Is Understanding Required?

“Why would anyone do that?”
“How does anyone have the time?”

The above are questions I hear regularly when talking with librarians about ways that technology is being used by teens, and by adults too. Most recently these are questions I hear when talking about check-in services. For some librarians the idea of checking-in to a location with FourSquare, Gowalla, or Scvngr, or using a site like GetGlue to “check-in” to let others know about current reading or viewing, seems totally off-the-wall.

As I think more and more about the questions I regularly hear, and how some librarians think about the way teens use technology, I realize again how important it is to separate one’s own experience and way of doing things from the development of library services teens need. For example, I’d suggest that it doesn’t really matter whether or not a librarian understands why teens like to text with each other when sitting beside one another in the library. Or, a librarian doesn’t really have to understand why people like to earn virtual badges on FourSquare or virtual stickers on GetGlue. Librarians also don’t need to understand how people find the time to participate in a variety of social media activities. Understanding the why and how can definitely be helpful, but the first thing a librarian needs to do is simply accept that people like to do these things and that it’s not the librarian’s job to judge the activities and behaviors based on personal experiences and personal likes and dislikes. It is the librarian’s job to find out how these activities can fit into library programs and services, in this case for teens, successfully.

What if every time a librarian found out about a new way that technology is being used the initial reaction always was, “That is really interesting, I’m not sure if anyone in the community is using this technology, and I don’t really get why anyone would, but I’m going to find out who is using it, learn some more about why, and then figure out how to integrate it into what we do so we can do what we do even better.” That reaction isn’t one of judgement. It’s a reaction that is focused on teens – the library user – and not on the librarian’s likes, dislikes, interests, and so on.

Anytime there is something new or a change in the way things are done there is the danger of jumping to judgments because of lack of understanding. Instead of making judgments about teens and Facebook, teens and Foursquare, teens and texting, librarians have to look at the new with an open-mind and I’d even say with a healthy dose of positive curiosity. (This isn’t required just when it comes to technology of course, it is required with books too – street lit, manga, graphic novels, cellphone novels, etc. All of these require the same open-mind as new technologies require.)

One way to get started being positively curious about technology use in your community is to check to see if your library is listed in FourSquare, or Gowalla, or Scvngr. (If it is and library staff are not aware of that, that means community members have been checking-in to the library and have added the site to the location-based software’s database all on their own.) If the library is listed make sure to claim it in order to provide information about the library and include tips on how to best use what the library makes available. If no one has entered the library into the location-based service database yet, you want to do that, claim the library in the service, and make information easily available for those that do check-in in the probably not so distant future.

You might not get why anyone would have checked-in at the library. But if they have, you want to know because these are services that you can use for marketing and connecting to teens inside and outside of the library.

Published by

Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President, the YALSA CE Consultant, and a learning consultant/project management coordinator at LEO: Librarians & Educators Online.

2 thoughts on “Is Understanding Required?”

  1. I just checked to see if my library is on Foursquare and it is! I’m surprised. I always think of my town as being terribly un-techie. So this is kind of cool. It doesn’t look like it’s teens checking in, but maybe they would if I gave them incentives. Especially incentives like reducing library fines. Going to chat with the boss before I claim us.

  2. Erin to some extent you make my point exactly. If we assume community members aren’t interested in a particular technology or type of service then we might be missing opportunities. I bet many libraries will find they are in FourSquare or Gowalla and be surprised by it.

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