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YA Research: Physical Space and Resources

Introduction

I chose this action research project because I wanted to investigate my theory that young adults living in Greensboro, NC, who use the Greensboro Public Library’s central branch, need a separate center, a designated space solely for their use, and one that will cater to their intellectual and educational needs.  While understanding how important it is for children and adults to have designated spaces, it seems as though the young adult segment of our population is sometimes left out when it comes to recognition from the library. “Historically, libraries have considered young adults entitled to neither space for their needs nor an equitable share of the libraries common environment.”[1]

Within the past fourteen years I have worked in two libraries. The first one being UNC Charlotte’s academic library, for about one year, and the second one being a small neighborhood branch in Charlotte, NC for about two and one half years.  I have also frequented branches in Wilmington, NC, Raleigh, NC, and Greensboro, NC.  All the while I noticed that young adults’ needs were not being met in terms of space, especially in comparison to children and adults.  While most public libraries, if not all, do indeed have a separate collection for YA literature and materials, not all of them have staff and resources dedicated to this age group, roughly 12-18 years of age.

My goal of this research was to learn as much as possible about young adults’ needs in terms of the library.  Based on my research I found that teens are underserved at the Greensboro Public Library’s central location and there are many ways to improve that condition.

Methods

My method of research was to gather data through various forms and then analyze the results.  I read literature written by library and information specialists about teens and young adults.  The literature covered young adult spaces, young adult social networking, and YA collections trends.  I continued to read the literature throughout the project and compared my findings with the sources materials.

I visited the McGirt-Horton branch because I wanted to see the young adult space and compare it to the GPL central branch’s young adult space.  I then spent most of my time observing patrons and their usage of the young adult section at the central branch.  My observations were at different times and different dates.  All observations were in 1-2 hour increments.

I then sent Mr. Ricky Baker, the McGirt-Horton branch’s young adult librarian, an email questionnaire (please see the attached email print out of the questionnaire).  The questionnaire included basic questions about young adult usage of the library, covering programs and how successful they are due to the separate space at his branch.  While at the central branch I interviewed one staff member and two young adult patrons.  My questionnaire and interviews were meant to be random because I wanted to get genuine responses.  I asked different questions because I wanted to get as many view points as possible.  Also, by using a staff member from each branch, and by using young adults, I was able to get four different angles of the same topic.

Process and Assessment

The first step in the process was to go to the McGirt-Horton branch and examine their young adult space.  The McGirt-Horton branch is located on Phillips Avenue in Greensboro.  The building itself is fairly new; it was built about a year and a half ago with the intention of having a young adult center.  The branch is the only branch in the Greensboro Public Library system that has an official young adult and teen center.  I visited this branch first because I wanted to get an idea of what the GPL considers a proper young adult space.

Upon entering the library, there was a greeter named Beverly Ritchie, she is a part-time employee and her title is Library Assistant.  She monitors who enters and exits the building, answers questions about services, and assists with self check-out. She directed me to the young adult section at the far left of the building.

The young adult section is completely separate from the rest of the library, offering privacy to users.  The section has a courtyard off to the side as well.  The courtyard area is for socializing and possibly reading while enjoying fresh air.  The inside area is rather small but quaint and is well lit with many windows.  It has a small computer area with approximately six computer stations and a printing station.  The section also has the three rows worth of YA collections, including fiction, non-fiction, video games, graphic novels, etc.  In comparison to the main branch the collection actually looks smaller.

The next step was to examine the GPL’s central branch, located on North Church Street in Greensboro.  Although I knew that there was not an official young adult section I asked the Children’s librarian if there was one, mainly to get his reaction.  He said “No, you will need to go to the McGirt-Horton branch for that.”  However, he did direct me to the front corner of the library where the YA materials are kept.

I have been a patron of the Central branch for over three years and had not noticed the young adult section until I started conducting this research.  I had actually been to the young adult section several times in the past and was not even aware that I was in the young adult section.

I documented what I saw when walking over there for the “first time” knowing that it was the young adult section.  First, it is located in the front corner of the library, a location that does not really stick out to most patrons, especially compared to the Children’s section.  Although the space is organized, the YA collection has no clear indication as to where it begins or ends.  There are no real designated sitting areas either within the section, and it offers no tables specifically for young adults.  There are no real eye-catching signs to alert young adults that it is their area.

