On 15 September 2010 a group of academic and other interested parties gathered at Central St. Martin’s for a symposium titled Young People and Media Use, organised by David Gauntlett. Although the following report is nearly six months late, the research remains relevant to understanding youth media use and can be applied to library services for teenagers.
I’ve divided the conference summary into two parts, as the combination of reporting my research (hopefully well within the limits of copyright!) and relating it to teen library services consumed a greater number of words than expected. Part Two will arrive later this week.
I only caught the tail end of Fatimah Awan’s talk, titled Young People’s Mediaworlds (if anyone else reported on this talk in full, please let me know!). She stated that, while young people in her study valued connections made via social networking sites, they still consider face-to-face, in-person contact to be the most valuable and desirable. Of course this bodes well for library services, as it suggests our efforts to provide real life programming are in fact desirable and important to young people.
The next paper, “Media Literacy Matters: Children and Young People’s Media Use,” (presented by Fiona Lennox and Jane Rumble of OFCOM) looked at media use of young people. (They studied youth ages 5-7, 8-11 and 12-15, but I only took notes on the 12-15 age group). Their study examined not just the type of media use that young people engaged in, but also the amount of those types of media that they consumed per day. Unsurprisingly, young people used television, mobile phones, and Internet with the greatest frequency.
The most relevant findings for public libraries related to how teenagers research or creatively engage online. For example, a sizable minority (35-45%) of the 12-15s queried reported having set up an online avatar (an alternate personality/character, often one who interacts in a fictional world) or a website. (How these are defined, I’m not certain–for example, would participating in a MMORPG like World of Warcraft count as having an avatar? I assume it would.)
Perhaps most interesting was the fact that 6% (from entirely varying class backgrounds!) had expressed views online, and 11% would be interested in doing so. However, only 14% felt comfortable with their ability to create content online (e.g. blogs, website). This indicates that at least some teenagers might be interested in workshops (possibly delivered in schools?) to assist them in learning to navigate blog tools and design websites to express their own thoughts and opinions, or share their ideas and art.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that 12-15s prefer to get info from friends and online than from parents or school. However, of those oodles of teenagers who searched for information online, only 50% made critical judgments about whether info search engines returned was accurate. The remaining 50% weren’t aware of making critical judgments (though it’s possible they did sometimes without thinking of it) and 20% reported never even considering the potential veracity (or lack thereof) of the sites they accessed. This suggests that media competence does not automatically confer media literacy. It also underscores the need to actively educate young people about effective methods to find and evaluate information (yet another indication of the necessity of teen library services).
The tone of “Youth Filmmaking and Citizenship in London” (presented by Alicia Blum‐Ross) deviated from that of previous papers. Blum-Ross analyzed the ideologies of funding bodies and young people’s filmmaking projects. As many libraries may apply for funding for teen programmes, it seems relevant to consider the rhetoric of grant-giving organisations and of youth projects themselves.
Most funding bodies assume that young people have a unique type of expression suppressed by the political system. Thus, the projects they seek to fund are those allow young people to “tell their stories” and interact with traditional political process from which it’s assumed they’re alienated. Any organisation applying for funding must place their project within this narrative. Subsequently, they are implicitly required to represent the young people they work with as somehow deficient (politically disengaged, lack of media skills, lack of education, et cetera). The money requested and provided is contingent upon this idea of deficiency.
However, in studying a number of youth filmmaking projects–in particular The Reelhood Project in London–Blum-Ross found that many of the young people involved were already politically engaged prior to joining in the project. Instead of engaging with the structured political system (ex. voting), they involved themselves in community politics by starting local groups, and advocating within their own neighborhoods or spheres of interest and influence (essentially, they became involved in grassroots organising). Instead of being disengaged, the young people devalued a political system which they believed devalued them, and prioritised their local communities, in which they could make active and visible changes.
Thus, while many of the youth filmmkaing projects studied had valuable outcomes, they were not so great as the frankly overinflated claims of funding applications (ex: the project will change lives, catalyze upward mobility, and improve young people’s exam marks). Projects could also have desirable outcomes (young people learning new skills and concepts, engaging in enriching experiences, et cetera) while having an artistically poor outcome–in some cases, the quality of final films produced was disappointing to the young people involved (unsurprising, given that they were in the process of learning how to create a type of art they in which they hadn’t previously engaged).
As libraries shape their teen offer, it’s worth keeping in mind some of the lessons gleaned from the above. Young people often already have a voice, and have ideas about how they want to express it and what they value. However, this doesn’t mean that they inherently have the technical skills or level of articulation (not just verbal articulation but also self-awareness) to fully express their ideas. A project that technically “fails” can still yield successful learning outcomes to young people.
It seems easy to adopt the rhetoric of youth involvement without considering the underpinning ideologies. In particular (and I’m speaking from personal experience!), it’s easy to fall into a rhetoric of deficiency that neglects the skills and interests of local young people.
When looking at the teen offer it’s also important to consider these questions: How do we measure outcomes of projects? Should we simply provide young people with materials to create and some basic skills or do they need more guidance (and if they need guidance, what type should be provided)?
Click here to read Part 2!