Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Nowhere to Go and Nothing to Do: How Public Libraries Mitigate the Impacts of Parental Work and Urban Planning on Young People

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Nowhere to Go and Nothing to Do: How Public Libraries Mitigate the Impacts of Parental Work and Urban Planning on Young People

Article excerpt

This paper provides the findings of research in ten communities across four Australian states exploring how adults and adolescents experience work, home and community, and examines two best practice public libraries which have explicitly considered the needs of adolescents in their design and services. It is demonstrated that public libraries, by providing often displaced young people with legitimate space and resources, can uniquely sustain their psychosocial development and confer enduring benefits for them and their capacity for citizenship, for their families and the wider community. This is particularly significant for young people from a lower socioeconomic background.

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Young people are construed as dangerous, antisocial and ill disciplined. (1,2,3,4) They fail, allegedly, to participate in their society, in ways far wider than a narrow focus on labour market participation. (5,6) Stereotypically, they are depicted as being disengaged from the political and community spheres and as being poor citizens. (7,8) We do not share the presumption that young people are disengaged, disorderly or threatening. Our argument in this paper is that their needs are not well addressed by the structure of parental working lives and by urban planning practices. These factors play a significant role in shaping young people's capacity to engage with their communities and to develop their capacity for citizenship.

In a previous study, we documented that long hours of work and increased labour market participation are increasingly impacting on the availability of adults in the homes and communities of teenagers. (9) The working time of parents did not correspond to young peoples' time schedules. These incompatible schedules resulted in young people having reduced access to various social and recreational activities and to interaction with other people, including friends, in their communities. Young people reported that they were 'missing out'. They felt they had no place in their communities and could not utilize many of its facilities because of a range of barriers such as lack of money, lack of public transport, lack of an adult to drive them to places. As well as affecting mobility, long working hours, inflexible working conditions and work related stress resulted in a lack of adult support for many. Some teenagers indicated that they never, or rarely, had assistance with homework, or were rarely able to participate in activities with their parents. The impact of adult work extends beyond the family, however. Work interferes with the development of intergenerational social networks by keeping teenagers and adults separate; it inhibits the sharing of time and space. This is particularly the case when the workplace is geographically separated from the community and when adult work schedules are not coordinated with teenage schedules. (10)

This study also discovered that the experiences of suburban adolescents are spatially driven. (11) The location of schools, community amenities (including libraries) and parental work determines what young people do, when they do it, who they do it with and who guides them. Specifically, the spatial realities of most suburbs to a large extent determine the capacity of teenagers to access opportunities for things such as social interaction and the development of social capital, vocational experience, extracurricular education, physical activity and independent agency and citizenship. To a large extent many of their reduced opportunities are due to the fact that they are 'spatially disenfranchised'. The decline in the amount of public space and the 'privatization' of public space has been noted. (12, 13,14) Those spaces in the community that are available to adults frequently discourage or exclude adolescents on the grounds of age eg pubs, financial capacity to participate eg gyms and restaurants, or the threat they are perceived to pose eg malls, where their activities very often attract disapproval. …

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