Can Library Services Reduce Youth Crime?

As the Boston Public Library struggles to come up with a 3 million dollar shortfall by June 2010, proposals include cutting hours and closing branches. BPL president Amy Ryan appeared on WBUR Saturday March 13, 2010 for a short interview, which included calls from the public. One caller expressed his worry over the loss of what he called “a babysitting service,” noting that the branch was filled with youth in the after school hours, and wondering where they would all go. While his primary concern that he didn’t want teens out on the street came from a fear that hanging around in the neighborhood would potentially (negatively) affect his business, mine is that kids who don’t have a place to go and something to do are more likely to get into trouble. Ryan addressed this by talking about potential partnerships and trying to be creative with staffing at peak hours. I’m wondering: do strong library services serve to reduce or even prevent youth crime? Luckily, Advocacy Task Force Member Ma’lis Wendt has done some sleuthing.

The following is posted on behalf of Ma’lis Wendt, Advocacy Task Force member:

The YALSA Advocacy Task Force has been looking for studies that show that communities with active teen library services had a reduction in crime by teenagers.’  While we didn’t find any definitive studies, we did get some valuable information from the ALA Office for Research and Statistics, as well as library educators.

Denise Davis, Director, ALA Office for Research & Statistics wrote: “Determining cause/effect is nearly impossible.’  There is some information at the National Center for Education Statistics website, but it looks at school crime and safety. The presence of a staffed school media center has some impact on lower crime rates and higher test scores, but even then there are too many mitigating circumstances to make a direct causal link between services and reduced crime.”

The ALA Office for Library Advocacy has a portal we designed that links research to advocacy messaging. There is a link to specific talking points concerning teens. ALA also has assembled a Professional Tips wiki; the Advocacy for teens section links back to Advocating for Teen Services on the YALSA wiki, and the YALSA publication Speaking Up for Library Services to Teens: A Guide to Advocacy.

Denise E. Agosto Ph.D., Associate Professor, College of Information Science & Technology, Drexel University wrote: “It’s nearly impossible to prove that library use reduces crime.’  Probably the best you can do is to cite an economic impact study such as the Carnegie Library study (CPL, 2006).’ However, these results are tenuous as well, and they are not limited to teens’ library use. A few other studies have tied public library use to increased social capital, but again, the connection is tenuous, and social capital theory is tough to explain to the public.”

Agosto suggests that research from Urban Teens in the Library: Research and practice (ALA Editions, 2009) may be useful in crafting talking points to advocate that “libraries can provide teens with much more than just reading and schoolwork materials.’  Library use helps to promote teens” healthy development into adulthood in the areas of’ social, emotional, self-reflective, physical, creative, cognitive, and sexual development.” (Agosto & Hughes-Hassell, 2009).

Sandra Huges-Hassell, Associate Professor, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wrote: “You might want to look at the Search Institute’s 40 developmental assets–and the research they have conducted that meeting these assets impacts youth behavior.” The study “Tapping the Power of Community: Building Assets to Strengthen Substance Abuse Prevention” (2004) may be of particular relevance.

Patrick Jones, and others, have written about the role of libraries in supporting teens in achieving these assets.’  Take a look at Chapter 3 in New Directions for Library Service to Young Adults ed. by Linda Waddle (ALA, 2004).

Another interesting article is Jami Jone’s “I Build Resiliency: The Role of School Library Media Specialists” in School Libraries Worldwide, v9, no. 2 (July 2003), 90-9. suggests that by developing programs and services that build connections, encourage reading and hobbies, and teach problem-solving and social skills, media specialists aid in the development of resiliency: “the ability to bounce back successfully despite exposure to severe risks.” Jones examines resaerch about resiliency, and applies it to school library media specialists.

~Ma’lis Wendt

About Beth Gallaway

Beth Gallaway was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker in 2006 for her work in advocating for videogames in libraries. She is an independent library trainer/consultant specializing in gaming, technology, and youth services, and is a YALSA certified Serving the Underserved (SUS) trainer.
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One Comment

  1. gregory nyongane

    can you mail me a copy of you poposal maybe we can joint hands in south africa

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