A Place to Belong

Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
A Place to Belong
The vast city of San Antonio, Texas, is a myriad of colors, shapes and
sizes in her architecture, her culture, and her atmosphere and most
importantly in her peoples. Nearly 70 percent of individuals answering
the 2000 census indicated they were white, but the number dropped
nearly half to 35.6% White when those of Hispanic or Latino origin were
excluded from that figure. This figure is not indicative of the state
statistics. The Hispanic community of San Antonio makes up 54.3% of
the total population of the city. Hispanics make up only 32% of the
states total population (2000 Census). The remainder of the population
in San Antonio is made up of 7% African American, 1.6% Asian, .8%
American Indian, .1% Pacific Islander. 17.8% of the respondents to the
census reported being of some other race and 3.6% reported they were of
two or more races.
Racial statistics do not paint a complete picture. The city of San Antonio
has a population in which 43.2% of the individuals speak a language
other than English at home. The city is more stable in terms of moving
from home to home than the rest of the state and does have a high
school graduate rate that is 1.2% higher than the state average. San
Antonio’s average per capita income is $1,254 less than the state average
of $19,617, leaving nearly 19% of the city’s population below the poverty
The population that was considered for this ethnographic study does not
reflect the city’s statistics. James Madison High School, in the North
East Independent School District, is an Agriscience Magnate School and
a National Blue Ribbon School. The campus houses nearly 3,000
students and approximately 20% of the student body participates in the
Agriscience courses (Marco). The student body is 54.6% white, 31.7%
Hispanic, 10.7% African American, 2.8% Asian and Pacific Islander and
.1% Native American (AEIS). A full 22.5% of the students at Madison are
considered economically disadvantaged, 3.5% above the city’s average.
In 1999-2000, school year (the last year these statistics were available)
6.9% of the population had a disciplinary placement during the year and
roughly, 18% of the population qualifies for Special Education Services
As I began the fieldwork for this study, I was guided by the burning
desire to know what kids wanted in a library in the freshman age range.
What kinds of things would draw them into the environment and engage
them once they were in the environment. I wanted to look at how a
suburban school with an agricultural base might meet the needs of its
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
I started gathering hard data with a survey (Appendix A). It was
administered in my classroom on a voluntary basis during a cell of free
time. The questions centered on the use of technology and desired
services in a library. Seventy-three students participated.
Overwhelmingly these young people want to be with other people their
own age and the favorite place to go by a landslide was the movies/mall.
The movies and the mall were melded as one unit in 90% of the
responses which I find rather odd since we only have two movie theatres
in San Antonio truly in a mall setting, both of which are a great distance
from our geographic location.
Most of the students surveyed indicated that the public library was a
great place to go for research and information. They also indicated,
however, that the public library did not currently play a large role in their
lives, that they only go when they need some resource. When asked
about the role of the school library in their lives the answers ran the
gamut from, “A small role. I barely go there”, to and answer that would
be music to librarian’s ears, “A big one. I go there to meet friends, do
research and finish school stuff.”
In terms of technology use the students I had direct data from indicated
they spend a great deal of time in front of the television and computer
screens, sometimes simultaneously! About 60% reported they would
turn on the television and the computer and chat via instant messages
with friends about what is on the television. In an open classroom
discussion completed about two weeks after the survey I asked how
many had television and computers in their room…23%. This was
staggering to me because I had constructed an idea in my head of
everyone in the family room together. Most students indicated that their
parents were not in tune with what they do on the computer.
For local, national and world news they rely heavily on television with a
smattering of Internet readers and six who “occasionally” read a
newspaper or newsmagazine. For family news they use the telephone
and face-to-face communication, a few reported emailing, but said, “It
takes too long to write it out”.
