Recognizing that community-centered public libraries can play a unique role in addressing the teen mental health crisis, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded The Seattle Public Library a $249,743 grant for a three-year project titled “Creating Space for Teen Mental Health.”

The Seattle Public Library will lead the project in partnership with the University of Washington, the Meridian Library District in Idaho, Charles County Public Library in Maryland and the American Library Association. The project will support teen mental health by expanding public libraries’ capacity to co-design virtual and physical spaces with teenagers (instead of for them) that reinforce positive teen mental health.

“We observed in our previous work focused on building positive mental health through virtual reality that teens are interested in exploring connections between space and well-being,” said Juan Rubio, Public Services program manager at The Seattle Public Library. “Recent research suggests a strong connection between well-designed spaces and mental health. Libraries, as community spaces, are able to provide opportunities for teens to reimagine the environments they inhabit as a way to build positive mental health.”

The project will also develop a website to disseminate the Teen Mental Health Co-design Framework nationally so that other libraries and youth-serving organizations can replicate the model. It will include an online repository with assets, tools, resources, and examples available for libraries.

Teams of youth, library staff and student interns will work together to reimagine teen centers in libraries, spaces in the community in which teens spend time, or virtual spaces such as Minecraft or apps like TikTok. Co-design can encompass activities ranging from defining and solving problems to prototyping, iterating, testing and releasing solutions.

Why the emphasis on spaces? As community-centered organizations that are free and open to all, public libraries already provide virtual and physical gathering spaces to connect with peers, take advantage of learning programs, use technology, check out items, get help from Library staff, and decompress. Offering teens the opportunity to purposefully design their own spaces within libraries can empower them to overcome stigma, have conversations about their mental health with trusted adults, and work cooperatively to address their own needs.

“This project helps build the capacity of libraries to regularly engage with teens in building positive mental health before crises occur,” said The Seattle Public Library’s Rubio.

In the first year, each library will work with a teen cohort of about 10 participants per library. Six more libraries will join in the second year. The focus will be on recruiting BIPOC, minority and other youth from other non-dominant communities who have faced extra challenges during the pandemic and might not be traditional library users.

Two professors from the University of Washington, Elin Bjorling and Jin Ha Lee, will be co-principal investigators, bringing extensive experience in mental health for teens and co-design processes.

“Creating Space for Teen Mental Health” will build on work from a previous IMLS-funded initiative led by The Seattle Public Library, “Caring About Teen Mental Health,” which co-designed virtual reality experiences with cohorts of teens in library systems in Seattle, D.C., and Texas. One outcome of that project was the website,, launched earlier this year, which offers a roadmap and tools for other libraries to co-design VR experiences with teens.

As a “Caring About Teen Mental Health” team member noted, “We learned that having a space such as the library to escape stress, along with adults who can say, ‘It’s OK we know this is difficult, we will work through it together,’ has great impact.”

Rubio has led several other co-design projects at the Library using, including working with teens at Connected Camps to design a game to alleviate gaming stress and working with college interns to design virtual reality experiences on topics such as Our Future Duwamish, the Duwamish River and the Great Seattle Fire.

The grant was one of 71 awards by IMLS, totaling $21,189,566, to support libraries and archives across the country. Find out more information in the IMLS announcement. The Seattle Public Library Foundation provided additional support for the project.



The Seattle Public Library believes that the power of knowledge improves people's lives. We promote literacy and a love of reading as we bring people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. For more information or help accessing services or programs, call 206-386-4636 or Ask Us. For ADA accommodations, please contact:

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.