Dr. Shari Lee: Teen Library Services

shari-leeDLIS assistant professor Dr. Shari Lee specializes in teen and young adult topics in librarianship. Recently, her work in the field earned distinction as the Best Article in the Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults. Dr. Lee was presented a YALSA Writing Award for her article, “Beyond Books, Nooks, & Dirty Looks: The History and Evolution of Library Services to Teens in the United States,” because of the importance of such historical research as means to provide better future service. The article examines the development and implementation of young adult library services over time and proposes an agent of change to improve the quality of relationships between teens and libraries.

Historically, libraries have provided inadequate services to adolescents. With this article, Dr. Lee, “proposes that researchers look to the institution rather that at the community for new insights on serving and connecting with teens as a user group in a more meaningful way.” By examining teen service in regards to the different understandings of general library service over time, Dr. Lee captures the dire need for further research and overall change of the library’s perception of teens.

The purpose of the public library has evolved from being a means for educational supplement and enlightened reading to an entertainment source to symbol of culture and finally to a source of societal and community enrichment, improvement and empowerment. Dr. Lee’s historical research determines that while the role of the library can be traced over time, not all specific services can. Significant gaps in historical research are undermining efforts to gauge the evolution of teen services. As a result, there is little information for comparison of services over time.

A review of existing literature in Dr. Lee’s article reveals that in order provide teens with meaningful library service; the perception of a teenager must be changed. Libraries over time have reflected societal views of teens as unruly and difficult to manage. As a result, libraries have adopted the notion that teenagers with behavioral and attitude problems are disruptive and unwilling to respect the library building and services provided. This reputation has also resulted in a false notion that teenagers do not like to read, fostering a disconnection between teens and libraries. Because libraries have done little to dispel the myth of the “immature teen brain”, teenagers themselves have extremely low expectations and limited knowledge of library programs and services.

Dr. Lee’s article concludes by stating, to establish a more positive mindset about the nature of teens in the library, this institution must become aware of why existing teen services are notoriously poor.   When the library accepts responsibility for hindering rather than supporting teen developmental needs, only then can positive change occurs. A positive mindset change will open the possibility to understand teens and contribute to the development of a better relationship between libraries and teenagers.

Read Dr. Lee’s original article here on the YALSA Journal Blog.

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