I was not surprised by the survey’s results pertaining to what services
students wanted and why. These young people have been raised in the
age of Starbuck’s and Borders. Of the students who offered opinions on
the questions of, “ What services do you want and why”, they offered a
resounding unified answer. Comfort, all kinds of creature comfort. The
students suggested the normal coffee bar, comfortable chairs, a listening
room for music and/or video, and one commented, “A snack bar would
really be the coolest!” Internet access that allows them to check email
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
and/or chat was high on the list of “must haves”. Of the students who
do email, the average number of email received/sent is six.
In terms of what students would do, if they were the librarians, to create
and sustain student interest in the library the students were consistent.
Many suggested better advertising, posters and fliers about new arrivals
in the library and surveys to find out teen’s reading interests. There
were a few complaints that the books all “seemed” old. A number of
students mentioned, “be friendly and helpful”.
The last section of the survey was an “open mike” question asking if they
had any further thoughts to share. “With the internet now so easily
accessible, libraries, in terms of research, are no longer necessary. Soon
you’ll be able to download books so libraries will no longer be needed.”
And another cryptic thought, “Sorry if my thoughts weren’t too
wonderful, I don’t particularly care for the library and can not think of
anything that will cause me to visit regularly.”
After careful review of the surveys and mulling over the comments, I had
some thoughts about what the students had said. I had a chance to
have some casual time to chat about the surveys. One of the things that
really struck a cord with me was the number of students who had
mentioned that the librarians should be friendly, because I feel that
customer service is the number one goal in any personal contact work.
The students expressed that the librarians always seemed to be in a bad
mood and they felt as if they were bothering her to get help. One young
man commented, “She is all mean, and that, well, I am mean right back
to her.” I saw this as a defense mechanism in this student, he felt
rejected so he lashed out. I also happen to believe that the librarian did
probably feel interrupted, she is all alone, only student aids, in a school
library for 3,000 students.
In these conversations, which occurred over the course of several days in
bits and pieces, the consensus I deciphered solidified for me, these
students wanted a place to belong, to call their own that they felt was
created with them in mind and for their pleasure. They “get” the use of
the library for research and respect that significance. “Miss, the library
is a place to go work, not to have fun!” They do not conceive of the
library as a place of pleasure, and that is what they seek. If something
pleasurable can also teach them something, they would come along
willingly. They seem to feel disconnected from the applicability of this
formal type of education and wanted some purpose. The vast majority
was willing to admit to being a bit lazy in their exploration of the library.
One student remarked, “Miss, you are wacked, the library is not a fun
place, it is worse than that tomb for Juliet in the Zepherelli version!” I
pointed out the irony, “Had we not read the play, you could not make
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
that connection, that is what the library is all about!” The bell rang and I
was still “wacked”.
I decided to branch out of my school area and check out what was going
on in the “Enchilada”, as the San Antonio Public Library’s Main branch
is referred to fondly. I made my way down during spring break to the
party hosted by YOUTH (WIRED), the teen connection for the system.
Even bleary eyed from a lack of sleep I could see the differences in the
students I was working with and the ones I found here. These students
were having a ball in the library, it was loud as the bands played in an
auditorium and there was good food and they were sprawled out on the
floors and in comfortable chairs. The first coherent thought I had was
that my students would have loved to be involved with this. There were
fliers all around with notices about homework help and the later hours (9
p.m. most nights).
The librarians were really nice to the students and the students were
obviously comfortable with them. I was not as warmly received into the
scene. I did not fit. I stuck out like a sore thumb. Within minutes of my
arrival I was approached by someone it took me, a minute to realize was
not a student. A youth librarian that looked 16, with an interesting
piercing and some colorful hair introduced herself. I explained who I was
and why I was visiting. She was considerate but made it clear that I
could not stay long, “This is a space for them…we try to keep it that
way.” I felt rejected on one hand and very pleased on the other. The
students were polite to me, but the conversations I could overhear would
turn most librarians I know white headed. They were not saying
anything inappropriate. The slang they used was non-conformist and
the Youth Librarians were fully integrated into the mode communication
and had a rapport with the students that was tangible.
