By the time this column reaches its audience, the YALSA Teen Tech Week event will likely have just passed; however, the goals of this event are always worthy of a fresh discussion. The audience for Teen Tech Week includes young people aged 12 - 18, their parents, educators and other concerned adults. This demographic comprises a significant portion of the patrons of most libraries, and YALSA hopes “to ensure that teens are competent and ethical users of digital media, especially the non-print resources offered through libraries, such as e-books, e-readers, databases, audiobooks, and social media”, and that rather than continuing to expand their use of online media only at home, teens will view the library as a trusted resource for accessing information, rely on library resources for education and recreation, and view librarians as qualified, trusted professionals in the field of information technology.
The phrases “trusted resource” and “trusted professionals” above are the ones that lead us into the midst of the primary concern of this column: the issue of intellectual freedom. As so astutely stated in the Teen Tech Week FAQ,
“Millions of teens do not have access to a home computer and, were it not for libraries, would miss opportunities to gain important digital literacy skills. Libraries offer a bridge across the digital divide. Libraries also recognize that digital media plays an important part in a teens’ life. That is why more libraries than ever are helping teens build critical digital literacy skills, which they will use to obtain scholarships, secure jobs, effectively manage their online identity and more.”
But how likely are teens to trust us with their “critical digital literacy skills” if so many of the resources that have become embedded in our online culture are not available to them at libraries? I’m not talking about budgetary restrictions that keep us from acquiring cool-as-pie-in-the-sky resources like 3D printers (although kudos to librarians who are encouraging and supplying “makerspaces”); I’m talking about the kind of online filtering that blocks an appalling variety of web 2.0 / social media resources. The Teen Tech Week site itself is a Ning site that is blocked by the filtering system in my own library at a public high school. How are our patrons supposed to acquire the skills and concepts of “best use” of the (miraculous, to a non-digital-native!) online resources that allow them to connect with the rest of the world at the click of a mouse if they never have the opportunity to have this best use demonstrated to them? Sure, they know how to use Facebook and Twitter and Skype et al. as a means to connect with others, but can they envision these resources as a learning tool? In my experience, it doesn’t generally happen spontaneously; an information professional is a necessary resource to demonstrate both efficiency and educational possibility. By blocking these kinds of resources, aren’t we also teaching our patrons that they DON’T have a place in the realm of intellectual discovery?
The YALSA Toolkit entitled Teens & Social Media in School & Public Libraries points out that social media “provides an ideal environment for teens to share what they are learning or to build something together online,” which certainly speaks to the concept of makerspaces. This resource also points out that while the adults in our communities often encounter information in the media about how social media can be dangerous, “positive examples of how this technology supports teen literacy skills and developmental growth are not always so readily available. For that reason, librarians should play an active role in educating parents, teachers and other members of the community about the positive benefits of social media in teen lives.” The prevalence of social media and similar online technology demonstrates, once again, that rather than making librarians obsolete, it makes us more indispensable than ever, and that it is also our voices that must be heard in advocacy when it comes to making these resources available for our patrons.