One of the more recent national initiatives in teen library service is to celebrate "Teen Tech Week" in March -- a week to introduce teens to all the ways libraries can meet their digital needs.
Our library also participates, and in the years I've been here, we've ran the gamut of technological activities -- from showing teens how to create a MySpace page (remember those?) to highlighting our library's digital collection. And while we've always had a trickle of participation, we've never had teens clamoring to complete our activities -- even when we bribe them with candy.
Why don't teens want to participate in our carefully prepared technology activities? I think it's simple: teens are already using technology fluently, or at least more fluently than most adults. Unless they have a specific need, they are not likely to participate in an arbitrary week devoted to anything, no matter how fun we try to make the activities.
So, what then, do teens want and need from technology? I don't know them all, but I think I can make a case for these wants/needs:
1. They want to be able to keep in touch with their friends, and communicate with them instantly.
2. They want to have technology available when school assignments, a gaming session, or a must-see YouTube video demands it.
3. They want to read about the intersection between technology and humanity -- and particularly, they want stories about what happens when this intersecting goes awry.
4. They want technology to be accessible despite their incomes.
5. They want technology to make their lives easier and more entertaining.
But wait . . . most public libraries DO meet these needs. For example:
1. We offer not only computer terminals on which teens are allowed to go to their Facebook, Twitter, and other social accounts -- but we also offer free wireless Internet so that they can access these apps and more from their own devices if they have them.
2. At our public library, we not only offer timed-session computers for gaming and social networking, but we also offer some terminals that are not timed, so that those teens who don't have a computer at home can do homework assignments without worrying about how long of a session they will have.
3. We have an ample collection of YA fiction books -- particulalry in the currently-popular dystopian genre -- that explore the influence of technology in our human lives. Some of our more recent titles are Cinder by Marissa Meyer; BRZK by Michael Grant; Beta by Rachel Cohn; and iBoy by Kevin Brooks. Many of these titles are available not only in book form, but also as electronic downloads through out digital library. Therefore, teens who do have access to e-readers can check out books digitally from the library's website.
4. Not only are the in-house computers free for public use, but also there is no cost to download books, music and magazines from the library's holdings. In our library, we do not circulate free e-readers or other devices for public use, but some libraries nationwide are beginning to offer this service. Libraries work hard to utilize tax dollars in ways that are most beneficial to public patrons.
5. All the ways our library offers its technology can make teens' lives easier -- from providing access to computers for homework, to allowing them to download books when the physical copies are checked out. And many of our electronic offerings are entertaining as well: for instance, did you know that we offer have a paid subscription to a music service that offers our patrons three free music downloads each week?
So . . . even though we haven't hit on the magical formula for engaging our teen patrons in Teen Tech Week activities, we know that we are meeting many of their technological needs and wants. We have only to look around at our computer terminals, or listen to the noise level on a gaming afternoon, to know that!