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No 'shushing' allowed in new library teen center

Morgan Johnson (right) checks her phone while hanging out with Kristen Rubesh in the new teen area at the Cloquet Public Library. The library is trying to attract more teens and 'tweens with more comfortable furnishings and an Xbox night on Mondays. Jana Peterson/Pine Journal

Wrenshall High School freshman Morgan Johnson and her friends don't go to the Cloquet Public Library to read or do research for school projects. They come to socialize.

That's absolutely fine with Cloquet Library Director Mary Lukkarila.

In fact, Lukkarila doesn't bat an eye when the volume goes up in the new teen area of the library. She just smiles.

"The whole idea is to find some positive activities for kids to do after school if they're not involved in sports and other school groups," said the long-time director, noting that improving services for teens and 'tweens is part of the long-range plan for the local library. "Who knows? While they're here they might discover some books they want to read."

Lukkarila explained that the teen area was designed with the help of a teen advisory board that met over the summer. Over the past couple of months, library staff have slowly added more pieces to the area near the center back wall of the library that is reserved for teenagers and 'tweens.

As well, the library hosts an Xbox competition every Monday afternoon starting at 4 p.m. in one of the library's conference rooms, an event organized by two Cloquet High School students.

"It's fun to watch them play," said Lukkarila, noting that the library has the Xbox Kinect sports games, among others, " - well, at least until they want you to play."

It's a far cry from the stereotype of a library - or head librarian - where talking is forbidden and a giggling fit might be met with a lifetime ban.

On Tuesday afternoon, Johnson was sitting with four other friends in the new teen area, which sports a "foof" chair (which resembles an oversized beanbag chair), a booth and a table where kids can sit and talk, text, play games or, gasp, even do homework. She wasn't doing homework, however. She was mostly talking and texting, happily surrounded by friends.

"We just hang out here after school," said Kristin Rubesh, a junior at Wrenshall, adding that the school bus drops them off right outside the library.

Blair Haies, who lives near the Cloquet library but goes to school at Duluth Denfeld, agreed.

"I honestly would never come to the library if it weren't for my friends," he said.

Felicia Omandoble was the sole member of the group who actually finished up some homework while she sat with her friends at the table near the back wall of the library. She managed to stay tuned into the conversation while working on her sketchbook for art and sipping from a beverage cup (with a lid on it).

"I hope it gives them a place to go, that's the main thing," said library aide Joyce Fritsinger.

Serving genealogists, too

Another new addition to the library is a new microfilm reader that allows users to put the archived newspapers into digital format. Previous microfilm readers only allowed users to print a page or article, but with the new reader users can bring in a thumb drive and copy digital images to that.

The machine was purchased with funds from a $7,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society's Legacy Fund.

Volunteer Lorraine Manty certainly likes the new machine.

Lukkarila said Manty put in more than 200 hours last year searching obituaries from the Pine Knot newspaper and indexing those for people searching for news of their ancestors and others. She has now indexed every obituary in the Pine Knot from 1949 through 2008 and has begun collecting obituaries from other area newspapers.

The library also offers a number of genealogy resources on its website, at Just click on the genealogy tab to find out more.

Editor's note: February is Love Your Library month. Look for a new library column to debut this month.