Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Technology and its Impact on Libraries: Youth Services

When you get right down to it, technology in the library is nothing new. Technology has always been influencing the way people use the library, from advances in book-binding, to the first public-use phonograph, to the more current computer terminals. With each update to technology, however, the experience of the patron changes. In today’s world, where teenagers have grown up with a cell phone in one hand and a laptop in the other, and where the number of teens utilizing libraries is on the decline, increasing attention needs to be paid to their access to technology within the library.

Libraries need to develop their programs around the tools that young adults already use. Both luckily and unluckily, this includes… everything. Teens are increasingly tech-savvy. “Today’s teens are digital natives,” says author RoseMary Honnold. “They listen to music while updating their MySpace profiles, instant messaging, watching videos on YouTube, and searching for more” (2007). If the library doesn’t meet their needs, they’re going to lose teenagers as patrons. It’s up to today’s youth librarians to develop technology-based programs and collections that will entice young adults to frequent their local libraries.

Technology has also given libraries a whole new way to build a generation of patrons. Librarians are constantly challenged to find ways to increase teens’ familiarity with the library and with other library users. They attempt to give the library relevancy to individuals who otherwise might never set foot in the building.

The first technological step a library must be sure to embrace is their webpage. Library websites for teens can employ methods where the teens can submit art and writing for their peers to view, obtain suggestions to find books that meet their interests, and keep up to date on upcoming library events (Baum, 2002). Teen involvement in development of the web resources both encourages participation within, and helps them develop a feeling of ownership towards, the library. To keep track of their patrons’ opinions about the site, libraries can occasionally put up surveys on their main page.

Many libraries have also instituted an online “Ask the Librarian” chat feature within their website. It enables patrons to connect with the library in real time, even when they are not actually within the building. For teens, who may have reference questions related to homework, this is a great way to get them involved from home. The trick, of course, becomes convincing them to return to the library, rather than just using the website from afar. A suggestion from Thinking Outside the Book, a collection of technology-related essays, included creating banners and “ads” on the website to entice teens to physical library events (Nichols, 2004).

An addition to the library website can be a connected blog, with posts made either by the librarians themselves, or by young patrons. The posts could include peer reviews of recent books, descriptions of recent events, and links to other sites. Blogs give the reader the ability to make comments and communicate with other readers, helping to build a sense of community. By setting up an RSS feed, teens will be able to follow updates to the blog without needing to go to the trouble of checking the page themselves. Teen-produced podcasts are another good way to allow teens to express themselves, as are photo-driven pages such as Flickr (which can double as advertising for teen library activities). Young adult events within the library can also be structured around new technology. LAN parties, DDR dance nights, and MarioKart competitions are all ways to draw teenagers into the building.

Communication is obviously one of the great advantages of modern online technology. Teens who have grown up with their computers expect to be able to instantaneously connect with many different people, utilizing many different forms of technology. From instant messaging to email to online discussion boards, a library should be sure to implement tools that teens will be familiar with. Librarians should take advantage of young adult’s natural ability to multi-task, and create library-related sites on a variety of Web 2.0 tools. By creating a MySpace page, posting to Facebook, and utilizing Twitter, they stand a much better chance of becoming a part of the average teenager’s social network – and, by proxy, becoming a place that teens will hopefully utilize and enjoy.

Of course, after doing all of the above web-enhancements and technological updates, there’s still the problem of getting teenagers into the library in the first place. Libraries may have to do some initial outreach to draw in students from local high- and middle schools, letting them know about the resources available for them. The earlier students are encouraged to use the library, the more likely it is they will become lifelong patrons.

“People who don’t know much about libraries,” says Eli Neiburger, “often predict that public libraries will be dead and gone within twenty years, the rotting husks of their musty buildings still filled with copies of The Cat Who Shat Sequels and mint-condition phone books while the vibrant physiques of iTunes, Netflix, Amazon.com, and Google stand nearby, whistling and innocently scrutinizing their gleaming cuticles, only occasionally shooting each other dirty looks” (2007). It is true that ever-changing technology has forced libraries to compete with other online resource vendors. Technology has, in many ways, changed what patrons are able to check out.

