What has the public library ever done for teens?

Teen library  A look at what public libraries can offer to teenagers.

For those of you who are fans of Monty Python, you may understand that my topic heading for this week’s post is a bit tongue-in-cheek. In the MP sketch, What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us? there ends up being a long list of positive things the Romans had done. Here too, at first glance, it may seem that our public libraries may not be catering for teens, but I think a closer inspection reveals that in many ways, they are.

On a recent trip to my public library, I was looking for signs of what it had to offer for teenagers. It was immediately noticeable that there is a special section of the library devoted to children under 12 years of age. They had reading areas, special computers, read aloud times with the librarians and a fun and inviting design for their area. (see my photos below)

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The rest of the library seemed dedicated to spaces for adults. What was not immediately obvious was an area that was zoned for young adults to use. As I observed however, these adult spaces did serve the many young adults I saw coming in to use them. In fact, it seemed that they enjoyed the sophistication of these spaces. It was a school day afternoon when I visited and I saw students using the library as space to get started on homework, to read magazines and to use the internet. Library staff told me that many students from local schools hung out in the library until parents picked them up after they finished work. I asked if they cared that they were a child-minding service, but they replied that at least it meant the students weren’t hanging around the shopping centres getting into trouble and that they had forged some positive relationships with many of the regulars. Staff also mentioned that the young adults who came to the library extensively utilised the Audio Visual Collection and that they ran regular programs that involved young people from the local community. One of the biggest services they offered was assistance in finding information for school work. I think there is, however, a need for a Young Adult Fiction Collection in public libraries. This library grouped all fiction together. Also, maybe the trial of a specialist young adult area in the library could be a good option to see if numbers increased? As public libraries aim to service all members of our community, it would be great to see a little more specialisation for this group and gauge the response.

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As far as I can see, public libraries offer a safe world where young adults can access a range of information services, but maybe a little more specialised targeting wouldn’t go astray.



What Made Me Pop!

A look at where my popular culture influences have come from.


I was born at the start of the 1970’s to parents who were in their early 20’s. With a police officer as a father, we moved around a lot, living in mostly rural and isolated areas of NSW. Attending 12 different primary schools, I learnt to make friends quickly and easily. I had to! For high-school in the 80’s, I happily went to boarding school (sadly it wasn’t anything like Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers… but I loved it just the same).

Enid Blyton


My mother was an avid reader and this was passed on to me from an early age. Her books of choice were romance series, historical fiction and any kind of biography or autobiography. She encouraged my love of reading with weekly visits to the bookstore where my reward for doing chores or being good was a new book. This is how I built my collection of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Trixie Bledon, The Famous Five – basically anything written by Enid Blyton. The appeal of reading about children my age who were faced with a crime to solve or a fantastical land to navigate was priceless. I still have these books and they hold a treasured place on my shelf. I believe that these books and their themes have dramatically influenced who I am and what I still like to read.

Super 8


My father loved to be current with the latest gadgets. We were not rich, but I always remember us having things way before my friends did – colour television, a digital watch, a rubix cube and a VCR. Dad thought it was important to keep up to date with technology – not in a way that meant he was an expert at programming, but as a general consumer. This attitude has definitely influenced my attitude to technology. An example of this is my Dad’s home movies. He took reels and reels of Super 8mm film of family holidays and weekends. We had home movie nights a few times a year, where Dad would set up the projector and we would clear a space on the wall to watch ourselves in action. I have recently had all of these transferred to digital versions and our family watched them together last Christmas –  with a few tears! As a teenager, I took over the role as family photographer and have always owned video cameras of some sort. I cannot tell you how exciting it was when editing software was released that meant I could make home movies that looked professional.

