Friday, March 30, 2007

Accessible Information?

I was really struck by the chapter in Youth Information Seeking* about teens looking for information about drugs. It seems like they were bombarded with information that they learned since elementary school and didn't need anymore, but they couldn't get access to the information they wanted and needed. Perhaps worst of all, they were afraid to ask because of adults' assumptions that they were doing drugs, rather than just looking for information.

I had a similar experience on a smaller scale when I went to look for PostSecret and Peeps: A Candy Coated Tale this week. First problem -- they weren't available through the library system (only two copies of Peeps are, apparently, available in Western Massachusetts). Second, they weren't at the GSLIS office. So, as a last resort, I went to Barnes & Noble. Actually, maybe I should say the first problem is that I really don't have money, so I couldn't actually buy the books. I went to Barnes & Noble to go to the cafe and read them...and then put them back on the shelf. I searched and searched all through the store, thinking "where on earth would they classify these books?" (By the way, it turns out PostSecret is in "Cultural Studies" or something like that) So many much information...and I was scared to ask for help because I was afraid of what the staff there would think of me -- "She's just gonna read the book and put it back on the shelf? How cheap is this girl?" I know they have chairs and encourage people to sit and read, but I still felt awfully guilty (still did it, though!).

The experience just hit home for me how many information needs are out there that people are afraid to ask about. How can we better provide a service if we're not quite sure what it is? How do we make a safe enough place that someone could ask tough questions and not feel judged? I can definitely relate to not wanting to talk about certain subjects with my parents, or even read about them, because I was afraid my mom would think that I was struggling with the issue, even if I was just curious. While I was reading that same chapter, I kept thinking, "Go Ask Alice would really answer a lot of these questions." But then, how do I get a book or information into a teen's hands without making them feel like what I'm really saying is, "You need help"? Building up trust like that is hard work.

*Chelton, Mary K. and Colleen Cool. Youth Information Seeking: Theories, Models, and Issues. Scarecrow, 2005.

Friday, March 23, 2007

All about Attitude

I really didn't want to like Lord Loss. I'm not so good with gore, and even as a teen I wouldn't read Stephen King or watch horror movies (I watched one, and it freaked me out so bad I stayed far away from any others). And I didn't like it...till the end.

The first part I really liked was the chess match at the end. I found it ironic that such a nerdy (and I say that with love, my dad loves chess) hobby would become life-saving for the werewolves. What especially struck me was Grubbs' attitude, though. He figured out that to win, he didn't have to be good, he just had to play with a carefree, if not optimistic, outlook. His attitude was the reason he won, because it was unsettling to Lord Loss. It reminded me of one of the readings we had earlier in the semester, I think it was the chapters in Zollo's book, but I can't remember for sure. Basically, teens' attitudes wavered between really serious about the world in general and saying, "Hey, why not have fun while we can?" So I think Grubbs' attitude was really true to life, and what do you know? It saved the day. I think teen readers can really appreciate and relate to that.

The second part I had to like was the very end. I nearly flipped out on the last page when Grubbs was ready to call the Lambs, and I had to reread it to make sure of the ending. I had such an adrenaline rush from reading (I read most of it in one sitting) that my heart was still pounding when I finished, even though the ending was happy. I also got mad but still had to laugh at the uncle's sick sense of humor. So to get that sort of emotional reaction out of me, even though I really hated the beginning and the goriness, I still had to like the book in the end.

Wasting My Time?

I got sick earlier this week. I wasn't able to go to Boston on Tuesday, so I hung around at home and spent the time I could've been studying watching the Fruits Basket DVDs. Wasting my time. Or was I? OK, so I wasn't doing homework for half a day. I was enjoying myself. At the same time, I was learning about something that's very popular with teens now, giving myself a needed break, and laughing, which is beneficial to my health. Plus, I found something new that I really enjoy...when I got well, I borrowed the first 4 volumes from the library and finished the fourth last night. So, was I wasting time?

Unfortunately, I think we tend to think of our use of time as a dichotomy -- either we're working or playing. Either we're using time well, or we're wasting it. Maybe it's a cultural thing. Seems to me we're driven to use time in the most efficient way possible to get the most work done as possible. Maybe it's the culture, maybe it's based on personality. I tend to get nutty about schoolwork, for example. I really did feel a little guilty when I was using an entire morning to watch DVDs while I was sick. I'm starting to realize that I need to relax a little, take some time to unwind, and keep in mind that not all time apart from homework is "wasted."

I think in working with teens, I need to keep this in mind. It's easy to make blanket statements about someone's use of time, saying they're lazy or wasting time, without keeping in mind all the learning that's going on at the same time. I think that, in general, librarians have moved away from saying that providing popular books is not the library's job because the library is a place to learn. We have books, DVDs, and CDs in our collection to provide entertainment (even if some poeple look down on one use over the other, at least both are provided). I think that the way constructive use of time often comes up when we talk about how people should use the computers. Should people be allowed to check their email? IM? Play games? Even when it's allowed and there are other computers free, I've observed that a lot of people look down on using the computers for fun instead of more serious uses. I'm sure that there's a time and a place for making a judgment call when there's a line of people waiting to use the computers. But when there's not, why worry about it? And even when we see a teen playing a game...maybe that's not all they're doing. I used the library computers to write a long paper last year. I was there off and on for about two weeks, and whenever I got stuck on the paper, I would play an online Sudoku, sometimes for as much as 20 minutes. I'm sure at least one person just saw me playing the game, and thought I was using my computer time poorly.

