Teen Research Trending: Mapping “boring” places—Socio-Spatial Research on Libraries

Ee, L. C. (2015). Mapping library spaces: Measuring the effectiveness of school libraries using a sociospatial approach. School Librarian, 63(2), 78-80.

As a PhD student writing a dissertation on geography in YA literature, I am a self-professed map lover. As a member of YALSA’s Research Committee, I’ve found myself increasingly intrigued with the physical and virtual mapping of our libraries and teen spaces. Loh Chin Ee’s 2015 article in School Librarian proposes a socio-spatial approach for librarians and school administrators to better understand how their libraries are being used. From the initial mapping of the physical space, allowing for recognition of resources and spatial relations, to the employment of ethnographic methods (observation, interviewing, and fieldnotes, in this particular study), Ee remarks on an underutilized school library space opening room for future research.

Focusing her study on a secondary school in Singapore, Ee sought to answer why students were under-utilizing the school’s library.  A preliminary report found that 40.9% of the school’s 1,113 students visited the library (and 21.8% visited at least once a week) and Ee remarked that the library felt empty during most of her visits. Ee illustrated a birds-eye view of the library and took pictures of particular spaces within the library, noting how each space was used. Ee recorded the usage of the library through various times of the day (morning, recess, afternoon), and noted that the space was also used as a space for meetings, hosting foreign visitors, and after school detention. Additionally, she interviewed students on their perceptions of the library, as space can motivate desire and action (Moje, Overby, Tysvaer, & Morris, 2008). Students frequently called the library “boring” and the library was seen as both a “dead space” (with little student engagement) and a “negative space” (as associated with detention) (p. 80).

Of major note was the library’s central configuration of tables and chairs that served as a secondary classroom space for some teachers. Ee explains, “The location of resources and organization of space shapes the social uses of space, and in this case, the arrangement of the library as a classroom space reflects the social use of space” (p. 79). She found that the library was often used as a classroom and for word-processing practices rather than social or information exploration tasks.

Ee concludes “because teachers tend to use the library for work, and because of the table arrangement, students tend to perceive the school library as enforced work space rather than a reading space or a social space for engaging in book-related activities” (p. 80). The library space worked against the school’s commitments to improving literacy skills and both Ee and students provide suggestions for improvement in the secondary school’s library space:

“Rather than blaming students for not using the library, mapping the ground and listening to students’ voices may be a better way to find out how to make our libraries more effective for the specific needs of each school” (p. 80).

While Ee’s research focuses on an international secondary school, her focused research paves the way for additional socio-spatial work in school libraries, public libraries, and teen reading spaces here in the United States. There is a scarcity of data and research on the physical and virtual places in libraries, particularly research that allows teen voices and experiences to be expressed. As Kuhlmann, Agosto, Bell, & Bernier (2014) write, “in all YA space design decisions, local teen voices should receive the highest possible respect and value.” As we design and implement the physical and digital spaces of the future, research on both teen experiences and socio-spatial methodologies may prove very useful.   

References:

Ee, L. C. (2015). Mapping library spaces: Measuring the effectiveness of school libraries using a sociospatial approach. School Librarian, 63(2), 78-80.

Kuhlmann, L. M., Agosto, D., Bell, J. P., & Bernier, A. (2014). Learning from librarians and teens about YA library spaces. Public Libraries Online. Retrieved from http://publiclibrariesonline.org/2014/07/learning-from-librarians-and-teens-about-ya-library-spaces/

Moje, E., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 107-157.

Mary Catherine Miller is a member of YALSA’s Research Committee and a PhD candidate studying Literature for Children and Young Adults at Ohio State University.

 

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