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.

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A recent panel at the Digital Music Forum East showcased different tech and music luminaries discussing how social networks help people discover new music. Wired has summarized what the panelists had to say here.

One recurring theme is that social networks provide the quickness and convenience necessary to find and share music instantly. For instance, teens using the Last.FM plug-in can instantly recommend songs while they listen to MP3s, as well as let others track what they’ve been listening to. iLike‘s Facebook application lets users send each other public song dedications. Teens browsing the web over their phones can listen to the latest songs no matter where they are.

These technologies help teens establish themselves as tastemakers, as well as connect them to the tastes of their peers. It fits sharing music within the rhythms of their own complex social interactions.

Another interesting distinction is that social networks and music use differs between age groups. While older people who use social networks for music discovery might be looking for vetted recommendations from those “in the know” (which they might find on blogs and the algorithms of Pandora), teens are looking for the social interactions of passing along recommendations to each other and tapping into an aggregated listening experience.

There’s a new bill that has been introduced in the Mississippi Senate that would affect teens’ use of social networking sites. The text of the proposed law would require owners of social networking sites to:

  • obtain written permission from parents or guardians of users under age 16,
  • give parents access to profile pages at all times,
  • “adopt and implement procedures to utilize independently obtainable information to confirm the accuracy of personal identification information collected from members and the parents or guardians”

So if I want to let my teenager have a MySpace, I would have to agree to let MySpace verify her information, and my own, through a third party? Hmmm …

Interestingly, blogs, photo sharing sites, email, instant messaging, chat rooms, and commerical sites are not included in the bill.

Violation of the proposed law would be a felony, with up to 2 years in jail and/or a $5,000 fine. This bill definitely bears close watching. If any Mississippi librarians are reading the blog, it would be interesting to know how they and the teens in their state are reacting to this legislation.

~Maureen Ambrosino, YALSA Legislation Committee

This morning at the ALA Midwinter Meeting there were several things I wanted to keep track of all at the same time. I, like many others, was curious about the youth media award winners. But, I also wanted to attend an OCLC program about the recently released report on social networking. A year ago it wouldn’t have been possible for me to participate in both sessions at the same time. This year I could. How? Through the wonders of text messaging and blogging.

For the first time ALA provided an award text messaging service. It was very easy to sign-up for the service and while I sat in the OCLC program I could read on my cell phone who won each youth award. At the same time other librarians that I follow on Twitter posted the winners along with the honors. And, YALSA blogger Teri Lesesne live blogged the awards so I could visit this very blog and read the complete list. My informational needs were met very quickly and nicely.

The multitasking that technology breeds and supports is often questioned and worried about in the mainstream press and library literature. However, this is a perfect example of the positive impact multitasking can have on information gathering. It’s still not possible to be physically in two places at once, however with text messaging and other new technologies, it is possible to be virtually in more than one place at a time. Very exciting indeed.

What if you were told by your powers that be that the library was no longer going to provide web-based homework support? No more categorized links to web sites on topics covered in the classroom. No more 24/7 Ask a Librarian for homework. No more special web sites that are just about how to do homework.

If you were told this would you think, (and maybe say out loud) “Oh no, this is impossible, we have to have web-based homework support for teens? The teens need it?” Why would you think that? How would you know the teens not only need it but they want and use it?

Maybe it’s time for libraries to re-think their notions about web-based homework support for teens. How many teens do you know that go to the library’s homework help pages before or instead of going to Google or Wikipedia? How many teens do you know that think about the library at all as a place to go for homework help when on the web? Is web-based homework support for teens a waste of time and money?

It’s true, that by providing this support libraries show the community (including teens) that the library is available for homework help – face-to-face and online. But, maybe it’s not worth spending the money and the staff effort to keep such an endeavor going.

This isn’t to say that libraries shouldn’t have a web presence in order to help teens with homework, and of course other information needs that teens have. But, instead of making the teens come to the library web site it’s time to start being where the teens are and perhaps give up the clunky web presence that rarely can compete with Google or Wikipedia. For example, some libraries have already created applications for popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace so that teens can search the catalog from within the social network instead of having to go to the library web site to do that.

