Are libraries of interest to young people? A library is a store of knowledge where young people can obtain information relevant to their work at school, make use of data technology and borrow books. However, a library is also much more. Young people ask existential questions. Libraries open up a world of literature and culture where questions are asked, discussed and perhaps answered. Many young people also have questions for which they, as yet, have no suitable language. Literature provides the language for such questions. Future participation in society also requires use of language. Libraries have the potential to play an important role in the lives of young people. The challenge is for them to find the best approach.
There are more than enough video stores and newspaper kiosks. Libraries must show their strength and their cultural and historical roots. We must continue to promote Ibsen, but not be afraid to move with the times. Young people should be met by an up-todate library service that takes them seriously.
We should also be aware that adolescents are often advanced readers. Popular culture is sometimes very demanding and to say that comic strips are simplistic, as many people do, is a sign of ignorance. The only person in a library with whom I have discussed Karl Marx was a 15-year-old boy who had read Das Kapital, something very few librarians can claim to have done.
The Free-choice Project
Between October 2003 and September 2004 the Bergen Public Library carried out a comprehensive statistical survey of library use among young people, known as the Free-choice project. Participants consisted of the four largest Norwegian public libraries, including the Deichman Library in Oslo, together with four smaller libraries. The aim of the survey was to evaluate young people’s reading habits on the basis of library statistics, the general opinion previously tending to be that they neither read books nor use libraries.
The survey reveals that the libraries with the highest statistics for lending to adolescents were those with the widest range of media, not necessarily those with their own section for young people. Adolescents borrow films, music and comics and an all-round, upto- date collection sells itself. Even boys, who tend to use libraries less than girls, find their way to these libraries and boost their statistics by greater borrowing of comics, periodicals, films and music. The survey also shows that young people do not restrict themselves to literature written specifically for them as a target group. They read just as much adult literature and children’s books, choosing in fact from all the library shelves.
The figures show that young people do read, but not necessarily always what librarians think they ought to read. The encouraging aspect is that the majority of children between 11 and 17 years of age do in fact use public libraries, and that 60% of the girls and 40% of the boys take material home with them. The project indicates that young people are well aware of libraries and make use of them.
Priorities and methods of approach
Young people visit all library departments, reading not only books written for their own age group but also literature for adults, children’s books, comic strips and periodicals. The Free-choice project shows that they will read and borrow wherever they find interesting media. All library sections should regard young people as potential users and the best approach, as the project indicates, is to offer the widest possible collection of different media.
Active promotion of literature and language can attract young people to libraries. At the Deichman Library the emphasis has always been on books, and the staff in the children’s and young people’s sections possess considerable expertise in this field. The aim now must be to develop equal competence with regard to comics, films and music, and to make these media accessible to young people through improved collections and better presentation. The Deichman Library has strong traditions with regard to the promotion of literature, and I trust that in time this experience can be used in the field of comics, music and films.
The many local branches of the Deichman Library in Oslo have limited resources, as is the case with most smaller libraries in Norway. Media purchase is a costly affair and the active presentation of literature requires a large number of books. Libraries are obliged to set priorities and their differing collections are often the outcome of the interests and competence of the librarians concerned. Young people have been given low priority, although my own experience suggests that to reach them requires no great effort. All it takes is enough interesting books or other media and an open, honest approach to young people.
Working with youth at the Deichman Library
At Deichman’s Torshov branch we have for the last 13 years ‘adopted’ secondary school classes. During the course of a month nine classes visit the library. Here they are presented with some ten books to be read and later discussed.
Through literature one learns language, which is vital to playing a role in society, communicating with other people and understanding oneself. Without language there can be no formulation of thoughts and feelings. The idea behind these ‘adoption classes’ is simple. By regularly presenting the pupils with books and telling them stories in a setting where they are surrounded by books and stories, their interest in literature will be awakened. The challenge to the library is to maintain an up-to-date collection and to present literature of topical interest. The challenge to the youngsters is to choose well and to form an opinion about what they read. At the same time they are getting to know the library and its contents. They are becoming library users.
In my opinion, telling stories and introducing young people to literature is the most important function of a library. Our work with these classes has become a tradition, a long-term programme with a focus on books. There is nothing particularly new or spectacular here, but the genuine quality of this meeting between young people and literature gives results and useful experience. In January 2007 we have 19 such visits from primary and secondary school grades 1 to 10. Altogether this means a total of some 475 pupils, from a variety of different backgrounds, visiting the library every month for a period of ten years.
The Deichman Library will also challenge pupils to use their creativity and find their own forms of expression. Comic strips have been a subject of discussion and writing courses with rap-artists have been held. The Deichman Digital Workshop’s equipment is central to the library’s projects, encouraging the use of film, sound, pictures and text to create and tell a story.
The Deichman Library gives priority to promoting its various collections and to providing a stimulus. Our aim is to contribute to creating social beings and to be seen by young people as a factor in their lives.
Librarian for young adults
the Deichman library
bjarteb AT deichman.no
Translated by Eric Deverill