Research to Challenge Our Assumptions About Teens, Media, Social Media, and Digital Divides

If you work with teens (or tweens) on a daily basis as I do, then you will want to read two important documents that came my way via Google Reader and my personal learning network.

The first resource, courtesy of Helen Blowers’ blog, has just been released from Nielsen and is entitled “How Teens Use Media”.  While there are many surprising findings in this study, the study also includes data that has implications for us as librarians who work with young adults:

  • Social networks play an increasingly important role (about half of
    U.S. teens use Facebook) and now many teens access the Web over their phones (37% in the U.S).  How are we using social networks and which social networks are we using to reach out to teens?  How can we work with our school/district administrators and our vendors to develop applications that will help push our library resources to teens via their mobile phones?
  • YouTube is their most popular source for online videos, yet it is still blocked in the majority of school districts.  What if we had freedom to allow our students to experience the educational and engaging videos available through YouTube during the school day?  I become frustrated when students can’t access that great news video from the Associated Press because the YouTube channel is blocked.  As we have a growing body of terrific resources, including Library of Congress, Smithsonian, and federal government agencies as well as educational materials via YouTube.edu and CitizenTube, we need to be able to provide our students access to these videos without having to get special passwords or permission.  In addition, unlimited access to YouTube would bolster our efforts to create library YouTube channels for book videos, tutorials, and screencasts.
  • According to this study, “Sixty-seven percent of teen social
    networkers say they update their page at least once a week. And teens look to their social networks for much more than gossip and photo-sharing: to teens, social networks are a key source of information
    and advice in a critical developmental period: 57% of teen social networkers said they looked to their online social network for advice, making them 63% more likely to do this than the typical social networker.”  This finding has significant implications for the importance of teaching students how to use social networks responsibly and ethically.  Teens need instruction on the concept of digital footprints and information evaluation, skills that are even more important in light of this finding.
  • 83% of the teens in the survey use their mobile phones for text messaging.  I need to be able to use my OPAC to send overdue notices or library announcements via a text message.   Right now, privacy policies adopted by many school districts impede our ability to do just this, or student information management systems are not designed to provide timely yet secure email/mobile phone information about our patrons.  The study notes, “As teens around the world continue to
    adopt mobile phones, mobile media and messaging, marketers will be paying attention.”  Does this  include library service vendors and those who make acceptable use policy decisions?

The second reading I encourage you to ponder is “The Not-So-Hidden-Politics of Class Online” by noted researcher danah boyd.   I follow danah boyd on Twitter and via her blog; I  have been fascinated by her work since discovering her about six months ago; this particular document came to my attention thanks to fabulous librarian Jessamyn West.  This document, her  notes/talking points  for an actual talk she just gave on June 30, explores the socioeconomic divide of users in social networks; in this talk, she focuses specifically on Facebook and MySpace.

Like Ms. West, I was struck by these statements from danah boyd:

For decades, we’ve assumed that inequality in relation to technology has everything to do with “access” and that if we fix the access problem, all will be fine. This is the grand narrative of concepts like the “digital divide.” Yet, increasingly, we’re seeing people with similar levels of access engage in fundamentally different ways. And we’re seeing a social media landscape where participation “choice” leads to a digital reproduction of social divisions. This is most salient in the States which is intentionally the focus of my talk here today.

There is nothing I can say here that will substitute for your taking 10-15 minutes or so to read this significant work.    As our nation grapples with the divide that still exists between ethnic and socioecnomic groups and the ramifications of that divide, so too does it play out in social worlds.   boyd obeserves:

In many ways, the Internet is providing a next generation public sphere. Unfortunately, it’s also bringing with it next generation divides. The public sphere was never accessible to everyone. There’s a reason than the scholar Habermas talked about it as the bourgeois public sphere. The public sphere was historically the domain of educated, wealthy, white, straight men. The digital public sphere may make certain aspects of public life more accessible to some, but this is not a given. And if the ways in which we construct the digital public sphere reinforce the divisions that we’ve been trying to break down, we’ve got a problem.

What does this mean to use as librarians?  Obviously, we want to teach students digital ethics as they use social networks and to use information to make decisions based on facts, not stereotypes or misinformation.  On a larger scale, though, boyd is urging us to look at social media (and I think to help our students as well) to examine the use of social media with a critical eye.

Her findings also have implications for the way we use social media to reach out to our students and parents.

So as we think about creating public spaces, what’s the meeting point for our conversations? Is it MySpace or Facebook? Twitter or IRC? What you choose matters. Where you and your colleagues hang out matters. The “voices” of the Internet that you get are biased by the people who are in the places that you hang out. But do you know this? Do you account for it? Are you working to represent all people or just the people that you can see and hear? When you’re trying to reach out to people, are you trying to reach out to all people or just the people in the environments that you understand? Are you embracing difference or are you only taking into account that with which you are comfortable?