Slim Dusty


Music was important from an early age and I it’s had a profound influence on who I am and dare I say – how I think! As my parents were relatively young when I was born, their musical tastes became mine. There was a lot of Elvis, ABBA and Neil Sedaka. Living in lots of country towns meant that country music also played a big role – Charlie Pride, Johnny Cash, Kenny Rogers and Slim Dusty. General pop music was also important. There were four boys that came after me, so our house went through all the various trends of pop music that came with five children where there was a sixteen year age gap between the eldest (me) and youngest! Of course, through high-school I experimented with some alternative music styles including a very long goth phase that revolved around The Cure, but today, I can definitely still see where my influences have originated from.

British TV


The staple TV diet in our household was basically anything British. This was partially due to the fact that for many years in country areas there was only one TV station – the ABC – which mainly programmed shows from the BBC. It was only in the 80’s that we had the luxury of a 2nd commercial station and started to see some more American sitcom style shows. But, it was too late – a love of the British comedy was cemented. Shows like The Goodies, Bless This House and Are You Being Served? still bring a smile to my face and influence the type of wry comedy that I still enjoy.

These early pop culture influences from my family are still felt today. Of course, like every other teenager, I went on to find my own likes and dislikes. I became more influenced by my peers. But it is interesting to reflect upon how these childhood influences have ingrained themselves as part of my personality.

After the fun of making a Pinterest board for last week’s post, I have made another one that shows just a smidgen of what I consider to be my pop culture influences. Hope you enjoy browsing it as much as I enjoyed creating it!

Laurel’s Pop Culture Influences Pinterest Board


What’s In With the Teen Crowd?


During the course of this study, I have discovered a range of new trends in popular culture for youth. These have emerged from both my conversations with and observations of the students at my school over the last few months. It seems that there are some differences between what males and females are ‘into’. I have found the boys to be drawn towards humour, comedy and sometimes violence in their popular culture, with the most popular texts being video gaming, watching YouTube clips and listening to music. In my school, there is also a sub-culture that has developed in playing collectible card games. This is not seen as a mainstream trend by the students, but one that is more likely to be taken up by students who are often seen as “nerds”. Nonetheless, it is a rapidly growing group in my school that has seen a rise in the borrowing of graphic novels, especially the anime genre. On the other hand, the girls seem to be drawn towards more romantic themes and are more likely to read books, use several social media sites and avidly watch movies and reality television. The similarities though are that both sexes enjoy downloading their own music and seem to be attracted to dark themes in their texts – whether this be in the form of vampire novels or dark humour. I have noticed that they are also often into things that allow them to be far removed from the world of adults. For example, new social media sites (like Ask FM) that they can covertly use before most adults even know they exist are popular because they can experiment with their emerging social identities without parental control. I think the final point to be made here is that what is popular in youth culture changes quickly, moving with the rapid pace of new technology and tools.

Here is a Pinterest board I created that reflects these discoveries about What’s In With The Teen Crowd.



What Are Teenage Boys Into?


For this week’s post, I have interviewed three Year 11 boys from my school who just happened to be outside my library office at lunchtime waiting to see the IT Help Desk. I recorded the interview and then summarised the answers of the three boys. Here are the results:


Q) What books are you currently reading?

A) None.

Q) Do you only read books if they are for school?

A) Yes. One of the boys then says that he read the “Hannibal” series and a book called “Zero Dark Thirty” which is a war story about the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Q) When you do read books, what kind of themes do you like?

A) Dark themes. Like stuff about war or things that keep you guessing.

Q) Did you read more for pleasure when you were in primary school?

A) Yes. Definitely.

Q) Why do you think that has changed?

A) Too busy now with other things like jobs and homework and sport. Like to relax doing other things.

Q) What are the top TV shows that you are watching at the moment?

A) “Breaking Bad” (all vigorously agree on this one), “Big Bang Theory”, “Walking Dead”, “Family Guy”.

Q) What do you think it is that you like about these TV shows?

A) They are funny, but also have dark themes that keep you interested. Good storylines and characters.

Q) Is the major drawcard that they are funny?

A) Yes. Definitely.

Q) Do you watch any Reality TV?

A) Not really. The girls seem to watch more of that.

Q) Do you think that girls your age would watch the same TV shows?