"Constructive use of time" then, can be more complicated than it sounds. The library's job in supporting constructive use of time is not just about provided resources for homework, work, college, and serious study. It's about providing entertainment, too. At the beginning of the week, when I looked at the assignment, I thought, "How does YouTube fit into constructive use of time? Wouldn't that be wasting time?" Here's what I think.... Entertainment can be constructive. YouTube includes silly videos, but it also has some videos that have been in the news, like a football fight from a college game and the guy from Seinfeld blowing off his top, things that my brothers (a little older than teens, but close) both looked up. Plus, people can load their own videos, and have to learn or know something about the technology to do it. Recently, YouTube was also in the news for the political statement an individual made. In a statement, the guy who created the video said that he wanted to show how an individual can affect the voting process. YouTube, then, isn't just about entertainment, but can be a powerful tool and learning opportunity. And that's constructive use of time.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Teen Reading Article

Thought this might be of interest to the class:

Teens buying books

(Thanks to Kid's Lit for the link)

MySpace and Libraries

Recently Alternative Teen Services discussed libraries on MySpace -- does it invade a teen's privacy for a library to become a friend on MySpace? Is the library trying to hard to be cool to teens?

I think the questions are very closely related to the discussion we had last week about expectations. It cuts both ways: libraries expect teens to use MySpace (which, in turn, might bump up against parents' boundaries), and teens expect...what? What do teens expect of adults, and should we always fulfill their expectations?

Personally, I don't think that libraries should stay off MySpace altogether. It's good marketing, after all, and can be very successful, like the TeenSpace we looked at last week. I think that privacy and expectations come into play depending on the library's approach...if a library were to look up every teen in town and make them friends, without permission, that would creep me out. As a teen, it would've bothered me, and yeah, I would've felt like maybe an adult was invading my space a little (no pun intended) and trying to hard to be cool. Because teens (at least, when I was a teen, and I don't think this has changed) really don't want adults to be like them. They want -- they expect -- them to be adults, and if their interests happen to coincide, great! Adults can be friends...but when I was a teenager, there was nothing that annoyed me more about adults than trying to be too ingratiating and cool. If a library sent out a newsletter or flyers or told me when I came into the library, "Check out our MySpace!" I probably would've added them as a friend myself. The interaction would've been totally different, and I would have the freedom to decide for myself.

I thought the comment on Alternative Teen Services about getting the teens involved in the library's MySpace was a great idea -- what a great way to empower the teens and teach them and their parents about Internet safety (which has been a huge issue lately) at the same time.


"Victor," he asked. "what do adults do all day?"
"Work," Victor answered, "eat, shop, pay bills, use the phone, read newspapers, drink coffee, sleep."
Scipio sighted. "Not really very exciting," he muttered, resting his arms on the cold stone of the parapet.

Funke, Cornelia. The Thief Lord. Translated by Olvier Latsch. New York: Scholastic, 2002.

When I was about twelve years old, I went through a time of finding everything boring. Kid's games that I used to enjoy weren't fun anymore, but adult stuff was pretty boring, too. When I asked a friend, who was only two years older than me, what she did all day, she told me she did her schoolwork, read, played the guitar, checked her email, etc. Her list sounded about as boring to me as Victor's did to Scipio. When I was a teen, about the only thing that was constant was change.

I can remember pretty well what it was like to be a teen. That's something I really want to hold on to, being able to remember, even in just these generalities, some of the feelings and experiences I went through. At the same time, I've been realizing a lot lately -- and this is going to sound strange, but bear with me here -- that I'm not a teen anymore. You see, not much has changed since I was about 16 or so. Same home, same job, different schools, but only one semester since high school that I haven't been a full-time student. And that's one of the reasons I realized that I'm getting to be a "real" adult. I like to think I've matured some in the past eight years or so, but my interests have pretty much stayed the same. If my interests have been the same that long, I'm definitely not aware of what teenagers are interested in.

Thinking about that this week has made me realize how important it is to get teen input about teen services and collections. I started working at the library when I was sixteen, so sometimes the staff there would ask me for a teen's perspective...but I can't be that perspective anymore. I choose and read books I like with an adult's eye now. I still forget that sometimes (I've honestly been forgetting my age regularly ever since I was 19), but I'm going to try to remember the disparity between my point of view and a teen's.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Thoughts on the Hierarchies of "Good" Reading

I've been thinking a lot lately about the hierarchies we -- adults, librarians, teachers, parents, you name it -- attach to reading. What makes a book "good"? For that matter, what makes a book better than, say, a website or a magazine?

