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.