Teens 13–18

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Talking Points for
Public Libraries

7. Libraries provide teens with leadership opportunities through activities such as service on Teen Advisory Boards and employment as library paiges or tutors for children who struggle with reading or seniors who need assistance using the latest computer technologies. Through these opportunities, teens also enhance their professional competencies; improve their research and communication skills; gain a stronger work ethic; learn the importance of self-motivation; learn about project management and working with others; and come to understand and value the importance of independent time management.

Quick Stats Supporting This Talking Point

Participation in library programs for kids under 18 has been rising steadily in recent years, from almost 35.6 million/year in 1993, to 60.9 million/year in 2008 (the last year for which these statistics are available). (Chute and Kroe 1995; Henderson et al 2010)

Teens are regular and enthusiastic patrons who continue to visit and utilize the public library at increasingly greater rates.
In a 2007 poll, it was found that one-third of teens between the ages of 12–18 visited the public library ten times a year or more. Seventy-eight percent of teens who consider themselves “regular library visitors” borrow books and other materials for personal use from the public library on a frequent basis. Computer and online games have become part of the mix at many public libraries, and some use gaming to attract new patrons. Libraries’ response to gaming demonstrates the institutions’ flexibility and willingness to innovate in their response to changing audience interests. The Public Library Association’s 2007 Public Library Data Service Statistical Report, which tracked young adult service trends in public libraries, found that nearly 90% of the public libraries surveyed offer young adult services; over half (51.9%) employ at least one full-time equivalent staff person dedicated to fostering young adult programs and services. Compare this to 1994, when just 11% of libraries had a young adult librarian; 58% of librarians considered the lack of staff a barrier to increasing services for young adults and 61% indicated that insufficient services, resources, and programs were moderate or major barriers to increasing services and resources for young adults. (Harris Interactive 2007; Chute and Kroe 1995; Chute and Kroe 2007; American Library Association 2008; Public Library Association and Public Library Data Service 2007; Heaviside 1995)

Public libraries create a bridge for teens across the digital divide.
High-speed Internet access is increasingly necessary for full participation in educational, cultural, and employment opportunities. Students from low-income families are less likely to have adequate Internet access than their wealthier peers. In its most recent report on Internet access, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce found that as income increases, higher percentages of Internet users have access to broadband service at home. Internet users with broadband access at home are also more likely to be daily Internet users (66.1%) than those without broadband at home (51.2%). Additionally, users without access to broadband service at home make up 90% of non-Internet users; of these, 75.3% of non-Internet users have no access to the Internet at home. This is a significant disadvantage when employers increasingly prefer (and some require) applicants to apply online. Access to the Internet is frequently a crucial step in the job search process.
Further, in a 2007 study [Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding and Technology Access Study 2006–2007], 73% of public libraries reported that they were the only source of free public access to computers and the Internet in their communities. Surveyed libraries said the three Internet services most critical to their community were online educational resources and databases for K–12 students (used by 67.7% of visitors); services for job-seekers (44%); and computer and Internet skills training (29.8%). (United States National Telecommunications and Information Administration 2004; American Library Association (ALA) 2008; ALA and Florida State University 2007; Davis et al 2008)

Public libraries can help high schools prepare students for college or 21st century careers.
High schools are struggling to provide the skills that students need if they are to achieve success in college and in today’s workplace. In a 2006 poll of over 400 companies, researchers found that “new entrants to the U.S. workforce generally disappoint those who would like to give them their first job. High school-educated workers lack the level of ability employers seek in everything from writing and work ethic to oral communication.” The most important skills cited by employers fall into the area of applied or “soft” skills: professionalism and work ethic, oral and written communications, teamwork and collaboration, and critical thinking and problem solving. These skills are also essential to college success. (Schoeff 2007; Casner-Lotto 2006)

Public libraries can help students prepare for the demands of college life.
High schools are too focused on test taking and covering material to prepare students for the demands of college life. Key cognitive strategies needed for a smooth transition into college include: intellectual openness; inquisitiveness; analysis; interpretation; evidence-based reasoning and argumentation; and problem solving. Unfortunately, the development of these strategies “is often overshadowed by an instructional focus on the de-contextualized content and facts necessary to pass exit examinations.” Academic knowledge and skills such as writing and research skills, as well as the skills that come from deep exposure to content areas such as math, social studies, English, science, and foreign languages are also given short shrift in today’s high school classrooms, which are focused on moving quickly through subject matter. Academic behaviors that students need to be ready for college include independent time management and independent study skills. They also need contextual skills and awareness to figure out how to complete college and financial aid applications and handle personal finances, as well as life skills necessary for surviving the transition from the highly structured world of high school to the independence of college. Jobs (paid and unpaid) and other experiences at the public library can help prepare teens for the demands of college life. (Conley 2007)

Public libraries play a particularly important role in providing Internet access to minorities and teens in lower-income households.
Sixty percent of teenagers who go online use public library Internet access. For example, in households earning $75,000 or more per year, 99% of teens use the Internet from home, while 74% go online from school, and 57% go online from a library. By contrast, in households earning less than $30,000 per year, just 70% of teens go online from home, but 75% have access at school and 72% go online at the library. “For many minority and lower-income teens, schools and libraries serve as a primary source of Internet access. While 93% of teenage Internet users go online from more than one location, schools and libraries serve as a primary source of Internet access for many minority and lower-income teens.” (Lenhart 2008)