There needs to be more of this kind of library web development for teens. What if database vendors created applications for social networking sites so teens could search the database without leaving their online social home? (BTW, some vendors already do this.) What if the library created applications for Facebook or MySpace to help teens write citations? What if there were applications for building searches successfully? What if there were applications for….

If teens are going to Wikipedia for information, what about making sure that Wikipedia entries on topics that teens in your community have homework on reflect the informational needs of the teens? (Anyone can add or create a Wikipedia entry, wouldn’t it make sense for librarians to be in Wikipedia working on the content in order to support their communities?)

Where are the teens in your community going to find homework information? Where do teens spend most of their time on the web? Lets face it, it’s easier to go where the teens are in order to help them then to make them come to us. So, why not take the easy path? Give up the big web presence and find out how you can have a homework presence in MySpace, Facebook, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr,, etc.

A year ago YALSA launched the 30 days of positive uses of social networking project. Every day throughout October, three YALSA bloggers posted ideas and information about using social networking in the school and public library. The postings were in response to the U.S. Congress Deleting Online Predators Act and the realization that librarians working with teens needed support and information on using social networking with teens.

Now, one year later, the same YALSA bloggers are each writing an update post during the month of October about the world of social networking, teens, and libraries. You can see Linda’s post here and Kelly’s post here. Now it’s my turn.

As a school librarian, I’ve become sharply aware of the limitations that are placed on the use of social networking tools in our schools. In more schools than not, social networking tools are banned outright. It’s much easier for administrators to say no to all tools rather than try to distinguish among the huge variety that are now available, including those that are designed for educational use. It’s an interesting coincidence that one of my favorite school librarian bloggers, Doug Johnson (The Blue Skunk), posted about some of these same issues during October, even as we are engaged in this review. In his October 3rd “rant” (appropriately labeled with his “rant skunk”), Doug discussed the restrictions in terms of intellectual freedom. Blanket blocking of entire classes of information and tools is an unnecessary and illegitimate restriction of students’ intellectual freedom. On October 8th, he obtained Nancy Willard’s permission to reprint her LM_NET post on Internet fear-mongering. Nancy’s observation is that cyberbullying is causing kids far more harm than is sexual predation. Yet police, district attorneys, the FBI, and their audience – school administrators – seem to be fixated on social networking being a direct link to certain sexual predation. Doug’s October 30th post contrasts the different approaches taken by two videos on Internet safety – the U.S. Attorney’s Project Safe Childhood video and the What You Need to Know video from iKeepSafe. The first video focuses on the Internet and child predators while the second is about what parents can do to protect their children and, more importantly, how parents can teach their children to protect themselves.

Yet great social networking things are happening in schools too. I’ve just returned from the American Association of School Librarians National Conference and the program was peppered with sessions on social networking tools and Web 2.0 topics. Clearly, the times are a-changing. My feeling is that as these tools become part-and-parcel of the fabric of society, the barriers in schools will begin to crumble. There’s simply too much good to be had.

In the workroom in my library, we keep ongoing lists to generate ideas for programs. It’s kind of a catch all for those moments we think, wouldn’t that be great if. . . .but we can’t do it right now. Instead of just sending the idea away to never be heard from again, we keep it alive by writing it down (and of course with the ladder of youth participation underneath the lists). While this might not be very web 2.0, it works for us right now. What about sharing a list of ideas for social networking programs at your library-especially for teens to teach? Even if you’ve just read about a new software you want to try out but haven’t been able to, sometimes putting it on the list of programs to do, will encourage one to learn how to use the technology. Generating program ideas about connecting people can be a bit contagious. . .and fun. 🙂

Posted by Kelly Czarnecki

Posted by Linda W. Braun

This week the Pew Internet in American Life Project came out with a report on the impact of technology on social networks. While the report isn’t specifically about teens, there are several topics within the document that relate to the way teens use technology and what they will expect from technology when they become adults.

