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Digital Teens

May 19, 2006

I just finished reading “Teens on the Digital Fringe: What Librarians Can Do” by Dr. Lesley Farmer (Profession of library Media at California Universitey, Long Beach) which I stumbled upon while registering for NECC. While this applies mostly to public libraries, I think a school librarian can take some notes as well. As Dr. Farmer points out, we can’t assume all teens will jump at the chance to get on a computer. Indeed, I have come up against some teens who are actually frightened to get on a computer. We would think that as pervasive as computers are in our society, teens would naturally navigate towards computers. But this is not so. Several teens in our community barely work on computers outside of school and possibly work. Yet, when they leave our building they are facing a world in which computers are more and more in use. Add to that the fact that the Internet and particular sites on the Internet are becoming one way of determining who’s in the “in-crowd”. If one doesn’t have an e-mail or IM account or is on MySpace, then they aren’t able to relate to some teens. Dr. Farmer suggests that public libraries can help fill in the cracks and I believe they can. However, I think as a school librarian I can help students learn as well what they need to be technology enabled. What I mean by this is that they can function and use a computer for what they need in their life and will know enough that they can then explore on their own.

So how can the school librarian help? As I was reading this paper, I thought about putting little tutorials on my library website (whenever I get one!) as well as links to other tutorials. I also thought about offering mini sessions before or after school. I may not get much of an attendance, but at least it would be a little something to help those students who may not get the computer class or who might just slip through cracks and be too embarrassed to admit they don’t know. My goal would not be to create little computer programmers but to enable those individuals who don’t have much experience a time to learn and play with the machines. Ask the questions they need to ask and do what they need to do to be able to become technology enabled.

Having read so much about the Web 2.0, one of Dr. Farmer’s concerns about ownership versus access may no longer be a concern. Her argument here is while some kids may have ownership of technology, it may not be compatible with what they have access to in other places. For example, our school is almost completely Mac. Until recently, we did not have Word for Mac on any of our computers. So, if a student came in with a paper done on Word to print off on our Mac/Appleworks run computers, we couldn’t print it off. Now, we could because we have Word for Mac and we are replacing AppleWorks next year. However, with many applications moving online, this may no longer be a problem. We can now do word processing, spreadsheets, even databases…on-line! While there are still some other glitches with this, it is not seemless. The possiblity is there. For example, I wrote this in Appleworks on my school computer, copy and pasted it to my Backpack file, and then finished it and posted it at home—Wah-lah! Admittedly, I could have just created it in my Backpack file, but finishing it at home was not the original plan.

I guess what really struck me was that yes, public libraries can pick up the slack as Dr. Farmer suggests, but the school library can also extend beyond what they have traditionally done and help as well.


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