Almost the entire side wall of the young adult section is a book case.  It remained almost completely empty throughout my research. Each time I went back to observe; within a month and a half of my original visit, only two items had been added to the shelf.  There was a flyer for “test preparation,” a pamphlet for UNCG’s Witherspoon Art Museum, and there was a dictionary that was most likely waiting to be re-shelved.

The paperback section consists of one stand.  It contains classical literature like Shakespeare and Jane Austen, and literature from the classical world and Cliff’s notes, too.  It also has westerns and romance novels. Most paperbacks are worn down, in poor condition, and old.  During my observations I never saw a young adult utilize the paperback section, most likely because they are not visually appealing.

The central branch does have a wide variety of YA materials in general.  The fiction section consists of two large shelves.  The graphic novel section, an extremely popular type of literature for young adults, consists of a decent amount of material.  The non-fiction, DVD, and CD sections are located together and look visually appealing.  The magazine, periodicals, and manga sections offer a good amount of material as well.

Patron Observations at the Greensboro Public Library’s Central Branch in the Young Adult Section

The first sitting observation in the young adult section was on a Monday afternoon around 3p.m.  I saw one teen in the area.  He was thumbing through a graphic novel while sitting beside of the window.  He stayed there for about 30 minutes.  He was the only young adult that I noticed in the section.  There were adults using the computers, other than that, there was not a lot of traffic.

The second sitting observation in the young adult section was on a Saturday afternoon around 1p.m.  A young adult looked through the collection for about 3 minutes; he did not make a selection though.  He left and came back about 10 minutes later and still made no selection.  Another young adult came by for about 3 minutes, looked through fiction and then left without making a selection.  Two more teens came over to use the computer.  One left and the other logged onto Facebook for about 15 minutes, neither one of them actually looked through the collection or checked out anything from the young adult section.  I noticed that an older man, who was using a computer, was staring intensely at them, however, they did not notice.  The next young adult that came over is my second interviewee (please see interview section below labeled #2).  Two more young adults came over and looked at the fiction section, then left without checking out any materials.  Then, an older adult came over to look at the graphic novel section for about 5 minutes; he did not make a selection and then left.

The third sitting observation in the young adult section was on a Sunday afternoon around 4p.m.  I noticed adults using the computers, and there were no young adults in the area.  I noticed that young adults were in the rest of the library, actually more than I had ever noticed before, however, most were not coming to the young adult section.  They were the using computers in the upstairs section, and looking through the adult fiction area for books.  One young adult came over and looked through the graphic novels, then one looked through the magazines, then one simply walked by the young adult section and left without looking through the collection.  The last young adult that I noticed came over and used the internet for about 30 minutes.  When she was done, she sat by the window waiting for a ride.  I approached her as she was looking through a teen magazine.  She is my third interviewee (please see interview section below labeled #3).

The fourth sitting observation in the young adult section was on a Tuesday evening around 5p.m.  I noticed one young adult looking through the graphic novel section for about 2 minutes, and he made one selection.  There was one young adult using the computer, and one young adult looking at the fiction section.  She left and then came back for about a minute; however, she soon left again without making a selection.  I then went upstairs to find a book, and noticed that she had gone upstairs to look through the adult non-fiction section.

The fifth sitting observation in the young adult section was on a Friday afternoon around 2:45p.m. I observed four teens, one female and three males.  The female was using her laptop and the boys came over and chatted and flirted with her.  The boys compared muscles in front of her, bragged about cars, and argued who could beat-up whom.  The two other boys left and the girl and one boy remained for about an hour and a half longer.  No one seemed to be bothered by their loud conversation and flirting.  They were the only young adults in the section that day.  The computers were being used by adults for internet access.

Questionnaire and Interviews

The printed questionnaire sent to Mr. Ricky Baker via email is on the following page.  I emailed him in the beginning of my research; however, as the research and observations have unfolded I would like to ask more questions based on issues that I ran into.  He is an extremely helpful source because he is the young adult librarian at the McGirt-Horton branch; he is in charge of programs and offers first hand information and data.

The first interview I conducted was with an anonymous young adult teen.  She is a 16 year old high school student from High Point, NC.  She said this was her first visit to the Greensboro Public Library; she usually goes to the branch in High Point.

I saw her looking through the books on CD in the young adult section.  I approached her and introduced myself and asked her if I could include her in my research and she said yes.

 

Jennifer:  How did you know about this YA section?

