Beyond the Shelf: Teens triumph at La Jolla/Riford Library

Beyond the Shelf logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

Beyond the Shelf is a monthly column about the activities and people at the La Jolla/Riford Library.

Carla Ayonque traveled all the way from San Ysidro to perform at Teen Open Mic Night at the La Jolla/Riford Library. Electric guitar in tow, the 15-year-old took the stage in front of a Community Room full of teenagers and parents.

“She’s been through so much,” said her father, his eyes brimming with tears.

With more than 20 pairs of eyes and ears on her, Carla performed a haunting rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun” that showcased the range of her soft yet powerful voice. A stillness befell the audience as music filled the room, and when the song was over, someone cried “Encore,” heightening the applause. Beaming with pride, the teen musician chuckled while she picked up her guitar to play again.

Carla Ayonque, 15, played at Teen Open Mic Night at the La Jolla Library. At right is Teen Troupe President Arianna Roberts.
Carla Ayonque, 15, played at Teen Open Mic Night at the La Jolla Library. At right is Teen Troupe President Arianna Roberts.
(Courtesy of Katia Graham)

Carla had spent the past several months in an intensive therapy program to deal with issues like social anxiety following a dark period in her life. When her therapist suggested she perform at the La Jolla/Riford Library program, she agreed.

In hindsight, she is glad she took the chance. “It was fun! I needed to do it to see if the therapy worked.”

The week after Teen Open Mic Night, she was released from the therapy clinic with flying colors.

The mother of a 14-year-old incoming freshman at La Jolla High School who attended Open Mic Night was surprised to learn he had recited a poem before she arrived to pick him up.

Other teens took turns telling jokes, playing piano and sharing hilarious spoof videos they had created with friends. OK, the Friends of La Jolla Library also ordered pizza for them.

Teen Open Mic Night is the brainchild of the Teen Troupe at the La Jolla/Riford Library. The group meets monthly to inform library programs and generate community service opportunities. Its other flagship program, Pitch Your Passion, spawned the Marine Biology Festival taking place from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, when the public can stop by the Community Room to learn about various marine specimens from adolescent educators.

Members of the Teen Troupe hold their July meeting at the La Jolla/Riford Library.
(Courtesy of Katia Graham)

Teens also are putting on a Middle School Debate Camp in August to prepare students for high school-level speech and debate.

And because they are avid readers, Teen Troupers are organizing Percy Jackson Day at the La Jolla Library on Thursday, Aug. 18 (the protagonist’s birthday) in partnership with Warwick’s bookstore. Participants in grades 4-12 can test their demigod series knowledge by earning and crafting mythological bead bracelets for a chance to win one of five shiny new “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” books.

It’s difficult to put into words how proud I am of the teens at this library branch. Led by Teen Troupe President Arianna Roberts, who fosters an inclusive and fun-loving environment, they follow through with unwavering dedication and are not afraid to speak up. After every meeting, they create a timely books display reflecting their values, be it Pride, mental health awareness or multicultural celebration.

When San Diego Public Library needed 10,000 buttons made for the current “Where’s Odi?” systemwide scavenger hunt, they showed up along with the local National Charity League chapter to create more than 30 percent of the buttons, according to Scott Ehrig-Burgess of The Library Shop.

Their monthly book club, Teen Book Buzz, abounds with animated discussion. It warms my heart to see teens engaged in wholesome fun at the library.

“The best thing about Teen Troupe is the opportunity to make a difference and make friends from different schools who have similar interests,” Arianna said.

That takeaway, embodied so beautifully by Carla, resounded during Teen Open Mic Night. Teens are not alone, especially at the La Jolla/Riford Library. The community is lucky to have them.

Teen events at La Jolla/Riford Library

  • Middle School Debate Camp: 9:30-11:30 a.m. Aug. 1-5 and 8-12
  • Teen Book Buzz: 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6
  • Teen Troupe meeting: 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6
  • Marine Biology Festival: 3-6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12
  • Percy Jackson Day: 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18
  • Teen Open Mic Night: 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20

Katia Graham is the youth services librarian at the La Jolla/Riford Library. Students in grades 7-12 are invited to sign up for Teen Troupe by emailing Graham at With the new school year ahead, leadership opportunities will become available.