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Breanna Lai Special to The Skanner News
Published: 09 February 2012

When Ingraham High School junior Aidan Farr goes to the library, the experience often packs a bit more punch than simply checking out a few books.

In addition to being a voracious reader, Farr participates in the Seattle Public Library's teen adviser program. He receives community service hours – required for high school graduation – and in return he reviews books, contributes to the library's teen blog and helps out with events. He also gets to discuss books with other teen advisers from around Seattle.

"It's nice to have this forum," said Farr. "It's a space where we can debate things that wouldn't necessarily come up with our friends, and we have discussions that wouldn't necessarily come up at school."

The Central Library, Columbia branch and Northeast branch of the Seattle Public Library offer ambassador positions open to all Seattle high school students, ages 14 to 19.

"We started the teen advisers group about six years ago; we wanted to have a way for teens to put their input into the library," said Hayden Bass, teen services librarian for Central Library. "We hope they not only will be giving their input to help change the library for the better, but that they will also be experts on what the library has to offer when they leave the program."

Bass said typically the cohort consists of between eight to 15 youths. At the Central Library the teens are required to attend a one-hour meeting every other Wednesday where they discuss books in the young adult genre.

Farr, who attends these meetings, has been an adviser since his freshman year. He appreciates that his peers at the library listen to him more than his friends often do.

"It is just a really fun program with a bunch of nice people. When you have a stupid idea, people won't smack you up side the head like your friends would," Farr said.

The teen advisers agree that one advantage to this service learning opportunity is the flexibility.

"It seemed interesting because a lot of it is 'do it on your own time,' like the book reviews and blogging. It's not a huge time commitment," said Madeline Ewbank, Ballard High junior.

The teens earn credit hours by creating podcasts, reading and reviewing books for the library's card catalog, posting on the library's teen blog, "Push to Talk," and planning and volunteering at library events. 

"I have technically enough service hours by now, but I come back just because it's fun," said Ewbank. "It's a good table out there, it's always nice people. I think there's always something to be gained in the library." 

Rebecca Wong, a sophomore at Garfield High School, is starting her first semester as a teen adviser. Prior to this she frequented the library for DVDs, CDs and fiction books.

"I want to read. I think coming here would give me more access, I use the online encyclopedia and the links on the website and that's usually helpful for homework," said Wong.

Bass said overseeing the teens is the most rewarding part of her job. "A lot of adults may never come into contact with teenagers and they will forget that there are so many smart, articulate, thoughtful, engaged teens out there. We want to help put them on the forefront," she said.

Over the years Bass has seen the program evolve into a diverse, safe space for learning. She added that often these teens wouldn't necessarily hang out with one another. At the Central Library they come together and understand each other's perspectives.

Students form relationships, express themselves through creative writing, and have an added incentive to engage with literary material outside of the classroom.

"I think it's a unique program," said Ewbank. "It's more of an outlet because there is a lot that we don't do in school and I would like to. Like books that we don't get to read because it's not part of the curriculum."

Borrowing books from the library provides these swift readers with a free service that could easily weigh them down.

"I don't buy books because I just read them really fast and I would spend a fortune on paper if that was the case," said Ewbank. "It's also kind of a way to give back because I have used so much of the resources here and I'm not a taxpayer."

The teens debated the issue of e-books.

"I actually like the electronic catalog because I am a really fast reader, my family has three (e-readers) and we can download books, so that means I don't have to be at the library every other day getting a new book," said Farr. "I can just download a bunch of them at the beginning of the week."

Ewbank said she refuses to touch a Kindle.

"There's something to be said for a book; it's more of a sense of accomplishment when you get to the end," she said.

Check out what the teen advisers at Seattle Public Library are doing on their blog "Push to Talk."
New applicants are accepted every semester and there is no term limit.

Breanna Lai is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory

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