Monday, October 1, 2012

A matter of semantics?

In the course of reading Michele Gorman's and Tricia Sullentrop's Connecting Young Adults and Libraries: A How-To-Do-It Manual, I was taken aback by what struck me as a prickly bit of wording in this otherwise excellent information resource.  Honestly, I am not sure if I am reading more into it than what is there, but as a librarian working with young people, I do believe part of our job is to actively model evaluating the information we consume.  Young people should be taught that the process of information collection and evaluation is not passive. In order to be fluent in the brand of  information literacy that is necessary for thriving in the 21st century, one must assess the legitimacy of source, whether any inherent biases exist, who is the intended audience, how current is the source, etc.

So in the spirit of the aforementioned sentiment, here is the issue I encountered.  In their comprehensive guide to providing library service to young adults, Gorman and Sullentrop reference the 40 developmental assets for adolescents crafted by the Search Institute (  According to the authors:

"The Search Institute is an independent nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide leadership, knowledge, and resources to promote healthy children, youth, and communities.  The Search Institute has reviewed the research in the field of youth development and has conducted its own studies on thousands of adolescents.  The institute concluded that teens require certain positive conditions and experiences in their lives, or what Search has called "Developmental Assets."  The research led the Search Institute to identify 40 such assets, 20 external and 20 internal" (Gorman and Sullentrop, p. 33).

Based on Gorman's and Sullentrop's blurb above, as well as a review of the Institute's website, it would seem as though the Search Institute is a credible source.  They have existed for over fifty years and appear dedicated to engaging young people and their communities, while concurrently placing a high valence on integrity.  Furthermore, the research behind the generation of the Developmental Assets is both extensive and clearly linked on their site, and the .org domain name purports a minimal degree of authority.

So maybe it really is an issue of semantics?  Without further ado... (I must admit this build-up is seeming a bit dramatic for the mere word choice I am questioning), please allow me to direct your attention to the Internal Asset of "Restraint" located under "Positive Values."  This asset explicitly states "Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol/drugs," for which Gorman and Sullentrop contend that "Collections and programs can speak to this asset" (ibid, 36).

Now, the issue I have is not really with the alcohol and drugs portion of the above statement.  I do believe it is important for youth to attempt to steer clear from these dangerous substances.  In actuality, it is really the "Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active..." part that  bothers me.  To this end, it is simply the word order here that gets me going.

Imagine if the statement had read instead, "Young person believes it is not important to be sexually active..."  Can you sense the difference?  Phrasing the statement in this manner neutralizes the disparaging tone, in my opinion.  Seemingly, the fact that this developmental asset is referred to as "Restraint" also implies a certain judgmental connotation to me. As librarians, it our role to provide teens with the resources and instill in them the critical thinking skills, so that they can make their own informed and educated decisions. We cannot develop collections and programs with condemnatory and disapproving judgements in mind.  Moreover, it has been proven in schools around the nation that Abstinence Only Until Marriage (AOUM) programs not only fail to achieve their desired result of preventing teens from having sex, but also create harmful outcomes that adversely affect certain marginalized groups of the population.

Perhaps I am over-analyzing this, I would love to hear what y'all think!!


1 comment:

  1. So, reading Chapter 4 ("Teen Sex: Facts and Fictions") of Jennifer Burek Pierce's Sex, Brains, and Video Games sort of gave me pause on my post above, as the author contends that "There is a difference between creating a balanced collection and functioning as a provocateur, and insisting that teens should be supported in rebelling against family or community reflects the latter" (Burek Pierce, 89).

    Although, this is no way whatsoever what I was suggesting in my post - more that as a librarian you should provide accurate information sans judgement, as you would for any other information need. In this way, it is up to the user to interpret the information and apply to his or her particular situation. I strongly feel that it is not the role of library to adopt any moral position on any personal facet of our patrons lives.

    That being said; however, Burek Pierce did point out that there are several clear benefits to delaying the onset of sexual activity and that almost uniformly across the board many teens had wished they had waited longer. She maintains that "Public health researchers are interested in these issues not because of concerns about teens growing up too fast or because of moral stances, but because there are demonstrable negative health and life outcomes when teens become sexually active at early age" (ibid, 90).

    Indeed, sexual behaviors may be tied to subsequent risky behaviors that endanger the overall well-being of the teen. On the one hand I do believe this is true, but on the other hand, I see how this statement can correspond to a bit of a generalization...

    While I don't personally comfortable advocating chastity to teen library patrons for reasons reflected in my original post, I can get behind Burek Pierce's notion of building well-balanced collections that send public health messages, and encourage communication between teens and parents. With regard to popular media and the sexualization of young people, perhaps this warrants consideration as well.

    The bottom line according to Burek Pierce is that librarians need to question if we are acting in teens' best interests by not judging their delicate information needs and unwaveringly supporting teens' rights(ibid, 102).

    More than anything, it is imperative to be aware of the research (i.e. that it is sound to delay sex) and resultantly to provide teens a wide variety of sources/perspectives on sex and sexual health, always striving to involve parents and public health experts in how you impart information on sex to teens.