Way, way back in the 20th century, American teenagers turned to the local public library as a great good place to hang out. It was a hotspot for meeting up, and sharing thoughts with, other like-minded people in books and in the flesh. It was a wormhole in the universe that gave us tunnels into the past and into the future. It was a quiet spot in an ever-noisier world.
The library was a gentle mentor. It accepted us as we were and let us grow at our own pace as teens are wont to do. It taught us about sports and sex. About fashion and finance. About life and death.
It showed us how to search for information. How to bring intelligent, like-minded people together. Even how to build and program computers.
In effect, it gave us the tools to create video games, websites, social media and the strange digi-real world we live in today.
Now that the Internet is in full flower, you would think that the American Public Library would be a victim of its own success. And in a way it is: Library use is down.
But a 2013 Pew Research survey found that teens use libraries and librarians more than other age groups, "but don't necessarily love libraries as much."
Like any seasoned mentor, the public library is not giving up. The library is pulling out all the stops to get teens to keep reading and learning and dreaming. For example:
Today teens and young adults are using libraries, Shannon says, "in a variety of ways: from homework help and school support, to accessing print and downloadable books, and engaging in creative and innovative programs which help them pursue interests, connect to mentors and other teens and expand learning in the after-school hours."
In other words, libraries and librarians are teaching teens a valuable lesson: Know thy shelves.
The Protojournalist: Experimental storytelling for the LURVers Listeners, Users, Readers, Viewers of NPR. @NPRtpj