Increasingly computer and video games are included along with other media items such as videos, DVDs, and CDs. The addition of video games has met with some hostility by librarians and parents alike. As Neiburger jokingly put it, “Why? For the love of dear old Melvil Dewey, why would we take our hallowed houses of learning and sully them with these vile, prurient, mind-rotting entertainments?” (2007) The important thing to remember, however, is the concept of “a resource for every user.” Books are not necessarily the pinnacle of circulating items. After all, even fifteen-year-olds who hate reading might love to be able to rent Twilight.

Although most libraries include books on tape and CD in their collection, Playaway audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular among young adults, as noted in Thinking Outside the Book. “While audiobooks can be ‘read’ by those with limited vision or who lack proficiency in decoding print, they are also of great benefit to busy teens who are multitaskers…” (Nichols, 2004). These Playaways are simple and easy to use. There’s nothing that can get scratched or broken, and they’re small enough that a teenager can look like he or she is listening to their iPod, if they don’t want their friends to know they checked out Pride and Prejudice.

The library’s music and video collection can be updated as well, to appeal to teenagers. If a wide selection of music is available to them, teens are likely to check out CDs rather than downloading the songs for a fee from a site such as iTunes. Some libraries today are offering MP3 downloads, which allows teens to “check out” music from their homes, without needing to visit the library. Renting movies can become expensive, especially for students on a limited budget, and the free movies and television shows available at their library will be particularly enticing.

One problem involved in filling a teen’s constant desire for more technology is that it means the library must constantly keep on top of technology advancements if they want to keep their teen patrons. This means computers must be reasonably fast, and feature new software. Media materials like CDs and DVDs must be updated to include recent items. Social networking sites must be maintained, or teens may forget they exist. Teens are going to be more than happy to develop their own audio, visual, and literary collections online if not encouraged to use the library (Nichols, 2004). In addition, teens are just as likely to do research at home on the internet as they are in the library. They need to want the technology the library provides, in order to entice them into the building.

Things to consider:
Should videogames be a part of the teen collection?
What complications might arise from teen-run library blogs and podcasts?
What other tech-based ways can you think of to encourage young adults to utilize the library?


Baum, Linda W. (2002). Teens.library. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Brehm-Heeger, Paula. (2008). Serving Urban Teens. Westport CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Champelli, Lisa. (2002). The Youth Cybrarian’s Guide. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Honnold, RoseMary. (2007). Get Connected: Tech Programs for Teens. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

Neiburger, Eli. (2007). Gamers… in the library?! Chicago, IL: American Library Association.

Nichols, C. Allen (Ed). (2004). Thinking Outside the Book: Alternatives for Today’s Teen Library Collections. Westport CT: Libraries Unlimited.


Craig Buno said...

What complications might arise from teen-run library blogs and podcasts? - One thing that pops into my mind is that teenagers can be pretty mean to each other. Therefore you would have to make sure they were not using this as an outlet to slander their school mates or other library users. You would also have to make sure that most of the post were related to the library and the media the library has and not who is dating Susie Q or who is going to homecoming with John B.

Adrianne said...

The section about "the first technological step a library should embrace is their web page" is something that I both agree with and find very interesting. Your ideas about using the web site as a place for youth to submit art and writing for their peers to read and comment on sounds intriguing. SInce youth isn't forced to do something like this like they might be forced in school, you would think that they would offer good insight and meaningful comments and suggestions to each other. This would be for those who are truly serious about their writing/art and would make a good place for those who are aiming "higher".

Great suggestion! I wonder if any libraries actually have something like this to offer their youth.....

DJ said...

Teens are the best multi-taskers when they want to be. And getting them involved is key, but you also have to remember that whatever they do is going to linked back to the program you are sponsering. So if they figure out what proxy sites can go around your filters, and they may create a blog that could get the library in trouble.