Library, a new home for teens

Karina Kovac for LI Herald

Originally published in Long Island Herald

The Baldwin Public Library has been revamping its teenage section after Baldwinite Mariel DePalma, 31, became head of teen services Jan. 1. Renovations began in the Teen Zone Jan. 27, including installing state-of-the-art technology and extra seating.

DePalma assumed the role after Jill Holleufer retired following 16 years at the library. Growing up in Baldwin, DePalma had planned to become a history teacher when she attended Baldwin High School in 2004—that is, until she was hired as an attendant who helped to organize books at the library.

This sparked her interest in library services, leading her to earn a master’s in library science from Long Island University in 2014. In 2015, the library hired her as a children’s librarian.

Seven years later, internal searches found DePalma as the most qualified to take on Holleufer’s role. Explaining what the library has to offer Baldwin youth once the library is back open to the public, DePalma said, “Teens are usually the most unrepresented in terms of demographic in the library...We offer all free services for them, like college prep, tutoring.”

DePalma said the renovations, which so far have consisted of taking down the wall connecting the Teen Zone to the Homework Room, and integrating modern technology, should help bring teens back into the library after the coronavirus pandemic decreased their attendance.

A new pop-culture club, art projects to benefit charities and the continuation of the popular Summer Reading Club are all attractions that DePalma said she hopes will also help increase youth engagement.

DePalma also hopes teens attend the Teen Advisory Group to have their voices heard, explaining that she wants them to know this is “their space,” and that she’s there for them, so she said, “Come in and visit me.”

Originally, the area had been used as a homework center, but since teens can study in other areas of the library, they told the library that they preferred to use the Teen Zone as a social space, Library Director Elizabeth Olesh said.

She added, “In terms of technology, we are in the planning stages. We think it is important to look at the trends in the library community and, of course, speak with teens in Baldwin to learn more about what they would like to see us offer.”

The renovations were approved by the library’s board of trustees and made possible by State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin with Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who secured $25,000 in state aid. The 153 square feet will not add space to the building’s footprint, but will allow the available space to be used more effectively for Baldwin teens.

“Libraries are the heartbeat of our communities,” Griffin said. “I’m so grateful that it will provide a warm welcome, enhanced services and a vibrant place for the teens of Baldwin.”

Kaminsky commented on the updated space, saying, “Ensuring our youth have a safe space is an essential function of any library,” and he said he was proud to be a part of ensuring that “the library was able to build a new state-of-the-art room that will serve teens in our community for many years to come."