The Impact Libraries Have on Teenagers
Librarians give teens a place to call their own.
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Believe it or not, in the United States, public libraries, with 16,607 locations, outnumber both Mcdonald’s, 13,363, and Starbucks, 15,444 strong. For teens, libraries hold a unique appeal. They remain one of the only places teens can use without buying anything. While practical, this isn’t the only reason that libraries can have a significant impact on the lives of teens.
Specialized Spaces and Collections
For teens, many public spaces don’t fit. Too old for kids areas and either unwelcome or viewed with suspicion in adult spaces, few areas feel just right. However, ninety-seven percent of libraries have both collections and space set aside exclusively for young adults. Most restrict adult access to them during high traffic times. Within those spaces, they find comfortable furniture that encourages them to stay and chat. Decorations reflect their interests and display curated materials with their preferences in mind. Very few public spaces put as much time, energy, and square footage into giving teens a place to claim as theirs.
Sadly, funding for teen services falls short, despite a need for safe teen spaces, particularly after school. A large part of what draws kids to the library is the supportive adults they find there. Trained in managing this age group’s particular energy, teen librarians offer free programming, volunteer opportunities, book recommendations, and an ear to listen to their concerns. Plus, a more freeform relationship encourages kids to open up and let librarians support BIOPIC and LGBTQIA+ teens in meaningful ways.
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The Digital Divide
Libraries provide internet access, a fundamental necessity that can be difficult for low-income and rural families to obtain. The digital divide has only increased as years go by, and universal, inexpensive internet for all remains an ideal we have yet to manifest. The divide between those with internet access and those without is more significant than we might imagine. A study in 2019 found that 5 million rural and 15.3 million urban and metro households still don’t have access to broadband internet. Libraries meet this need. Many libraries pivoted services to ensure they kept filling this crucial gap during the pandemic. Libraries worked with local governments and even kept their WiFi on so citizens could access their internet from the parking lot.
Growing and Changing
Teenage years involve dramatic changes and a natural desire for independence. Because their presence in any library is voluntary, the relationship with their local librarian is special. Librarians are stepping up to the plate and ensuring teens know that their library is not just a resource but an ally.