Teens and social networking in libraries

How online social networking facilitates learning in schools and libraries

This article is adapted from a toolkit created by the Young Adult Library Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, in 2007. You can learn more about YALSA and social networking by visiting

What are social networking technologies? They are software that enables people to connect, collaborate and form virtual communities via the computer and/or Internet. Social networking websites are those that provide this opportunity to interact. Sites that allow visitors to send emails, post comments, build web content and/or take part in live chats are all considered to be social networking sites.

Social networking technologies have many positive uses in schools and libraries. They are an ideal environment for teens to share what they are learning or to build something together online. The nature of the medium allows teens to receive feedback from librarians, teachers, peers, parents, and others. Social networking technologies create a sense of community (as do the physical library and school) and in this way are already aligned with the services and programs at the library and/or school.

Schools and libraries are working to integrate positive uses of social networking into their classrooms, programs, and services. By integrating social networking technologies into educational environments, teens have the opportunity to learn from adults how to be safe and smart when participating in online social networks. They also learn a valuable life skill, as these social networking technologies are tools for communication that are widely used in colleges and in the workplace. Here are a few examples of how teens are being introduced to the positive uses of social networking technologies:

  • A maths teacher has students serve as scribes on class blogs. Students post notes, visuals, formulas, activities and comments related to each day's lesson. They also post reflections about their learning at least once before each test. Using the technology in this way gives students the chance to process learning and as a result better understand the content. See
  • A school uses blogging software to publish its newspaper. The blog format allows for timely publication and the ability to make updates easily. This format also allows for comments from readers and easy navigation to archived stories. Publication costs are minimal (no colour print costs!) and there is no limit to the length of the paper, allowing for more student participation. See
  • An author creates a blog as a way to reflect on the reading and writing experience. Teens who enjoy the author's work keep up on what the author is writing and thinking through the blog. The author blog is used as a research source and as a way to communicate with the author about books, reading, and writing. See
  • Two biology teachers in different parts of the country are working with students on the topic of water quality and ecology. The teachers create a joint wiki for the unit of study. As students find information on the topic, they post to the water quality wiki findings, observations, and useful resources. Together students build an online resource (their own encyclopaedia) on the topic.
  • A public library creates a MySpace site as a way to connect with teens in the community. The space includes quick and easy access to the library catalogue and other research tools. It also includes information on programs and services at the library in which teens can take part. Teens who are not traditional library users learn about and use the library through MySpace because they are familiar and comfortable with the technology. Teens make the library one of their MySpace friends and then are reminded of the library whenever they log onto their space. See Imagin On Library Loft at and Hennepin County Library at
  • A high school student creates a MySpace site for a British poet she needs to study. As she gathers information, she enters it into the poet's MySpace profile. She uses the blog function to post the poems she analyses. Before long, other MySpace authors and poets (some real, some not) befriend her poet. They comment on what is written and lead the student to more resources. The student has to adopt the persona of her poet and imagine what the poet's responses might actually be.
  • An author creates a MySpace account as a way to keep in touch with teen readers. The author's space includes biographical information, book information, and reflections on reading and writing. Teens interested in the author can communicate with him or her via MySpace and are able to perform primary source research via the author's site. See Rachel Cohn at

Educating the Community about Online Social Networking

In the media there are many examples of how social networking has played a dangerous role in teen lives. However, positive examples of how this technology supports teen literacy skills and developmental growth are not so readily found. For that reason, librarians should play an active role in educating parents, teachers, and other members of the community about the positive benefits of social networking in teen lives. The following examples of how you can educate your community provide a starting point. When planning these events, be sure to enlist your Teen Advisory Group (TAG) to help you plan and implement the workshops.