The report describes two types of networks/ties. They are:

Core Ties: These are the people in Americans’ social networks with whom they have very close relationships — the people to whom Americans turn to discuss important matters, with whom they are in frequent contact, or from whom they seek help. This approach captures three key dimensions of relationship strength — emotional intimacy, contact, and the availability of social network capital.

Significant Ties: These are the people outside that ring of “core ties” in Americans’ social networks, who are somewhat closely connected. They are the ones with whom Americans to a lesser extent discuss important matters, are in less frequent contact, and are less apt to seek help. They may do some or all of these things, but to a lesser extent. Nevertheless, although significant ties are weaker than core ties, they are more than acquaintances, and they can become important players at times as people access their networks to get help or advice.

As I read this I thought about how teens use websites like My Space, along with blogs, to build and support their social networks. Do teens think about the differences within the social networks they build? I’m not sure they could articulate differences, but I bet they use online tools in different ways in order to create core and significant ties.

My brain is spinning after a full day of great speakers and interesting ideas. There was an amazing amount of content presented today and I think for anyone who was there that if they are able to take at least one idea back to their home library and start working on that idea progress will be made. We are going to link to the presentations on the blog but not all of them are available yet. So, check back for those links. For now here’s a brief recap with a link to my presentation.

  • Anthony Bernier from San Jose State University started things off with an inspirational overview of the teen literacy landscape. A primary concept within Anthony’s presentation was that teen’s can find joy in their literacy practices and he gave some specific examples of how we see that in the reading, writing, and community building that they do. Within his presentation Anthony discussed the writing that teens do in the print world in a variety of teen-driven magazines and newspapers and he also showed participants examples of radio and TV production that teens take part in.

    At the end of his presentation Anthony posed a variety of questions for participants to consider. Each was incredibly thought provoking.
    They included a asking that we question how we define YA literature. With the explosion of teen produced content Anthony suggested that we start recognizing not just the literature that adults produce for teens but also the literature, podcasts, blogs, and so on that teens produce themselves.

    Anthony also asked participants to consider how libraries and librarians are going to use space in order to work with teens within the new literacy environment filled with needs to build community, collaborate, and create. He talked about inverting library spaces so that what we present to teens first is comfortable space for community building and collaboration and that the collections are on the periphery of that space. Beth Gallaway blogged about Anthony’s presentation on the PLA blog.

  • I spoke next about what I call the teen 3Cs – community, collaboration, and creation. I put together a website to go along with my presentation and it’s available now. In my presentation I focused on how teens are using blogs, wikis, and podcasting to create content that helps them not only expand their literacy but also helps them understand who they are. I talked about Charlotte a 15-year-old in southeastern MA who publishes a blog and her blog postings demonstrate how teens write/produce thoughtful well-written content via their blogs. I also showed Charlotte’s end of 2005 recap in which she discusses her past year month by month and reflects on how she changed over the year.

    We also looked at how teens are creating podcasts in order to talk about things that are important to them as a part of their personal and global experience. I played a clip from the Pod Princess podcast that is produced by a 15-year-old in New Jersey. The podcast is well developed with content that is obviously outlined and well-thought-out. I contrasted the podcast with Emo Girl Talk which is not as well thought out but is a perfect example of a young teenage girl just having fun with the technology. Mariana Butler who is the host of Emo Girl Talk was the first teen podcaster to acquire a sponsor.

    The podcasting environment is making it possible for teens to express their literacy skills in different ways including writing and outlining content, presenting that content to a specific audience, and marketing the content to the world. We then talked about how schools and libraries are using wikis as a way to help teens write books about a variety of topics.

    I talked about how wiki software gives teens the chance to collaborate with their peers in writing. I also mentioned that podcasters can use wikis as a place to have listeners write about what the podcaster talked about on the show. That way some teens can produce and perform the podcast and others can write about it after it’s over.

    As a final part of the presentation I talked about My Own Cafe a website for teens that provides several opportunities for reading and writing including very active discussion boards. Teens are able to talk about topics of interest to them – movies, books, games, local news, and politics. They are active participants in the discussion boards thereby producing content and creating community on a regular basis. I ended by outlining for participants the important features of the things talked about previously that support and enhance literacy including writing, reading, building, thinking, and making choices.

