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GETTING CONNECTED: NEW WAYS TO ATTRACT THE YOUNG.

The location, style and facilities of the New Brighton Community Library, City of Christchurch, make it very popular with local youth. This has created a conflict with the needs of older users. To address this the library ran a skateboarding workshop, with positive outcomes. Edited version of a paper presented at the Lianza conference October 2000

Take a new library, in a stunning location, built with the aim of attracting the young and the nontraditional user to the library. This is New Brighton Community Library, one of the Christchurch City Libraries network, build right on the foreshore at New Brighton.

Take a popular recreational activity, which first became a craze in the 1970s and which is now enjoying a resurgence. What do you have? A beautiful new library which doubles as a skateboarding venue! How considerate of the city fathers and architects to design a building with so many inviting ramps and slopes, not to mention beautifully tiled areas, which are perfect for youth on wheels. Even more important for the skateboarding fraternity is that it is so public. Skateboarders like to be visible--after all, what serious athlete does not enjoy being able to display his or her ability to an appreciative audience. Added to this is the fact that the local park used as a skateboarding venue was in disrepair with broken, uneven concrete and was slightly hidden from view, making it a far less attractive option than the Pier Terminus building.

The problem

How to encourage young people to use the library but also to enable all users to have access to the building without feeling intimidated by groups of unkempt youth careering past them on unsteady missiles. While librarians may hate to admit it, we have to confess there are often yawning gaps in our knowledge of youth culture; what's cool, what's not, what rocks and what sucks. The dilemma is finding a way to make the library an attractive place for the YAs without treating them like some sort of foreign and vaguely frightening species. Young people should be encouraged to think of the library as a cool place, a place where they belong as much as anyone else. However, anybody using the library should be able to do so without risking life and limb.

The solution

Why not hold a skateboarding workshop close to the library but away from the main entrance? The skateboarders need not feel persecuted (but at the same time become aware of the needs of others), while other library users enjoy free access to the building, and library staff build further links with their community.

Background

New Brighton Community Library opened in its new premises in the Pier Terminus Building, New Brighton on 29 July 1999. The style of the building, together with its location, and the fact that the library houses interactive recreational equipment has made this facility immensely popular with local YAs.

This is exciting for the library, as one of its aims was to attract nontraditional users into the library. Young people around the ages of 15-25 often fall into this category. However, succeeding with one aim has also created issues for all users, one of those issues being the popularity of the entrance area and library steps as a skateboarding venue.

While the library did not want to discourage a segment of its community from using the facility, it also had the needs of all users in mind. Library staff were particularly aware that some elderly users were discouraged from using the front entrance because of the numbers and activity of the skateboarders. In one incident, a collision between a skateboarder and an elderly lady resulted in her suffering a blow to the shins.

The proximity of the steps from the foyer area to the tiles and then to the road also create hazards for passing traffic and skateboarders. The steps have become a popular leaping off point for boarders who then zoom across the road, creating a potential for serious injury.

In an effort to continue to build relationships with young people and also to enable all users to enter the library without hindrance, staff decided to run a skateboarding workshop in the amphitheatre at the southern end of the building. It was hoped that by doing this, the library would be able to communicate to its younger users that libraries could be fun and exciting places, but also that respect for all library users was necessary.

The process

Mindful of the fact that the Christchurch City Council had included skateboarding events in its Summertimes program, the youth librarian at New Brighton Library contacted the Fendalton Service Centre, which had organised the summer youth Big Sk8 Out program. It was able to advise on details such as contacting tutors, safety requirements and loan of equipment. Previous Christchurch City Council activities such as the Big Sk8 Out involved obtaining parental consent before young people could participate. Parent/caregiver information/declaration forms were provided covering supervision, safety, cancellations, health and medical conditions, as well as program/workshop hours, what to bring and behaviour management. The form also included a disclaimer, which stated that, although `every care was taken to ensure the safety and supervision of youth attending the workshop, the Christchurch City Council accepted no responsibility for youth travelling to and from the program'. Similar forms were also used by New Brighton Library and parental consent was obtained before anyone was able to participate.

