About a dozen years ago I was a part of a presentation in which my co-presenter told audience members about her discussions with the college students with whom she worked in which she would say, “The internet IS NOT a toaster.” By that she meant that at that time using the Internet was not as simple and easy as putting a piece of toast into a toaster, pushing the button, and then having a perfect piece of toast pop out in just a few minutes.
After 12 years I’d say that for most of the teens with whom we work, the internet IS a toaster. Why? Because it’s a part of day-to-day life and has been for the entire lifespan of anyone who is currently a teen, or younger. The internet to a teen is no different than a toaster, or a refrigerator, or any other appliance that gets used every day. And, it’s not just the internet, technology, web 2.0, ereaders, Twitter, Facebook, etc. is a toaster for the teens with whom librarians work.
The reason this is important is because for many adults we still look at technology as something special and it’s that specialness that can cause a divide between the teens that use, or might use the library, and the librarians that serve them. I see this play out in a few different ways. I think the most telling of these is that librarians often want and expect teens to get excited by technology, from ereaders to Twitter, and when teens don’t demonstrate thrill and excitement over some piece of technology, or a technology tool, librarians take that to mean that the tech isn’t of interest to teens. That can be a wrong assumption. It’s probable that what the librarian is looking for teens to be excited about is no more exciting than a toaster.
Think about this within a book context. If you say to a teen, we have books in the library is she going to get excited? Probably not. Even if you say, we have dystopian novels in the library, that’s probably not going to lead to jumping up and down and cheering from a teen. (Well not much may lead to that.) What does get teens excited about the books you have in the library? Often it’s the personal connection you make with a teen between a book, a genre, or an author. For example, you might know that a teen loves books about tattoos. When you get a new tattoo book in the library you would show the teen the book and say something like, “Look, I know you love this kind of stuff, this is amazing isn’t it? Look at these pictures? Do you want to be the first to take it out?” Now that might get a teen excited about the book.
Within a technology context a librarian wouldn’t say, “You can use social media in the library.” That’s not going to get a teen very energized. And, you probably won’t say, “You can use Xtranormal to create videos in the library.” That won’t get teens excited either. That’s really no big deal. But, what if you say, “I know that you love to create movies and the library is about to publicize an Xtranormal video contest. I think you should participate.” That might lead to a much more energized and interested response.
The other thing to keep in mind about this is that librarians are looking to teens to discover what to be bring to the library in technology realm. But, when talking with teens about the possibilities for technology in the library, librarians might not show their own interest or excitement about what’s possible. For example, when talking with teens about ereaders, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Xtranormal do librarians show as much interest as they might when talking about the latest novel in a series, or the newest book from a favorite author? Teens pick up on these things, we know that, so it’s important to keep it in mind.
Technology IS a toaster. For teens, it’s no more special than a book. Why not start thinking about it that way in the library?