Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Library Youth Spaces vs Youth Friendly Libraries: How to Make the Most of What You Have

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Library Youth Spaces vs Youth Friendly Libraries: How to Make the Most of What You Have

Article excerpt

Regardless of the adequacies of budgets, library usage continues to rise. Libraries may not be able to have a dedicated youth space but still need to cater effectively to the 12-24 demographic. This paper looks at ways to maximise the resources already available to provide a youth friendly environment. It also considers the challenge to find out what 12-24s think about libraries. Edited version of a paper presented at '12 to 24s @ your public library in Australia and New Zealand conference' Qld 11-12 June 2010.


Generally, the literature on youth spaces has used the terms youth and teen interchangeably. For the purpose of this paper I am looking at the age range 12 to 24 which covers a broad demographic group--the youngest of which are still dependent minors while the oldest are independent adults and could well be parents themselves. The age range alone means that there will be different needs and expectations of the library service by the young people. As the vast majority of library users in this age group are students at secondary or tertiary institutions the focus will primarily be related to that aspect of library service.

Over recent years there has been a considerable amount written about the importance of youth spaces in libraries. In an article for American libraries Anthony Bernier (1) describes a 'long standing spatial inequity' that 'marginalizes youth and designs them out of physical space'. He goes on to say that despite almost 25% of public library users being young adults, libraries have neglected to provide appropriate spaces for them. Curry and Schwaiger (2) highlight the need of young people to have 'places to be with friends (gathering places); places to be alone; places that reflect their identity; that teens can call their own (symbolic ownership); accessible places; unsupervised, yet safe, places'. Libraries are ideally placed to provide some of these places for the young people in their communities.

However, what happens if there is no money or space to provide a dedicated youth space in a library? This paper explores some of the ways public libraries can provide a youth friendly library service without a designated youth space. It will also consider the crucial role that library staff play in providing this service and look at how public libraries can find out what this significant client group requires.

Trends in youth services

There have been significant changes since Bernier's article in 1998 and the number of dedicated youth spaces in libraries has grown dramatically. In the first edition of her book Teen spaces in 2002 Bolan had trouble finding library examples but by the time the second edition came out in 2009 (3) there were many libraries with dedicated youth spaces. There are great examples of these kinds of dedicated youth spaces in Australia--VerbYL a 13-25s specific library service in Yeppoon, Queensland and the space at Liverpool City Library to mention just two.

One of the other significant trends of recent years has been the provision of electronic games and entertainment--wii, xbox, juke boxes etc--presumably to encourage young people to use libraries. There does not seem to have been much research conducted on whether these provide incentives for ongoing, long term use and whether they encourage young people to use other services and facilities offered by the library. The question that needs to be considered is whether the library receives a measurable and meaningful benefit other than simply increased visitor numbers. Another perennial question arises--what is library core business anyway? There is probably no definitive answer to this but each library must decide its core business based on the community it serves, not as a response to current trends.

In a Yalsa(Young Adult Library Services Association) white paper on teen spaces Bolan (4) says 'Such environments (ie teen spaces) are essential in encouraging positive use of libraries for recreational activities and education'. …

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