More than a home for library books: Minneapolis Central Library’s Best Buy Teen Tech Center gives teens a place to dive into technology
By Zekriah Chaudhry, home school
3D printers. Design stations. Recording studios.
Imagination is harnessed through technology at the Minneapolis Central Library’s Best Buy Teen Tech Center, a technological hub where teenagers create and tinker with a wide range of gadgetry.
“The thing that I like about this place is that it’s free expression,” said Trejuan Miller, a teenager and frequent user of the Teen Tech Center. “If you want to do something, they help you do it.”
The Tech Center provides a technologically savvy and unique offering for teenagers at the Hennepin County Library’s Minneapolis Central Library, teenagers say. Due to its success, the Tech Center will soon be expanding to other libraries, including North Regional Library in North Minneapolis.
What Is The Teen Tech Center?
A sign near the Best Buy Teen Tech Center at the Hennepin County Library’s Minneapolis Central Library. (Photos by Zekriah Chaudhry/ThreeSixty Journalism)
Donated computer hard drives hang on a nearby wall. The space is lined with computers. Drawers are brimming with garage robotics. Music equipment is spread throughout the room, and a green screen is located in the back. Broken computer circuits that were donated are organized on a nearby table next to a soldering machine and some thread.
These are just some of the technological options for teens at the Tech Center.
“Graphic design, audio production, 3D design and illustration,” listed off Dylan Sprick, a Teen Tech Squad member since last summer. “We have a wide variety of things to do here.”
The Teen Tech Center is a spot where teens—and teens alone—dig into experimenting and collaborating with technology without the burden of school or the vexations of house chores. Unlike traditional schooling, there are no grades at the Teen Tech Center, but members are still encouraged to learn what they want.
“They are not usually looking for something too much like school after school, but learning happens everywhere and the Tech Center is no exception to that,” said Tech Center Coordinator Aaron Lundholm, who helps teens at the Tech Center. “Rather than just playing video games, we challenge them to learn to make their own games.”
“This is completely driven by teens and not by somebody else’s idea of what they should be interested in,” said Adele Murray, a youth services librarian at North Regional Library who was a former librarian involved in the Tech Center at Central.
Central Library’s Tech Center is a product of the Teen Tech Squad, a program that employs teens at the library. Before the program hit its stride, the Tech Squad used to meet and workshop technology around the library.
However, a “dedicated space” needed to be given to the teens so they could have a home base, according to Lundholm. Lundholm and his colleague, Tech Center Coordinator Jason Quaynor, were among those who recognized this issue. With the help of Lundholm, Quaynor, other library staff and Friends of the Hennepin County Library, the library received a grant from Best Buy to help finance the Tech Center. The grant and in-kind support totaled approximately $450,000.
The center, which opened in 2013, now opens after school for all students—the ones who have been itching to finish their projects and the ones who are inspired to start new ones.
“I spend the mornings doing meetings and planning and stuff like that, and that work is necessary,” Lundholm said, “but my favorite part of the day is after school, seeing what people can do when they are given opportunities and some tools and a little encouragement.”
Lundholm spoke of a Teen Tech Center student who went on to North Dakota State to study computer science; another who went to the University of Minnesota, Duluth to study graphic design; and a music-driven teen who has been accepted to Berklee College of Music. He and the rest of the library “encourage the teens to think of this place as their own design studio,” he said, an opportunity that he believes instills a sense of belonging in the teens.
Lundholm and Murray believe this is a revolution for a new age in libraries.
When most people think about libraries, a specific idea comes to mind: books. Despite that, the Teen Tech Center provides a place where transforming an imagined concept into a photo or a video is at the fingertips of teens at their public library.
“Libraries in general are changing,” Murray said. “There is much more emphasis now on technology. Everybody’s got Internet. Everybody’s going to Google things before they come in to ask a reference question at the library.”
Both Lundholm and Murray’s thoughts of the Tech Center are that libraries need to find a way to evolve with the times. They say the Tech Center is a step in that direction by taking something usually unavailable to the average person and making it available.
Popularity-wise, it appears designing pictures and videos falls second only to creating music with computer programs and in-studio among teens.
“I love music. I’m actually working on a sample beat,” Miller said, while admitting that he is still new to producing.
Lundholm and Quaynor are music enthusiasts themselves.
“Music kind of speaks to identity,” Lundholm said. “I love music, I can totally understand the passion that comes from that.”
There are two recording studios near the Teen Tech Center’s front entrance. Guitars and microphones are scattered neatly throughout the room. Teens are busied with more than GarageBand—they are playing instruments, recording their own voices and putting those components into music videos on YouTube.
And teens not interested in music? No big deal.
“We also have people that are making things with craft materials, batteries, circuits (and) putting LEDs in wearable bracelets or hoodies,” Lundholm said.
The Expansion and the Future
Lundholm says other libraries, and even nonprofit groups, have reached out to him, showing enthusiasm in creating a similar tech center. The North Regional Library in North Minneapolis is one of the latest places to model a Tech Center off of Central’s, using current space in its library and turning it into a zone for its Tech Center, according to Murray. The expansion will take place this year.
There is also soon to be a new library in Brooklyn Park that will consist of some Teen Tech Center elements, though, according to Lundolm, at this point there is no telling how much. Lundholm also said the Teen Tech Squad will move to three other libraries this year: Hosmer, Brookdale and Eden Prairie.
The accomplishments of the Teen Tech Center to this point have given optimism to Lundholm and Murray that the expansion to North Regional should have plenty of success, they said.
“We can no longer think of ourselves as a warehouse for books,” Lundholm said. “For libraries to stay relevant and meaningful to the community in the future we need more places where people can come to learn and make things, and this is one part of it.”