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New York Public Library serving teens from low-income neighborhoods

YACINE SIMPORÉ Special to the AmNews | 11/10/2011, 3:04 p.m.

"A library is the bedrock of society and you teens are our future," said Anthony W. Marx, New York Public Library (NYPL) president, last week at the opening of a new Teen Center on the third floor of the Hamilton Grange Library at 503 W. 145th St. The center will primarily serve teens between 13 and 17 years old from Harlem, Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights, where about 30 percent of residents are under 19.

The project was motivated by recent library studies that showed that nearly 60 percent of youth between the ages of 8 and 18 in that area use their local library at least once a month. Nearly 30 percent of those said they would use the library even more if it had a space specifically set aside for teens.

Marx said, "The new center is a safe place where teens can come together to learn and to create, to socialize and to study. We have listened to our teens and are giving them what they crave: a private area dedicated to their specific needs and access to technology, which is increasingly important in today's world. We believe that spaces like these will keep young people in the library, help them grow and set the foundation for strong, healthy communities."

Before 2009, the space was empty and unused. It took two years to transform it into the high-tech Teen Center it is today. Boasting 4,400 square feet, the center contains high-tech AV equipment, 30 computers and a media room stocked with a plasma TV, Blu-ray player, digital video projector, extensive audio system, satellite TV receiver and more.

A large-scale performance space will also be used to host TeenLIVE events throughout the year.

State Sen. Bill Perkins was among the speakers. While proudly showing his library card, he said, "The library is a place that can help you for your future and help you be what you want to be."

The $1.8 million project was made possible thanks to the STARR Foundation and the Hess Corporation, which provided the center with its state-of-the-art technology. Arnold and Arlene Goldstein, Bronx natives, also helped with the renovation.

"It is important that young people in low-income neighborhoods have a safe refuge from the streets where they can get help with their schoolwork and have access to technology and other resources to improve their lives, build character and give them hope for the future," said the Goldsteins.

"I usually go to the library 3 hours a week, but with this new center, I will definitely come more often," said Nkosi, 15.

While encouraging children's development, the new center is also a way to fight gun violence, which is particularly high in the surrounding neighborhoods. "It gives kids the opportunity to read, develop themselves and not to have to face the dangers of the city," said Marx

Perkins drove home the point by having the kids chant, "Drop the guns, pick up a book" and "Stop the violence, read a book."