A newsmaker you should know: Libraries must find way to draw teens, she says

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Jenice Sileo has been actively involved in libraries since high school. Over the years, the Belle Vernon resident has been a library volunteer, a children's librarian, a school librarian, a library fundraiser and a member of a library board of directors. Her latest affiliation is that of program coordinator for the Chartiers-Houston Community Library, a position she started in April.

In her work, Mrs. Sileo said she likes to inject an element of fun. As the children's librarian for the Monessen library, for instance, she organized a teddy bear sleep-over. She invited children to bring in their bears for an overnight snooze, asked the local Girl Scouts to teach the children campfire songs, had some Boy Scouts set up a tent and share safety tips, and made the campfire treat s'mores.

When the youngsters came back the following morning to "wake up" their bears, she served them a pancake and sausage breakfast.

Later, as the designer of the "Read Across America" poster for the Pennsylvania Library Association conference in Harrisburg in October 2009, she dressed up as the Cat in the Hat from the book of the same name and stood next to the poster to illustrate what she did to motivate children to read in her former Monessen district.

At Chartiers-Houston, she recently invited patrons to come in to learn how to play dominoes and organized a tournament. Her latest venture at Chartiers is an attempt to get more teenagers involved in the library, one she hopes will also offer an element of fun.

"As a general rule, libraries focus on little children but don't offer teens that much in the way of programming," she said. "We usually think they're too busy with gym, soccer, football and other activities," she said.

"They usually come back when they're older adults, but we usually miss serving those in their teen years."

This notion struck home this summer when Mrs. Sileo went on vacation to Richmond, Va., with her son, Peter, 15 and daughter, Nicole, 14. When she searched websites for libraries in that area, she grew discouraged to see they had no programs of interest for her own teenagers.

Determined to do something for teens in her own bailiwick, she's organizing a teen advisory group that will allow members to design and develop programs for their age group and learn how to promote the library. The first meeting is scheduled at the library from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Oct. 1. Membership is free, but participants must first get parental permission.

"First off, I want to hear what the teens want to do," Mrs. Sileo said. "I have my own ideas, but I want them to take ownership of the group."

Some of her own plans include bringing in members of the Paranormal Society of Pittsburgh to share stories and experiences and inviting Heather Frazier, author of "Pittsburgh Ghosts," to come in and read from her book.

"I'd also like to organize a three week workshop that would bring in opera singer, Christina Farrell, for a lesson in opera appreciation, followed by visits by David English, on staff of the Andy Warhol Museum, to teach the teens how to make opera masks."

While the grant proposal she recently wrote to subsidize the workshops was denied, she still hopes to finance the venture through corporate sponsorships.

Library director Jackie Zatoweski, also is working to get more teens involved. She is seeking funds to purchase CLEP, or College Level Examination Program, study guides.

"Several months ago, when our Friends of the Library group met to discuss ways to get younger people involved, board president Ken Britten suggested creating a scholarship for college-bound seniors in the Chartiers-Houston School District," Mrs. Zatoweski said.

The application deadline for the $500 scholarship is Feb.1. To qualify, candidates' parents must be members of the Friends of the Library and applicants must write an essay on the subject of how libraries have influenced their lives.

"I feel strongly that libraries ... are missing the teen generation," Mrs. Sileo said. "We're working hard here ... to make sure they're welcome.''

Details: 724-745-4300.

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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