I get frustrated sometimes when talking with librarians that work with teens and they tell me, “We can’t use that (insert the name of a technology) with teens because our computers won’t load it.” Or, they might say, “We can’t use that (insert the name of a technology) with teens because it’s blocked in our school.” Or, they might tell me, “We can’t use that (insert the name of a digital device) with teens because not everyone has those at home.” Or they might say…. I could give you several more excuses, oooops examples, but I won’t.
What makes me so frustrated is that in many instances, what librarians say to me does amount to a load of excuses. I know that they aren’t lying, but, really these reasons shouldn’t be accepted and librarians should be regularly working to change the “can’t'” to “can.” What happens when we just have a load of “can’t” is that teens in those schools and libraries end up being on the “wrong” side of the digital divide. And, from what I hear and see in libraries and with teens, this is a really serious digital divide that we are creating. It’s not a digital divide of have and have nots based on family/home economics. It’s a digital divide of haves and have nots based on how well teens are able to access current technologies in their libraries and learn how to use those technologies with the help of teachers and librarians.
I think about those teens who are fortunate to be in school systems and public libraries where technology access and teaching of digital literacy skills is not hindered. I then compare them with teens who are not having opportunities to learn technology in the same way. When these two different groups of teens go to college or out into the work force, which do you think is going to be better prepared? Who is going to be on the “right” side of the digital divide and who is going to be on the “wrong” side of it?
I know change is sometimes slow. I know that change can be hard to bring forth. But, I also know, that if librarians keep telling me that they “can’t” because…. that we are going to continue to see teens who do not have the skills they need in order to move forward into adulthood.
If you work in an institution in which you find that “can’t” is a common refrain, stop accepting it and plan what you can do that will bring about the refrain of “can.” Perhaps next time someone in the library tells you that you can’t use YouTube with teens because there are videos available there that could be construed as offensive, you reply by saying something like, “I think we can and here’s why and how.” Go to the person who is saying “can’t” and have a solution at the ready.
You can have the solution ready by talking to librarians that are already successful in this area to get ideas of how they moved from “can’t” to “can.” Prepare by thinking about what it is that is really the cause of the “can’t” approach with the person to whom you are going to talk and consider how you can remove that cause. For example, is the cause a fear of parental complaints? If so, then talk to some parents and gain their support and come up with a plan for informing parents about how the technology is going to be used, why it’s a good approach, and how it will actually help their teen son or daughter. If the cause is lack of funds, prepare the solution with examples of grants that others have received to pay for the same type of technology integration. You can also show how you can use library funds more successfully by integrating the technology you want to use. Maybe you no longer need to spend dollars on printing booklists because you now have a Facebook Fan Page where those resources are posted. Talk about the new ways to spend dollars that are no longer needed for more traditional services.
Don’t let “can’t” get in the way of providing teens with the best service possible. And, don’t let “can’t” add to any type of digital divide we have in this country.