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.

1 comment:

Linda Braun said...

Really good questions and comments. While your experience describes something sort of painful, I'm actually glad you had it (maybe not glad but...) because it is a great reminder of how teens, and other library customers, often feel. How do I ask? Who do I ask? What will they think? What if I don't know what to ask? All questions that library customers struggle with.

When a teen it's even harder because life is all about these kinds of questions. The library should be one place where teens can simply be and not worry about the questions and sounding smart or worrying about what others think.

And, of course, the fact that libraries don't have these books sends another message. Doesn't it?