All three of the Councils that Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL) serve have identified mental health as the top issue young people are currently experiencing in the northern regions of Melbourne, Victoria. The top five most critical causes are anxiety, school stress, exclusion, loneliness, and general wellbeing.
In mid-2021, YPRL began a codesign initiative to explore how our library spaces could be more welcoming for teens. From these codesign sessions with young people in the municipalities of Banyule City, Nillumbik Shire, and City of Whittlesea, Victoria Australia we learnt that local teenagers wanted:
- to feel ownership over library spaces,
- gather together,
- break the rules, and
- be independent.
A Youth Takeover event was chosen as one of the best ideas for the group to implement. Banyule Youth Services (BYS) had an established Role-Playing Game (RPG) program that was reaching capacity and required a larger venue to allow its existing members to continue building connections and develop their independence. YPRL was looking to change young people’s perceptions about what they can do in libraries and provide opportunities for them to take ownership of the community spaces. Ivanhoe Library and Cultural Hub (ILCH) and BYS staff partnered to develop a new program for youth by
- splitting the existing RPG program audience, and
- creating a new group specifically for older teens aged 16–25 in the library space.
This program was named the Game Night Takeover. In response to input from the codesign sessions with young people, this program runs on the last Friday of every month from 6.00 pm to 9.00 pm. This met the group’s desire to break rules and take over our spaces, as it occurs outside of normal opening hours with the branch usually closing at 6.00 pm on a Friday. Game Night Takeovers utilise games as a common shared interest for social connection with a variety of resources made available by the library.
Role Playing Games have been extremely popular among young people with the recent rise of Dungeons & Dragons in popular culture in the region. The game is well suited to a public library environment, as it requires minimal resources, builds important social skills, and contains a literacy element — the rich communal storytelling within the gameplay. Young people are encouraged to take ownership over the RPG resources and organise themselves independently, with staff available to assist newcomers. The library as a public meeting space is a safe, neutral place for young people who may be feeling anxious or excluded to develop confidence in social settings.
At the time of writing this case study, the Game Night Takeover program has run for six months and seen consistent growth in attendance every time. An estimated 90% of attendees return for the following month or for future sessions, indicating that we are facilitating a valuable experience for young people in our community From speaking with the young people that attend the program, few had been into the library space before and had no knowledge about the free resources that library membership provides. The program has shown remarkable success in delivering social connection, with participants sharing contact information on platforms such as WhatsApp or Discord to continue talking and playing outside the Game Night Takeover program.
This program also creates an excellent partnership with local youth services in the area and the library and provides a clear pathway for young people’s growth and individuality as they discover a sense of belonging in library spaces.
Republished from Yarra Plenty Regional Library Annual Report 2021–2022 — Author credit Scott Mundell