Sienna Cittadino began her work at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh a couple of years back as a volunteer during Labs programming at CLP – East Liberty. She immediately displayed an easy-going way of interacting with youth and working alongside them as they explored their creative side, which helped her to get the job as Labs Mentor in Fall 2015. Before joining the Library, Sienna worked with our friends at Assemble, a phenomenal neighborhood learning space with a lot of the same ideas about working with youth as the Library. With more than a year of exemplary work in The Labs’, Sienna has parlayed her variety of experiences into a new position – Teen Librarian at CLP – Allegheny (one of the original Labs locations). In today’s post, Sienna writes about her time as Labs Mentor and the importance that our neighborhood Teen Specialists play in connecting youth to our programs and resources.
~Corey Wittig, Digital Learning Lead Librarian, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
by Sienna Cittadino
When I first hopped off the 57 in Hazelwood, I didn’t have anything in my backpack except paper and drawing pencils. I was heading to my first day, and first Labs Workshop, at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Hazelwood. Hazelwood was one of two new weekly locations for Labs programming—the other being CLP – Beechview—and I had to figure out how to re-create the magic that had built up over the past four years at the original three Labs locations.
Hazelwood was much different from these other sites, located in a tightly-knit neighborhood of about 3,000 people who had seen Pittsburgh through the lenses of its biggest booms and busts. There were no Macbooks, no storage spaces or closets full of soldering irons ready for me. So, I sat with a talented and passionate teen named Cerise and drew faces while we talked about her school and her cupcake-selling business. She showed me the logo she’d designed and it was edgy and eye-catching. I felt a little guilty I hadn’t brought any technology or gadgets, but she was excited to find out when I’d be back.
A few weeks later, Cerise was nowhere to be found, and her younger sister, Shaurice, was slowly circling around the teen area. She would look in, walk away, and come back a minute or so later. I’d seen her talking to Cerise, but she had never approached me. Eventually, the Hazelwood Teen Specialist, Terrel, shouted for Shaurice to come over. A few minutes later she sat down and asked me what I was doing. She glanced up at Terrel every now and then to make sure he was still there, and finally settled in to the activity. Over time, Shaurice became an even more consistent program attendee than her sister, and I watched her confidence blossom as she tried things she never thought she could do. She stopped comparing herself to Cerise, and began to identify her own skills and interests.
Every day, the Teen Specialists leveraged their greatest resource: their relationships with the teens they served… I could spend hours brushing up on my knowledge of circuitry, learn to use vinyl cutters, and set up an infinite number of Macbooks with creative program suites, but the real “hook” that brought teens in were the familiar and supportive faces they had learned to trust.
Although I was the Labs Mentor at the Library’s Hazelwood and Beechview locations, the creation of fully-realized Labs sites was a group effort that involved everyone from the clerks to the branch managers. Most integral to the projects were JJ Lendl and Terrel, the Teen Specialists at CLP – Beechview and CLP – Hazelwood, respectively. Every day, they leveraged their greatest resource: their relationships with the teens they served. I could spend hours brushing up on my knowledge of circuitry, learn to use vinyl cutters, and set up an infinite number of Macbooks with creative program suites, but the real “hook” that brought teens in were the familiar and supportive faces they had learned to trust.
Over time, teens at CLP – Hazelwood and CLP – Beechview associated me with creative technology programs, and also began to see me as a trusted adult figure. I offered something “extra,” and it was common for teens to shout, “What are we doing today?” to me as a greeting. Despite the fun and the extras I brought, I was no replacement for JJ or for Terrel. Teens relied on us all. Now, a month or so into my new role as a Teen Librarian, I am once again building relationships with new teens in a new neighborhood. This time it’s the other way around, with myself as an “everyday” presence in the Library. I don’t always bring something fun or new, but when I suggest a program to a teen, they give it a second thought.
My new location, CLP – Allegheny , will welcome a brand new Labs Mentor soon. I’m energized to provide the same bridge to her as JJ and Terrel did for me. I know how overwhelming it can feel to walk into a Labs site for the first time as a Mentor. I also know how quickly those feelings break away and dissolve as soon as you begin to work on a project with a teen. In my new role, I can’t spend quite as much time dreaming up and tweaking programs. But what I can do is ensure that our space is ready to facilitate the relationship between teens and Labs Mentor that makes the program what it is.
- Check out all the posts in our ongoing series on The Labs, starting in 2012, when the initiative was still in early planning!
- Connect with The Labs @ CLP crew online, on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.
Sienna Cittadino is a Teen Librarian at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, a position that allows her to create and support robust, accessible public services that encourage people to trust in their own agency and skills.