 

YA:  This is my first visit and I had to get a library card with my mother.  When we were at the front desk they told me to come over here because it is the young adult section.

 

Jennifer:  What do you think so far?

 

YA:  I like it, there is a good selection.  I have dyslexia and I really like the books on CD, so I don’t have to read them.

 

Jennifer:  Oh, wow, I am glad that we have those for you.  I like them too, especially when I am driving.  Have you been on the GPL’s website?  Did you know that they offer tutoring for school and SAT prep for people your age?

 

YA:  Yes, I am going to get SAT prep, it is free the first time and then you have to start paying for it.

 

Jennifer:  I am glad to hear that you are going to take advantage of that opportunity.  Do you know that there are services to help you prepare for college too?

 

YA:  Kind of, but I am already taking classes at GTCC for college credit.  I want to be a Doctor and I am trying to graduate from high school early.

 

Jennifer:  Wow, that is really impressive, congratulations.  I am researching right now because I really want to see a YA section that people your age could use, with your own computers and a space that makes you feel welcome and inspires you to achieve goals.  Do you think that sounds good?

 

YA:  Yes, that sounds great!

 

Jennifer:  Do you think it would help to have a person over here just to help with your YA needs?

 

YA:  Well, I am not sure, because at the front desk they direct you to where you need to be.  I like this area, and I don’t think it should be bigger, but it would be cool to have a separate computer area.

 

Jennifer:  Thanks so much for your help and good luck with school!

 

The second interview was with Shadae Thomas.  Shadae is a 17 year old high school student from Jamestown, NC.  She visits the central location approximately two times per week.  She mainly visits the library for research for school.  I saw her reading a teen magazine after using the internet.  I approached her and introduced myself and asked her if I could include her in my research and she said yes.

 

Jennifer:  How often do you visit the library?

 

Shadae:  About two times per week for school projects.

 

Jennifer:  Do you find this young adults space helpful with your school needs?

 

Shadae:  Are we in the young adult section; this is the young adult section? (With a smile and look of disbelief)

 

Jennifer:  Yes, we are in the young adult space of the library.  This is part of the reason I am working on research, I would like to have a better young adult space for people such as you.  Have you been to the Greensboro Public Library’s website to see the services they provide for teens and young adults?

 

Shadae:  No, I haven’t because I don’t have a computer, which is part of the reason I come to the library.

 

Jennifer: Oh, OK.  Well, that is a good point.  How would you be aware of the services they offer for your age group if you don’t visit the website, and if there is no obvious information in this section of the library?

 

Shadae:  You think they would have more signs and flyers.

 

Jennifer:  I know, because they offer tutoring for school students, and college and SAT preparation assistance.  Also they have various other services such as how to handle finances and save money.  You should check out the website, I think you can find some helpful information there.

 

Shadae:  They only have special sections for children.  I mean, I never see anything for people my age.  Why?

 

Jennifer:  I am trying to figure that out.  I know that you are 17 now, but do you think that you would have taken advantage of the services that we just talked about when you were 14, 15, or so?

 

Shadae:  Yes, some of them.  Like if there was something for singing or art.  And we could win something.

 

Jennifer:  Like a laptop or Kindle?

 

Shadae:  Yes, that would be really cool.

 

Jennifer:  You know they have poetry contests and art workshops for teens sometimes?  That is more information that you can find on the website.  They are hosted at different branches but I know that the McGirt-Horton branch offers a lot of those programs because it is the only branch in the Greensboro system that has a designated separate space for teens and young adults so they do host a lot of those events.  You will know when you are in their teen section!  You can check them out on Facebook.  They always post upcoming events.

 

Jennifer:  My idea is to extend this area down the front side of the library (please see photo 3).  And have the young adult space limited to young adults.  With a librarian desk that would have a librarian that could help with tutoring, reference questions, and help with computer questions.  How does that sound?

 

Shadae:  That sounds really good.  I really hate using these computers.  It takes so long to get one.  There are always people here and I have to wait.  And they are dirty; they have germs all over them.

 

Jennifer:  I agree.  I think with a separate young adult space you probably wouldn’t have to wait as long because no adults would have access to use them.  They might still have germs though, sorry.

 

Shadae:  That sounds really good.  I wish we could rent iPads and laptops, too.

 

Jennifer:  That sounds good, that would expose young adults to new technology and new devices.

 

Shadae:  Yes, it would.

