October 18, 2015 at 11:58 pm #2597
Attracting the teenager/young adult demographic to library programs is a kind of ‘Holy Grail’ for librarians. Working in a public library myself I have noticed that although plenty of teens use the library, they do not attend workshops or other events as often as younger users. So perhaps we aren’t implementing the right strategies. What do teens actually need from a library?.
Today’s teenagers (millennials, Gen Z or what have you) have come of age in a world where web 2.0 was already established, where social media, user generated content and an abundance of online entertainment choices were already available, and where web access and powerful computing power had already made its way into our pockets via smart-phones. As such they have very different needs, and even different prospects to the ones I faced as a teenager (when I was 17, DVD’s were only just starting to replace VHS as a video format!).
Christine Dalgetty puts forward a range of arguments in favour of Teen Rights in the Public Library, and stresses the importance of making teenagers feel like they are an integral and valued part of the community. Her suggestions include providing a collection which is aimed at the needs of teens, staff who are respectful and supportive of those needs, and offering teens an advocate to speak on their behalf. I agree whole-heartedly with all of these suggestions… however I would argue that none of these are particularly fresh ideas, and would have been valuable to any past cohort of teen library users. Are the current (and future) cohorts of teenagers any different? The Pew Research Centre certainly thinks so.
I’m going to quote directly from the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) 2014 report ‘The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action’ –
“In his presentation at the YALSA Summit on the Future of Libraries and Teens, Lee Rainie, Executive Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, outlined seven takeaways from the project’s research:
- Teens live in a different information ecosystem.
- Teens live in a different learning ecosystem.
- Teens’ reading levels match/exceed adult levels.
- Teens use libraries and librarians more than others, but do not necessarily love libraries as much.
- Teens have different priorities in library services.
- Teens will behave differently in the world to come.
- The public and teachers recognize this and want libraries to adjust to it.”
You can read the full presentation slides here. I have highlighted the fourth point, as it is this point we as librarians are going to have to turn teenagers around on. Because (spoiler alert), today’s teenagers will be tomorrow’s adults, and if they don’t have a love for libraries now, will they develop that appreciation as they grow older?
Whether the core nature of being an adolescent may not have changed much in the past million years, the world certainly has, and teenagers have different expectations of what services the library should provide. Among those identified by the Pew institute were a focus on online and app based services. The YALSA also identify dedicated spaces where creativity can be fostered, but also where teens can congregate and socialise in a safe environment.
The other main take away from both the report and the presentation is that teens still read. A LOT. They are also critical thinkers, and are coping with a world where there is an over-abundance of information to consume .Libraries must be ready to adapt to those needs. We should be listening very closely to the needs of our young people if we are going to be effective in promoting life-long learning and access to that information in the future.
- This topic was modified 5 years ago by Luke Mysliwy.
October 19, 2015 at 9:08 am #2604Stacey LarnerModerator
Really liked this reflection Luke. Do you think teens relate to librarians better if they are closer to their age demographic? (So younger librarians, essentially). Also if they don’t look as conservative? I know there are some super funky librarians getting around on twitter and I wonder if looking like you’re savvy with youth culture helps to make librarians more accessible to a wider range of kids.
October 19, 2015 at 12:01 pm #2608
I think people are always going to relate better to people closer to their own age group, and you do need to have some passing awareness of youth culture if you’re going to interact with them. I remember some advice a youth worker friend gave me. Polo shirts/collared button up shirts are an instant cred ruiner if you’re working with teens, and if you bring some Eminem to play in the background, you’re an instant hit (this was in the early 2000s tho, so maybe don’t bring the Eminem, or find out the 2015 equivelant…). Having said that, I have observed younger people getting on really well with older librarians, and vice versa. I think it comes down to attitude and treating people with respect. Showing an interest in what they are looking for and giving the person in front of you as much attention as you would give anyone else. Goes along way to fostering respect from ALL age groups.
To read more of my musings on young people in libraries, go here – http://2015.informationprograms.info/forums/topic/childrens-and-teens-activities/
October 19, 2015 at 4:01 pm #2621Katherine LeeParticipant
Really inspiring post, Luke. I’m totally with you that we need some different approaches to engaging with teens. I like the idea of app based services, I have recently been puzzled as to why libraries don’t use them for a number of things. I feel like American public libraries, which seem to have dedicated YA librarians, services and spaces are doing a much better job than Australian libraries at engaging with teens. I wonder whether the problem is that libraries aren’t currently making that much of an effort to create programs, products and spaces dedicated exclusively to their teen users?
October 19, 2015 at 7:14 pm #2631Stacey LarnerModerator
Haha I wear button up shirts because I figure I need to make more of an effort to offset my dreads ;). But I work in an academic library, so different context ;).
October 19, 2015 at 8:41 pm #2638Shannon FranzwayParticipant
Great post, Luke. One thing that caught my attention was your point regarding teens currently living in a world where there is an over-abundance of information to consume. I can at times feel overwhelmed at the amount of information that comes at me all day, every day and have always assumed that children and teens would feel the same. I did some reading the other night though about digital natives and digital immigrants – there are some studies to show that children and teens now process information differently due to our digital 24/7 world and are far better equipped to handle the amount of information that is hurled at them. I feel I’m a reasonably well adjusted digital immigrant but sometimes I wish I was able to process a little faster like the natives 🙂
October 20, 2015 at 9:47 am #2652Christopher BranderParticipant
Interesting post, Luke. Teenagers seem to be avid readers yet libraries are still having trouble engaging them. You have already raised some good points about why this might be the case. Treating them with respect and a friendly attitude is really important because I think teenagers often don’t get treated with the respect the deserve (not necessarily by librarians but by society in general). Librarians are often in the older age demographic so the generation gap might also play a role but like you said this is not insurmountable.
October 21, 2015 at 4:47 pm #2669
Thanks for the comments everyone, and again, good point about the digital natives and their more advanced information processing skills Shannon! In fact one of the articles I alluded to in my forum post – http://www.fastcoexist.com/3045317/what-is-generation-z-and-what-does-it-want about Gen Z suggests that rather than an “8 second attention span”, they actually have “8 second filters”, which means they judge the worthiness of spending their time on a particular article or piece of media very quickly. Not sure how accurate that is, but it’s an interesting claim. As I write this response I am actually standing in a library which is at least 3/4 full with teenagers. Between the hours of 3 and 5 (sometimes up to 6pm) we regularly have quite a number of teens using the library as a study space, with some playing games or (gasp) reading. I wonder if we make to much of the engagement and interaction thing? I think a lot of young adults pride themselves on their independence and are probably quite capable of finding what they need in the library, or at least taking advantage of the free resources. Having said that, how are we to know who really needs help if they are unwilling to ask? (Those who do approach us for help are usually only coming to book the x-box console or find out how to connect to the wi-fi, with the odd reference query thrown in every so often). So I can see that the library space is definitely occupied by teens, and YA materials are certainly being borrowed (though not at the same rate as adult and junior). I know from experience that it is disappointing when very few teens attend events we have organised for them, but I think it’s important to keep offering such events, but perhaps with more consultation with teens themselves.
October 21, 2015 at 11:21 pm #2674Sarah RossParticipant
Such an interesting post. The first thing I thought was it is not the age of a librarian/teacher/whatever that matters – it is attitude. Don’t try to be ‘cool’ just listen. I seem to have a lot of teen nephews and nieces at the moment and all they want to do is talk 🙂
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