Youth Library Programs Help More than Just Teens

January 25, 2005


Contact:  Flora Lazar
Public Affairs Director
(773) 256-5212

Rebecca Edwards
Senior Communications Officer
The Wallace Foundation
(212) 251-9783

 Youth Library Programs Help More than Just Teens

New Study of Youth Programming Shows Benefits to Youth, Libraries, and Communities

Chicago, IL, January 25, 2005  – A new study by researchers from Chapin Hall Center for Children, at the University of Chicago, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, suggests that communities should take a closer look at the role that public libraries can play in strengthening the skills of teenagers, building the capacity of libraries as institutions, and connecting libraries more closely to communities.

With growing numbers of teenagers visiting libraries to socialize, do homework, and use computers as well as the Internet, libraries have found themselves pressed to address the needs of this group.  Although nearly a fourth of library patrons are teenagers, libraries traditionally have devoted less of their space, personnel, and financial resources to services for teens than to any other age group.

The Chapin Hall study suggests that library-based youth programs, especially in low-income communities, can teach teens specific job skills at the same time that they make libraries more visible assets in the community.  Programming enhanced teens’ personal and social development and provided opportunities for teens to develop positive relationships with peers and adults, the study showed. 

Many of the youth in the 4-year study reported that through their involvement in library-based youth programs they learned about technology, developed such qualities as patience and perseverance, experienced a sense of confidence and responsibility, and increased their knowledge about the library. 

For many teens, the enrichment and career development programs offered by libraries substantially altered their view of libraries and librarians.  The researchers found that library-based youth programs influenced many library staff members’ attitudes toward teens. 

Working closely with teens in youth development programs helped staff see teens as sources of ideas and services that benefit rather than tax the library’s operations.  “You look at kids differently after you’ve worked with them and get to know them. Sometimes what they look like is not who they are,” one library branch manager in the study commented. At the same time, teens also provide communities with a range of needed services such as homework help for neighborhood children and assistance with computer literacy to patrons of all ages.

"With growing concern about how young people spend their out-of-school time, libraries should not be underestimated in their ability to offer constructive opportunities for teenagers and provide valuable services to the community,” Julie Spielberger, a senior researcher at Chapin Hall and the study’s lead author, said.

Realizing the benefits of youth programming, however, was challenging, the study found.  Successful libraries incurred considerable personnel and training costs and required administrative staff dedicated largely to youth programming.  Even if libraries were located in low-income neighborhoods, recruiting teens not typically served by public libraries was difficult, the research showed.

“Today’s youth inhabit a world more crowded than ever with competing pressures, opportunities and temptations, especially during the hours when they are not in school. Yet too often, community institutions, including libraries, that could be providing safe, learning-rich havens for teens, tend to regard youth more as ‘problems’ to be fixed or avoided than as potential resources to be engaged and tapped.  The Wallace Foundation was pleased to fund this study to help provide lessons and recommendations on how to make youth programming work, train library staff, foster youth participation, and assess and mange the high costs of these programs,” M. Christine DeVita, president of The Wallace Foundation, said.

The library study examined a 9-site Wallace Foundation initiative, Public Libraries as Partners in Youth Development, that provided youth in low-income communities with educational and career development opportunities through their public libraries.  Youth participating in the initiative engaged in a variety of enrichment, service, and work activities. In many locations, youth were paid.  Libraries participating in the study included Brooklyn Public Library in New York City, Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County in Charlotte, Fort Bend County Libraries in Fort Bend, Texas, the King County Library System in Issaquah, Washington, the Oakland Public Library, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Tucson-Pima Public Library, and the Washoe County Library System in Reno, Nevada.

A copy of the study can be found on the Chapin Hall web site at

Chapin Hall Center for Children at the University of Chicago is a policy research center dedicated to bringing sound information, rigorous analysis, innovative ideas, and an independent multidisciplinary perspective to bear on policies and programs affecting children. Chapin Hall's focus takes in all children, but devotes special attention to children facing significant problems, including abuse or neglect, poverty, and mental or physical illness.  It takes a broad view of children’s needs, including their potential as well as their problems, and addresses the services and supports -- public and private -- aimed at fostering child and youth development.

The Wallace Foundation seeks to support and share effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people.  Its three current objectives are: strengthen education leadership to improve student achievement; improve out-of-school learning opportunities, and expand participation in arts and culture.