Sometimes during workshops I tell a story about a conversation I had about 13 years ago with a friend of mine. At that time I was leaving the job I was in and planned to start working for myself teaching librarians and teachers about the Internet. It was the early days of the Internet in libraries and my friend said to me, “But Linda, what are you going to do when everyone knows how to use the Internet?” The idea behind that question being, there will come a time when everyone knows how to access the web, send email, use search engines, etc. and I would be stuck pretty much without a job.

That story keeps coming back to me as I think about how what we knew about technology and the way people use it has grown and changed in those 13 years. Read More →

A majority of adults say technology allows their family life today to be as close, or closer, than their families were when they grew up…. Indeed, 25% of our survey respondents feel that their family today is now closer than their family when they were growing up thanks to the use of the internet and cell phones, while just 11% say their family today is not as close as families in the past.

That data is from a new report titled Networked Families published by the Pew Internet in American Life Project. Read More →

Pew Internet in American Life logoToday the Pew Internet in American Life Project released a new report titled Writing, Technology, and Teens. The opening paragraph of the report states:

Teenagers’ lives are filled with writing. All teens write for school, and 93% of teens say they write for their own pleasure. Most notably, the vast majority of teens have eagerly embraced written communication with their peers as they share messages on their social network pages, in emails and instant messages online, and through fast-paced thumb choreography on their cell phones. Parents believe that their children write more as teens than they did at that age.

The core of the report focuses on what teens have to say about their own writing practices. The findings in the report span teen writing practices in and out of school and look at what mode teens use to write – long-hand or computer, the most common types of writing, and the impact of technology on teen writing behaviors.

Read More →

A library school student sent a Twitter message recently with a link to a Pew Internet in American Life poll titled Where Do You Fit. It’s a short 10 question poll that asks respondents about how they use technology on a regular basis. It asks about device ownership, time spent online, use of web 2.0, etc. I wasn’t surprised by my results, but my lack of surprise got me thinking, what do we as librarians serving teens really know about the teens, adults, parents, and others with whom we work.

This came back to me a few minutes ago as I sat next to a group of teens in a Starbucks and eavesdropped on their conversation. They talked about which music playing in the store that they liked and didn’t like, the teachers they liked and didn’t like, the dogs they wanted that their “moms” wouldn’t let them get, and they also analyzed the people walking past the store. I didn’t learn anything particularly new while listening to the teens, I did however validate some of my ideas about what their interests, concerns, and preferences are.

There are lots of ways to find out what teens are really thinking. It could be by eavesdropping, like I just did, while in a public place. It could be by talking to people who work with teens in the community (teachers, youth advocacy organization staff, counselors, etc.). Or, it could be through online surveys and polls – by the way don’t forget to let your teens know about YALSA’s Teen Tech Week survey.

Ultimately, however, the only way you are going to know what teens are thinking, what they want, and what they need is by talking to them directly. Consider having teens take the Pew Survey mentioned at the beginning of the post, and then talk to them about the results. When the YALSA TTW survey results are published ask your teens how those results do and don’t reflect their own lives.

Also, it’s important to realize that asking a year, or sometimes even six months ago, doesn’t mean you know what teens of the moment want and need. Don’t forget to keep the conversation going and try not to assume old information/data is still accurate. Assuming, without asking directly, can lead to programs and services that just don’t make the mark.

Librarians sometimes tell me it’s hard to get a conversation started with teens, particularly if a librarian is new to the profession or to working with teens. Using survey results as a jumping off point is a great way to get going. The data provides a perfect opening to discussion, and when you demonstrate to teens that you really want to know what they think, they will tell you. Hearing what teens have to say first-hand only makes library services to the age group better. Give it a try.