 

Jennifer:  And, you could go to a study room with those items and work there.  Just in case the young adult section gets too loud.  Because we both know how social young adults are.

 

Shadae:  Ha Ha, we are.

 

Jennifer:  I am really disappointed that the display shelves are pretty much empty.  I would like to see pamphlets and flyers that are relevant to young adults and teens.  For example, social services and health services, I think that some young adults could benefit by knowing that there is help out there for them in “certain” situations.  Also, there should be book displays with subjects like current topics, like war and freedom and politics.

 

Shadae:  That is a really good idea!  Why don’t they do that?

 

Jennifer:  Well, I am not sure.

 

Shadae:  Can I ask you a question?

 

Jennifer:  Sure thing.

 

Shadae:  Will what you are doing really help?  Do you think they will do anything about it?

 

Jennifer:  Well, I really do hope that my research helps.  That is why “we” do research.  We need to figure out where changes need to made, what people need, and what we can do about it.  Change has to start somewhere.  You have really helped so much; I really appreciate your time and your insight.  Good Luck in school.

The third interview was with Sherry Motley at the GPL’s central branch.  She has worked there for over twenty years.  She does not hold a MLIS, however, with her years of experience she is a very good source of information.  I found her at the downstairs circulation desk and asked her if I could use her in my research, and she said yes.

 

Jennifer:  Do young adults go to the designated YA space?

 

Sherry:  No, mostly children go to the Children’s section, but not a lot of young adults go over there.  They place holds for books, they use the library a lot more during the summer.  Books circulate for the YA collection a lot more then; it is almost triples during the summer.

 

Jennifer:  Really, they don’t go over there that much?  I have done some observations and have seen more adults using the computer in that section than young adults.

 

Sherry:  If they had a space with the technology that they need they would use that space more.  They need a separate room; they don’t want to be with “old folks,” you know?

 

Jennifer:  Yes, I do remember those days.  I wanted independence and individuality.

 

Sherry:  Yes, they want something they can identify with.  There needs to be more signs, more eye catching things in that section.  Something that caters to what they do or want to do.  Like games, especially for the boys.  But the girls like fashion.

 

Jennifer:  Yes, most girls do like fashion.  Having books and activities about fashion could help them build research and writing skills while having fun. Why do you think they don’t have a real separate space?

 

Sherry:  We don’t have a young adult librarian.  With this size of a library you really need a young adult specialist, someone geared just for young adult collections.  We had a reader’s advisor that could help with everyone, including young adults, but the position got cut because of funding.

 

Jennifer:  I have looked at the GPL’s website and seen all of the services for young adults and teens.  Do you think that they really take advantage of the programs available, especially here?

 

Sherry:  Well, the Hemphill and McGirt-Horton branches have more programs for young adults and teens.  Hemphill has a book club for them.  Here at the central branch we have a lot of adults that come in for the career building and job search stuff, especially since there are so many people without jobs now.  Our specialty here is more business, law, and genealogy.

Supportive Research

In 1917, Mabel Williams of the New York Public Library, “not only acknowledged a societal shift towards more formal education of adolescents, but also the need to create a “way station” for her clients who were aging out of children’s services, but who were not yet well served by the adult services units.  This remains an unstated but important goal of this specialty to this day.” [2]

Although Williams’ observations were almost one hundred years ago, there is still a need to cater to the population of young adults and their intellectual needs in context to the central branch of the Greensboro Public Library.  However, the term “way station” downplays what is really needed.  The term “garden” would be more appropriate; a place where they can grow intellectually, a place where their needs are noticed and met so that they can flourish into the adults of tomorrow.

“The staffing issue has followed YA services into the current trend of improving or creating YA spaces.  However, the implication often seems to be that space and service are the same.”[3] This statement appropriately represents the research that I conducted.  I found that young adult spaces, services, and collections are very distinct from one another and vary in degrees of depth.  For instance, the young adult space at the central branch is considered a “young adult space,” however, the space is rather non-descript and it serves patrons other than young adults.  My photos, observations and interviews support the fact that the area is not neatly labeled and kempt.  Most often I saw no young adults utilizing the area, especially in relation to adults using the area for internet access.

Young adult and teen services are provided by the GPL; however, with a young adult center or designated space, these services could better serve this group.  The “Research/Database” link on the website would be more beneficial if there were a young adult librarian in the designated young adult space.  The librarian could assist them with research by introduction to the various types of information sources that GPL has to offer.  The answers provided by Ricky Baker in the questionnaire prove that when staff is working directly with young adults and there is an area for young adults, then they are more aware of the resources available to them.

