TTW Mailbox: How do we control the Teens?

From a librarian who wishes to remain anonymous:

Dear Michael, I heard you speak last May and I had to ask your opinion on something happening at our library. The other librarians want to write a Conduct Policy for the teens who come in after school: no skateboards or rollerblades, no games, one teen per computer, quiet behavior, etc. I want to speak up but I’m a new librarian and I’m scared they’ll all get mad at me. I think I know the answer but is this the way to pull teens in?

Just sign me Anonymous Next Gen Librarian

Oh ANGL! You do know the answer! Part of me wants to say: Run! Run Away! but I believe you can over time be a change agent at your library. In the Ten Rules for new Librarians, I wrote:

Listen to the seasoned librarians you encounter. They know things. Good things. Listen and they may inform your future decisions and planning. Learn from every conversation, meeting or water cooler chat. (And seasoned folk, listen to your new hires! You do the same: listen, learn and share… break down the generational divide present in some organizations…you’ll be happy you did!)

I would hope the librarians pondering these policies would read that paragraph and consider a discussion, that might include a brief, informal presentation of some resources that may be helpful:

Born with the Chip

For example, those “Born with the Chip” are multi-taskers:

NextGens multitask as a core behavior. The packed screen that looks unfocused to the average Boomer, who probably closes unused open windows, feels natural to NextGens. The ability to integrate seamlessly and navigate multiple applications, simultaneously combining their worlds in a single environment, is a key skill of this generation. This skill is not just about running several IM conversations at the same time. Add in listening to MP3s on a PC as well as surfing the web while adding content to homework projects and assignments. This is not bad. In a noisy world, it’s a great skill to be able to multitask and focus differentially. Indeed, as MS Windows and MS Office add more applications, it will become critical for libraries to access, acquire, and adapt easily information for this next generation’s decision-making and work environments.

IMPACT: NextGens expect that all information appliances—desktop, mobile telephones, and PDAs—will support multitasking. In contrast, many libraries have chosen not to take advantage of some of their PC capabilities by 1) installing them without sound cards or speakers; 2) preventing the use of IM or email; 3) precluding the ability to use web sites that require animation enablers like Java; or 4) limiting the ability to view streaming media or run applications like Real Media, Windows Media Player, or Quicktime. Some libraries are still using ancient versions of Netscape and MS Internet Explorer.

John Beck on Gamers (and others) in the Library

Create zones in your library. Gamers are technologically savvy and can take in multiple streams of information while they socialize. They multitask! They need a space with all kinds of simultaneous activities—music, television, video streaming, computers. They thrive on all of the commotion. The Boomer zone should be much quieter. They need technology and service but not the noise.

These are the spaces to plan for in your library, not a “Conduct Policy!”

Pew Internet & American Life Teen Content Creation Survey

American teenagers today are utilizing the interactive capabilities of the internet as they create and share their own media creations. Fully half of all teens and 57% of teens who use the internet could be considered Content Creators. They have created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations.

Teens are often much more enthusiastic authors and readers of blogs than their adult counterparts. Teen bloggers, led by older girls, are a major part of this tech-savvy cohort. Teen bloggers are more fervent internet users than non-bloggers and have more experience with almost every online activity in the survey.

How could you ask young people, collaborative by nature, to use a computer solo?

I think what we need is a balance between understanding the needs and experience of young people, building spaces for all of your types of users, and finding ways to welcome them into the library. I am not saying we shouldn’t have some rules or that any behavior goes, but adding rules such as the ones you mention above may just send the kids far away from the library and they may never come back.

I wish you good luck!