Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Public Libraries as a Bridge for College-Bound Young Adults. (Current Issues)

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Public Libraries as a Bridge for College-Bound Young Adults. (Current Issues)

Article excerpt

The decisions we make about how to best--or even adequately--serve the young adults in our libraries are complex, and they are decisions often avoided. In the public library, more than in schools and in higher education, the issue is one of combining the multifaceted library mission with the multifaceted, or even amorphous, character of the young adult population. It is a truism that the very nature of this population has uncertain boundaries. If the public library were to focus on a clear challenge, such as helping college-bound young adults to prepare for higher education, some of the definition of our service to the young adult population can become more secure. Or perhaps it can at least begin to develop where it struggles to exist at all. In the present discussion, the clear challenge is that of helping college-bound young adults to prepare for higher education.

Some few basic questions should be faced at the outset: (1) Should the public library concentrate on helping kids in their efforts to get into college? (2) Aren't public libraries doing this already? (3) Can my library afford to create special programs to aid the college-bound teen? (4) Is it not more appropriately the bailiwick of the school library media center to address this issue? (5) Are we partly changing our job description to read: teachers? (6) And of course, what methods should we use, what ground can we cover?

Why Should the Public Library Get Involved?

The first of these questions is over-arching and will occupy much of this discussion. It is to a greater or lesser extent a matter of examining our mission, our community aspirations, and our intent on adherence to standards. In 1998 the Public Library Association pointed to the need for a "service response" of information literacy: "A library that provides information literacy service helps address the need for skills related to finding, evaluating, and using information effectively." (1) The high schoolers in our community have a need for information literacy skills, whether they are going on to college or not. It is increasingly recognized that the public library must play a more active role in fostering these skills for all of its users, and the young adult who is considering college in this era has an increased need for information literacy training.

As much as the issue of information literacy should be on our agenda, so should the basic question of providing service for a recognized group, a recognized user need. If, in a typical library, the population of teens (and older adults) on their way to college is as predictably present as, say, people needing small business information, genealogy materials and assistance, or training in computer skills for the home, then it should stand to reason that this is a population for whom we should promote service. It will come as no surprise that the user group in this case is not asking for the service. The user groups just mentioned as a comparison often did not ask us for the services we now provide for them. In some cases we are providing imaginative and inspiring service in areas for which, in years not so far past, we had little demand. The demand came only when we cried out, "Come in here, we can do that." Likewise, we can and should be promoting help for higher education issues to college-bound youth.

Abend and McClure remind us that paying more attention to the needs and activities of college-bound patrons should be seen as a necessity in the public library. The case they make is that this, along with other service areas, has an impact on the economic development of the community, that it affects the strength of the community. (2) We should work to serve this group of patrons not only because they deserve our attention, but also because there is a long-term benefit for the community in doing so. We know that this is so, but the obvious values are not so obvious in their implementation. More important to many of us is the fact that we would feel good about providing this kind of service. …

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