It's good that Lawrence Public Library officials are thinking creatively about how they can make their facility more useful to patrons, and especially to teenagers.
Some of the suggestions, however, raise questions about exactly which community needs should be filled by the library and which would be better handled by other facilities.
There's no doubt that the function of a library has changed considerably in the last several decades. Remember when you went to the library just to look something up in an encyclopedia, another city's phone book or a travel guide? When was the last time you did that?
With so much information available at the tap of a finger on a computer keyboard, there is far less demand for printed reference materials. However, the library serves an important role by providing online access for people who don't have computers at home. Adding as many as 100 new computers, perhaps including some laptops, to the library makes a lot of sense (although keeping so many computers in good working condition will be a challenge).
Computers also are an important draw for young people, a population the library wants to reach out to. Library Director Bruce Flanders' idea is to carve out a young adult room equipped with televisions, a sound system and video game stations, a place "where they can crank the music up and be teens. And it needs to be a place where we don't have to worry about them disrupting the rest of the library."
Attracting more young people to the library is a worthy goal, but Flanders' last statement alludes to the fact that some of the activities that teens enjoy aren't all that compatible with a library setting. Computers, even computers with games and headphones, seem workable; televisions and a sound system, not so much.
It's often said that Lawrence doesn't provide enough places for young people to gather. With that in mind, would it be better to try to carve out some space in recreation centers or other community buildings where teens can watch TV, "crank the music up" and play video games? No matter where such a facility is located such activities will require at least a little adult supervision, but maybe a recreation center could be a more appropriate setting.
Flanders is right that "teens today learn differently" and live in a multimedia world. Maybe the public library can make this plan work, but there might be better options if the city takes a broader approach to the issue. The library staff, however, certainly deserves credit for trying to entice more teens to come to a place where books are at least one entertainment and information option.