Small town public library life and library school topics of interest


Paso Robles College Bound Teens Speak Out

In my previous posting, I established that rural college bound teens are a viable community worthy of study. In beginning my research about my specific local community’s college bound teens, I have found that interviewing these students is going to give me some excellent ideas for improving my library’s service to them. In preparing to gather information about this group, I contacted one of the English teachers at Paso Robles High School, Aaron Cantrell, through Facebook messenging. Mr. Cantrell teaches upper division Advanced Placement (AP) English; virtually all his students intend to go to college after graduation. I asked him if I could have his students fill out a survey regarding their information acquisition habits, suggesting that it could be a homework assignment, possibly for extra credit. He readily agreed to this proposal. I am also hoping to connect with a similar teacher at Templeton High School (a small school in a neighboring community without a public library) and possibly also at Liberty High School (Paso Robles version of a continuation high school). I hope to cover territory about my local rural community that is similar to the study completed by Denise Agosto regarding urban high school students. Agosto emphasized everyday life information seeking (ELIS) in her study (answering questions about what types of information they seek, what media do they prefer, and what people sources they consult) (p.142); I hope to also include academic information seeking for a more complete picture of my community. For purposes of this blog posting, I personally interviewed two Paso Robles High School college bound teens, Jordan Dickey and Stephen Preston. The topics of our discussion were:

  • which social media they frequently use for information gathering
  • which “people” sources of information they consult often
  • what the “library” in general, and the Paso Robles City Library specifically mean to them
  • what community sources (local newspapers, Paso Robles Department of Library and Recreation’s Activity Guide, etc.) they consult for information
  • what might keep them from visiting or otherwise using the library

We also talked about the way they would approach a typical search of a personal nature and of an academic nature. Finally, because I feel strongly that the library is a community gathering place that unfortunately not many teens in our community use as a place to gather, we talked about what features they would have in their ideal study environment.

First, a little background on these two students. Jordan Dickey is a 17-year-old Paso Robles High School senior. She will be attending a community college, then plans to transfer to a four-year college or university to major in fine art. She is a member of the drama club, and last year was in charge of the costume design for the high school’s Spring musical performance of “Hairspray” (the costumes were amazing, reflecting Jordan’s interest in vintage clothing).  Jordan is also a Peer Mentor, assisting new freshmen with making their way in high school. She has a part-time job at a local Wendy’s franchise. Jordan lived in Paso Robles until she was about five years old, then moved to Arizona with her mother for a number of years; she returned to Paso Robles two years ago to live with her father.

Stephen Preston is a 16-year-old junior at Paso Robles High School. Although his college plans are less firm than Jordan’s are, he currently plans to attend Stanford, USC (University of Southern California), or UCSC (University of California at Santa Cruz) and major in biochemistry. Stephen is on the Paso Robles Youth Commission (an advisory body to the City Council), is involved with the high school’s award-winning Crimson Chronicle newspaper, and is a member of the school’s History Club. Stephen is also well on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout. Stephen enjoys backpacking and online gaming and was employed at a summer camp as a lifeguard over the summer. Stephen has lived in Paso Robles for all his life and has attended Paso Robles public schools exclusively.

It was interesting talking to these two teens about their online information seeking behaviors. In questioning them, I wanted to see if they more or less followed the  six stages of information seeking as described by Kuhlthau (p.366) or the thinking practices as described by Harlan (p.577-582). Jordan and Stephen did not seem to follow the Kuhlthau’s initiation-selection-exploration-formulation-collection-presentation pattern (p.366-368) in our discussion; instead they both plunged right in to answer my questions about the process they use when researching. They did, however, demonstrate some of Harlan’s thinking practices as they searched for information. Both of them are avid social media users who listed Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram as three sites they use frequently. In addition, Jordan also uses Pinterest and Twitter. Both said they use these venues as places to post information about life events and share photos with family and friends. They also emphasized the “social” aspects of social media as this is a place where they can interact with their friends much as my generation did on the telephone after school every day. Mary Ann Harlan, in her article about teen content creators, talks about a process in which teens experienced information to learn how to create online. (Harlan). The group she studied were more similar to Paso Robles teens than the group studied by Agosto since Harlan’s population were from a rural community (Harlan, p.572). Although in this instance, Jordan and Stephen were not being asked to create and post online, many of their information gathering procedures were similar to those of Harlan’s population. Both Jordan and Stephen talked about their “serendipitous encounters” (Harlan, p.573) with information, especially when using social media or discussing topics with their teachers. Stephen referred to information that he had overheard friends talking about at school that he later investigated. Jordan described collecting inspiration for her artwork and housing it on her Pinterest page, and example of “focused browsing” (Harlan, p.575).  When asked specifically about looking up personally interesting information online, they had rather different strategies. Jordan stated that when she is learning how to learn a new skill, such as a new art technique, she will watch YouTube videos, an example of Harlan’s direct searching (p.576). so she can see how something is done. Stephen, on the other hand, was more likely to do a Google search using keywords about his topic then narrow down which websites he examined further based on factors such as recommendation by a peer or mentor, or past positive experience with a site. These results seem to illustrate one of Debbie Hanson’s points in her lecture for Module 3 about information seeking behavior based on gender, “Men preferred to be involved in the research process, while women were happier when the requested information was simply presented.” (p.10) Stephen spent more time conducting his actual research, while Jordan was content to watch a video presentation. Will this play out in the larger survey?

