Be Kind. Be Positive. Make a Difference.

Over the past week I have been thinking about how every weekday at around 2:20pm EST between 2010-2013 that the Portland Public Library would fill up with anywhere between 30-70 teens. I recall the dramatic change in the library, and no I’m not talking about how the sound level would increase. What I’m talking about is the energy, the passion, and the kindness that came into the library every day with these teens. These teens needed the library to connect, to share, to socialize, and to learn. The library gave them a safe and welcoming space to do all of that, and that space continues to thrive and offer the same wonderful and excellent services to many new teens today. It is a beautiful thing.

Around 75% of the teen population that came into the library back in those days were not born in the USA. They came from countries like Rwanda, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, and Sudan to name a few. They came from countries where their lives were torn apart, their families were displaced, and in the words of a former co-worker “they came from places where one of the first things they learned to say was “please don’t kill my family.”” The people that came to us needed the library but more importantly they needed the United States of America, a place where they had the opportunity to live their lives and pursue their dreams.

I have been thinking about about the teens I worked with at the Portland Public Library today all this weekend and today as I take in all of the news about the travel bans enacted by our government here in the USA. I think about those teens and their families and hope they are safe and well. I worry about them a lot these days. I also think about the future teens and their families from other countries that might come to the USA someday seeking a place to live their lives and pursue their dreams. I want to help them, but how?

It is a time of great unease and there is a lot going on is very troubling. Sometimes it gets to a point where it wears me down, but then I realize that I can’t let it defeat me. I have to stay strong….we have to stay strong. The way we can do that is to continue to promote kindness and positivity in all of our actions.  Kindness and positivity go a long way. This is one way we can help those that we care about.

Andromeda Yelton’s latest post (quoting the ALA Code of Ethics) reminds me of what I need to do every day as a librarian….I need to “provide the highest level of service to all library users.” I need to be there for everyone in my community. And I need to continue to be there for those that I worked with in the past and those that I will work with in the future. This is another way that we can help those that we care about.

We each have our own way of making a positive and kind impact on our own world. I urge everyone reading this to think about what they can do to make someone else’s life better these days. You can have an impact!

(title from Andromeda Yelton’s post, read it here: We provide the highest level of service to all library users. Thank you Andromeda for this post)


Making Art with Teens (THANK YOU)

To read all about the project (from start to finish) please click here

To view the artwork and also behind the scenes photos please click here

To watch our interviews with the teen artists, please click here

Thank you to Peter Hyde for helping bring the project together.  Before you stepped in, we only had an idea of what the project would look like but really didn’t have an idea about how to do it…you solved that!  We were very lucky to have someone like you as the first MECA intern to work on this project.

Many thanks to everyone from the Portland Public Library and the Maine College of Art who were involved in helping get this project off the ground and seeing it through to completion.  Extra special thanks to Portland Public Library Programming Manager Rachael Weyand for all of her organizing, publicity work, and more.

And finally, to the teens: Claire, Keanan, Paisley, and Reesey…THANK YOU for your participation, your work, your vision, your amazing artwork, and most of all, thank you for being part of the Portland Public Teen Library community.


Making Art with Teens (THE GALLERY)

For the full gallery and behind the scenes pictures, click here.

Perception by Claire Longcope
Overdue by Keanan Fox
Chocolate by Reesey Partlow
Linoleum Prints by Paisley Williams
Scribble Drawings by Paisley Williams
Tessellation Study by Paisley Williams

Making Art with Teens (PART 4)

Today I sat down with Claire, who is one of the teens participating in our Portland Public Library/Maine College of Art Teen Art Project to talk about the project now that her work is completed.

Later today, the Portland Public Teen Library will be exhibiting their new art collection – 4 pieces of art created through an Art Internship program organized in collaboration with the Maine College of Art (MECA).

The work of the four teens who participated in the program will be exhibited on the wall across from the Book Store (on the lower level of the Library) during First Friday Art Walk and then move to its permanent home in the Teen Center where patrons can check the art out!


Making Art With Teens (PART 3)

Last week I got a chance to sit down with Reesey, who is one of the teens participating in our Portland Public Library/Maine College of Art Teen Art Project to give us an update on her project and how things have been going so far.


Making Art With Teens (PART 2)

We’re now a few weeks into the project with the teens and our MECA intern and everything is running smoothly.  Our intern Peter is meeting with our four teens weekly to discuss the project and create.  Sometimes they’re at the library, other times they’re at the Maine College of Art working on making art.

