For many teens, technology has let them define old concepts in new ways. ‘ These new definitions can be worrisome, incomprehensible, even dangerous to librarians and parents. ‘ Yet perhaps it’s time we listen to the kids.

A few years ago, I participated in a project to provide middle schoolers with an online creative outlet. ‘ Co-sponsored by my library system and the local school district, the website was intended to give tweens a voice as well as teach technology practices. ‘ It took the steering committee of librarians from both organizations to establish rules and procedures. ‘ We were concerned about making sure that students’ privacy wasn’t compromised. ‘ We knew that unfortunately, to keep students safe, we had to go for stricter policies.

We opened the site and sat back to see what happened. ‘ Over the course of several months, we saw that requiring the in-person creation of user accounts, with the help of a librarian, did allow students to preserve their privacy–yet it hamstrung the students’ enthusiasm for signing up. ‘ The release forms that had to be completed for video projects, by every participant in the video, meant we received no video submissions. ‘ While the forms achieved what us librarians wanted, they were another barrier for students.

At the end of the first year, what did we do? ‘ We chose to make the sign-up and submission process easier, in order to gain users who would create projects for the site. ‘ Students could request an account online and were no longer required to fill out forms for each project they submitted. ‘ Slowly, more students have become involved. ‘ While we still don’t have any videos, we do have quite a bit of written work, as well as photos, illustrations, and audio reviews.

What I think this anecdote reveals is that thoughts about privacy are changing. ‘ Our societal concept of privacy, which is different from how other cultures feel about privacy, is being questioned and shaped by technology. ‘ This has held true whenever a new form of tech has come along: photography, the telephone, and the Internet have all lead to a reassessment of privacy. ‘ Today’s teens are leading the way on this newest change, and while it’s scary for us to give up control, we all know that great results can be achieved with radical trust in teens. ‘ Perhaps this is just another time for librarians to give guidance but allow teens to make their decisions.

About Melissa Rabey

I'm a teen librarian for a library system in Maryland. I became a librarian because I love books, I love technology, and I wanted to connect people with those two things. I'm happy that I get to do all this and even more.

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