In addition to online sources, both of these teens consulted with their friends extensively for recommendations for both personal and academic information. Both also mentioned teachers and parents as secondary sources. Jordan seems to have good rapport with her high school art teacher and consults with him on questions of technique regularly. It was surprising and somewhat disturbing to me that neither of these teens said that they consulted books, magazines or newspapers for information.

Although both students use their school library a minimal amount (both mentioned printing hard copies of school assignments), neither of these students is a public library user. When asked what she thought of when she heard the word “Library,” Jordan said, “Nostalgia.” She has fond memories of visiting the public library to check out books and attend library programs when she was a young child. When asked the same question, Stephen said “Aquarium.” (The Paso Robles City Library has a 250-gallon aquarium feature at the entrance to the Children’s area). When asked what they thought the public library had to offer, both said, “Books,” but neither knew of the many other media we offer, including our downloadable collection of eBooks, eAudio, eMagazines and eVideo. They were unaware that we have databases that can help them to prepare for their upcoming SAT and AP exams.

This led to a discussion about where they would look to find out information about library programs and offerings. They named the social media sites that they follow, and both also listed flyers to be hung up around the school, the morning P.A. announcements, and the school newspaper. With Jordan, I discussed the types of teen programs we had over the summer, and she did sound interested in some of them, but was not aware that we were offering them. With both students, we discussed possible community sources of information, but neither of them regularly reads the local newspapers or the Activity Guide. Stephen mentioned that his family sometimes watches the local television news, and he was familiar with the Activity Guide due to his role as a Youth Commissioner, but neither were sources he consulted when he was looking for something to do. In addition to being unaware of what the library has to offer, there were other barriers to their own ability to visit the library: both of them are in school during many of the library’s open hours. In addition, Jordan’s part-time job after school further prevents her for visiting the library. Stephen lives outside the downtown core, making it difficult for him to get to the library after school.

Not surprisingly, both students remarked that they usually just consulted the Internet first when doing research “because it is easy.” They both mentioned that they have smart phones that allow them to access a wealth of information instantly. If they were unable to find what they needed online, they next consulted with a person, usually a friend, but sometimes a teacher or parent. When looking for information of a personal nature, they often consulted with a friend first, then Googled the topic to see if they could find more information. This discussion exemplifies Harlan’s thinking practice of “choosing,” and “the importance of a low barrier (low cost, ease of use) to expression and engagement” (p.577).

One point of interest in our discussion is that both these students are fairly discriminating in their online searching. They both “evaluated information based on a judgment of authority” as described by Harlan (p. 579). Both recognize that not everything they find in a Google search is of value. Jordan learned to look at the URL for an item to see if it “looks legit.” Stephen mentioned that he often visits Wikipedia — not to read the article at that site, but to visit the articles cited by the author of the Wikipedia article.

In keeping the Library a lively and vital place, it would seem that library staff has its work cut out for them both in educating teens about the resources we have available for them and in making the library a teen-friendly gathering place. We will have to re-examine our marketing strategies for this group and perhaps create a place within a place for teens to gather. It will be interesting to see if these two teens are typical of my community as I complete my more comprehensive survey.

Agosto, D. E., & Hughes-Hassell, S. (2005). People, places, and questions: An investigation of the everyday life information-seeking behaviors of urban young adults. Library & Information Science Research, 27(2), 141–163. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2005.01.002

Hansen, D. (2014). Information-seeking and information communities: A study in diversity. Retrieved from https://sjsu.instructure.com/courses/1117618/files/34242001/download?verifier=x36FuD8jrH7lnmuZkSl7RFENpJfZGDJEGy1TwDo4&wrap=1.

Harlan, M. A. & Bruce, C. & Lupton, M.(2012). Teen Content Creators: Experiences of Using Information to Learn. Library Trends 60(3), 569-587. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved September 29, 2014, from Project MUSE database.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the Search Process: Information Seeking from the User’s Perspective. Journal Of The American Society For Information Science, 42(5), 361-371.



Teens as a Community to Be Studied (LIB200 Module 3)

In searching for a community to study, I wanted to make sure the group I chose was relevant to my current job managing the Paso Robles City Library. We have recently been looking at new ways to encourage high school teens to use the library, and I believe that if I explore our local teens’ methods of acquiring information in the larger context of how the high school population in general acquires information , then I may be able to change the ways we reach out to this group and/or add new programs or services that will be specifically oriented toward those needs. In discussing this with Professor Greenblatt, I decided to further narrow “teens” as an information community to “college bound teens” so that my group would be manageable.

