Agosto, D. E., Magee, R. M. Dickard, M., & Forte, A. (2016). Teens, technology, and libraries: An uncertain relationship. Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 86(3), 248-269.
This paper aims to look at how public and school libraries are meeting the information needs of teenagers. While the authors thought there had been research into how teenagers use technology, there hadn't been sufficient research on where school and public libraries fit into that equation.
Because this paper was published in 2016, I felt like it had relevant information for today. In the past, I have looked at information on the digital divide, and there are certainly portions of our population who have less access to computers and other technology. But I found it noteworthy that this article cited research from 2013 that indicates that 93% of teens have a computer at home, 78% of teens have a cell phone, and 37% of them are smart phones (Agosto, Magee, Dickard, and Forte, 2016, p. 248). So while it is still a valid idea that teens may need to use a library for its technology, it may not be the main reason, and it may shift students' perception of what they need from a library.
The authors did surveys and interviews with students at a high school. This particular paper focused on the in-depth interviews, as this was the form in which student perception of libraries was measured. Not surprisingly, most students in the study still equate libraries with books (Agosto et al., 2016, p. 255). About 40% of the students viewed libraries as obsolete, and do not connect technology with libraries, but rather in competition with what is easily available to them through the Internet (Agosto et al., 2016, p. 257). In fact, "these students also tended to view technology as easier and quicker to use than libraries. As one of the boys explained: 'Because everyone is so tech-based, it is kind of pointless to go into the library anymore' (age 17)" (Agosto et al., 2016, p. 258).
However, students were also asked about the reasons that they use a library. Library use seemed to focus around social opportunities, and use for leisure reading and leisure music. One student talked about being dragged to the library by a friend because he needed to check out something but had fines on his card so wanted to use hers. When they got there, they discovered a game night activity that was going on. They had so much fun that they started regularly attending it (Agosto et al., 2016, p. 258-259). Another student needed a couple books from her public library because they weren't in her school library, and rediscovered how great a space it was to work (Agosoto et al., 2016, p. 259).
Of important note, among the teens in the study, only 8% used the library for its technology (and one cited that it was because of technology malfunction at home, rather than no technology ever) (Agosto, et al., 2016, p. 259). The paper emphasized that the perceptions of libraries are outdated for teens, and some effort needs to be made to rebrand them for teens as a social space that can also be a quiet place to work as well.
Towards the end of the paper, the authors point out:
Just because the teens in this study tended to be infrequent library users does not mean that they were infrequent information users or infrequent information searchers.... For students with high levels of technology access, such as those in our study, librarians acting as technology educators to teach teens sophisticated information searching and resource evaluation and how to arm their phones or computers with available resources would probably be more useful than positioning libraries as technology access points. Thus, this work suggests an additional shift from the traditional focus on librarians as resource providers to librarians as information educators. (Agosto et al., 2016, p. 263)I thought the insight of teaching teens how to access resources on their own devices was a powerful observation. If more and more people are walking around with a computer in their pocket, how can libraries arm them with what they need when both in the library walls and at home? Maybe libraries become less and less of a physical technology access point, but become a virtual one as well. And then maybe we look at the different ways that the physical space can meet other needs as well.