Beyond the books

Community finds a welcoming space at Wright Library


Karina Czeiszperger

Diamond Martinez (10), center, and friends sit in the teen area at Wright Memorial Library to relax and talk after school.

Karina Czeiszperger, Managing Editor

Wright Memorial Public Library is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, but it certainly does not serve the same function it did when it was founded. Where libraries were once just a place to check out books, Wright Library works to serve the changing needs of the community and provide a shared space for anyone to utilize.

Visiting the library can exhibit a wide range of sights. In the front room there are often groups of young students and tutors. People of all ages use the computers for anything from video games to catching up with loved ones on Facebook. Walking past young children absorbed in picture books and coloring sheets, patrons can walk down to the lower level. In the lower level, there are almost always groups of students working on homework or enjoying each other’s company.

Wright Library is a huge community center for Oakwood. Whether you’re looking for a quiet corner to study, or an opportunity to volunteer, Wright Library provides many avenues through which you can find what you need.

Youth Services Coordinator Diane Bengson said, “The library is unique in that it’s one of the few places that you can go where you don’t pay anything, and you don’t have to have any particular thing you believe in. You can just be here.”

One of the biggest groups at the library is the Teen Advisory Board (TAB), a group of volunteers from 7th to 12th grade that manage many of the library’s activities including children’s activities, the teen summer reading program, and charity projects. Rachel Dalrymple (12) has been a part of the board for six years.

“[The library] is definitely good for studying, but also for experiences that aren’t centered around work and school,” Dalrymple said.

TAB allows students to make decisions about how they want the library to serve their needs.

Norah Miller (9), who has been a part of TAB since 8th grade, said, “I think it really is [a great resource], especially because Oakwood is a very student-centered community and we have students being the heart of the library.”

Gabby Schalm (12), another volunteer and six year member of the Teen Advisory Board has been attending the library’s programs since she was in 4th grade.

Schalm said, “It’s a way to give back to give back to something that I always got to benefit from.”

Volunteering programs typically draw more high school students in because it is an opportunity to add to their resume.

“I think a lot of people join quite honestly to get community service hours,” Bengson said, “but I think the reason why they stay is they realize it does make a difference in the library.”

One of TAB’s biggest projects about four years ago was remodeling the library’s lower level to be a teen-centered space with desks, comfortable chairs and student artwork hung in the stairwell and around the bookshelves. It is almost guaranteed that groups of students can be found after school hanging out together. One student that regularly utilizes this space is Diamond Martinez (10).

“I come here pretty much every day except the weekend,” Martinez said, “sometimes looking for books or sometimes needing to use the computers or even sometimes just to relax with friends.”

Martinez finds that the library is the most convenient place to go because of its proximity to the school.

“I like the library because it’s close,” Martinez said. “It’s closer to the school than Starbucks and stuff so when it’s really cold we just stay here.”

Providing a common space that can be utilized any way it’s needed seems to be one of the biggest draws for students at Wright Library.

“The most successful program I’ve had so far in all my years though was offering a place for people to come during their exam break,” Bengson said.

According to Bengson, approximately 125 students came to eat, play games, or just relax as an alternative to staying at the school which requires students to stay quiet and focus on studying.

While libraries may have previously been seen only as a place to get books, they are evolving to provide more for their communities.

Bengson said, “The library is trying to keep up to date in both technology and the services we offer.”

Wright Library offers lots of online services such as E-books, downloadable movies, TV, and music, as well as opportunities to explore new interests.

“There’s all kinds of stuff there now, it’s not just books. They have maker kits and other things you can rent,” Schalm said.

Maker boxes allow community members to check out anything from a pottery wheel to a movie making starter kit. Keeping up with people’s interests also extends to the books that are in rotation, especially for young adult novels.

Bengson said, “I know the teen area is actually up 12 percent in books checked out over the last year. I try really hard to keep it really new and current to remove things that aren’t moving anymore.”

Making sure that students have every opportunity to find a way to enrich their lives is one of the program’s biggest goals.

Bengson said, “I think we’re really lucky here that almost everyone is really welcoming to teens which isn’t the case everywhere.”

Allowing students to decide how the library can best serve their needs, whether they need an opportunity to explore new interests, a place to be themselves, resources to study, or a platform for service and leadership allows Wright Library to establish a strong basis for the community.

This piece was revised on March 20 at 3:04 p.m. to correct the misspelling of Norah Miller’s name.  The Ax regrets this error.