The Hamilton Public Library is getting much better at tracking its data and producing in-depth reports on library usage.
Last week, they released a report on physical circulation demographics across all the branches. The data shows teens are under-represented as borrowers of the library’s physical materials. This probably didn’t surprise anyone; however, at two branches – Kenilworth and Mount Hope – borrowing by those 14 to 24 was in line with their proportion of the catchment demographics.
I emailed Lita Barrie, Director, Collections & Youth Services for the HPL to discuss the report. We had a very healthy discussion during the past few days, both by email and at the Central branch prior to the Library Board meeting on Wednesday. Librarians have also taken the time to discuss the data with me.
The Library’s borrowing numbers don’t capture the wide range of teen activities offered. For a start, Teens have their own sub-site on HPL.ca which is linked at the top left of every HPL page. There is a Teen Advisory Group providing feedback, and a whole range of programming dedicated to teens across the system.
Barrie explained that teen borrowing increases during the release of popular titles, and the importance of this to physical circulation:
In the last number of years, we’ve seen some incredibly popular teen books such as the Twilight and Hunger Games series that have driven significant increases in teen readership. We haven’t had a teen title with that kind of broad appeal in the last year or so and hope to see that trend reappears. We also have teens choosing to access digital content and they can access content both from HPL and their school.
Teens are making use of the library, one only needs to walk into a branch and sit for an hour to see that.
This data doesn’t include a variety of activities such wireless access, programs and volunteer opportunities that do not require use of a library card but that many teens access. As you noted, the Saltfleet Branch is a wonderful example of teens utilizing the Library for wireless access and study space. We offer a wide range of teen volunteer opportunities. In 2016, we had over 600 teen volunteers at the Library. We strive to provide opportunities for teens to contribute their skills and expertise in meaningful ways and they have made incredible contributions to our communities volunteering with our Homework Help Program, Reading Buddies, Tech Tutors, Teen Advisory Group, Knit for a Cause and Teen Review Board. The Library’s programs are also free, open to all and don’t necessitate having a library card to participate. For over 20 years we’ve offered the Power of the Pen writing program which has supported countless young authors including current Ward 1 Councillor Aidan Johnson. We are seeing teens take great interest in our Makerspaces and technology programs and we are continually seeking new ways to reach out and engage with this important sector of our community.
Without a doubt, teens are making use of the library branches. Study groups are common at branches in the evening. During the day at Saltfleet, students from the adjoined high school use the library for study, and for small gatherings. Central Branch’s fourth floor gets very busy in the evening with students from Sir John A MacDonald, and Westmount students who need a central location for group study. Central branch hosts the popular Unfiltered Facts program each Monday.
The Library is having some of the same challenges of youth engagement, with programs canceled due to lack of interest, as other agencies.
In the coming months, the Library is hoping to present more data on teen usage; which will be very interesting to see.
The HPL is a member of YSAN (Youth Serving Agency Network), which is an umbrella organization of agencies serving youth. “The Network is engaged in excellent work mapping the existing opportunities for teens in the City and looking at next steps to increase access of and awareness of resources and programs,” says Barrie.
It will be very interesting to see what these forthcoming datasets show, and how agencies respond. With a city-wide footprint, the Library is in a position to further lead on youth engagement.