A couple of recent events and conversations have me thinking, once again, about the importance of library staff working with teens connecting with stakeholders, administrators, teens, etc. to make sure that teens have the best services possible. Here’s a brief rundown:
- When Chris Shoemaker and I presented on YALSA’s Badges for Lifelong Learning project at the ALA Midwinter Meeting some participants talked about the struggles they continue to have in their schools and public libraries accessing what now we might call traditional technologies – YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.
- I’ve been reading about the “new” digital divide and talking to library staff that work with teens who talk about why they can’t use devices with those they serve because of access issues.
- I listened to teens at the YALSA Summit on Teens and Libraries talk about their use of digital media (including the aforementioned Tumbler which is filtered out of some libraries) and the importance of relationships with library staff on library use.
So, here’s what I’m thinking when it comes to connecting, creating, collaborating, library staff working with teens in public and school libraries still have a lot of work to do. At the badges session I mention above, I actually did a little rant about how crazy it is that we are still, in 2013, talking about and struggling with lack of access to important tools and resources in schools and public libraries. The teens at the YALSA summit talked about their use of Tumblr and they were incredibly articulate about the public and private lives they live online. They knew the difference between public and private. But, without the chance to use tools like Tumblr, Facebook, and YouTube (along with many others) in schools and public libraries we can’t really help them to become even smarter about public and private. Not to mention that we can’t connect with teens completely since we can’t meet them where they are within our own library spaces.
Earlier this month the MacArthur Foundation released the connected learning report, which along with outlining some important changes in education that need to take place in order to support the needs of all students, brings up some key points about the digital divide and what that phrase really means. Mimi Ito, one of the report’s authors is quoted in the Silicon Valley Mercury News this way, “The worry comes down to what Ito thinks of as the new digital divide. This divide isn’t about who has computers and who doesn’t; or who does and doesn’t have Internet access. This divide is between kids whose families have the means and know-how to layer an extra helping of education on their children and those who don’t.”
What does this mean to library staff serving teens? Our job isn’t to focus on who does and doesn’t have devices and technology at home, but instead it’s important to focus on how we can make sure, no matter where teens access technology, that they have the skills to use it successfully. We can do this by collaborating and partnering with stakeholders and others in the community that support youth development. Perhaps there are museums and out-of-school programs that work with teens on creative or maker-like projects. Why not work with them and take their projects to a tech level by including components that integrate sites like YouTube and Figment? That way you have the chance to help teens gain skills at using those sites as a part of their creative endeavors.
It also means connecting with teens and talking to them about their own technology use and what they do and don’t know. Don’t assume teens don’t have access or don’t have a sense of the difference between public and private online. Take to them about it. Are the teens you work with using Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook? What are they doing with the tools they are using? What are they doing to keep what should be private private? Find out!
And, make sure to speak up for the value of technology in teen lives. Connect to administrators and other community members and give them positive examples of teen technology use. Show them that fears they have about technology are often false and that by using technology with teens, and others in the community, you expand teen opportunities to be smart and savvy users. Connect with as many teens and adults as you can to find out about teen use of tech and also to educate about the value of that use.