Author Archives: Genna Sarnak

About Genna Sarnak

Avid reader, writer, photographer, and lover of all words. School Library Media Specialist in NYC. Future superhero.

Bridging the Digital Divide: ALSC and YALSA’s Take on the Digital Lives of Tweens and Young Teens

Good librarians should know their target audiences inside and out. This includes staying abreast of social treads and media sensations, as well as being well-versed in the latest technology advances and social media outlets.

But all too often, there is a digital divide between librarians and their patrons, where tweens and young teens are very digitally connected and library staffs are very disconnected. This leads to not only discrepancies, but it creates large gaps, or divides between these two groups, where, really, there should be collaboration.

This year at ALA, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA) ran a joint presidents’ program focusing on the digital lives of tweens and young teens, as both groups serve similar audiences. This fascinating panel event featured two very different, yet equally captivating speakers, Michelle Poris, Ph.D. and Stephen Abram, MLS.

The first speaker, Michelle Poris was from Smarty Pants, which is described as “is a full-service market research and strategic consulting firm dedicated to helping corporate and non-profit clients better understand and connect with youth and families.” She had spoken to kids and families in their every day lives and had taken a “nationally-representative sample of 415 10 to 14-year-olds” for the purpose of her survey.

Michelle highlighted the very real changes that occur in young people’s self-perceptions between ages 10 through 14. This is an especially important factor. It’s very easy to sometimes forget how we ourselves felt at the age of 10 or 12, and we need to be sensitive to the needs and concerns for privacy that our tween and young teen patrons might require around this time.

Michelle broke down for the librarians in attendance the physical, cognitive, emotional, social, and academic changes that students of this age often encounter. In this light, she introduced the recreations, as she called them, that tweens and young teens often engage in. (For more information about any of these topics, please see the link to Michelle’s slides at the bottom of this post.)

According to her survey, watching television was still at the top of the list for both 10 to 12-year-olds and 13 to 14-year-olds, while listening to music and going online followed close behind. What has changed here for these “born digital” students is that they are usually multitasking when they do one of these activities. For example, Michelle says that, “One screen is often not enough – TV may be on next to the computer, with a cell phone or iPod Touch in hand.”

Michelle brought up the notion that as many as ½ of 10-14-year-olds surveyed have Facebook, a disturbing number when viewed in light of Facebook’s age 13+ policy to join. While there are obvious benefits to joining a social media site such as Facebook, there are also inherit dangers and questions that beg to be asked in the face of younger and younger users being online. Who is signing these “illegal” Facebookers up? Are parents lying to allow their under 13-year-olds on Facebook and if so, why?

What can we as librarians do to prevent privacy issues, cyber bullying, and exposure to predators and inappropriate online behavior and content? Is this the role of the librarian? If not, then whose role is it?

I would argue that in these ever-changing times, with the digital lives of tweens and young teens moving so fast, there is no better person to fill this role than the librarian.

The end of Michelle’s presentation said that 68% of kids said, “Grown-ups need to do a better job finding out what’s important to kids” and I would agree! It is the job of librarians to ask their audience what they need, to ask to be taught if they don’t understand the latest social technology. There is nothing tweens love more than teaching you how to use that new Angry Bird app on the iPad, for example.

Just ask! It’s the first step in bridging the digital divide.

And for your educational pleasure, ALSC and YALSA have posted an additional booklist resource and the slides from Michelle Poris’ presentation about The Digital Lives of Tweens and Young Teens from the President’s Program.


Filed under Post-conference reflections, Thoughts from Genna