A) No. They talk about shows like “Vampire Diaries” and “Big Brother”.

Q) Do you watch TV shows live or do you download them?

A) All agree that they watch them live but they have friends who download. Two of the boys say they don’t know how to download shows.

Q) What types of games do you play, how often and what are your favourite?

A) Video games!! (very enthusiastic about this topic). Most agree that they spend about 10 hours per week playing video games. They would like to play more but their parents monitor this and they have jobs etc. All boys agree that this is their favourite leisure activity. They also emphatically state that the most popular game at the moment with everyone is “Grand Theft Auto 5” which has been recently released. They have friends that stay up all night on weekends playing this game.

Q) Any other games that are popular at the moment?

A) Not really. Everyone is playing GTA5. One boy says that he likes a game called “Battlefield”. Another boy says that he sometimes plays games on his phone such as “Fruit Ninja” and “Fifa”.

Q) Do you think these games are violent?

A) Yeah – but you know it’s not real. The graphics are pretty lifelike but you still know it’s a game.

Q) What music are you into at the moment?

A) All agree that they like a band called “Rise Against”. One of the boys says he likes “Usher” then one of them mentions “Froggy Fresh”. They all laugh when this artist is mentioned but agree that he is good because he’s funny.

Q) How do you listen to your music and where do you get it from?

A) All agree they listen to it on their phones through the day but will have it playing from their computers in their room when at home. Two of the boys get their music from iTunes and one uses “Spotify” where a monthly fee is paid and you can listen to any music you want.

Q) Do you use YouTube a lot and what for?

A) Yes. They all agree that they use YouTube extensively, mostly for watching funny clips that are recommended to them by friends or they “like” clips on Facebook and then new ones appear in their feed. The main attraction is to watch anything that’s funny. As an example, they said the “Best of Vines” are a series of funny clips that are really popular amongst their friends.


Q) What social media do you use?

A) All use Facebook. One uses Instagram a little bit. All have played around with “Ask FM”. They say that “Tumbler” and “Instagram” seem to be more popular with their female friends.


It seems that overall, the most popular texts for these teenage boys to engage with are video games and YouTube clips. These got the most enthusiastic and detailed responses. The most attractive feature of popular culture texts for these boys was comedy value. The funnier a text is perceived, the more they seemed to enjoy it. They are also drawn to darker themes such as war and violence and seem to be aware of the differences between what they like and what their female peers are into.

As an extra observation, over the last few months I’ve noticed an explosion of students playing a new card game in the library at lunch time. It’s called Cardfight! Vanguard and is a manga based game. It started out with about 4 students and is now up to about 30 each day. I’ve actually given them an annexed room to use in the library. They have been hosting their own tournaments with prizes etc. Interestingly, it is mostly senior boys with some Middle Years boys joining recently. A couple of girls attend, but I think they mostly just watch. It’s nice to see them all mixing together with a common passion. The librarian in me loves the ones who have purchased special boxes to keep their cards in so they don’t get crinkled! I’ve just watched the You Tube tutorial on how to play, and to be honest, I’m baffled! It sounds like something that would have appealed to Johnson (2005) in his article on the “Sleeper Curve”.

It was interesting for me to look up a few things that I’d never heard of. For example, I found out that “Froggy Fresh” is an American country rapper who became famous by posting a song on YouTube called “The Baddest”. After watching the clip myself, I can see why teenage boys would think this is funny and yet the fact that the rapper and his friend are brandishing real weapons during the clip is kind of disturbing. I’d also never heard of the YouTube clips called “Vines”, which is a video-sharing app from “Twitter” where people upload short clips. Most of these seem to be made into compilations for viewing on YouTube.  Again, the appeal to teenage boys is obvious – a mixture of pranks, skits and accidents, reminding me of Rizzo’s (2008) idea that YouTube is the new “cinema of attraction”. The fact that the boys wanted to know why I was asking them these questions really surprised me. They told me that teachers never really ask them what they are into but just presume that it will be rubbish. This whole exercise was a good reminder about taking the time to find out what our young people are into. Having this knowledge can be a powerful tool for us to use in learning – but also as a signal to our students that we are interested and invested in them!


