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July 31, 2014

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YALSA Envisions the Future of Libraries, Teens

forum logo YALSA Envisions the Future of Libraries, TeensThe Young Adult Services Association (YALSA) is finalizing the results of a yearlong project in which key stakeholders from the worlds of libraries, education, technology, and youth social services identify practical ways libraries can adapt to better meet the needs of 21st century teens. Yet the report is “a beginning, not an ending” of YALSA’s efforts, which will expand to include more advocacy, outreach, and funding in the coming months, says Beth Yoke, YALSA’s executive director.

“It’s a call to action for libraries,” Yoke tells School Library Journal. “What happens next is [YALSA will] provide resources to libraries as they dive into the report and think about how they can implement some of these recommended changes at their local level.”

The project and the soon-to-be released extensive report, “The Future of Library Services for and with Teens: A Call to Action,” was funded through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awarded to YALSA in October 2012. The report itself—which was written and edited by Linda W. Braun, Maureen L. Hartman, Sandra Hughes-Hassell, and Kafi Kumasi with contributions from Yoke—was adopted by YALSA’s board of directors on December 16, 2013. It will remain accessible online, and YALSA is encouraging online discussion using #yalsaforum.

“It’s an exciting document and look at the future,” Linda Braun tells SLJ.

While YALSA is still putting together some key components of its strategy for rolling out the report—including more options for virtual sharing of data—the organization already has a host of events on its calendar, Yoke notes. First up, the findings will be presented to members via a free webinar on January 16, then via a presentation by Maureen Hartman at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia on January 26. YALSA is also presenting at the Association of Library and Information Science Educators (ALISE) conference later this month in Philadephia just ahead of ALA Midwinter, plus the Beyond School Hours conference in Atlanta (February 12 to 15) and the National AfterSchool Association’s annual convention in New York City (February 28 to March 3).

Presentations are also lined up for at least 10 upcoming state library conferences, and YALSA hopes to add even more throughout the year, Yoke says.

Engaging specific audiences around various pieces of the report, rather than talking generally about its findings as a whole, will be a central part of YALSA’s strategy moving forward, Yoke explains. That could very likely take the form, for example, of dedicated Google Hangouts where stakeholders can discuss such areas as teen spaces, staffing, and teen outeach. “We’re talking about how we want to frame those, and we’ll get them on the calendar in the next few weeks or so,” she says.

The yearlong data-collection process has already produced a high level of engagement both inside and outside of YALSA, Yoke adds. The project was introduced at ALA’s 2013 Midwinter meeting in Seattle, followed by three virtual town halls in March, April, and May.

“The point was to engage people outside the library world—researchers, the afterschool community, the Connected Learning people, youth development people, the social work community, the tech community…quite a variety of stakeholders,” she says.

YALSA also engaged in a collaboration with Connected Learning TV to host five echats in May on the future of teens and libraries from a tech and media perspective. The unanticipated partnership grew out of Mimi Ito’s presentation for YALSA in Seattle. “One of our goals in involving Mimi was to make sure to help increase awareness of her work with our members,” Yoke says.

The work of Ito, a professor and cultural anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine, and principal investigator for Connected Learning, “really spoke to us at YALSA and what our members are trying to do at the local level,” Yoke notes.

She adds, “Making inroads into these other areas that are connected to the work of libraries has been very valuable to us, and in turn can be really valuable to our community.”

Notably, one of major focuses of the report is the “paradigm shift” in the country’s teen population and what they need—and will need in the future—from their libraries, which impacts all facets of a community. “The role of the library in the community has shifted,” the authors state in the report.

“A central part of that shift is how library staff working with teens effectively serve the age group. Teens—many of whom have at their fingertips information and resources that just 25 years ago were only available in physical library spaces—need widely different types of service, access, collections, space, and staff than ever before,” the authors state.

Although teens make up a significant portion of today’s library users, services for this population are often in jeopardy, the authors find. The demographics of teens are also shifting significantly and, despite the prevalence of technology, not all teens have access at home. And even teens who do have access still lack the critical skills necessary for using this technology effectively in their daily lives. In short, the report finds, “the definition of literacy has expanded.”

“The library is no longer simply a quiet place to connect to physical content,” the authors state in the report. “It is instead a place, physical and virtual, to learn how to connect and use resources of all types from physical books to apps to experts in a local, regional, or national community. It is a kitchen for ‘mixing resources’ in order to empower teens to build skills, develop understanding, create and share, and overcome adversity.”

The report goes on to outline practical takeaways for each stakeholder group whose work impacts teens: public and school library staff serving teens, related library staff, school principals and administrators, LIS faculty, parents and caregivers, researchers, K–12 educators, youth workers and administrators of youth-serving organizations, library trustees, elected officials, library associations, state library agencies, funders, and even teens themselves.

It’s an exhaustively detailed—yet engaging and exciting—vision of the future, in line with YALSA’s goal that the report be accessible and easy-to-read. “We didn’t want to come from too academic of a place, because the language and the approach is different from what the general public or frontline services librarians are used to,” Yoke explains to SLJ. “We wanted it to be palatable and digestible to a wide-range of folks. Our members, especially since the recession, are very busy, and have a lot on their plates. They’re being asked to do more with less.”

YALSA’s own efforts to make the most of limited resources means examining ways that it can source funding to help members implement its recommended changes, with grant programs, sponsorships, and fundraising initiatives as just some of the options on the table for its board to discuss.

YALSA is committed to helping implement the improvements it recommends in whatever way possible, Yoke notes. “[We are] calling for significant, substantial change in a lot of areas—collections, spaces, outreach, staffing—so one of the things that’s going to be a challenge for us is that people can be overwhelmed. We really want people to keep calm and carry on. We want them look at [the recommendations] through a lens of ‘What do I have the power to change at my level?’”

Karyn M. Peterson About Karyn M. Peterson

Karyn M. Peterson (kpeterson@mediasourceinc.com) is a former News Editor ofSLJ.

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