Norfolk Library unveils teen lounge

Carter Nadeau, Liam Heller and Wilson DeShazo at The Owl Cove.

Jennifer Almquist

Norfolk Library unveils teen lounge

NORFOLK — To meet the need for more activities and a greater sense of community for the region’s teenagers, Norfolk Library has created a welcoming space called the Owl Cove.

Ann Havemeyer, Norfolk Library executive director, said, “The board of trustees and I felt that creating a dedicated space for teens was a crucial step towards building a sense of belonging. It sends a strong message that they are valued and welcome.”

The idea was hatched in 2021 after community discussions of teen mental health revealed that young people did not feel a sense of belonging in the town. To begin the creation of a teen-friendly space within the historic library, designer Deanna Dewey was given the task of giving life to the vision.

Havemeyer and Dewey worked closely with Leslie Battis, assistant director of the library, to learn what the teens’ needs were, determine the location of the space, choose furniture, define technology needs and decide what color to paint the walls. Renovations began with the removal of existing oak shelves and cupboards to make space for a technology cyber bar where the youths can plug in and work on their laptops. A large screen with Roku was installed on the wall, and a HP color laser printer.

Entering the hushed silence of the Norfolk Library, the elegant architecture of the vast space, designed by George Keller in 1888, invokes awe. Past the oak library tables, the stone fireplace used on certain evening embers of silent reading, and the soft Persian carpets, there are two alcoves at the north end of the Great Hall opening to the left and right. The walls of one alcove now glow with a deep saffron color, wobble stools with orange seats were added for some extra punch, there are low floor-rocker seats, and across the way, surrounded by bookshelves is a worktable with four blue chairs.

A sign stating “Seating is reserved for teens — thank you” stakes out the turf. Colorful student artwork, and poems are displayed on a bulletin board.

Above each alcove there is a welcoming sign — a clever graphic design logo created by art director Jill Chase of a winking owl and the words “Owl Cove, our place to meet up, do homework, hang out.”

Chase came up with the name. The owl was first introduced as a logo by Norfolk Library founder Isabella Eldridge, who included an owl standing on an open book in the invitation to the opening March 6, 1889. Architect Keller perched a terra cotta owl created by sculptor Albert Entress above the porch entrance, and another Entress stone owl above the mantel of the large fireplace in the Great Hall. The library motto, “Inter Folia Fructis” or “Fruit Among the Leaves,” is carved into the stone.

The Owl Cove is a contemporary oasis for young people in the town of Norfolk.

“Within days of opening, teens started showing up. They say it feels comfortable, homey and relaxing,” according to Havemeyer, who continued, “We are so pleased to find teens using their space and look forward to their participation in customizing the Owl Cove to reflect their needs and interests.”

In addition, the library has created a Teen Advisory Council (TAC) to connect with teens and define what programs they would like to have at the library. The TAC consists of six Norfolk teens in ninth through 12th grades, who are expected to engage with their peers on behalf of the library. TAC members are paid a monthly stipend as consultants, and responsibilities include attendance at monthly meetings, planning teen programs and reaching out to friends.

The young folks come from the five area towns represented by Northwestern Regional High School, and some have come to events from Litchfield. Plans include game nights, pizza parties, a possible craft fair for teens, classes in bookbinding, and maybe cell phone photography or a photo contest. On Friday, Feb. 9, a total of 22 teens gathered to enjoy a teen-only pre-Super Bowl food party.

Sometimes the students gather to do their homework together. The library has worked hard to give the teenagers autonomy and clearly is showing them respect. The Owl Cove welcomes area teenagers to join its community. The TAC is full at present, but applications for openings will be on the website after the school year ends. Battis is the Owl Cove advisor. Check the Norfolk Library website for library hours and announcements from the Teen Advisory Council and the Owl Cove.

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