As YALSA Blog readers know, I’m pretty interested in technology and the way that technology can enhance, expand, and improve teen education and interactions. While I am very proactive in helping to integrate technology into teen services, in teen lives, and in libraries, I am also a strong supporter of youth participation and having meaningful conversations with teens about their lives, technology, library services, and so on. As a matter of fact, one of the assignments I include in a library school class I teach is called Talk To Teens. Students can only complete (and succeed in) the assignment if they talk with teens about books, technology, libraries, and more. Sometimes students talk with teens face-to-face. Sometimes students talk using technology. And sometimes it’s a mixture of a variety of methods in which the conversations take place.
I’m starting this blog post with that overview because I want to point out that being technology oriented and being a fan (and maybe even a fangirl) of technology, and promoting technology in libraries, doesn’t preclude the interest, ability, and strong belief in the power and necessity of talking with teens on a regular basis. As with most things in the library world, this is not an either/or proposition. It’s not that we use technology with teens and as a result give up all face-to-face conversations with them. It’s not that we have face-to-face conversations with teens and therefore give up using technology to connect. And, it’s certainly not that if teens are regular users of technology that that automatically means they don’t have opportunities to talk with adults in meaningful ways.
We live in a world where good conversation can happen even if technology is a key piece of the lives of the teens that we serve.
Yet, when I read the article in the newest issue of American Libraries titled Talk to Teens – They’re Still Listening, it didn’t come across that we can live in a world, and work in a world, and promote a world in which teens get to have face-to-face conversations with adults and virtual conversations with adults. It didn’t come across that teens could use technology a lot in their lives and still interact with adults in meaningful ways. The article blamed technology for teens and adults not having good conversations. That’s just not reasonable.
One thing that really stood out to me in the American Libraries article was the mention of a recent New York Times article titled Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction. That New York Times piece caused quite a stir amongst educators, researchers, and others and there were several follow-up articles that put into question much of what was stated in The New York Times. Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital and Growing Up Digital, wrote one of the most cogent responses to the Times piece, he states, “…blaming the Internet is like blaming the library for illiteracy.”
Tapscott and many others get it. It’s not the fault of technology that teens aren’t having conversations with adults on a regular basis. It is not the fault of technology that librarians may not be finding meaningful ways to connect with teens in order to have useful conversations. Librarians do need to have conversations with teens about a variety of topics. Librarians also need to support teens in their use of and understanding of technology and how to integrate that technology use into daily life. Blaming technology for being the cause of limited conversation with teens isn’t getting us anywhere. It’s a red herring that gives adults the opportunity to blame some thing, when really they aren’t doing what they need to do.
We have to talk with teens every day. Don’t think that if we talk to teens then we also have to forego supporting and integrating teen technology use in libraries. Talking to teens and supporting technology are not mutually exclusive.
Don’t think that if you talk to teens that that has to be accomplished only face-to-face. I’ve had amazing, productive and extremely meaningful conversations with teens on Twitter, via email, via IM, using Skype, and in chat rooms. I’ve even started a meaningful conversation with teens in one setting – face-to-face or online – and continued it in the other setting.
Adults who are truly engaged in teen lives can have great conversations with teens in a variety of environments and through a variety of means. Have the conversations whenever and however you can. Just make sure to talk.
Linda, I’m really glad you wrote about this article because I was pretty shocked when I read it. Not really because of the viewpoint of the authors, which I know is a viewpoint shared by many librarians, but that American Libraries would publish it. The entire thing seemed not only misinformed but, to be perfectly frank, out of touch. I wonder if it was geared more toward librarians who are not used to working with teens, because the “conversation starters” are so stilted and forced that I can’t imagine them ever working with a real teen. Genuine relationships do not require conversation starters, and those relationships are formed when librarians accept teens’ interests for what they are. If the intent of the article was to encourage those who are not advocates of teens to begin interacting with them, then that’s great. But my impression was that the authors were pinpointing technology as the reason for our disconnect with teens, which is ridiculous.
Adults have always had a hard time knowing how to talk to teens and technology is just a new venue for that struggle. In fact, I’d go one step further and say that technology makes it EASIER to talk to teens because of all of the new channels we have for reaching them. But for librarians who themselves are uncomfortable with technology — especially when it comes to communicating — this might feel like something they will never understand. While I don’t think that librarians should pretend they’re something they’re not (which is why the suggested talking points in the article rankled), I also think it’s our job to always continue to learn and grow so that we can at least be comfortable with the tech our teens and students are using, if not savvy. Pretending that we can do a better job as librarians by eschewing technology is just an excuse, and a poor one at that.
I really like the point about genuine relationships. That really is what this is about. It doesn’t matter where that relationship is built, it’s that we build relationships with teens around things in which they are interested. That might take place via technology or it might have something to do with technology. Or there might even be overlap.
It is hard for adults to build relationships with teens and it can be risky, as I’ve said before, and that means it can also be scary. But, we can’t serve teens without building those relationships because if we do try to serve teens without the relationships, we are not really serving teens, we are serving ourselves and hoping that teens will like what we come up with.