You are here

Meeting the Needs of 21st Century Teens

May 03, 2013 ET

By Courtney L. Young
Head Librarian and Associate Professor of Women's Studies,  Penn State Greater Allegheny

This spring the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) has been hosting virtual town hall meetings at which library staff and community stakeholders have been in dialog about teens and the future of teen library services.  The conversations are part of a yearlong IMLS funded YALSA project called National Forum on Libraries and Teens to bring together librarians serving teens (primarily from public and school libraries), researchers, educators, youth development advocates, and many others. The next and final virtual town meeting takes place on May 21 and you can join the conversation or follow the project on Twitter via #yalsaforum.

Earlier this year I participated in the Summit on Libraries & Teens. The face-to-face summit was the first conversation point in the National Forum that continues with the virtual town hall meetings, and it featured four speakers, four small group discussion sessions, a teen panel, and plenty of networking.


"Exploring" by Veronica Marzonie, Flint (Mich.) Public Library

YALSA president Jack Martin moderated a teen discussion panel. Five teens aged 13-18 shared their experiences about school and public libraries in ways that were honest, authentic, and inspiring. They talked about their use of the Internet and social media. This panel provided the most takeaways for me as a participant. Although the teens I usually work with are undergraduates who are slightly older, the panelist’s perspectives gave me a lot of insight for my daily interactions with them. For example, librarians and educators often make distinctions between digital or online interactions versus face-to-face. It became clear that for teens this distinction is artificial. There is significantly more fluidity between the two. As we design and assess library programs and services this interconnectedness needs to be taken into account.

As librarians and educators focused on learning outcomes and information literacy, we also need to keep in mind that teens are motivated by both relationship-based learning and experience-based learning. Teens do not want every interaction to be rooted in teaching and learning. The learning should be in balance with the “fun stuff.”

The four featured speakers each presented new perspectives about teens and what librarians should know to best serve them. Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life project, kicked things off with his presentation about Pew’s research on teens and libraries in today's digital world.  Renee Hobbs, director of the Harrington School of Communication & Media at the University of Rhode Island, led a lively discussion that highlighted the four forms of media teens consume on a daily basis (print, sound, visual, and digital).  Mizuko Ito, MacArthur Foundation Chair in Digital Media and Learning at the University of California Irvine, presented on Connected Learning. This framework is all about developing learning opportunities for youth that connect to their lives in meaningful ways. These connections can occur through creation and collaboration, and in some instances we are seeing this in libraries through makerspaces and learning labs.

"If I Could Fly" by Adrienne Posey, Reinert/Alumni Memorial Library, Creighton University, Omaha, Neb.

OCLC executive George Needham gave a talk about the future of libraries for teens.  We considered how libraries would look; partnerships libraries and other teen related entities need to foster; training and professional development for library staff working with teens; and the challenges and opportunities inherent in making this vision a reality. This was the most challenging but the most exciting conversation of the summit. Future library services for teens clearly need to be multifaceted. There was considerable support for the idea that these services would promote civic engagement and effective use of technology, be spaces for conversation and collaboration, and require a stronger emphasis on what was termed “professional literacy” so teens would have an opportunity and place to develop job ready skills. Most importantly, libraries should be partners in the community but make the space and services all about the teens. These young people should be at the center of all initiatives. Needham's presentation and the related discussion really brought together the two days of conversation with ideas that spanned connected learning, media literacy, and teen lives and technology use.

The Summit on Teens & Libraries was everything I thought it would be and more. The number of participants was perfect, allowing attendees the opportunity to interact with every single person in the room. The diversity of participant experience and expertise were especially encouraging. Opportunities to speak and work with those whose goals complement those of libraries are always rewarding. We all benefit from the chance to listen to and learn from another perspective. I don’t think I was the only librarian who appreciated the opportunity to learn more about what other teen-focused agencies are doing and to discover potential partnerships and resources. The summit also showed that librarians have a lot of information to share with each other. The anecdotes shared by public and school library participants were often as thoughtful and inspired as the invited speakers.

Our virtual conversations have been excellent opportunities to learn more and share what we know.  Hope to “see” you on May 21.

National Leadership Grants for Libraries