In the mad rush to get out the door in the morning, I’ve left behind my keys, my wallet, and my MetroCard (The card those living in New York City use to get on public transportation). By the time I realize my mistake it is always too late (or I’m too lazy to run back to my apartment) and I make it through the day as best I can without these vital tools of a New Yorker.
But I have never, ever, forgotten my cell phone. If I realize, half-way down the block, that I have, I run back for it. When I chaperone school trips, I’m that weird lady who pulls out a charger and plugs my phone in to the nearest outlet, be it in a Starbucks or a courthouse. It’s my lifeline, and I feel strangely vulnerable without it; like this will be the one day my mother has an accident, my best friend has a break up, or my apartment catches on fire.
I use it for music. I use it for reading. I use it for maps, and games, and to keep track of my notes. I use it when I’m bored, I use it when I’m tired, I use it when I’m stuck between stations on the subway. My phone goes with me everywhere, and I am never without it.
Your teens are the same way. They would rather go without water than a data connection. They use their phones for enjoyment and work; reading and classifying if an animal is a llama or a duck (it’s a harder distinction than you might think). Their phones have become constant companions and guides. I wrote in my last article about what this means for the next generation of digital literacy; training on these devices is paramount is we want to produce a generation of informed information and device users. But no less important that providing information and training is providing consumable content– stuff for teens to do with their phones.
What Kind of Stuff?
63% of those surveyed would be likely to use apps that gave them access to library content and services at home. And with about 4 in 10 owning a smartphone (and 50% of those who have one using it as their primary method of accessing the internet), our kids are an invested audience that we don’t have to struggle to convince.
So whether it’s reference help, ebooks, music, or book recommendations, we’ve got an audience that comes equipped with their own hardware. They have the devices– we just have to provide helpful, thoughtfully curated content for them to use.
Books Are Good
16% of those surveyed who read an ebook in the past year read it by checking it out from their local library system using a program like Overdrive. But when asked, over 62% of ebook readers said they didn’t know if their library lent out ebooks; these are patrons that would be more than happy to use this service, but have no clue it even exists.
Not every library can afford a program like Overdrive or one of it’s competitors, and many have issues with the way these services offer content. But what this data tells us is that there is a demand for content that teens can read on a phone.
Make use of the phone as an ereader. Does your library offer databases? Many of them allow articles to be downloaded to phones and ereaders. Have fanfiction obsessed teens who want to talk about Doctor Who and Sherlock until your day is over? Archive Of Our Own, by the Organization of Transformative Works, allows all stories to be downloaded to mobile devices and read in programs like Overdrive.
If a large set of check-out-able ebooks isn’t in your budget for this year, put together a page on your library website, or a social media push, advertising all of the content you have that can be read on a phone or tablet. Advertise your content with the same vigor and verve that you would a program; if you push it, they will read.
So Are Apps
If you’re not recommending apps to your kids, you’re missing out on a wonderful conversation. Whether it’s controlling your desktop from your phone, racing fast cars, listening to music, or studying for the SATs, teens can do a lot with the right program. And we as librarians have the power to promote those programs.
Pick an app or a category of apps (educational, games, music, video, etc.) to focus on and research some of the options available. Try to find apps that are available on both the iOS and Android systems, type up a list, post it to your website or Twitter feed, and you’re on the right road. Sites like LifeHacker are a great place to get started, as is the YALSAblog App of the Week column, if you need a push to get moving.
And So Are You
In addition to all of the other ways he’s awesome, Neil Gaiman has gifted us with that eminently quotable line “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.” 37% of users 16 years or older said they would be very likely to use an online Ask-The-Librarian type service, with another 36% saying they’d be somewhat likely to use it. Making this work with an omnipresent device is as easy as 1, 2, 3.
1. Set up a Google Voice Account With a free number from Google Voice, you can receive text messages and view them from any computer with a browser installed.
2. Set your Google Voice # to Forward to Email Go into your Google Voice Settings and under “Voicemail/Texts” click “Forward texts to email.”
3. Give your reference desk the log in for that email address, post it on your website/feed, and answer away! Your reference team can answer text message reference questions directly from the email account. No one’s number is ever given out, no one ever sees who’s at the other end, and your team is now connected and accessible for the mobile age.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
In the last five years mobile smartphone tech has gone from something only business folks with Blackberrys had access to, to something that many of us can’t live without. As with any new technology, it’s easy to be doubtful, or afraid of integration. What if I change how I do everything and then this goes out of style in three years?
But mobile devices are part of a new wave of connectivity– a shift towards technology that’s always on, always attached, and always at hand to our teens. The forms these devices take may change, but the concept will remain the same at its core.
Just like a library. We may offer DVDs and video games, seeds and shovels, graphic novels and graphing calculators, but the core of our work has always been and will always be founded on a solid bedrock of providing access to patrons, regardless of type, tech, or format. By making our libraries more smartphone friendly to teens, and positioning ourselves as purveyors of mobile content, we’re continuing on the same road we’ve been walking down for over a century now.
Only now we can be easily reached in case of best-friend emergency.