  • After lunch Frances Jacobson Harris talked about the ethical issues related to teen’s use of technology. Frances broke down the ethical issues into a series of mind-size-bites and discussed how teens sometimes intentionally do unethical things via technology but also are unethical in unintentionally. What really stood out in Frances’ presentation, at least to me, was how open she is with teens about ethical behaviors in an online world.

    Frances went over the scenarios she uses with her students in order to help them understand technology ethics. She showed that there is no one right answer when it comes to figuring out how to behave in various technology situations. For example, she showed clearly how a teen’s viewpoint when it comes to downloading MP3s illegally is rationale and reasoned from the teen perspective. She showed how teens think through situations related to linking to pornography on a teen site that is not hosted by the school. She talked about issues of privacy and freedom of speech when a school-wide email list is involved. The specific examples she was able to use along with quotes straight from the students with whom she works were wonderful.

    One story Frances told keeps coming back to me. She told of a student who had gone through the ethics lessons with her. He then went off and did something unethical and asked Frances, “Am I now going to be a scenario.” The student obviously knew that his behavior wasn’t ethical but he did it anyway. In other words we can do our jobs to help teens understand right and wrong behaviors but we do have to then let them go, make their own choices, and learn from their mistakes.

  • Next were Robin Brenner and Beth Gallaway who talked about graphic novels and games and the connections between the two. Robin went first and talked about several things that I could tell the audience was going “wow” or “cool.” At one point she dissected what illustrations in manga really mean and that was obviously enlightening to lots of people.

    Robin brought up some interesting points about how teen interest in manga has actually had an impact on their interest in international news, culture, and so on. She mentioned that as teens read Manga and watch anime they become interested in Japanese culture. That was interesting to me as we had earlier talked in the day about teens on the My Own Cafe website talking about real-world issues and perhaps part of their interest in those issues comes from their reading of manga and graphic novels.

    As a part of her presentation Robin also talked about how teens create content related to manga and graphic novels on the web. She showed some examples of fan art, fan movies, and fan fiction that teens have posted on the web. Teens are obviously creating content as a part of their interest in manga and graphic novels and as a result are improving their literacy skills.

    After Robin’s presentation Beth spoke about the games teens play, why they play, and who teen gamers are. One thing she talked about was how gaming encompasses Role Playing Games, Video Games, Online Games, Card Games, Board Games, Handheld Games, etc. Games come in a variety of styles as do the teens that play them. Beth also mentioned that there are a lot of gamers that you don’t see in the library and that librarians need to be aware of the number of teen gamers that there are in the world.

    Beth talked about the fan fiction that teens write related to the games that they play. She said that teens develop game histories based on their play as well as stories around the characters, setting, and events in games. That’s is definitely an example of teen literacy practices.

    In Beth’s presentation she talked about how teens are influencing the creators of games through the modifications and enhancements they make to game play. Producers of games work with teens who have modified games and incorporate those modifications in future versions of the game. The manufacturers also hire those modifiers. Soon the teens will be the owners of the gaming companies and we will see quite interesting product coming out of those companies.

  • Anthony Bernier brought us back together at the end of the day to recap some of the ideas discussed and to facilitate a question and answer period. In Anthony’s recap comments he talked about how what he heard during the day reminded him of important movements in our history including the civil rights movement and the feminist movement. He connected the ideas we’d discussed related to community, collaboration, and creation to some of the foundational elements of those movements.

    Anthony also talked about how the topics and discussions of the day made him realize that we were talking about a new type of YA librarianship. He said the YA librarians we talked about during the day didn’t fit any of the job descriptions he’d ever seen/read.

    Another important idea Anthony highlighted was that we need to start thinking beyond summer reading clubs and book awards to awards and such for those teens that are creating and producing in the electronic world. It’s a world beyond books now and YALSA, librarians, educators, etc. have to recognize that and move in some new directions.

At the end of the day I think lots of people were feeling stuffed. But, I also think that everyone was able to leave with at least one new idea with which to work. It would be great to know what ideas, inspiration, and so on participants left with. Comments to this blog related to that would be great.