Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Urban Teenagers, Health Information, and Public Library Web Sites

Academic journal article Young Adult Library Services

Urban Teenagers, Health Information, and Public Library Web Sites

Article excerpt

The Internet has become an important tool for young adults seeking health information. (1) More than 70 percent of 15 to 17-year-olds say they have used the Internet to look up health information. (2) Researchers cite availability, anonymity, and affordability as the key reasons teenagers turn to the Web for answers to their health-related questions. (3)

While the Internet provides teenagers with access to a wealth of health-related resources, it also presents challenges that can negatively impact their ability to access quality information online. Difficulty conducting searches, judging the credibility of the information retrieved, and accessing sites because of filtering software are just a few of the barriers teenagers face. (4) Teenagers also express concerns about privacy and confidentiality, especially in chat rooms or e-mail correspondences. (5)

Given the issues teens face when searching for health information online, it seems natural that public libraries take the lead in providing assistance to teenagers who need help finding health information. Libraries, particularly public libraries, have a long history of providing consumer health information to adults in their communities, and this service has transitioned online as libraries provide Internet access to electronic consumer health information. (6) In addition, many public libraries have developed Web sites specifically for teenagers. These Web sites serve as centers for reference, educational support, popular materials, community information, and library programming. (7) Including links to useful health Web sites would alleviate some of the frustration teenagers face when searching for quality health information on the Internet. (8) This raises the question, do public libraries typically use their teen Web sites to provide health information for young adults?

Design of the Study

This study investigated how prevalent it is for public library Web sites developed for teenagers to provide access to health information. The research questions guiding the study included

1. What percentage of public library Web sites for teenagers provide consumer health information?

2. What health topics are commonly included?

3. What Web sites are recommended?

4. What percent of the recommended Web sites were designed specifically for teenagers?

5. Who are the primary sponsors for the recommended sites?

The sample included public library Web sites from the two largest metropolitan areas in each of the fifty states and Washington D.C. (9) Each public library Web site was accessed between April and June 2007 to determine if the Web site contained a link to a page specifically developed for young adults. If a young adult page was found, that page was examined for health-related information. For each recommended health-related Web site, the Web address, sponsor, and topics covered were recorded. Each recommended site was also examined to determine if the site was developed specifically for a teenage audience.

This sample was chosen for three primary reasons. First, many residents of metropolitan areas, especially those living in America's inner cities, lack access to health care. Among the most vulnerable are children and adolescents. McKee and Fletcher, for example, found that a disproportionate number of urban adolescent girls, especially those born outside the United States, lack a close source of care and regular health care provider. (10) Similarly, while risky sexual behaviors among urban adolescent males put them at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, and unplanned fatherhood, few facilities provide focused sexual and reproductive health services to these young men. (11) Compounding the lack of access to health care, many of the urban poor also possess inadequate information about health care and health services or have too few resources available to them. (12)

Second, studies of typical information seeking have shown that information pertaining to health-related issues is a frequent need among urban teens. …

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