Young people’s dream library

The young want a library that accepts them just as they are. It is a well-planned library where it is easy to find you way around, and which is open when they need it. The librarians accept their behaviour, and they are within reach when the young need assistance. The library of the young contains a great variety of media and com- puter work stations. There is room for con- templation as well as hanging out and chatting with friends. This becomes appa- rent in a report prepared for Roskilde Li- brary by The Danish Centre for Youth Re- search. The description of the library of the young sounds intriguingly close to the library that the libraries themselves want to create. Most libraries probably wish that they had more media, more space for dif- ferent functions and longer opening hours, but they do their very best within the frames given. The young want a library that accepts them just as they are. It is a well-planned library where it is easy to find you way around, and which is open when they need it. The librarians accept their behaviour, and they are within reach when the young need assistance. The library of the young contains a great variety of media and com- puter work stations. There is room for con- templation as well as hanging out and chatting with friends. This becomes appa- rent in a report prepared for Roskilde Li- brary by The Danish Centre for Youth Re- search. The description of the library of the young sounds intriguingly close to the library that the libraries themselves want to create. Most libraries probably wish that they had more media, more space for dif- ferent functions and longer opening hours, but they do their very best within the frames given.

Despite the fact that on the face of it libraries and the young have the same wishes as to their library, the report shows that the traditional library in a de luxe version may not necessarily be the ideal library of the young. Their life situation and their conception of the library indicate that there is a gap between libraries and the young.

The unwelcoming library

The young see the libraries as inflexible and discriminating. Opening hours is a bone of contention. The library is closed when the young have the time to visit it, and the young need the flexibility of being able to go the library without having to plan their visit in advance.

There are also the regulations which make the young feel unwelcome. Particularly the rule about silence makes them feel that the library is not really their library. The young realise the need for contemplation, and they consider it one of the library’s functions to provide the space, but it does not fit into their lifestyle. They are communicating, media-consuming and used to learning through teamwork.

The young find librarians discriminating. One young person explains how he or she often sees how the librarian wants to assist an older person, while the young person is just told to go to a shelf, which he or she has in fact already tried to find. Anne Kofoed and Niels Ulrik Sørensen, the authors of the report, conclude that what happens in the actual situation is not the important thing, but how the young experience it. They have experienced a library where it is difficult to find what they need, and equally difficult to get the help to find it.

The young also feel that they often visit the library in vain. Most of them have used the library previously and would do so again if it matched their needs. Some young people say that they visited the library when the Internet first arrived. They did not have it at home, but they could get access to it from the library. However, it was not only Internet access that attracted them. They also came because they knew that their friends would be there for the same reason. In this way the library became part of their social life.

The social young

The young people’s dream library combines the classic library with those places in the ‘town space’ where their social life thrives. This dream reflects the life situation of the young. Their everyday lives are busy with school, homework and leisure activities. In terms of free time, the young choose activities which they organise themselves. They prefer running to sports club activities, and they want to meet on their own terms in the social space, whether it be in cafés, shops, cinemas or just taking a run together.

The young people, who took part in the study, are all in further education. This is a period in their lives when they leave their childhood behind and have to find their own identity as young adults. They have made their choice of education and have thus for the first time made a decision that affects their adult lives. There are also a number of other ‘first times’: Relationships, sex, alcohol and parties as well as the new educational institution with new friends.

In their search for an identity, their social life becomes a goal in itself. Together with their friends they search both in physical town space and via mobile and Internet. In the town space they can meet on their own conditions without any adult interference and restrictive rules. Here they can take examples from each other and from present currents and tendencies, and in this way develop their identity.

According to the authors of the report the point is that the social aspect can only be maintained as long as it is relevant. Everybody must be enjoying it. This is the kind of life the library has to fit into. It is a lifestyle where the young put the greatest emphasis on the selforganising, the social and as little adult interference as possible. It is also a lifestyle where anything not considered relevant is discarded.

You can read the results of the study in: Anne Kofoed and Niels Ulrik Sørensen: Rapport om unge og biblioteker. (Report on libraries and the young). Compiled by Cefu for Roskilde Library, 2006. You can buy the report at the Danish Library Association www.dbf.dk

Tina Pihl
Senior Consultant, The Roskilde Libraries
tinap AT roskildebib.dk

Senior Consultant, The Roskilde Libraries