I have been working in libraries for over 30 years (a few part-time years in an academic library and full-time in a public library), and completed Cuesta College’s Library Technician program in the late 1980’s (yes, I am dating myself). These experiences have allowed me to become familiar with all the day to day operations of library work. In this graduate program, I am learning the theory behind the practice; sort of a “flipped” career path, getting the education after the on-the-job experience. In exploring information communities for this course, I have discovered several key activities that I can apply to my job as the manager of the Paso Robles City Library, and I have had some reaffirming personal development as well.
In my public library career, I have always been frustrated by the low numbers of teen patrons using the library. One would logically think that for teens, especially college bound teens, the library would be a place to congregate: to do research, complete homework assignments, or just hang out with friends. Our “new” library (almost 20 years old now!) facility is a pleasant place to be with comfortable furnishings, free internet access, and our ever-popular fish tank. We have a decent collection of materials for teens to use, considering the population served (about 30,000). So why weren’t teens using our services? In examining this population for LIBR 200, I learned the answer to this question: Teens are not familiar with what we have to offer. Sure, the teens in my community know that we have books and computers, but they were unfamiliar with our downloadable collections, research databases, and teen programs.
So how do we open up lines of communication with this group? the teens themselves had good suggestions for this including: put ads in the school newspaper, post flyers on campus, include information in school announcements. While I don’t have the budget to allow for advertisements, I plan to approach the Journalism teacher to see if I can contribute a column about what is going on in the library or if a student reporter can be assigned to the library to write these articles for the paper. Flyers that we post here in the library can be posted on campus; I may be able to recruit our city’s Youth Commissioners to do the posting. Brief information can be submitted for the school announcements. I have a good relationship with the high school principal that can be developed further; if he is willing to make school staff aware of library services, I can hope that they will in turn pass the information on to their students. Finding new venues for communicating with this group is an essential next step in increasing public library use by local teens.
What else can we do to increase teen attendance at our programs? In addition to better marketing, we need to look at our program content. Surveyed teens are interested in college prep and career workshops, much more serious topics for programming than we have offered in the past. We will need to look at offering programming of this nature in order to encourage teens to participate.
In studying the teen community, I have enjoyed reading about other research being done on their information gathering behaviors. Scholars such as Denise Agosto (2005) who studied urban teens quest for ELIS information, Lisa Wemett (2008) who offered ideas about creative teen spaces for libraries, Charles Becker (2009) who provided information about online information seeking among teens, and Lois Barranoik (2001) who studied the methods used by students writing research papers all contributed to my personal information gathering regarding teen library behaviors and needs. I particularly enjoyed surveying and interviewing students for my own research. I feel that I have excellent current data on my local community that I can use to guide my decision making in the next few years.
On a personal note, after being out of school for about 30 years, it has been gratifying to find that I am still able to be successful as a student. I have grown from someone who was wondering if she would be able to take on this new challenge — Can I function in an online environment? Can I hold my own with the next generation? Can I still write? Do I really have time in my busy life to do a good job at this graduate school “thing?” — to someone who answers “Yes!” to those questions.
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
Barranoik, L. (2001). Research success with senior high school students. School Libraries Worldwide, 7, 28-45.
Becker, C. H. (2009). Student values and research: Are Millennials really changing the future of reference and research?. Journal of Library Administration, 49(4), 341-364.
Wemett, L. (2008). Teen space and the community’s living room: Incorporating teen areas into rural libraries. PNLA, 72(4), 13-18.