First I asked myself, does this group meet the definition of an information community as described by Fisher and Durrance? In their article “Information Communities,” Fisher and Durrance describe five characteristics of an information community. Let us examine each point to see if my chosen group meets this criteria:

1. “Information communities exploit the information sharing qualities of technology yield multiplier effects for stakeholders”

I think it is safe to say that college bound teens use technology frequently (some parents would argue that it is 24/7) and as they have grown up in a technologically drenched world, are comfortable with all types of social media from email groups to Facebook to Tumblr. It will be interesting to see how my local college bound teens use these technologies and others in their information gathering.

2. “Information communities emphasize collaboration among diverse groups that provide information and may share joint responsibility and resources”

College bound teens definitely represent a diverse population with a wide variety of interests. Judging from my experience working with teen library volunteers, overseeing teen programming and young adult acquisitions in the library, and also my experience volunteering with the Boy Scouts and the Band Backers in our community, college bound teens seek information in a variety of ways, sharing what they learn with their peers.

3. “Information communities anticipate and often form around people’s needs to access and use information in ways that people perceive as helpful.”

High school students have always formed into groups based on their like interests. Whether they are in a study group to prepare for an AP (Advanced Placement) exam, a musical group such as band or choir, or a themed school club such as Paso Robles High School’s environmental club, the community of teens as a whole is adept at forming communities within themselves to access and use information. It will be interesting to find new ways that local college bound teens form into groups in order to provide better service to them in my community.

4. “Information communities remove barriers to information about acquiring needed services and participating in civic life.”

It has been my observation that college bound teens use technology to break down barriers to information gathering as a natural part of their information gathering process. A point in case: when my college-aged son was in high school, he enjoyed skateboarding and could often be found investigating various companies who manufacture or sell skateboard decks. He also visited skate shops and discussed features of various products with store personnel. Discussing the merits of one brand over another is a regular topic among my son and his skateboarding peers as well. Once he made a choice, he would often post this information on various social media, sharing his knowledge with others and providing a place for further discussion of the topic with his peers. I would like to see if this is typical of most local teens and use this information to improve our library service to this group.

5. “Information communities foster social connectedness within the larger community.”

In using social media, teens frequently post and share information that they have learned with the larger social network. When a college bound teens post something of interest to them on Facebook, for example, they are sharing it with their “friends,” no matter if the friend is a teen or not. This information may in turn be shared by the teens’ “friends” and so forth throughout the larger Facebook community. These postings can also promote discussion as friends post comments to the initial posting. I hope to find a way to make the library’s Facebook page appealing to this population as a place to go for information.

Thus I do believe that teens as a group meet the criteria to be an information community.

The next question I raised to myself is, “Do local high school college bound teens represent a large enough group to be representative of teens as a whole?” Teens who use our public library are mainly from Paso Robles High School and our continuation school, Liberty. Because a neighboring community, Templeton, does not have a public library of its own, many teens from Templeton High School also are patrons of our library. I hope to primarily use college bound Paso Robles High School students for this study, adding students from these other schools as I can.

I believe that our city has a diverse enough population to make this a valid study. Although the city’s population (according to 2010 Census figures) is predominantly white (59%), we do have a relatively large Hispanic/Latino population as well (34.5%). Although our African-American population is small (2.1%), it is one of the largest in San Luis Obispo County. We also have a small Asian population (2%). Ideally I will be able to include information for all these groups as I gather data for my project.

As a final consideration for choosing this group and the direction I want to take in my research I asked myself if there had been adequate research already done on this group. Professor Greenblatt and I exchanged some emails on this topic, and she recommended the article “People, Places, and Questions: An Investigation of the Everyday Life Information-Seeking Behaviors of Urban Young Adults” by Denise Agosto. Agosto sought answers to three questions about her target population: “1. What types of information do urban young adults seek in their everyday lives? 2. What information media do urban youth favor? (and) 3. What people sources do urban young adults favor when seeking everyday life information?” This article explored urban youth information-seeking behaviors in the same manner as I would like to explore my rural small-town community’s college bound teen information seeking behaviors. In addition to this article, Carol Kuhlthau, in her article, “Inside the Search Process: Information Seeking from the User’s Perspective,” tells of several studies about the search processes used by high school students when researching for their term papers. I am confident that I will be able to find enough related prior research on this information community for me to complete my own research.

So, to recap, my goal is to find out what the college bound high school information community wants that we are not providing so I can get some ideas and/or implement some features/programs/other that will get them using the library as much as their younger siblings and grandparents already do. Recognizing that high school teens are an underserved population in our local library community as a whole, and I would like to find better/different ways to serve them. Maybe that isn’t the ultimate goal of this class per se, but I would like to gain a better understanding of their information needs in order to address our lack of teen presence in the library.

Agosto, D. E., & Hughes-Hassell, S. (2005). People, places, and questions: An investigation of the everyday life information-seeking behaviors of urban young adults. Library & Information Science Research, 27(2), 141–163. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2005.01.002

Fisher, K., & Durrance, J. (2003). Information communities. In K. Christensen, & D. Levinson (Eds.), Encyclopedia of community: From the village to the virtual world. (pp. 658-661). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412952583.n248

Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the Search Process: Information Seeking from the User’s Perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42(5), 361-371.

U.S. Census (n.d.). State & County Quickfacts. Retrieved from http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/index.html#