Earlier this week I presented a YALSA Institue on Teens and Technology. The participants, library staff at libraries in the Southern Maryland Regional Library Association, and I talked a lot about what we know about teens in 2012/13, when it comes to technology. And, as I think about the topics discussed, it's clear to me that quite a bit of what we covered is key in connecting with, creating for, and collaborating with teens in 2013. Here are some examples:
- One YA librarian who has a brand new job in a brand new library talked about surveying the teens she works with to find out what they wanted and needed the library to provide. What did they tell her? They wanted space for hanging out with friends and being a part of the teen community. This might not be so surprising, but it does bring up a couple of key points related to connecting, creating, and collaborating in 2013. First, teens aren't necessarily going to look at the library as their source of materials. While we still want to connect teens to materials, more importantly we need to provide space for teens to create and collaborate on their own and with their peers. This may be via a makerspace, a learning lab, and/or a flexibly furnished teen space that teens can turn into something that works at the exact moment for a specific need. It's about the space perhaps along with the materials. And, maybe in some cases, the space more than the materials. This is also space that parents and caregivers feel comfortable having their teens spend time in. While we can't be 100% safe, teens telling adults in their lives they are going to the library to hangout with friends is most likely something that parents will feel comfortable with.
- When it comes to teens and technology there isn't as much difference between teens and adults as we might first think. (Or want to believe.) You might say, "What? Teens and adults are completely different when it comes to technology. Teens grow up swiping and tapping, at least some adults have to learn to swipe and tap." While that may be true, it's important to think about what's the same between the generations and admit that it's not just teens who like Google, instant gratification, are naive about digital footprints, and share inappropriate content. Think about it, how often do you use Google first, want something on the web to load more quickly or be easier to use, see parents and other adults post inappropriate content on social sites, and so on? If we want to truly connect with teens and provide high-quality opportunities for them in libraries, then we can't blame them for behaving in ways that are societal and not specifically adolescent. If we do recognize this then it's likely that we can have more successful conversations about technology with teens and work with them on creating programs and services that really do meet their needs.
- Technology provides opportunities for a wide variety of teens to connect, create, and collaborate. In the winter YALS journal (which will be sent to YALSA members and subscribers in late January 2013) there is an article by Erica Guarquier and Jessica Schneider. They discuss the Darien (CT) library's Minecraft program. One thing mentioned in the article is that teens of all stripes participate - jocks, geeks, cheerleaders, drama kids, and more. The technology brings teens who might not otherwise connect together in a variety of creative and collaborative activities. Library staff serving teens should leverage this variety and connect with all teens around technology - hackers, makers, readers, producers, content creators, and more.
As we roll into 2013, and as Teen Tech Week is just a few months away, consider the teens in your community you know, and the teens you don't know but should. Think about what you think you know about teens and technology and what you really know about teens and technology. Don't make assumptions about teens and tech and make sure to talk to teens with all types of interests about how you can connect with them via technology, how they can connect with others via technology, how you can support their creating and collaborating within a technology world. Use what you learn in the services you provide in 2013 - and beyond.