Many of today’s teens spend hours each day online communicating with friends. They visit their online friends in social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter; they share photos and videos via services such as YouTube, Vine, and Snapchat; and they send each other text messages throughout the day – and night – via their ever-present cell phones.
In a recent research grant funded by IMLS, we set out to study how public and school libraries fit into teens’ increasingly online information lives, especially when it comes to searching for information. To that end, we collected data through interviews, focus groups, and surveys from two populations of U.S. high school students. One population attends an urban public science and engineering magnet high school which is known for its award-winning integration of technology throughout the curriculum and its 1:1 laptop program. The school enrolls about 500 students, about 30% of whom are economically disadvantaged and 65% of whom are minority students. The second student population attends a suburban public high school located outside of a major U.S. metropolitan area in a different region of the country. About 55% of the students are economically disadvantaged and 75% are minorities. This second school also supports a small science and engineering magnet program within its total student body of about 2500. Our research sample from this school included both magnet and non-magnet students.
A total of 158 students from the two schools took part in the study. As a group they were heavy social media users, and the majority had used social media services such as Facebook and Twitter to ask (77%) and answer (61%) questions. More than half of the participants had asked or were willing to ask questions about 20 common information needs topics, ranging from social activities and entertainment to careers and health information. School was the most common topic they asked about online, with 77% reporting that they had used social media to ask questions about school-related topics such as homework and class scheduling.
These findings demonstrate that – contrary to common belief — teens are not just wasting time when using social media. Often they are seeking information and sharing what they know with others. Recognizing that teens are using social media for beneficial uses such as information seeking and sharing can help libraries to better support teens’ information needs. Libraries can develop policies that support teens’ use of social media and consider providing informational content through these outlets. Library staff can also encourage teachers, school administrators, and other adults who interact with teens to consider the value of using social media for information access and sharing.
Based on this research, we’ve put together an infographic that summarizes some of the main points we learned in direct contrast to common myths about teens and social media. The infographic uses direct quotes from teens in our study to contradict five common myths about teens and social media:
MYTH #1: Teens talk about everything online and have little regard for personal privacy.
MYTH #2: Facebook and other social media just distract teens from schoolwork.
MYTH #3: Teens’ use of social media is frivolous.
MYTH #4: It’s dangerous for teens to interact with adults online.
MYTH #5: Internet in schools and libraries is just for finding information.
You can find the infographic at: http://youthonline.ischool.drexel.edu/.
Would you like to display the infographic in your library so that parents, teachers, other library staff, and even teens can learn some of the positive benefits of teens’ social media use? We’ll send you a free poster of the infographic if you contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org (first come first served, while supplies last).
Also, please let us know what you think of the infographic in our brief survey (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/MXKDSXR). This will help us to develop our ongoing research about teens, social media, and libraries, and to improve the ways we share our research results with library staff, teachers, parents, and others.
And…there’s more from this project! We also talked with teens about their perceptions of libraries. We focused on this part of the study in our Spring 2015 YALS article “The Teens Speak Out: What Teens in a Tech High School Really Think about Libraries…and What You Can Do To Improve Their Perceptions.”
You might also be interested in our short quiz for assessing the quality of your teen services: 10 Questions to Ask about your Teen Services.
Lastly, for more information about the research team and our work, visit the Drexel University Youth Online Research Group website.
(This work is based on research conducted by Drexel University’s Youth Online Research Group, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [IMLS], Award #LG-06-11-0261-11, and the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Grant No. 2011121873.)
By Michelle Purcell, Rachel Magee, Denise Agosto, and Andrea Forte