This is a point in the project where I’m a bit less involved.  It’s all between our intern and the teens right now.  One of my bigger roles in the project was getting everything set up; making sure all the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed.  My goal was to get the program in place (for information on that part, see here) so that our intern could work with the teens in the program to unlock their artistic potential…and from what I’ve seen so far we’re getting there.

The next step for the program is to keep on making art right up until the deadline.  Before that, I’ll check back in with another blog post on the program featuring some short video interviews with the teens who are participating.  It will be good to hear their voices and see what they’ll be bringing to the library.

(to view more photos from the program, click here)


Making Art With Teens (PART 1)

In late 2010, it donned on me that the walls in my teen library were quite bare.  My teen library, which reopened in April 2010 after a $7.3 million dollar renovation, had all the wonderful elements of a new building: study rooms, lots of seating, a lot of windows, light and energy, and more.  But the walls were empty, boring, and stale.  Those are the things that a teen library does not want to be.  After some thinking, reading, learning about the community, and talking to others at my library, an idea became clearer to me.  What if it were the teens in our community that covered the walls with some amazing art?

I knew that in order to make this program happen we had to have a collaborator.  It’s one thing to be a teen librarian with an idea, but another to actually execute it.  The Maine College of Art, which is located just a few short blocks from my library, was the obvious choice for a partner.  I’ve always enjoyed seeing the work of the students at the college.  From that, I could tell that they were a solid organization to partner with on the project.  Along with my director and our programming coordinator,  we met with a few instructors from MECA and pitched our idea.  Our first step was to create a position description which MECA students could apply to (written by myself and our programming coordinator Rachael Weyand):

The Portland Public Library seeks students interested in or majoring in Art Education to collaborate with the Teen Center to create unique and original art with teenagers. Teens will have varying experience with art and will look to interns to help guide them through the process or creating art. These works will remain in the library’s permanent collection, will be displayed in the library and will be available to be checked out through circulation.

Interns will work closely with the Teen Librarian to define how collaborations will work before partnering with individual teenagers on projects. Work will take place either at the library or at MECA, depending on the discipline. This pilot project will rely on flexibility and creativity of interns in helping to create this program.

Once the position was posted, students could apply for the position.  MECA then selected a student for the position (I’m not sure how this was done, as it was all through the school).  We started working with our MECA intern Peter Hyde in mid January 2012.  Our first plan was for all of us to get on the same page and make sure we had the same goals in mind.  We mapped out a program that we would all feel comfortable with, which ended up looking like this:

  • The Library and the MECA intern will interview and select four teens ages 12-18 who will then work one-on-one with the MECA intern for two months in developing a piece (or pieces) of art which will then be housed in the Teen Library.
  • MECA will provide the studio space for the intern to work with the teens, and the Teen Library will provide the budget for the materials needed by those participating.

To get teens interested, we put the word out via social media (Facebook, Tumblr, library blogs), advertised the program heavily on the digital signage within the library, and also directly contacted local schools about the project.  Our message to the schools was simple:

Hello, and I hope you are well. Thanks for taking the time out to read this email. I am looking for teens ages 12-19 who may be interested in creating art at the Portland Public Library. We at the library are proud to announce an art collaboration project with the Maine College of Art (MECA). For the next few months, selected teens from the Portland Public Library will be working with MECA student on an art education internship. The goal is for the MECA student (who applied for the position and was selected by the school) to work with teens to produce art created by teens with the assistance of the MECA intern that will be displayed in the teen library and possibly can be checked out by patrons. The medium which teens will work in will be depending on what the teen would like to work with. A majority of the artwork will be created at MECA with the intern supervising the teens.

I am emailing you to ask you if you wouldn’t mind passing this information along to any teens that you feel may be interested. They can contact mem Teen Librarian Justin Hoenke at 207-871-1700 ext 772 or visit me any Monday-Friday at the Library.

Once the word was out that the program was happening, teens that were interested started asking about the program and how they could get involved.  To gauge teen interest, Peter and I sat down with the teens who wished to be part of the program.  We talked to them about art, about the general idea of the program, and why they would want to be involved in the project.  All of the teens we spoke with responded with great enthusiasm towards the project.  Our final step was to select the four students that would work with Peter over the next two months.

And that’s where we leave off for now.  I will be following up this blog post over the next two months with program updates, photos, and more.  Thanks for listening.