Authored by the YALSA Research Committee

Throughout the current term, the YALSA Research Committee will be looking at YALSA’s new Competencies for Teen Librarians through the lens of research.  Through our posts, we will attempt to provide a brief snapshot of how scholarship currently addresses some of the issues put forth through the standards.

March 14 will never be the same for thousands of young adults who, in response to the high number of recent school shootings, found their voice in the streets of America during the National School Walkout, demanding adults and public officials pay attention to their call for gun control. So my question to our YALSA members “For those that are directly serving our YA population…How were you serving them on March 14 and how did you serve them during the March for Our Lives on March 24?” or “What skills have you helped the young adults in your community develop over time to assist them for this kind of action?”  How are our YALSA members committing to competency #6: “Community and Family Engagement: Builds respectful, reciprocal relationships with community organizations and families to promote optimal development for teens and to enhance the quality of library services”?

The research committee zeroed on three relevant recent studies describing how YA library staff in the field develop or need improvement with developing Community and Family Engagement for and with their teen populations by Harlan (2016), Hughes-Hassell and Stivers (2015), and Froggatt (2015).

One of the findings Harlan (2016) found regarded Interest Based Learning. She says “Connected learning is interest-based; youth participate in learning because they find it personally relevant.” That sounds like a “duh” moment but how many programs for young adults are implemented and few teens show up? Harlan discusses that “Information is the building block of learning; how one interprets and incorporates information shapes what they know and understand” (p. 120). She continues her discussion by stating “Learning community librarians can encourage critical thought regarding how youth participate is contributing to a shared purpose” (p. 121). “Librarians can help youth explore what their goals are, and how the community supports those goals” (p. 121). Harlan’s guiding question: “How does your participation contribute to the shared purpose of the community? Evaluating communities in this sense will help youth more easily identify how to participate, and if participation is going to achieve what they desire.” If the ideals set forth by Harlan’s research are already in place then a moment in history that arises (such as the National School Walkout and the March for Our Lives) will be supported by confident and well-rehearsed library staff instead of shocked and scared in how to work for and with their adolescent population.

Hughes-Hassell and Stivers (2015) explore the “Extent to which youth services librarians, both public and school, prioritize the need for cultural knowledge and awareness in developing effective programs and services for today’s youth” (p. 121). Hughes-Hassell and Stivers addressed a few key themes that stand out relating to this Research Committee. One theme is described in Cultural Competence and LIS Practitioner Literature, “The need for youth services librarians to explore issues related to race, power and privilege in the U.S…and to recognize the structures of inequality….” (p. 123). The other theme is described in a section titled Cultural Competence and Education where Hughes-Hassell & Stivers discuss six key principles whereas I will name only two; “The creation of a community of learners and The engagement of students and teachers in a collective struggle against the status quo” (p. 123). In examining their 512 responses they reported “Only two participants mentioned the need to consider the culture of community members in developing” in the 8 programs that were listed, “Only three included any reference to cultural awareness” (p. 125).   Once again if youth services library staff were already exploring the aforementioned themes then this moment in history of activism in gun control, power, and privilege put forth by our teens would be established in which our job as teen library staff would only be supportive and encouragement in nature.

The call for Froggatt (2015) in her research is to “Exemplify Informationally Underserved (IU) theory and compel LIS instructors, graduate students and professional school librarians to integrate social justice theories and equitable information access issues within their research, teaching, learning, and practice” (p. 54).  Froggatt states in 2011-12 nearly 15% of urban schools do not have school libraries. Froggatt asks “How, if at all, do students without active school library programs characterize their information worlds…and their academic performance” (p. 57)? In what ways does the lack of library use prior to 9th grade impact a student’s intellectual curiosity for new knowledge?” Informationally Underserved theory and social justice theory plays a crucial part in development for all our youth. If lacking in schools then public teen services staff should be / could be doing more for and with patrons.

The research laid out in this article describes how youth library staff can and should be serving their population more effectively by examining; how library staff can improve their participation contribution to the shared purpose of their young adult community; how acknowledging culturally diverse young adult populations might increase their participation; and finally how library staff can fill the gap of the Informationally Underserved youth in America when thinking about YALSA’s Competency #6 and our most opportune time to assist our young adults in their time of sadness, strength, and community uprising.

Harlan, Mary Ann. “Connection information: connected learning and information practices.” School Libraries Worldwide, vol. 22, no. 1, 2016, p. 110+. Information Science and Library Issues Collection, Accessed 17 Mar. 2018.

Hughes-Hassell, Sandra, and Julie Stivers. “Examining youth services librarians’ perceptions of cultural knowledge as an integral part of their professional practice.” School Libraries Worldwide, vol. 21, no. 1, 2015, p. 121+. Information Science and Library Issues Collection, Accessed 17 Mar. 2018.

Froggatt, Deborah Lang. “The Informationally Underserved: not always diverse, but always a social justice advocacy model.” School Libraries Worldwide, vol. 21, no. 1, 2015, p. 54+. Information Science and Library Issues Collection, Accessed 17 Mar. 2018.

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