordinator with the Library Capital Bond Projects.

Students are learning project management skills, design principles, community agreements, environmental aspects of developing large buildings, color schemes, space considerations and more.

One teen shared how learning about architecture inspired him to explore other features of design, including the engineering and mechanics of a building. “This made me think about the concept that everything in the building has something to offer, whether that be functional or aesthetic,” says Theo, junior in high school and participant in the YODA program.

Teens are guided through the visual process of design and what architecture looks like. The architecture team shows what the current plan is for teen spaces, how to read these plans and what a 21st century library could look like.

“I really liked building with jenga blocks when I was a kid. I would put them to the side and put roofs on, and admire how there was structure, how architecture has to do with it, and how it is supported. From there I started looking more into what an architect was, because I didn't know before. I just liked building and liked the concept of structure and support and design in buildings. Then I learned what an architect meant and that's what I looked into to go forth,” says Marelynn, a junior in high school and participant in the YODA program.

Two teens hold up a design plan for a library

Marelynn’s school has a work-study program that has allowed her and other teens to look a bit more in depth into specific careers. She has been passionate about architecture for a long time, and expressed her love for this program. “Problem solving is a big part of architecture. It’s all problem solving to get to the big goal you have in the future of the building or project, and even though the building needs to be strong to support everything, the process of design is flexible,” says Marelynn. 

In the recent Your Street Your Voice cohort, students were able to share their ideas with the design and architecture team as well as key library stakeholders. They described pieces of the library that are important to them, including color preferences, how the five senses can impact wanting to leave or stay at the library, and ideas for how to build community outside of the library— like with a community garden. The teens shared their wish list of rooms for particular interests— a music library, library of games, and even a pets library! No suggestion or idea was too outrageous, as this exercise was an opportunity for teens to think outside the box and discuss what they would like in the library if there were no limits.

“The built environment is a reflection of the value system. It’s very clear where investments have been put in when you see it in schools and libraries…and libraries are a safe space for a lot of people. They provide safety, security, and wrap-around services. I can't tell you how many times students have said, ‘the library has been the place,’” says Jacquelyn.

These programs offer hands-on activities for teens, and give young people the time and space to share in the design of the libraries they are a part of. 

The library is committed to youth informing future library projects, and as projects move forward, opportunities for input will be updated on the Library Capital Bond Projects website. You can also stay up-to-date by signing up for the bond projects newsletter.