Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

The Public Library as Urban Youth Space: Redefining Public Libraries through Services and Space for Young People for an Uber Experience

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

The Public Library as Urban Youth Space: Redefining Public Libraries through Services and Space for Young People for an Uber Experience

Article excerpt

Engaging urban youth presents many challenges to public libraries. This requires libraries to develop proactive collections and services which anticipate their literacy, spatial, technological and recreational needs, particularly in light of the independence, opportunities and advanced technological understanding they enjoy, and the other services and opportunities outside of the library. Examined, with reference to Melbourne Library Service's initiatives, are the opportunities and methods for public libraries to create a special place for themselves in the lives of young people. Edited version of a paper presented at '12 to 24s @ your public library in Australia and New Zealand conference' Qld 11-12 June 2010.


How does a public library engage with urban young people, when the keyword for many members of this demographic group is independence? The internet is at their fingertips, their phones are always charged, they purchase the books they want to read, and study cultural concepts relevant to their lives and interests. They are active in creating the culture of which they want to be a part; they find ways to integrate their daily and nightly activities through art shows, exhibitions, writers salons, music gigs and even going so far as occupying vacant space for one off events. These urban youth have high levels of mobility and, by correlation, high levels of independence. Unlike younger people who are more likely to be dependent on parents or caters for mobility, and unlike youth in geographic areas less well suited to independent mobility, the urban youth in the city of Melbourne are much more likely to be able to get to where they physically want to be. The upshot of this is that they have access to a broader range of options than their less geographically advantaged counterparts. What this means for our libraries is that we cannot rely on a captive audience we must actively strive to be a desired destination for these library users.

The public library as destination

This paper discusses how a public library can become a destination that meets the information and recreational needs of a city's young adults, by developing proactive services that anticipate their literary, spatial, technological and recreational needs and by recognising the need to develop relevant services that differentiate themselves from the myriad opportunities being run and used by these same young people.

The public library as an urban * space--a destination--has inherent challenges because it is a service and facility with users who are highly sophisticated and urbanized, and a potential user base that may not recognise that it has the ability to meet their needs. Youth populations are diverse. Urban youth populations, which encompass university students, international students, the homeless, rural refugees and others drawn to the bright lights of the big city, are broad in their definition and equally broad in their needs. Happily, this means that the library has a wide variety of ways to potentially engage with and serve these users. Recognising the library as an urban youth space means acknowledging the way young people's use of space has changed along with urban demographics, and acknowledging how public library space usage has changed.

Defining urban youth

Defining youth is problematic because the varied research used by organisations to define youth is developed to meet their needs. The council by which we are employed, the city of Melbourne, defines youth as many others do--between the ages of 12 and 24. According to the latest city of Melbourne young people's policy, (1) released in 2010 and containing research and demographic information from 2009, the city is home to 30,000 young people aged 10 to 24, accounting for approximately one third of its residential population. This number is predicted to grow in size although not proportion. Primary, secondary and tertiary students comprise just under half of the city's resident population, including around 10,000 international students who both live and study in the city. …

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