Over the past few days I’ve been reading blog posts that provide a review of 2007 from a particular perspective. Depending on the theme of the blog, the recaps focus on trends over the past 12 months related to technology, libraries, news, music, etc. While reading the posts I’ve been thinking about what are the teen/YALSA/library trends from the past year. A review of the past 12 months of posts on the YALSA blog led to the following list of a few of our own trends in 2007:

  • Social networking – web 2.0 didn’t show any sign of letting up as an important tool for teens to use in all aspects of their lives. Forrester, OCLC, National School Boards Association, and The Pew Internet in American Life Project (to name just four) published important reports on the role of social networking in teen lives.
  • Library programs & services – librarians serving teens continue to try out new and exciting ways to meet the needs of their adolescent customers. Some librarians are looking at virtual worlds as a way to connect with teens. Other librarians are focusing on music to make connections. And, there are librarians who are finding new and innovative ways to connect with teens using a traditional format – the book.
  • Copyright – digital rights management (DRM) continues to be a topic librarians need to keep up with in order to serve teens effectively. This year major leaders in various entertainment industries took action in order to stop what they deemed illegal use of digital music and video files. Librarians serving teens need to continue to find the best way to help teens understand the legalities of using digital content. At the same time librarians need to advocate for legal decisions that support teen use of that content.
  • Advocacy – librarians working with teens continued to work to educate their colleagues, administrators, and community about the value and importance of serving teens in the public and school library. While there’s been lots of progress in this area over the past several years, there are still instances in which librarians find themselves working with staff and community members in order to make sure that teens get the quality service they deserve. A key aspect of a teen librarian’s job is to be an advocate for the population she serves.

Did you notice a trend in 2007 related to teens and/or teens and libraries? Let us know with a comment to this blog post.

The YALSA bloggers were busy in 2007 writing posts that explored the world of teens and of libraries. Thanks to each of them for keeping readers up-to-date on a wide-variety of topics. I’m looking forward to reading what they have to say about the stories of 2008.

Yesterday the Pew Internet in American Life Project released an updated report on teens and social media. The findings update their original report released in 2004.

The front page of the report states:

The use of social media gains a greater foothold in teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media.

This is probably no surprise for most people, but the content of the report provides hard data that librarians serving teens can use in order to gain backing for the programs and services needed to support teens who are heavy users of social media. The data includes notes about changes in use from the last report. These indicators of growth are a clear demonstration that social media is not a fad for teens (or for the general public for that matter.) Some of the change findings include:

  • More teens are doing more than one type of content creation online. In other words, teens might use Flickr and MySpace or they might post to YouTube and a blog. The report states, “…the number of teen content creators who have done one activity has decreased significantly while the number of content creators who have done two or more activities has increased.”
  • More teens blogging is one of the major reasons that the numbers related to content creation have risen over the past three years. Not only are teens blogging for themselves, they are also blogging as a part of school assignments and extracurricular activities.
  • In 2004, socio-economic conditions did not have an impact on who was and wasn’t blogging. In 2007 teens in lower income families are blogging more than teens in higher income families.
  • In 2004, 33% of teens said they shared artwork, movies, etc. online. In 2007 that percentage reached 39%. In that finding the authors of the report also note that older teens are slightly more likely to share this content online.

The report is filled with extremely useful information, not just for librarians to use in order to educate their colleagues, peers, and administrators about the value and importance of social media in teen lives, but also as a tool for thinking about how services from, and at, the library need to be shaped. How are libraries serving teens supporting adolescent needs and desires to create and exchange online content?

As a final note, it’s important to point out that the authors of the report found that teens who spend lots of time in online social networking do not ignore face-to-face interaction. As a matter of fact the authors state:

…we have yet to see compelling evidence that these highly wired teens are abandoning offline engagement with extracurricular activities in favor of having more screen time. In fact, in many cases, those who are the most active online with social media applications like blogging and social networking also tend to be the most involved with offline activities like sports, music, or part-time employment.

The fear of adults that increased web-based social networking might interfere with a teen’s ability to lead a vibrant face-to-face life seems to be an un-warranted fear.

Don’t miss reading this report for more information and data that helps to get a clear picture of who teens really are in the early 21st century, and to use as fodder for discussions about library service to these teens.