Friday, July 23, 2010

Libraries, the new Cupcakes!

© Kim Bolan Cullin, 2010, Teen Spaces 2nd Edition's photostream

Via YPulse and NPR, some thought provoking discussion this week about the growing buzz around libraries, and the surprising idea that libraries might be the "new big pop-culture wave." Or, as NPR put it, libraries are (or at least could very well become) the new cupcake.

I particularly enjoyed YPulse's interview with Kim Bolan Cullin, which links the apparent hype around libraries to a widespread movement to rejuvenate the public library system by better targeting and addressing youth, their needs and culture. Bolan Cullin is the author of the American Library Association's resource guide Teen Spaces: The Step-by-Step Library Makeover. The guide is now in its second edition, and will soon be joined by a companion piece on designing spaces for children. She's been studying design trends and devising solutions for several years now, and in the interview describes how much is changing when it comes to youth/children's services within public libraries across the US. For instance, she explains:
Over the years I’ve seen a huge shift in how libraries are thinking about space allocation and "space equity" for teens. This is happening with building revamps and renovations as well as with new building construction. More and more libraries are planning and designing space for teenagers as a priority rather than an afterthought. This is a huge step and I hope to see it continue. I have also been training people to "zone" their children’s libraries in order to create appropriate space for pre-teens, which is essential to this age group. This topic will be part of my upcoming book on Children’s Spaces so I hope to see more people reaching out to 9 – 12 year olds in the future.
In terms of the kind of ideological shifts Bolan Cullin sees as key drivers of this movement is an important change in the way that youth culture is approached and understood. She describes:
Increasingly there is an understanding that “adults are not teens” and adults cannot assume what is important or relevant to teenagers. [...] Many in the profession are looking at what’s behind [the Harry Potter and Twilight] “phenomenon” and trying to understand the appeal and then incorporating what they’ve learned into how they program for teens and how they make recommendations for materials, whether books or media. As many know, youth interests evolve and change faster than the typical adult can keep up with, but “keeping up with it” is part of a librarian’s job and getting teens involved in the whole process, whether it’s by them educating us, or them helping us plan and/or implement, is the true key to success.
Additionally, the movement appears to be striving for better gender representation - library services & collections for youth have traditionally leaned toward female readers (a quick glance at the YA section of any book store shows a similar trend), and so the incorporation of different genres, graphic novels, comics, manga, videogames and other media are apparently being used to create more gender inclusive spaces.

In terms of what this all looks like when put into practice, Bolan Cullin has compiled a Flickr collection of photos of youth libraries that she finds particularly awesome and well designed (as seen in the example at the top of this post). Although the YPulse article doesn't address it specifically, the discussion also reminds me of the recent news articles on library branches popping up in shopping malls as another way of targeting and adapting to youth culture.

My own perspective on this is definitely biased - having just joined a Faculty of Information, my increased exposure to libraries, library issues and news items was clearly inevitable. But that said, I'm nonetheless convinced that's something's up - I've been seeing library sites and videos popping up everywhere all summer, including some especially awesome things like the I Love Libraries website (and Facebook Group), and this pro-library parody of the Old Spice ad put together by BYU.

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