These two readings are reminders that we need to think critically about how we are using social media and to be more aware of whom we may be including or excluding with the use of that social media.  This is the digital divide you may not realize exists, but it is just as important as the divide of equitable access.

I urge all of you who are educators or school librarians to take some time to read these two reports ; I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections on these readings!

Register and Plan for Teen Read Week 2009

Now is the time to start thinking about Teen Read Week 2009!  You can register your library and check out all the amazing resources/planning tools!  Surf over to http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/teenreading/trw/trw2009/home.cfm to get started!

YALSA Announces 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens!

We know our students are always great a great resource for knowing the latest and greatest in the world of graphic novels, but if you are looking for recommendations from your fellow librarians, then take a look at the new 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list from YALSA!

An Early Christmas Present


Yesterday, Ruth and I received this beautiful note from one of library regulars, Chelsea.  She is leaving us to transfer to another school, but her heartfelt note brought tears to our eyes.   A librarian could not ask for a better gift than the one we received from Chelsea below:


Truly humbling to make a difference in this way!

Reflections on Michele Gorman’s Keynote Speech: GPLS Teen Conference 2008


I had the privilege of attending the GPLS Teen Conference 2008 at Macon State College on Friday, December 5.  Keynote speaker Michele Gorman gave a rousing keynote speech entitled, “”This Ain’t Your Mama’s Library! Creating a New Generation of Library Services for a New Generation of Library Users”.  You can read my notes I took during the presentation via Cover It Live on my wiki page, but I’d like to share some key ideas that I got out of Gorman’s speech that you may find helpful.  Whether you work with teen patrons or younger students, you may find some of Gorman’s insights helpful.

  • Think like your patrons:  In this case, my patrons (as well as Gorman’s) are teenagers.   Gorman says that “thinking like a teenager” is a daily investment in time, but we need to take time to think like our patrons and try to envision our library from that perspective.For example, adolescence is a beehive of information seeking behavior—teens are trying to learn about themselves, the people around them, and the world around them. How can we tap into this information seeking behavior?   As librarians, we can provide them guidance and the resources to do so.  Gorman stated that teens, “…need opportunities to explore the world. Not the “Safe, Library Sanctioned World”—the WORLD.”  How can we do this?  Provide programs, books, and online resources that address real world issues and informational needs of teens to help your patrons sort out who they are and the person they want to be. Provide opportunities for positive social interaction and for your patrons to grow such as book clubs, cultural awareness programs, seminars on abuse, or college/career days.   Teens are becoming themselves as grownups—this is a big information gathering age.  As librarians, we can give our students opportunities to experience the world in an age appropriate way and teach them how to access quality information to answer the questions they have.
  • Know the developmental characteristics of your patrons:  While you may have had Educational Psychology in your undergraduate or graduate studies, we as librarians should keep up with the latest research and news as our understandings of how humans develop, learn, and grow are constantly evolving.  One resource Gorman shared is a treasure trove of “What Kids Need” at different developmental milestones in their lives:  http://www.search-institute.org/assets/ .  By having a better understanding of the developmental attributes of the age group of your patrons, you can more effectively plan instruction and learning/leisure activities for your students.  Knowing the latest research in brain research is especially important for understanding the cognitive and social behavior  for those of us who work with teen patrons.
  • Relationships are at the heart of effective library programs and librarianship: Yes, statistics and evidence based practice do matter in this age of accountability, but in spite of the emphasis on numbers and performance standards, much of what we do as librarians can’t be measured quantitatively.   Gorman reminds us that although the movement is for libraries to stress stats/numbers/test scores/standards correlation, we should not forget we impact teens in other meaningful and profound ways; documenting this kind of impact is paramount.

    One strategy Gorman employs to provide qualitative evidence of the impact her teen programs have at her public library is to have all staff members keep an “anecdotal file.”  This file is just a collection of statements or comments patrons may make that reflect the importance of the library in their lives.  For example, one student shared he had to take three buses to attend a special teen event at Gorman’s library.  Given that he could have been anywhere else or spent his bus fare on other things, this teenager who was from an impoverished background clearly made it a point to come to the library.  I plan to start incorporating anecdotal evidence into my library’s monthly reports come January 2009!  I am also going to tap more into the power of our library blog and our PollDaddy polls to collect both quantitative and qualitative evidence for each monthly library report.

While these ideas sound simple, they are truths we often forget in the hustle and bustle of daily library life.  If you ever get the opportunity to hear Michele Gorman in person, I highly recommend you do so as she is an engaging and dynamic librarian whose passion for her work is inspiring!

Buffy Hamilton, Media Specialist
Creekview High School