Librarians Learn to Move beyond Text
“When we’re looking for ourselves in kids, we don’t always see what we expect to see.” That statement from Stephen Abram, library futurist, was the takeaway lesson at the ALSC/YALSA Joint President’s Program on Monday.
Michelle Poris, quant savant at the market research and strategic consulting firm Smarty Pants, revealed that, of several hundred young people who participated in her study on digital activity, 68% agreed that “grownups need to do a better job of finding out what’s important to kids.” She particularly wanted librarians to be aware that 50%–60% of young teens feel stress daily, as they face pressure to juggle multiple tasks even as they’re prompted to begin preparing for college in middle school. They see this message online as well as hear it in school, and their stress is compounded by packed schedules in which homework and organized sports crowd out relaxation time.
When they do have time to relax, kids are choosing screen time. A few decades ago, 10–12 year-olds were still playing with toys and dolls, but today they’re into digital gaming. “Play is very different than what it would have been in the past,” said Poris. When asked their favorite thing to do with technology, kids in her study answered, “play,” far and above anything else. And 71% do it while multitasking on another device.
Nearly half of 10–14 year-olds have a Facebook account, even though they aren’t legal for ages 13 and under. Or they may be watching TV while engaging in social networking—TV remaining this age group’s favorite activity. However, Poris was quick to point out that 61% still prefer to be outside. “Even though you think of these kids as hunkered down in front of videogames, they do appreciate the outdoors,” she said, “but maybe with an iPhone in hand.”
Such statistics might concern some people, but not Abram, who was quick to point out the benefits of gaming. “We are at a point where we are seeing a significant evolutionary leap,” he said, explaining that videogames have been proven to increase IQ scores and change brain structure.
Facebook, legal or not, makes today’s post-Millennials the first generation to maintain all friendships from all stages of their lives. This means that they are also tracking multiple relationships in their own lives.
“It’s about accepting all different kinds of reading,” Abram said. Videogames provide episodic reading that is more accessible to boys, who may not be physically able to give sustained attention to a chapter book. They also provide “scaffolded learning,” in which a skill learned in one level is mastered and used in the next. Librarians should think of this as they prepare kids for the future.
The session closed with two short videos showing public libraries with successful programs for tweens and young teens from Stratford (Conn.) Library (2:33) and Aurora (N.Y.) Free Library (2:37). In addition, you can learn more about Abram’s work on his blog, Stephen’s Lighthouse, and more about Poris’s work on the Smarty Pants website.