Young Bel Air library users enjoy refurbished teen area

Mikayla Baselice, of Jarrettsville, looked around the teen area of the Bel Air branch of the Harford County Public Library Saturday afternoon, trying to get her bearings after being away from the branch for a few years.

It was her first look at the refurbished teen area on the second floor of the library.

"It's going to take me a little while to find what I'm looking for," said Mikayla, a 15-year-old North Harford High School student, as she gazed at the changes to the area. Those changes include a large flat-screen television, fresh paint and furniture geared toward teens who want to lounge or gather around a high table to socialize or work on school projects.

Teens can use computers for school work. The space is also available for playing games and for other youth-focused events.

Mikayla was accompanied by her mother, Tracy Urena, and 8-year-old sister, Ilyana Urena. They had stopped at the Bel Air library Saturday, so Mikayla could look for materials for a school project.

Mikayla also brought what appeared to be a cross between a traditional doll and a high-tech, computer controlled robotic infant that she is "caring for" as part of another school project on child care.

Tracy Urena held the infant and sat in one of the low chairs, as her daughters searched through the bookshelves

"It almost looks like a cafe now," she said.

A grand opening for the refurbished Bel Air library teen area was held Feb. 12.

"The theme was 'Love your Library,' kind of a play on Valentine's Day," Mary Hastler, Harford County Public Library director, said Saturday.

The 660-square-foot space is geared to young people from sixth grade through 12th grade and is available from 2:30 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday. The Bel Air library is open Sundays from October through April.

"We really wanted a place where the teens feel it's their place," Hastler said.

Karen Hagerman, the children's librarian at Bel Air, said the teen area is "very well used" normally, but she noted the spring-like weather Saturday was most likely keeping some of the younger folks from coming to the library.

"They do seem to like this ... it's inviting," she said of the teen area.

The refurbishment of the teen area is part of a long-term effort to "spruce up" the Bel Air and Aberdeen branches.

Library system officials are preparing to revamp the early child literacy area of the Bel Air branch and the main entrance to the Aberdeen branch.

"Bel Air and Aberdeen have been top priorities this year," Hastler said.

She said Bel Air was one of the first branches in Harford County to have an area set aside for teens, and teen areas or rooms were built into newer branches in Abingdon, Jarrettsville and Whiteford.

Hastler said the teen areas have "some of the newest technology, comfy seating, homework support, everything."

She said refurbishments to the Bel Air teen area included expansion by "a couple" of feet, removal of some of the higher shelves to make way for the television and new furnishings such as "high-top" tables, which are higher than a standard table and give those sitting at them a nice view of the main entrance out the window.

"They're really nice to sit and do your work or read," Hastler said.

The new facilities are drawing not just teens but young adults as well.

Lauren Reynolds, 23, of Bel Air, was by herself in the teen area Saturday, absorbed in her studies and writing intensely in a notebook, while listening to music.

Reynolds is pursuing a master's degree in library science online through the University of Maryland, College Park. She was alone in the area Saturday but said she has been able to work while the teens are around, thanks to her headphones.

"I like it here," Reynolds said. "It's a good place to focus."

She said the layout of the space had been changed, and it "feels more spacious."

Reynolds said she also enjoyed being around the collection of graphic novels, which take up a shelf to the rear of the space.

She said her "ultimate objective" is to work with children or teenagers when she begins working in libraries.

"[Teens] need a lot of space, and they need a space that's separate for them, and this library does that very, very well," Reynolds said.

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