The “Financial Aid,” “Homework Help,” and “Career Guide” links on the website are valuable tools for young adults’ future, but the young adult space at GPL does not properly advertise these tools and services.  Brochures, pamphlets, and a young adult librarian could help get the word out about these programs.  The interview with Shadae serves as proof that if a person does not have access to the internet at home then they might not know about these valuable programs.  Again, the links and programs are immensely helpful; however, if there is no way to view the links then young adults are not being reached to the fullest extent.

The young adult section would benefit well if it were decorated with art from the “Teen Art Studio.”  The walls currently have posters that have no relation to young adults or their interests.  Walls and tables decorated with fellow young adults’ art work could not only make them feel more comfortable, it could also inspire them to join the studio.

“Adding a display – no matter how small – to highlight teen materials can boost the visibility of the collection, increase circulation, and improve the overall look appeal of the teen area.”[4] One of the most disappointing observations I made was the lack of materials on the book display wall.

The main book display is large in size; it is about nine foot high by nine foot wide; plenty of space for books, pamphlets, and brochures, but it remains mostly empty and unkempt.  Unfortunately, whether it is true or not, it relays the message that the branch is not meeting the social and intellectual needs of young adults.  Throughout my research and observations, I noticed that the book display remained the same.  Sometimes one or three books were added, but for weeks at a time it remained almost empty, or the same material would be there.

According to Braun, Martin, and Urquhart in “Risky Business, Taking and Managing Risks in Library Services for Teens,” libraries leap forward when:  the library has a teen area, if not a teen center; the director is excited to hear about teen services and they are on equal footing with the adult and children’s departments; there is a dedicated teen advisory board that meets weekly to discuss plans for the library.[5]

Based on my research, and my biased opinion, the GPL’s central branch could benefit greatly from a designated young adult space, an actual young adult center.  Ideally, there would be a young adult librarian specialist dedicated to the enrichment of this age group.  The specialist would be stationed in the young adult area.  They would be available for questions, research assistance, and the general reference.  The librarian would be in charge of outreach to the young adults of the community.  They would ensure that young adults were kept aware of the special programming that the GPL has to offer.

The windowed wall along the front of the library, which starts in the corner area where the young adult section is now, would be the perfect open space that could be utilized for the young adult center (please see photo 3).  Throughout most of my observations that space has remained relatively underused, I seldom saw anyone using the tables or reading area.  Ideally, this open space would be filled with computers specifically for young adults, tables and chairs, a setting area for young adults to chat and socialize, and a librarian to manage the area.

The section would display all services for young adults and teens that are offered through the library and through other social institutions, like museums and social services.  Young adults need to be aware of what the local community and the world at large has to offer them and their future.  The book displays should contain a wide breath of subjects like: health, college, war, freedom, law, government, civil rights, history, foreign cultures, and body image.

Implications and Summary

Accessing the young adults sections at both branches supplied proof that the GPL central branch needs a distinct young adult area much like the one at McGirt-Horton.  The implications of the interviews and observations, from varied view points, are that young adults are better served when they have an obvious space to serve their individual needs.

My research started with the theory that based on years of experience with libraries, young adults are being underserved in the GPL’s central branch.  My method of observing, researching literature by professionals in the LIS field, and interviewing, proved my theory to be valid.  The patron observations were made at various times and dates to validate usage.  Interviews were conducted on a random basis to try to ensure genuine answers and opinions.

Taking into consideration personal biases, budgeting, and lack of resources, it is still apparent that there needs to be more acknowledgment of young adults at the GPL.  All the research provided by myself and LIS professional literature agree that young adults feel more important, better served, and appreciated when they have their own space to utilize.

 

Bibliography

 

 

http://wikis.ala.org/yalsa/index.php/Main_Page

 

 

the yalsa wiki

this wiki is a tool to expose teens to the many serves that YALSA offers

 

http://www.ala.org/yalsa/sites/ala.org.yalsa/files/content/professionaltools/snforteens_11.pdf

 

 

http://www.atyourlibrary.org/search/node/teens%20social%20media

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Agosto, E. Denise; Hughes-Hassell, Sandra.  “Urban Teens in the Library, Research and Practice.” p. 115

[4] Booth, Heather.

[5] Risky busine..

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