Young people aged 11–19 are perceived as a challenging group to engage in using public libraries. This chapter will examine projects delivered by library services in the most deprived areas of the UK's south-west peninsula, endeavouring to connect with some of the most hard-to-reach groups of young people in the region. Our aim is to identify how libraries can go about removing barriers to library use through innovative schemes of outreach work. We conclude with the reasons for successful outcomes.
What are the obstacles to young people's using public libraries?
This is a question we often hear in dialogues with librarians, youth agencies and young people. One stereotype of the younger library user is of the ‘bookish’ loner, socially outcast by their peers. There is also the view that libraries are fundamentally ‘uncool’ and have nothing to offer the 21stcentury teenager. Many librarians already doing positive work with teenagers may view these as unfounded prejudices and lazy clichés; however, there is plenty of evidence on which to base these views, confirmed by dwindling borrower figures amongst this age group.
In 2006, reports from the Audit Commission and the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport had noted the small (and still reducing) use of public libraries amongst 14–35 year-olds. In response, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Laser Foundation commissioned A Research Study of 14–35 year olds for the Future Development of Public Libraries (2006). This report aimed ‘to provide evidence for potential future strategies for the public library service that will result in increased usage amongst the 14–35 age group’. Interviews were held with 15 groups of young people from different parts of the country, chosen without reference to whether they were library members. The researchers found a ‘deeply entrenched negative perception’ of libraries and that the majority of existing and unmodernized libraries were seen as dirty and uncared for, with old and poor stocks and an oppressive atmosphere. ‘Users turned out to be a minority. Even they were reported as disappointed by the breadth and depth of stock and its lack of currency.’