New Blogger, YALSA’s New Research Agenda

Hello! I’m Hannah Gómez, a new blogger and new member of YALSA, thanks in part to the Spectrum Scholarship. I’ll be blogging regularly about research and other topics, but today I wanted to start by telling you who I am, what I do, and why I’m here. Also, I’ll let you know why I find YALSA’s new research agenda so interesting, and why you should as well.

First things first. I’m a Tucson, Arizona, native who went to the University of Arizona for undergrad, studying creative writing, music, and Spanish. A few months ago, an airplane I was on touched down in Boston, the last flight to be allowed into the closed airport before Hurricane Irene hit. I’ve just started graduate school here at Simmons College, where I’m enrolled in their dual degree program, which will leave me with an MA in children’s literature and an MLS with a focus on youth services.

The future in library science just hit me one day. I had been answering people’s “So what will you do with your Bachelor’s?” with a general “Dunno. Go to grad school” for so long and all of a sudden I just blurted out “Be a librarian.” But it made since. In high school I never had to work at the mall or the car wash–I was lucky enough to get a job in social services, and though I held a variety of different jobs and internships over high school and college, most of them were related to the world of non-profits and at-risk youth. My favorite job was when I got promoted to community service project leader, supervising 8-14-year-olds who had been arrested and had court-ordered service hours to perform. I, at 19, was deemed responsible enough to oversee their work, keep them on task, and, I hoped, help them see something meaningful in what they were doing, whether it was painting in a community art project or picking up trash at a neighborhood park. I got to be a big sister type to the kids I worked with, and while doing our work we would also talk about the books, music, and movies they liked. So it seems to make sense. I love teenagers, especially middle schoolers, and I am a huge nerd who is always trying to find the right book for someone. I’m also the child of two teachers and the sister of a teacher, so I know how much, especially in these times, both teachers and students need the help of librarians, and both school and library settings are essential to developing youths. Compound that with my interest in social justice and non-profits, and voila! I want to be something like all of you.

So why the extra degree? Why the crit classes where you read as much Freud and Barthes as you do Virginia Hamilton and nursery rhymes? Well, a few reasons. First, why not? When I began to realize that my BA was not enough both in terms of my love of school and my resume, I looked into lots of graduate school programs, and I thought I was making it up when I typed “master’s in children’s literature” into Google. So it was uncanny that Simmons had exactly the thing I had never known I wanted, or just the thing I knew I could never have. Something like that. Second, I think I just told you I’m a nerd. Few things make me happier than writing a paper on something I find really interesting. And third, I think scholarly research, especially in children’s and YA literature, serves not only the greater academic field of English literature, but also relates to cultural studies, history, developmental psychology, sociology, and, of course, library science–a time capsule would perhaps be best served by a smattering of children’s and YA titles. If I can find a career and a life that combines the service of library work with the time to voraciously read and write about it, I know I’ll be happy. Only halfway into my first semester of school, I’m already compiling a reading list and getting ready to prepare abstracts for conference presentation proposals and research papers in areas that I find personally interesting and potentially professionally valuable for young adult librarians and YA literature scholars.

That’s why the new research agenda makes me happy. It has four priority areas defined: 1. the impact of libraries on young adults; 2. young adult reading and resources; 3. information seeking behaviors and needs of young adults; and 4. informal and formal learning environments for young adults. Whether you’re interested in conducting your own research or just reading the results and considering how they relate to you at your job, you should know why these areas are important.

Impact of Libraries on Young Adults
Are we even doing anything, anyway? Why does YALSA exist, and why is a young adult librarian different and/or supplementary to a general services librarian? Is a youth services librarian specially equipped, or should s/he be, to deal with youth-specific issues like literacy and college readiness? In the 51% of American libraries that have a full-time youth librarian, does that have a positive effect on the community, such as a reduction in crime rates or a boost in college attendance? Do library budgets support the development of services for youth? This research could have a huge effect on the direction youth services take, the respect of the library field and the YALSA emphasis in particular in the non-librarian world, and educational policy.

Young Adult Reading and Resources
Who is reading? Not all teens share one skin color, language, religious view, or SES. What are young adults reading? Print books? Magazines? Ebooks? Graphic novels? What are they reading about? Do YA collections support multiple viewpoints, multicultural protagonists and themes, various reading levels and interests? What have changes in technology done to the way we look at reading culturally, and also what our brains do when we read? What can youth librarians do to foster love of reading, up-to-grade-level reading skills, engagement with texts, and willingness to read with an eye towards social and cultural contexts in which the text was created? This is a research area that constantly needs looking at, because as populations ebb and have new needs and desires, collections must adapt and update, and librarians must be prepared for new types of questions and teens with different brains and approaches to the act of reading itself.

Information Seeking Behaviors and Needs of Young Adults
What do we define as information? Who creates it, and who accesses it? As new technology and new cultural and social norms are created, a paradigm shift is required. Not every person at every stage of life desires, accesses, and understands information in the same way. Even in the teen world, things such as ethnic and racial background, SES, gender, and community shape the way they absorb information. Youth services librarians need to keep this in mind as they make choices as to reference resources, computer and Internet services and programs, and collection development. This research should be empowering not only to librarians but to teens, because it seeks to view them as autonomous in their literacy, creation of information, and education. Researchers should seek to understand social, cultural, and economic barriers and doorways to access, teens as both producers and consumers of information, and how social media tools shape lives.

Informal and Formal Learning Environments and Young Adults
Do teens learn only when they’re in the classroom? Should they? How can libraries provide additional, complementary, and new instruction for young adults? How are teens becoming lifelong learners, and how does digital media work with that? The term “the digital divide” has already evolved into new meaning, and librarians and researchers should work to uncover how libraries can provide new or different access to information in order to bridge that gap. Research should also look at how digital media, even Angry Birds and Twitter, might be affecting the learning, creativity, and literacy of today’s young adults.

What do you think of YALSA’s new research agenda? Which is the most interesting or important priority point for you? What are you excited about learning about?

About Hannah Gómez

School librarian in Northern California. MA children's literature, MS library and information science (Simmons College). Sometime scholar, sometime reviewer, sometime creative writer, always media-obsessed.
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One Comment

  1. Welcome! Thank you for summarizing the research agenda and highlighting its importance.

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