Sterling Heights

Connecting teens during COVID-19: Q&A with librarian Tricia White

Since 2016, librarian Tricia White has been bringing small groups of teenagers in Sterling Heights together once a month to share a meal and chat about books. Over 150 local youth have come through the program, and this year Pizza & Pages has provided one of the few avenues teens in the area can still connect, albeit virtually, during COVID-19. 

Metromode asked the Sterling Heights Public Library (SHPL) teen librarian about what she's witnessed, and why this program survived online where others didn't. 
 
Metromode: What inspired the Pizza & Pages program?
 
Tricia White: When I was a teenager, I was in a book club and it was my favorite thing that I was involved in during my high school years. When I came into the role of teen librarian at SHPL, I was essentially building a program schedule from scratch and I knew that there must be teen readers out there hungry for a book club (and pizza, of course). Having teen-led programming has always been my goal and Pizza & Pages just made sense to me within that framework as the teens themselves are the ones deciding what we read each month.
 
Why do you think it's important to connect teens with each other and with their city, especially during COVID-19?
 
A library’s main duty is to make meaningful connections with the community that it serves. My job is to connect with as many teens as I can and provide them with the service and opportunities that they need to thrive and a big part of that is connecting them with other teens. Being a teenager isn’t always easy and providing teens with a safe, welcoming space to come to and engage with their peers is crucial. It gives them pride in their library and their city and gives us value to them. The COVID-19 pandemic has been isolating to so many teens and trying to maintain these connections in any way that we can is so important because we are trying to give them some sense of normalcy and an outlet to promote their mental and emotional well-beings.
 
What are some of the biggest challenges you face connecting with teens, and helping them connect with each other, during the pandemic?
 
The biggest challenge that we’ve faced in maintaining our connections with the teens of our community have centered mostly on the fact that face-to-face interaction is impossible right now. We’re lucky enough to be within walking distance to multiple local schools and most of our programs took place directly after school so getting teens to come to programs and making those connections with them was relatively easy. Since schools and our library have been closed to in-person interaction, we haven’t had success in moving those programs online. Virtual fatigue is real and when they’re not here in person, I don’t think that attending a library program is necessarily a priority for them. The only program that survived that transition was Pizza & Pages. 
 
What's one moment of connection during 2020 that gave you hope of inspired you?
 
My book club teens are so fun and a couple of them decided to bring their own pizza to a couple of the virtual meetings since we couldn’t share pizza in person like we usually do and that made a lot of us smile. I also had one of my teens tell me that Pizza & Pages has been a lifeline to her during the pandemic which really brings home just how important it has been to continue this program during such a difficult time.
 
What's next for you and your team? 
 
During the entire month of January we are hosting a virtual escape room for teens, which will be posted to our website on January 4th. No registration is required and teens can complete the escape room by themselves or with friends. In addition, we are currently doing take-away programs for teens including our teen book boxes which offer a book, snack, and fun surprise every month and our monthly teen takeaway craft. Both programs require registration and can be picked up from the library through our curbside service.

Grace Perric is one of the teenagers connecting with peers through the (now virtual) Pizza & Pages program at the Sterling Heights Public Library.

Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is a freelance writer, project editor, and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. Contact her at katewritesfreelance@gmail.com
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