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When school lets out early, kids hang out at the library!

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GROTON — This is not your parent’s library anymore!

If you’re one of those old-timers who still believe that a public library means books and maybe some out-of-date magazines, you’ve got another think coming.

“Kids aren’t reading less these days they are reading different things,” said Deborah Dowson, young adult librarian at the Groton Public Library. “They’re reading more online. They’re spending a lot more time in front of computers but that doesn’t mean that they’re not reading; it’s just a different kind of reading. But as we see with the Twilight series, book reading is not going out of style. It’s just that we now have to include such interests as manga, computers and comics, too. They all have to be considered reading.”

Case in point: An occasional program at the library called “the Llama Lounge” — funded by the Groton Public Library Endowment Trust — gives students somewhere to go on half days from school, until their parents can pick them up after work.

“The Llama Lounge is a program that we offer to students in grades five to eight on those days when the Middle School has a half day off,” Dowson said. “There’s various reasons for students to be off on those days and when they are, they can come to the library for the rest of the day.”

The program is active whenever a half day is declared in local schools and students can take part any time between 12:30 and 3 p.m.

“During Llama Lounge days, we offer students access to electronic games such as Wii and Dance Revolution and Nintendo DS,” Dowson said. “Also, our laptop computers are available for them to use as well as various board games. Snacks are available, too, or they can bring their own lunch. We want it to be a fun time for kids to come to the library and to have fun on a half day.

“The program is not like baby-sitting because the kids have to be responsible for themselves,” Dowson continued. “They have to sign in. It’s a drop-in program and parents have to be aware of that. If any of the youngsters leave the library, our staff is not responsible. But it is a free program and most kids that come are very responsible and are present when their parents come to pick them up.”

Dowson said students are not prisoners once they sign in for the Llama Lounge. Many opt to leave the library at different times and for different reasons, such as taking a walk downtown to visit shops or get a pizza with friends.

“The program came to be because of a GDAY (Groton-Dunstable Alliance for Youth) initiative for half-day programs,” explained Dowson. “GDAY facilitates groups that want to provide activities for middle school students and the Llama Lounge is one option that they have. The library is just one group in town that provides activities and a place to go for kids when school lets out early.” One alternative is the Peter Twomey Youth Center.

“The program has been quite popular,” Dowson said of the Llama Lounge. “We have between 30 and 40 kids coming in on a regular basis but you have to remember that the Llama Lounge is just one option for them.

“Besides the games and computers, we also have books and magazines that students can read and, of course, they can always do their homework,” added Dowson. “We encourage them to bring their library cards and read books while they’re here. We want young people to develop a happy and positive connection to the library and to become lifelong library users. We want to show them that the library is a fun place to be and, so far, have had great support from the youth of the community.”

Among the books that young people are reading, the most popular right now is the Twilight series, about young vampires in love. Books by author Rick Riordan are also popular, with the Harry Potter series still running strong.

“What kids like are books with adventure and fantasy or that have realistic family-life situations,” said Dowson.

Move over Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew!

With all the new formats that must be considered as part of the reading experience, no one should be surprised to learn that the next big event planned for young adults will be the appearance of graphic novelist Gareth Hines, who is scheduled to visit the library on March 19.

In the meantime, however, kids need not despair; today’s modern library has a wide range of diversions to hold their attention even on those all too infrequent half days of school!