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The Library is Losing its Luster

Central Oregon’s Deschutes Public Library offers much more than book loans. Upon entering any of the six branches spread across Deschutes County, visitors will find local art displays, curated study spaces and ready-to-help librarians on hand to answer any questions. However, among the individuals walking amongst the shelves, few are teens.

This issue has been widespread all across the U.S. — a Pew Research study found that only about 30% of teens ages 16 to 17 visit libraries on a regular basis. Overall library usage dropped by 31% from 2008-2018, due to a growing lack of interest. Rather than using the library, many high school students opt to buy their books or forgo reading altogether—an issue that the Deschutes Public Library is aiming to minimize.

When talking to high school students around Central Oregon, Deschutes County librarians Chandra vanEijnsbergen and Meagan Looney believe that a large reason for teenage deficit lies in the lack of transportation to the library.

“In Deschutes County as a whole, there’s a lack of transportation,” vanEijnsbergen said. “There’s a lot of teens that go to school and then home on the bus, but how can they get to the library? Their parents work. They might not live close enough to the library to be [within] walking distance, especially in La Pine and Sunriver. For a lot of teens, that lack of transportation is a huge, huge barrier.”

Although there are six libraries in the Deschutes county system, they may be out of reach for students who do not have access to a car or public transportation. An amalgamation of disjointed bike paths and marginal bus systems complicate getting from place to place immensely. For students who can’t make it there, the libraries do offer digital content — including audiobooks and eBooks on multiple platforms — but this may not always turn out to be a teen’s top choice. According to vanEijnsbergen and Looney, most teens will opt for a hardcover book in favor of its online counterpart, so in-person library access is crucial.

And libraries, although meant to serve the whole community regardless of age, often feel like adult spaces. This is an ongoing issue in the Deschutes Public Library system which librarians are aiming to mitigate. Bend will soon be gaining a third library on the east side — joining the downtown and east Bend locations—which will heighten the focus on teen engagement. For the already-existing libraries, community librarians are working hard to make the building more appealing to younger individuals.

“We are remodeling all of our existing libraries and we are building a new main branch as well. One of the big things that we are doing in those is trying to prioritize teen space so that there is an area that teens feel belongs to them, where they’re welcome,” vanEijnsbergen said. Through these changes, librarians hope to help teens feel more comfortable taking advantage of the many free programs the library offers, ranging in variety from arts-and-crafts classes to job application support.

Other than loaning books, teens can count on their local library for its vast online database. Each library branch also contains several computers free for use, which come equipped with resources to answer any questions and offer studying assistance, if needed. With a library computer, individuals have access to prep materials for the SAT, ACT and AP tests without having to pay any fees usually associated with these.

Activities, such as teen book clubs, are also available through local library branches, which allow teens to learn new skills and meet other community members.

“When we have programs, it’s such a great opportunity for teens to come and get to know teens from other areas in Bend that they may not know. But also, if you have a group of friends coming to something together–that socialization part, I think it’s a really big plus of being able to come here,” Looney said.

Until now, teen activities have not been as widely attended as the librarians hoped. As a result, much of the content had to be tailored to fit a younger tween demographic more likely to use and appreciate all the library has to offer. However, with the renovations, librarians are hopeful that teens will take a more active role in library activities and offer feedback on what they would like to see offered. New changes, especially the addition of a teen space, are meant to incentivize teens to feel like they have their own space at the library.

So far, activities include crafts, book clubs and author speakers. All programs are free of cost and open to any community member wishing to participate.

“Everything that we do is free. All of our classes and programs and author talks and books are free. In that way, we try to make all of these cultural experiences more accessible to a wider audience of people,” Looney said.

Besides transportation, many teens reported feeling discouraged at the thought of having to finish an entire novel before the one-month loan on the title ended. With ever-busy schedules packed full of AP classes and soccer practice being the priority, regularly taking the time to read isn’t always a possibility for teens.

Summit High School junior and library enthusiast Jesse Radzik noticed that people with limited time to spend reading are more likely to purchase their books to avoid having to return them after a limited period.

“If people are only reading a little bit, then they are more likely to just buy the few books that they are going to read,” Radzik said. Many of the titles lining library shelves are specifically geared toward teens and young adults.

“Especially for someone who is a slower reader, loan times can absolutely feel like a barrier as well, that you can’t get through a whole book in a month,” vanEijnsbergen said. To combat this, she recommends checking out an audiobook, which you can listen to while also doing other tasks.

Even if teens are busy and unable to visit the library on a regular basis, both vanEijnsbergen and Looney recommend stopping by a local branch just to take a look at the event offerings and check out the occasional book, because they offer so much more than just reading.

“People look at the library and think, ‘Oh, it’s just books,’ and the library is so much more than that. But unless people think about it, they don’t realize how much more we are than that and how much we want to serve our community,” vanEijnsbergen said. “The library is somewhere that you can go where you’re allowed to just exist.”


  • Lina McDonald

    Lina McDonald was born with a sword in her hand and a weight on her foot. Cue a sixteen-year training montage, complete with exploding volcanoes, murderous sharks and a shirtless Brad Pitt. You want to add an oxford comma? Don’t even run–because you’re not getting away in time. Lina can outrun a bear. Make sure to breathe evenly: even asthma can give you away.

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