  • Create and distribute brochures and post information online about what your library is already doing to ensure that children and teens are safe online. Include information about Internet filters and Internet Acceptable Use Policies that your library has produced.
  • Invite parents and educators to a workshop where they can learn about MySpace and other social networking tools. In the workshop have librarians and teachers discuss how MySpace is being used in the classroom and library. Have law enforcement officials talk about how to help teens stay safe while participating in social networking online. Have teens with well–designed MySpace spaces demonstrate the positive ways they use social networking tools.
  • Host Do–It–Yourself Days for adults to learn how to use social networking sites and tools successfully. After an introduction about what social networking is, and why it's an important part of a teen's life, teens from your TAG could work with adults on using the tools in a way that enhances their own lives. Teens might show adults how to set up: a blog that showcases a hobby or special interest, a MySpace space to keep in touch with friends, a Flickr account so they can share family photos, an IM account to conduct live chats with family members overseas etc.
  • Create an online demo or class that gives adults the chance to test out and discuss social networking technologies at their leisure and in a somewhat anonymous setting. Make the demo available from your library's website. Use your TAG group to help develop the demo.
  • Host a community debate about local, state and/or national legislation that seeks to regulate social networking websites. One example of proposed legislation (USA) is the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). Invite local experts on both sides of an issue to participate the debate. Provide handouts and background information for attendees.
  • Use social networking technologies as an access point for your library's services. Create a MySpace as a place for adults and teens to learn out about programs and materials. Set up a blog where adults and teens read about what's going on in the library and can add comments about programs, materials, and so on. Develop a booklist wiki where adults and teens can add titles of books on specific themes.
  • Inform community members about how social networking tools allow for schools and libraries to integrate technology in meaningful ways with and for teens at low (or no) cost. Many schools and libraries are cashstrapped or operate without a lot of in–house technical expertise. With free blogging software a school librarian or teacher can create a website without learning how to code and can update and maintain that website with no extra training.
  • Produce a podcast for teachers, administrators, parents, and community members that focus on the positive aspects of social networking technologies. The podcast might be distributed weekly and could include overviews of the technologies, interviews with teens about their use of technology, interviews with experts in technology and teen development who discuss how the technologies support teen growth and literacy development, and so on.
  • Create and distribute an information sheet for adults that provide information about the positive aspects of social networking, and that includes annotated lists of resources. You can also post the information on your library's website, blog, wiki, or MySpace.
  • Sponsor a scholarly presentation, or series of presentations, for local educators and concerned adults by experts in the field of developmental assets, teen print literacy in the world of technology, and social networking. Ask speakers to focus directly on how social networking technologies have positive benefits for teens.

Educating Teens about Online Social Networking

You can help teens use social networking technologies successfully, and safely, by sponsoring programs and services that focus on these technologies. The following examples are available to help you get started. Show these examples to your TAG and see which one(s) they feel are important to offer in your community. Have your TAG help plan and carry out the event(s).

  • Offer a class to teach teens how to use When teens set up their blog you can facilitate a discussion about how to be safe when blogging, whether or not it's a good idea to have open comments on the blog, etc.
  • Host Do–It–Yourself Days for teens where they learn about a variety of social networking technologies. You might have a day for photo–sharing technologies, another day for bookmarking sites, another day for friend building, and so on. During each of the sessions you can talk with teens about how to make decisions about safe use of these technologies.
  • Work with teens to produce podcasts on topics of interest. They might review media and books, talk about what's going on in the community, book talk, etc. As a part of the podcast process, have teens write outlines of the content they want to cover and talk with them about who they want to make the podcast available to.
  • With teens create a library books and media wiki as a means for recommending resources to library patrons. Train teens on how to update the content of the wiki and talk about how to evaluate the quality of information in wikis and other types of resources.
  • Take photos at the library and have teens upload and tag them on Flickr or another photo–sharing and tagging site. As a part of the uploading and tagging process, discuss with teens whether or not the photos should be private or public. As they tag the photos, ask them to consider what the best ways are to describe content in order for friends or the public (if the photos are made public) to find them.
  • Have teens create accounts for collecting resources they can use in school research. The teens can network with classmates and peers in in order to learn about resources their peers have uncovered that support learning on a particular topic. Use networking as a jumping off point for a discussion of evaluating information quality.
  • Use Flickr as a platform for creative writing exercises with teens. Upload your own, or teens', photos to Flickr and then have teens write their thoughts, ideas, and feelings related to photos that you've uploaded.
  • Invite a technology expert in to talk with teens about how social networking tools work.
  • Give teens the chance to connect with favourite authors, artists, musicians, and so on via MySpace and personal blogs. Teens can search for the spaces and blogs using common searching tools and then comment on the blogs and MySpace spaces of those they connect with.
  • Build a library MySpace with teens. Have teens meet to plan the space, including what it should look like and include. Work with them to build the site, and develop guidelines for blogging, commenting, and making friends on the site. As a part of this project, talk with teens about how to decide whether or not to accept those who want to befriend them on MySpace. Add value to your MySpace presence through links to online safety and library resources. Make it possible for teens to add your catalogue search on their MySpace accounts.

Social Networking Sites
Combines bookmarking and tagging. Allows users to network with others in order to keep track of what is being bookmarked by those with similar interests.

A photo–sharing site that allows users to tag images.

My Space
Users build their space on the web and then invite others to be their friends.

A searchable database of blogs


Reprinted with permission of YALSA