Sparking and Sustaining Adolescent Learning: Embodied Values, Contextualized Literacies, and Developing Identities at the Public Library
Evans, Sarah Amber
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Any given day, thousands of teenagers enter the nearly 17,000 United States public libraries dotting the nation. With this dissertation, I ask, “How does the public library spark and sustain the voluntary learning of adolescents with the affordances of space, resources, and people?” I answer this through an ethnographic case study of public library services for teens in a community with a high percentage of immigrant residents. Over 18 months, I observed library activities involving youth, interviewed library staff and adolescent patrons, and led teen volunteers in a participatory research project. Data was analyzed in a constant comparative method within a sociocultural-historical framework. Through attention to practices of the youth and library staff within the space, I saw how the physical layout, guiding policies, and activities offered, the public library embodied the values of access, intellectual freedom, and service. The librarian’s professional questioning skills served to scaffold youth’s experiences with resources. Through one-to-one interactions and a variety of library programs, librarian and adolescents established trust and engaged in deliberative discourse, preparing youth for collaborative work in future contexts. The legitimate peripheral participation of the most engaged adolescents pulled them further into the situated learning context of the public library. In ways that matched her individual needs and preferences, each girl took up identities related to the public good, education and lifelong learning, and social responsibility that goes with them across contexts as well into their future. This is how the public library’s affordances of space, resources, and people operate interdependently to enact the values of diversity and democracy. Within the public library space, diverse adolescents, many of whom struggle in more formal contexts, find a multitude of ways to learn through resources and in relationship with people. Such experiences prepare them for participation in democratic processes with cultural capital as well as resilience for difficult times in the future. In summary, the public library sparks and sustains the voluntary learning of adolescents though embodied values, contextualized literacies, and developing identities.
- Education - Seattle