This train of thought all started when someone in my acquaintance called the Gossip Girls series "one step up from People" magazine. I've never read Gossip Girls (though they're so popular, I probably should). I've barely browsed through People. But her comment made me think. What sort of "reading hierarchy" have I created? The Lord of the Rings is better than Harry Potter is better than The Keys of the Kingdom, perhaps? Fantasy is better than realistic fiction is better than historical fiction is better than romance....

How does this hierarchy effect my service to teens, either in what books I would recommend to them or what judgments I hold about their reading interests? Do I really listen to what the teens enjoy and try to find titles that best meet their needs and interests, or do I jump immediately to the books in that genre that I read or enjoyed?

How about this hierarchy -- classics are better than popular fiction. We forget that many classics of today were bestsellers in their day. (Would that horrify people?) I think that this sort of elitism, or perhaps in a more gentle form, this "What I like to read is better than what you like to read" can be really damaging to customer service. We don't say it so blatantly, of course, but I think our attitudes are closer to the surface than we realize, and can come across in offhanded comments and in the recommendations we make.

I think that such attitudes on librarians' and other adults' parts can really hurt teens -- they may still read the books they like (under the covers, like I did when my mom didn't like a book), but they might be embarrassed about the genres they like or unwilling to talk to a librarian about their interests to find more books they enjoy. And let's face it, adults generally have a pretty different idea about what a teen "should" read than what the teen wants to read. Take the adult who saw the books I was using to interview teens this week -- he made fun of a book three of the five teens chose (not in front of them, thank goodness!), but really liked the non-fiction, educational selection from the Best Books list.

While it's important to have serious, non-fiction, classic books, it's important to have the fun stuff, too. I sometimes get embarrassed when I tell people I like to read YA books (I think it covers about 90% or more of my regular reading), but it's what I enjoy, and the "fluffy" ones are good for during the semester, between classes, when I need something that doesn't take a lot of hard thinking. Making a reader laugh serves a great purpose, too. And since when are all the books adults read the best books they could read, anyway? :-)

Friday, March 2, 2007

Same Content -- New Format

Teen-created content isn't anything new. As a teen, I wrote in a journal, wrote stories (including some that shamelessly stole the plots of my favorite books), and took pictures. One of my friends created scrapbooks, one wrote poems, one wrote songs. Sometimes we would share them, whether among ourselves or with a larger audience. Essay or story contests and photo competitions were just some of the means open to us for sharing content we created. We could participate or not, and there was always something special about reading or viewing something we knew another teen had created.

Blogging, message boards, and podcasts provide new opportunities for sharing content. I find it telling that in the study of teens who blog, 69% share content like drawings, stories, photos, or videos. The teens who share content online would share content even without the new technology. I think it's important for libraries to take advantage of technology and how tech savvy teens are. Besides blogs, teen book reviews, and podcasts, we can have teens teach adults the use of new or unfamiliar technologies. In a more informal way, we could have them teach us about blogging or podcasting, too.

Using technology to display teen-created content generally prompts the question from adults: "Isn't it dangerous because it's more public?" But doesn't that depend on how you use it? I know, for instance, not to put personal information on the internet and not to meet up with anyone I "talk" with online. I think it's too bad that this technology often gets overlooked or criticized by adults, because the technology itself isn't bad. It's just another way of sharing content. If we want to be relevant to more teens in our community, we owe it to ourselves and to them to utilize things like blogs and podcasts ourselves. As long as teens (and adults) are taught how to use such methods of sharing content safely, it's no more of a danger than getting your name in the paper after you win an essay contest.

Empowering Teen Extremes

Reading and listening to the teen-created content for this week, I was struck by the extremes in both subject matter and depth, often contained in the same blog, podcast, or book. I had forgotten how extreme emotions, thoughts, concerns, and depth in conversation can be as a teenager. A classmate mentioned in her blog that she thought "The Rose that Grew from Concrete" had some shallow poetry that wasn't anything special. Sure, some of the poems seem to be about small concerns, but others are broader -- freedom, being yourself, love. I can remember creating as a teenager, too, in the form of journal entries. Some of the entries, I admit, were really shallow, while others reflected a concern for politics, friends, the world. When I was writing, though, none of these concerns seemed shallow at all. They were important to me, and it's only now looking back on it all that I can say, "Yeah, that was shallow" because I have some of the larger concerns of adult life. In truth, I wouldn't be able to handle these larger concerns if I hadn't been prepared by smaller issues as a child, and then as a teenager.

I think adults are often too quick to dismiss children's/teenagers concerns as "shallow" -- and I'm guilty of this, too. It's important to remember that one teen's interests and issues can encompass a very wide range. We can't just focus on one end of the spectrum and ignore the other extreme. Empowering teens doesn't mean making them more "adult" and focusing on only those concerns we find acceptable or worthy or having depth. Instead, we should let them create and see content that runs the gamut from the "trivial" to the "important." In fact, it would be better not to make that value judgment at all. I think the podcasts from the Cheshire library do a fantastic job of this -- the episode I listened to had an interview with a teen about the Gossip Girls series, a comedy act a few boys put together, and a chapter out of a book that two of the teens had written. This library definitely shows teens that what they have to say is important, and this is really empowering and validating to teens.