BATH — In 2012, the Patten Free Library didn’t have any programs for teens. Now, after years of expanding their programming and services geared toward young adults, the library is opening a new dedicated teen space.

The room on the first floor of the library is an enclosed space where teens and tweens can gather, play games, find books, do homework, watch movies — really anything they’d like to tackle.

Last Thursday, some students were already congregating in the new space, even though the library had yet to celebrate its grand opening and finishing touches were still being added.

Dylan Philbrick, a 14-year-old student at Morse High School, was journaling at a small folding table. For Philbrick and other high school students, there aren’t a lot of places to just hang out after the school day.

“Sometimes you can’t go home right after school,” said Philbrick. “Usually we just go down to the waterfront.”

“It’s getting pretty cold though,” said 15-year-old Morse High School student Devon Rosano.

With the blustery waterfront losing its luster this time of year, the warm library interior and the features of the new teen space are gaining appeal, according to the teens.

“That’s looking pretty good,” said Philbrick smiling and pointing at the large flat screen TV on the wall.

Students say they’re excited to just have a place where they can chat and study without disturbing anyone else.

“I feel like we won’t have to whisper as quietly now,” said Dawson Trask, another 14-year-old Morse student.

“We want kids to be able to be spontaneous,” said Library Director Lesley Dolinger. “If they want to watch a movie, they’ve got that. If they want to play a game, we’re going to have some folding tables in here and some other chairs “It’s a hang-out space. We want to encourage kids to come to the library and see what we’ve got.”

The room is part of a $340,000 renovation push to create an area for teens, as well as overhaul the library’s reference area.

A lot of the teen programming, such as reading groups, movie nights and Magic: The Gathering get togethers, which was previously held in the community room will now be held in the teen space.

As a bonus, moving most teen activities to the teen space will free up the community room, which is often in high demand. The teen space could also be used for other adult activities during times when there are no teens around.

“It’s a multi-purpose room, so our plan is that this is a space for young adults, although in the daytime when teens are in school, we may hold a book club in here or a presentation,” Dolinger said.

Perhaps most importantly for those looking for a cool space during the hot summer months, the teen space has air conditioning — unlike most of the library.

The new space also stands out visually. At the far end of the room stands the most striking feature — a spiral staircase leads up to a small fenced in platform, creating a pilot’s house. From the top, visitors have a bird’s-eye view of the library stacks, or they can look out the windows to catch a glimpse of the Kennebec River.

It’s a significant difference from the library’s previous teen space. Located in a small alcove, that area could only accommodate three or four students before it began to feel crowded.

“We had a little alcove. It was sort of an afterthought, not an enclosed space, so we’d sometimes have complaints … that they were being loud. It was a very cramped space,” said Dolinger. “Anything was an improvement to this.”

Even that small space is a relatively recent addition to the library. The new room is a capstone on the library’s efforts to reach out to teens, an initiative that was first adopted in 2012 when the library recognized that it had “virtually no teen presence.”

In the intervening years, the library has worked hard to correct that. A full-time librarian was chosen to dedicate at least half of her time to organizing programs for teens and tweens, with other part-time positions devoting significant amounts of their time to teen services and programming. In 2013, the library assembled a Teen Library Council to give teens a voice in what the library can do for other people their age.

“We didn’t start under the idea that if you build it, they will come,” said Outreach & Instruction Librarian and Teen Services Coordinator Roberta Jordan. “Over the four years that we were raising the money and doing the work (for the room), we were doing a lot of programming and a lot of school outreach.”

“This builds on all the work we’ve been doing over the past three years,” added Dolinger.

Teens were also involved in the design and purpose for the room. The library’s Teen Council was consulted on the project, as were other teens.

“We involved teens in the design,” said Dolinger. “We also surveyed teens from RSU 1 to find out what they wanted in the space.”

The response to the library’s new focus on serving teens has been solid, with participation growing from 561 youth in 2013 to just under 2,000 in 2017. In that period, young adult circulation has grown by 69 percent.

To mark the grand opening of the new space dedicated to teens, the library has scheduled special events for every weekday they’re open next week, starting with a Magic card draft on Tuesday and ending with creating pom-pom charms. A full list of next week’s activities can be found on the library’s dedicated teen website:

“I come in with a smile on my face every day when I come in, especially when I go look in that teen space” said Dolinger. “Teens have a very special place in my heart and it’s important that we offer them services and this space.”