After my “Enchilada” experience I went home, looked my web page over,
and decided on an extra credit assignment. I linked to the Youth (Wired)
site and offered extra credit for posting a book review. By looking
through the site to find where to put a book review, they will be exposed
to what is offered. This is my way of opening a door to a new experience
for those who are willing.
This visit also confirmed what, to a certain extent, I had concluded about
my students. Young people wanted a place to belong, to call their own
that they felt was created with them in mind and for their pleasure. The
teens I saw at the Main branch are provided a place where they feel
wanted and useful and they were there, having fun. Regardless of where
teens may be found, inner city or deep suburbia, they are of an
egocentric and somewhat narcissistic stage of development and we must
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
find a way to serve them that attempts to lessen alienation and seeks to
develop communication.
As personal aside, I believe that many of the needs that I observed in
these youth should be fulfilled in their home life.
In tangential
conversations students mentioned both directly and indirectly that they
whished they could talk to their parents more. I had a couple, very well
adjusted, students who said they did talk to their parents and had great
relationships, ironically enough, they said they don’t get to the library
much because they just hit Borders for a good book and coffee with mom
or dad!
I did not really like the early phases of the research because I did not feel
adequate. I found myself looking too broadly at the issues at hand and
what I wanted to know. Once I narrowed the focus, the research began
to make sense. I still would like to do the whole thing over again and be
more prepared, I am definitely a “Lilly”. I do believe that my desire to
start over is a good reflection. I see it as a desire to look deeper, seek
more clearly, to really begin to know. Perhaps, as I consider the
assignment of this task, the purpose becomes evident. I have been
challenged by this project to evaluate what I think a library should be
and have to compare that to what the patrons I will serve think a library
should be. This generation is savvy and heavily marketed and they want
to be sold. If the library wants to have the breath of youth, then it must
sell itself to the youth.
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
Marco, Barbra. James Madison High School. Personal interview.
12 March 2003.
Ploch, Donna. James Madison High School. Telephone interview.
31 March 2003.
San Antonio Public Library. Youth (Wired). March 27, 2002.
< http://www.youthwired.sat.lib.tx.us/events/spring_break_2003__party.htm>
Texas Education System. Academic Excellence Indicator System.
March 28, 2003.
United States Census. Quick Facts. March 28, 2003.
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
Appendix A
Student Information Services Survey
Hello, I am doing a project for a graduate course on the History and Culture of Youth
Services. I am interested in getting your ideas and opinions on what is going on with
your age group and information use. This survey is completely anonymous. Please do
not put your name on this survey.
Please answer the following questions as completely as possible. Your well thought out
and honest answers would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for participating. Feel free
to write on the back. Please fold and staple/tape your form and return it to Mrs.
What do you do in your spare time for entertainment?
If you have an opportunity, where do you like to hang out?
What role does the public library play in your life?
How do you find news and information about the following:
The world:
The Nation:
Local news and information:
Family news and information:
What role does the school library play in your life? Do you use it? Is it just there when
you need it?
What is your most frequently used form of technology? (Phone, TV, CD, computer,
other) In addition, for what do you most commonly use it?
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
How many hours per day do you use the following:
Television/DVD/VCR watching
In your opinion what services should a school library offer?
Why should a school library these services? What makes them important to you?
Do you maintain a personal web page? What kind of information is on it?
How many emails do you send or receive on average per day? Are these for fun? To
make friends? To get information? Explain briefly.
Do you use Instant Messaging?
What would a library need to offer, that would interest you, to cause you to visit
Have you participated in on-line gaming? Which games?
Have you participated in a MUDD or a MOO? Which one and how frequently?
Do you use online games, MUDs or MOOS just
Rebecca L. Morrison
Spring 2003
SLIS 5960.004
Dr. E. Figa
Appendix B
Teens from the Main Library during Spring Break.
Madison Criminal Justice club above and the Technology Students
Association below
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