Vashon Library offers way for teens to keep out of trouble

The Vashon Library was teeming with teens at 7 p.m. on the last Saturday in June. They polished their Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution skills while snacking on Red Vines, updated their Facebook accounts online and drank soda or enjoyed a lively battle of Magic cards.

Six times a year, the library comes alive on Saturday nights, and for four hours, a familiar landmark hosts Late Night @ The Library, a hub of adolescent socializing with rules a group of 50 can live by while still having a blast.

“It’s kind of like having a party at someone’s house, only it’s at the library,” said librarian Hester Kremer. She co-founded the event with Rayna Holtz and Leslie Moore nine years ago in response to vandalism in the neighborhood and what they saw as a lack of activities for teens on the Island.

“We wanted to give the teens something to do at the library ... It’s really given them a sense of ownership of the library,” Kremer said.

At June’s Late Night, participants were enthusiastic about the event.

Nick Carleton will be a senior in the fall and has been attending since eighth grade, when McMurray Middle School librarian Julie Jaffe gave him a flier about the event, he said.

“I had a lot of friends who were going,” he said. “We went to do something different — go to the library at 10 o’clock at night. It’s the people plus the environment.”

Fellow senior Meredith Wade attended her first Late Night in June and said she’ll definitely be back.

“I think it’s great that all these kids can come here instead of being out and probably getting in trouble,” she said. “It’s nice to get out of the house and see my friends.”

She said the event helped her see the library in a different light.

“I don’t usually come to this part of the library,” Wade said. “I usually just grab my books off the hold shelf as fast as I can and go.”

Adults in the community are glad to see events like Late Night offered on Vashon, a community where teens often complain that “there’s nothing to do.”

Vashon Youth & Family Services clinical director Jeffrey Zheutlin said boredom can be a contributing factor causing teens to turn to less healthy activities such as chemical use.

“I remember when (Late Night) started, and I’m definitely in favor of it,” he said. “Kids need to be busy doing good healthy things, and parents need to be making sure that happens.”

He said the fact that the event always has an off-duty police officer present contributes to its safety.

After graduating from high school, teens are no longer allowed to attend Late Night, Kremer said, but some can participate in the event in another way — as volunteers.

Elizabeth Hill graduated last month from Vashon High School and has been a volunteer at the library for several years, with the Late Night program and as an intern shelving books and learning librarian skills.

At the Late Night event, she was watching over the Dance Dance Revolution area, “making sure no one gets their shoes all over it,” she said with a smile.

She also happens to be pretty good at the interactive electronic game, and a proponent of the popular teen night.

“It has everything — friends, books, computers, all kinds of games, not just computer games, free food, really cool events, door prizes,” Hill said. “It’s something fun to do on a Saturday night that your parents know you’re safe.”

Hill will attend Washington State University in the fall, and may even pursue a position as a librarian someday, because she’s had such a “good experience” at Vashon Library.

Event volunteer Tamarah Phillips now attends Seattle Central Community College, but was a student on Vashon when the Late Night program began.

“We were the founders,” she said as she registered teens as they arrived for the evening. “It’s a great program for kids and I’m an avid fan of libraries.”

Phillips, too, was once a page at the library, shelving books.

Fellow volunteer Caity Anderson-Patterson, now a student at the University of Texas at Austin, volunteers at Late Night when she visits Vashon in the summer. She said the teen event is not only for social butterflies.

“Even if you’re kind of introverted, it’s great because you can come and read a book and sit in a comfy chair,” she said. “It gets you out of the house, on an Island that’s small and there’s not a lot to do.”

Two For the Road, an Island fiddle duo, and The Pharmacy, an Island-based group that has seen larger success, played in Ober Park, and many teens enjoyed the melodies.

When teens arrive, they sign in and receive tickets for food, soda and the raffle. A name is announced every half-hour for prizes such as Movie Magic gift certificates, Vashon Theatre passes and books.

All of this is provided by the Friends of the Vashon Library, Kremer said, a nonprofit group that raises money to provide community programming at the library through sales of donated books, T-shirts, backpacks and plants.

The event is open to students who are entering sixth-grade in the fall, up to those entering 12th-grade. As many as 80 students have attended in one night, and a good turnout is 50, she said.

Late Night often has special programs — on different nights, they’ve made gingerbread houses, jewelry, valentines, had a henna artist and a “bug guy” who had a huge display of preserved insects. One night, two men in Renaissance garb sword-fought, Carleton said.

Carleton said he’s seen the program mature over the years, with less emphasis on cards and board games, as computer and video games have been introduced. He said June’s Late Night was the first time he’d ever seen Guitar Hero there, and that people loved it and Dance Dance Revolution.

Although people still come to the event to read, fewer do today, he added.

Carleton and Wade said younger Islanders shouldn’t hesitate to come to their first Late Night.

“Grab two or three friends and check it out,” Carleton recommended. “Being on Vashon Island, there’s not a whole lot you can do. Break the cycle and do something different once every two months. Do it once, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it again.”

Wade concurred, adding the event is a great way to “meet new people and make new friends.”

“It’s a lot less intimidating talking to upperclassmen here than talking to them at school,” she said.

The next Late Night @ The Library will be 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2. Call the Vashon Library at 463-2069 for more information.

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