At first glance, the El Dorado County Library in El Dorado Hills at 7455 Silva Valley Parkway, is a grown-up’s library.
A gorgeous fall display by Pottery World of El Dorado Hills greets patrons as they enter the main room and a magnificent painting of Horsetail Falls by Connie Randmma hangs above a fireplace against the back wall of the library. Colors in the painting were used as a theme throughout the library.
Comfortable chairs and floor lamps give this adult reading section the look and feel of an upscale living room.
“We turn on the fireplace on really cold days,” said Carolyn Brooks, El Dorado Hills branch manager. “We want our patrons to feel comfortable and welcome.”
Calm harmony reigns from the expanding young adult section to the life-sized bronze Mark Twain expounding in front of a whitewashed picket fence at the entrance to the children’s library and from a set designer’s reading tree with bean bags tucked under its roots, to thestory telling room where amphitheater seating welcomes young listeners.
In the main room, 12 computers in individual study stations provide office space away from home, perfect for the commuter population, between the large audio book section and the reference materials section.
“We saved three years for new computers,” said Brooks, “and we just installed them. No more Windows 2003; we’re downtown now.”
It could have been so different.
“We are between Oak Ridge High School, Rolling Hills Middle School, Lake Forest Elementary and Silva Valley Elementary,” said Brooks. “After school is out we have 75 to 100 unsupervised students showing up at the library every day.”
Hungry students blowing off steam at the end of the school day wandered around in the library, yelled and occasionally threw water. Some of them were still there when the library closed.
“We didn’t want to kick them out and we recognized they needed a place of their own,” said Brooks.
The library staff explored the options and what could have been a chaotic disruption became an innovative collaboration between the El Dorado Hills Library, Rolling Hills Middle School and the El Dorado Hills Community Services District’s Teen Center.
Brooks wrote a grant and received $11,000, which enabled teens from the library to join with teens from the Teen Center to form a joint teen council, the Youth Executive League in the Library.
The library also opened its community room as a homework center after school and hired Valerie Richards to provide two hours of supervision each day.
“YELL is the voice of the teens,” said Eric Berman, newly hired youth services librarian. “They do the planning for what kind of programs are offered at the Teen Center and at the library for teens.”
“They are so engaged and wanted to meet every week instead of once a month,” said Brooks. “They wanted to focus on community service. One of their first projects was new shelving in the young adult section of the library and they’ve made 550 new dresses for girls in Nicaragua, Belize and Uganda.”
Other projects include being trained to read to younger children and making purses and duct tape wallets to raise more money for projects. YELL was also responsible for raising more than $7,000 for the library with this year’s Pirates Day.
“They contacted the businesses in our area who were happy to help out and they got wonderful things donated for our silent auction,” said Brooks. “They also put in a 10- to 12-hour volunteer day on Pirates Day.”
The Teen Council is currently making plans to work with Rolling Hills Middle School to get two teachers to tutor at the library’s homework center and they are working on ways to get teens safely escorted to the Teen Center after school to take advantage of the programs there.
YELL applied for an additional grant of money to fund teen programs for another few months and they recently decided to use part of the money they’ve raised to fund the homework center for additional time.
Food for thought
At the homework center in the main meeting room at the library, students file inside, toss backpacks on the tables and go immediately to the large box of apples donated by Nugget Market. Apples in hand, some pull out textbooks donated by Rolling Hills and start in on homework, some gather for conversation and others break out the chessboard and set up a game.
Richards greets each student as they arrive.
“I want them to know that someone cares about them,” said Richards, 52.
“This could have been a huge nightmare, but the teens have risen to the occasion and this collaboration allows us so many more options,” said Brooks. “I’m not worried about the future world leadership anymore.
“Kids, books and no report cards,”she added.”This is the best job in the world.”
The homework center is free, but students are very hungry at the end of a school day. People who would like to donate healthy snacks are asked to contact Brooks at the library at (916) 358-3500.