The launch of a new website hardly is newsworthy anymore, even if it is mobile-friendly, chock full of fresh resources and boasting an improved search engine.
So the developers of Hennepin County Library’s “improved” website, which was to debut in early October, might be surprised to discover that librarians, not generally considered the most raucous among us, have quite the loud roar.
The librarians’ displeasure with the new website is due in part to lack of transparency and public input as the site was being created — an ironic twist, occurring as it did under the roof of society’s most revered institution of free and open information.
Mostly, though, they’re alarmed by the decision to shut down two highly popular youth websites, KidLinks and TeenLinks, which receive thousands of young visitors weekly.
The information for kids, which includes book recommendations, connections to homework help and a teen-centric events calendar, hasn’t disappeared. It’s been merged into the greater adult website, which promises better eBook access and new ways “to use the library resources you love.”
Some vocal teen and adult librarians say that the shift marginalizes tech-savvy young people and, ultimately, will push them away to other sites.
“Engaging online spaces that cultivated the love of reading have disappeared, replaced by a single page of staff-developed book lists shoehorned into a site clearly developed for adults,” said a frustrated Glenn Peterson. He retired in February 2013 after 29 years with Hennepin County Library, the last 18 years overseeing the library’s website.
In May, Peterson launched an online petition to ask that the decision be reversed. More than 140 media specialists have signed it.
“I definitely appreciate Hennepin County Library’s efforts to provide a website that’s mobile-friendly,” said signer Melissa Glavas, library media specialist for Richfield High School. She has used TeenLinks and KidLinks and calls them “fabulous resources.” She added, “So it would be great for teens and kids to continue to have their own unique access and experience on the new website.”
“My students love this site,” writes another resource librarian supporting the petition. “I use it with my classes each year. It is a great way to promote lifelong learning.”
As the mom of teens, I have to agree. There’s something grand about giving kids their own place and space outside of the adult world they’re forced to navigate on a daily basis with demanding parents, teachers, coaches and bosses.
To understand how great the great divide can be for young people, take a quick stroll around the Teen Center at Minneapolis Central Library with its beanbag chairs and board games, graphic novels from floor to ceiling, a Best Buy Teen Tech Center where they can compose music and create videos and 12 computers with signs reading “Reserved for use by teens ages 12 to 19.”
Everybody else out.
They should get to experience that validation in cyberspace, too.
Library spokeswoman Ali Turner responded that during the two-year conversation around website development, she’s heard not a word of worry about the teen-access issue.
“We’ve had hundreds of comments,” said Turner, division manager for system services, “and have not heard any concerns from our library staff, nor patrons.” Library staffers have been able to preview the site for the past two weeks, she said, noting that it is “far more image-intensive, less tab-based and more like Pinterest.”
“The decision to move away from the TeenLinks brand came out of research that even teens don’t always want to go to the teen area,” she said. “We’ve grown beyond that way of thinking since the previous site was launched 10 years ago.”
Peterson is sticking to his guns. He said that killing off KidLinks and TeenLinks is “a huge mistake.”
He said, “Of the top 50 most frequently accessed pages [on the Hennepin County Library site], six are on KidLinks, four are on TeenLinks — that’s 20 percent of the sample.”
He reviewed comparable library websites around the country and discovered that 10 out of 10 have links on their home pages to sites specifically for youths. Highly respected educational organizations, including the Smithsonian and National Geographic, continue to offer sites designed for youths, he added.
Melinda Barry, media specialist for the Minnetonka School District, has found great value in accessing KidLinks and TeenLinks over the years, but she’s worry-free as she waits to see the new site.
“They assured me that kid and teen content is not going away, that it’s just a change,” said Barry, who has worked as a media specialist for 13 years.
“I trust them. It’s just a matter of teaching children how to use the new site,” she said.
So kids and teens, please take a look at the new website and let us know:
How’s it working for you?