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21st century teens and 21st century library services: A call to action

YALSA Report
YALSA report.

This article was written by Chris Harris, school library system coordinator, Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (NY) and chair of the ALA OITP Advisory Committee.

YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association division of the American Library Association (ALA), today released The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action report on teen library services. The report presents the results from a year-long national forum and ongoing discussion about the specific library needs of young adults. The project was made possible through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Since the OITP Advisory Committee first discussed youth and technology issues in 2012, the committee has had a special interest in examining the issues faced by youth and librarians in our technology-saturated society. Our focus thus far has been on learning more about how teens use technology for education and the impacts of filtering on educational opportunity. We look forward to reading the report in the context of how youth interact with various technologies (such as devices, online information, and content creation platforms) and the resulting policy implications.

The current call to action is triggered by the changing demographic and socio-economic makeup of America’s youth An analysis of 2010 U.S. Census data shows a decline in the non-Hispanic white child population while subgroups including children of mixed races, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic Asian and Pacific Islanders, are on the incline. These demographic changes, coupled with reports that 22% of children in the United States are living in poverty with over 1.3 million homeless children annually present an enormous social challenge.

Public and school libraries need to rise to the challenge and adapt service models that better prepare current and pre-service librarians for work in this changing landscape. The solution? Build a higher level of cultural competence in the library workforce so that library programming better respects the needs of an increasingly diverse population of younger patrons. This concept is further defined in the report:

Cultural competence has to do with recognizing the significance of culture in one’s own life and in the lives of others; and to come to know and respect diverse cultural backgrounds and characteristics through interaction with individuals from diverse linguistic, cultural, and socioeconomic groups; and to fully integrate the culture of diverse groups into services, work, and institutions in order to enhance the lives of both those being served by the library profession and those engaged in service.

Additional work is also needed to help library staff support an increasingly online population of youths. One role libraries can fill is to support increased access and use in poor urban and rural settings where Internet usage tends to be less prominent. The importance of this intervention, YALSA maintains, is not just in helping these teens be more creatively active and involved online, but also in preparing them to enter the increasingly digital workplace.

To address these challenges, YALSA’s report calls for libraries to consider changes around four major shifts.

  1. Teen use of technology: libraries need to embrace more fully technologies and find ways to use them to enhance communities and people as well as library programs.
  2. Expanded literacies: libraries need to be more proactive in addressing media, digital, and other literacies to help teens navigate a world of increasing propaganda and choices.
  3. Connected learning: with a growing number of online high schools and self-directed programs like MOOCs, libraries need to support a wide variety of learning opportunities.
  4. Social and economic factors: libraries need to become more active in building up the community around the library by connecting teens with services to support growth including providing training and access to bridge the knowledge divide, providing access points to build on teens’ motivation to learn, supporting workforce development to address teen unemployment, and to serve as a connection to community agencies that can empower and support teens.

To make this work, the YALSA report concludes, young adult and school librarians need to take the lead and help colleagues in libraries and schools understand the need for changed service models. This will involve building new strategic partnerships with both internal and external groups to present both a whole-library or whole-school and a whole-community approach to the challenge. The report lays out a comprehensive framework for how libraries can get started on this critical professional development task.

Maureen Hartman, one of the report’s co-authors will facilitate a discussion on the report as part of the 2014 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia on Sunday Jan. 26th from 3:00—4:00p.m. The Office of Information Technology Policy Advisory committee will also receive a briefing on the report from co-author Sandra Hughes-Hassell, as part of its Midwinter meeting focused on technology policy issues impacting young library users. The YALSA report is a strong foundational building block which will further inform the Advisory Committee and OITP staff and will strengthen OITP’s future work in this area.

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Marijke Visser

Marijke Visser is the associate director and senior policy advocate at the American Library Association’s Washington Office. She is involved in all stages of Libraries Ready to Code, E-rate, and Connect Home projects. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Peace and Global Studies/Sociology and Anthropology from Earlham College in Indiana. Before joining the ALA in 2009, Marijke earned her master’s in Library and Information Science from Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis.

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