My Encounters with Darcy Moore’s Blog



This week, my post is about my encounters with Darcy Moore’s blog on popular culture. I first came across this blog about two months ago at the start of this course and after a quick scan, realised that this was a tool that I could use to become informed about a wide range of popular culture topics. It was immediately appealing because Darcy is Australian and it’s great to find some local content. Additionally,  he writes in a clear manner about many relevant topics so that even a novice like me can understand! I filed it into my Sitehoover curation tool and have been coming back to it consistently during my study of popular culture and youth as a great reference point. Imagine my surprise to see Kelli McGraw making a comment on the home page of this blog. I knew I must be onto something good. This was confirmed by the inclusion of this blog as an essential reading in later weeks of the course.

Darcy describes his blog as one that “explores learning, leadership, education, schooling, teaching, digital technologies, books, poetry, literature, music, photography & the impact of social media. Your commentary, collaboration and participation is encouraged & highly valued!” (Moore, 2013). The participatory nature of this blog is a feature that has emerged as highly important when it comes to the use of popular culture in education. It wasn’t just Moore’s posts that were useful, it was the comments of other readers who enhanced the overall knowledge to be found here. It was here that I have found ideas to inspire some of my blog posts and here that I will return to for practical ideas on becoming a better Teacher Librarian and educator.


I’m Game If You Are!

58694182_edd6097b1e_oA look at the role of gaming in education.

Something I’ve been wanting to attempt for awhile now, but have been too hesitant to do is use electronic gaming in my lessons. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I was adept at the art of the early Nintendo games. I could beat all my classmates on my handheld Pacman game and held my own at Donkey Kong. I emptied a truckload of 20 cent coins into the Wonder Boy game at my local take-away shop, but then I “grew up”, leaving gaming behind me. My four younger brothers, however, did not, and when I see the level of sophistication that electronic gaming is at now I am intimidated. It seems like such a daunting prospect to somehow harness the power of this popular culture pastime in a relevant manner for education.

After watching Beth Galloway’s You Tube clip, which gives librarians advice for using games, I realised that I have been thinking too big and neglecting the non-electronic version of gaming. In a weird twist of fate,  my school library has recently seen a massive rise in the popularity of collectible card games, so it seems that I am being provided with an opportunity to finally take some action. The two games that my students are playing are Cardfight! Vanguard and Magic – The Gathering. I currently have around 40 students rushing through the doors every lunchtime. They are mostly boys but from a variety of year levels from Years 5 to 12. They have been organizing their own tournaments and I have provided them with a room and support. I did an article on them for our School Newsletter. They loved the recognition from this and proudly call themselves the “gamers”.


From my observations, the positive effects of this are numerous. Socially, the students are mixing with a wide range of ages and personalities that they would not encounter out in the playground. Academically, despite not being directly related to the curriculum, I can see critical literacy in action. “Gaming involves critical thinking, problem solving and a constant learning cycle based on hypothesising, experimenting and evaluating” (Calloway, 2013).

These recent experiences have led me to further reading on the topic including, Malcolm Podmore’s Gaming in education – a Trojan Mouse? (2011). He examines the background of using computer games in school, outlining how it started as an equivalent to a pat on the back or as a carrot to students who finished quickly. This early use of gaming in schools was often without a lot of curriculum value but gradually this began to change. Teachers, who were often gamers themselves, started to select aspects of commercial games to support curriculum. Unfortunately, the stigma of earlier gaming means that there are many critics who see game-based learning (GBL) as superficial. Schools also need financial and technical support for this practice to succeed.

