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.