Padmore (2011) outlines an extensive list of arguments for the promotion of gaming in schools including:

–       a correlation between learning and good gaming

–       an improved motivation to learn

–       the challenge and engagement it provides

–       the ability to explore independently, without the intervention of an instructor

–       the provision of short feedback cycles where students can learn by trial and error in a risk-free environment

–       interaction with real-world settings, providing meaningful learning experiences

–       the promotion of problem-solving skills

The “Trojan Mouse” is the metaphor Padmore (2011) uses to describe the way that technology will change traditional structures in the “walled city of education”. Whilst the arguments for GBL are valid and persuasive, the fast pace of technological change means that educators face a sometimes daunting array of choices that may turn them off getting started. This is similar to the overwhelming feelings I described earlier. I believe the most important feature of GBL is the concept of accepting failure. In gaming, players are motivated to attempt skills over and over again until they can move to the next level. Failure is seen as a learning experience. This is a concept endorsed by Paul Anderson, a U.S. teacher who reinvented his class as a video game. He says that teachers should not be afraid to encourage failure even though this concept is in opposition to traditional learning protocol (Long, 2013). Here is the lesson for myself and other teachers like me who want to try something new – it is okay to fail!

Teachers face many new challenges but if we do take it one step at a time, accepting that we might fail before we get it right, then it can be an exciting and rewarding experience. Game on!


  • Gallaway, B. (2013). Welcome to the librarian’s guide to gaming!. [image online] Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1NHI-Z9j4g [Accessed: 16 Sep 2013].
  • Long, D. (2013). Think differently: The game brain.Independent Education, Iss. 2 pp. 28-29.
  • Padmore, M. (2011). Gaming in education a Trojan Mouse?. Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds3(1), 67-72.
  • Pollard, R. (2007). tex playing video games. [image online] Available at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/34396501@N00/58694182/ [Accessed: 10 Oct 2013].

Ring, Ring, Why Don’t You Give Me A Call?



This week’s post is inspired by some of this week’s readings on mobile learning.The evolution of the role of the mobile phones in our everyday lives is an astonishing journey and one that I was reluctant to begin. Back in 2003, I was about to start a job teaching at a school in England. My friends were urging me to buy a mobile phone so they could keep in touch. I really didn’t like the idea of always being “contactable”, but in the end, thought that it may come in handy at some point. Of course, that little Motorola phone became a lifeline to my loved ones back in Australia. The ease of sending a text became so appealing. “Hi Mum and Dad. I’m at the top of the Eiffel Tower!” I could send little status updates of where I was and what I was doing (why didn’t I think of the whole Facebook concept back then?).

Fast forward several years to 2009 and the purchase of my first smart phone. It would not be an exaggeration to call this a life-changing event. My phone was no longer just a communication device for making and receiving calls.

It now has a seemingly endless list of uses; social media, emails, photos, video, banking, weather forecasting, gaming and so on. The new difference is that now I CREATE on my phone and I SHARE it. I’m not just a passive receiver. My mobile device is a reflection of my tastes and interests – it’s personalised and that’s important.


If this is how I feel about my phone, imagine the attitude of my tech-savvy students! Surely there is a role for mobile devices in education. A clear argument exists for their inclusion as “cultural resources” (Cook et al, 2011) to be used for learning and making meaning. If part of a school’s job is to prepare a young person for society, then it would surely be remiss of us to ignore the ubiquitous and convergent nature of mobile mass communication. Instead, it would be wise to embrace the opportunities for inquiry and exploration that this tool can provide.

There are many who will resist this change. The view of schools as places where “formal, institutionalised learning” (Cook et al, 2011) takes place is common. Some will raise the argument that mobile learning will compromise student safety and traditional scholarly skills such as handwriting. Despite the validity of some of these arguments, we simply cannot ignore the fact that mobile technology is here to stay and that schools must play their part in educating young people on the safe and moderate use of these tools. This is the digital literacy that they will need to be successful lifelong learners. I agree with Bruce Derby’s (2011) philosophy about ICT and learning. “Technology augments learning, it doesn’t drive it.” My phone is no longer about just making calls. Every day, it enhances my journey as a lifelong learner and allows me to participate in a creative culture. If I can engage my students in something familiar from their world to make learning a meaningful experience, then hand me that phone!