Following advice from colleagues involved in organising similar events, New Brighton Library contacted the St Johns Ambulance Association and arranged for two of its officers to be present during the workshop. Linwood Service Centre has portable skateboarding equipment which is hired to community groups. As a unit of the Christchurch City Council, the library was able to use this equipment at no charge.

Publicity material was displayed around the library. The skateboarding workshop was aimed at the 10-14 year age group and anyone interested in taking part could collect consent forms from the library.

The workshop

The workshop was split into two sessions, one from 10.00am to 12.30pm and one from 1.00pm to 3.30pm with sign in sheets available for each session. Two tutors were employed for the day. The tutors indicated a preference for group numbers not to exceed nine per tutor, so by splitting the day into two sessions it was hoped that more young people would be involved. Evaluation forms were handed out at the end of each session.

Evaluation

The weather had an effect on the day, with the second session being called off early due to rain. However, some interesting feedback was received. In total 17 signed consent forms and 19 completed evaluations were received. More than 19 took part in the workshop, but it was difficult to monitor those coming and going. Although the workshop had been aimed at those aged between 10 and 14, them was considerable interest from older groups, particularly those who happened to pass by on the day. Some of those attending the morning session stayed to take part in the afternoon session as well.

Levels of experience

Of all the skaters participating in the workshop, 3 regarded themselves as experienced skaters, another 3 as in between and the rest as beginners.

Ages

Ages of participants ranged between 8 and 26, with most being 14 (6 people) or 12 (3 people).

Length of workshop

Most participants were happy with the length of the workshop, though some wanted a longer time (one suggestion was 9am-3pm).

Level of satisfaction

When asked how the workshop could be improved, comments were

* keep practising

* have bigger ramps, more rails, grind boxes and a halfpipe (two comments)

* have pro skaters

* have a workshop every weekend

* keep it permanent (mentioned twice)

* more and different kinds of ramp, more concrete area, more tutors

* more ramps, bigger area

Equipment

As most participants were beginners, they were generally satisfied with the equipment provided. However, from the experienced skaters more transitions, more equipment and more pro skaters as demonstrators were suggested.

Venue

Participants were asked whether they would prefer such workshops to be held in the amphitheatre next to the library with portable equipment, or at another local venue. Comments received included

* anywhere, so long as the cement is smooth

* either (mentioned twice)

* at Thompson Park with this equipment

* skate park

* amphitheatre

* would like it (the workshop) to be permanent

* amphitheatre

* library

* permanent park in New Brighton

* one or the other

* in a permanent place

* here, with portable equipment (mentioned twice)

Interest in attending further workshops

17 workshop participants said they would be interested in attending other such workshops.

Other activities of interest

Participants were asked about other activities they would be interested in attending. Responses included

* surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding

* bodyboarding, BMX

* parties, skate demos

* bodyboarding, surfing

* skating (mentioned twice)

* ramp skate, jump ramps

* surfing, bodyboarding, snowboarding

* roller blading

* bodyboarding, surfing, skating, snowboarding, rugby

* watching competitions, lessons

Activities the library should offer

Responses included

* build a reef out the front

* bodyboarding, surfing

* more skateboarding movies

* skateboarding

* skating

* surfing

Use of the library

Participants were also asked what they used the library for at present. Responses included

* watching skating and surfing videos

* borrowing books, music, meeting friends, listening to music

* borrowing mags

* borrowing books

* using playstations, homework

* using playstations

* skating and watching videos

* videos, homework, cooling down after skating

* videos

* meeting friends

* homework

* school projects

* homework, books, skating on steps

* skating

* mags, books, homework

Costs for the workshop

New Brighton Library arranged the workshop, which included organising two tutors to be present all day, pick up, delivery and storage of equipment, and presence of two St John Ambulance officers.

Costs involved were
Tutors
 two people at $15.00 per hour
 for six hours each $180.00

Pick up and delivery of equipment
 two men at $65.00 per hour each
 two hours total $260.00

Hire of equipment no charge

St Johns Ambulance donation $80.00

Total costs for workshop $520.00


The donation to St John Ambulance was paid by the New Brighton Project, so total costs incurred by the library were $440.00

This compares well with other events held regularly by the library. For example
Professional storytelling $100 - $250 per hour

Music and movements session
for preschoolers $ 70 half hour

Face painting $100 per one hour


Conclusion

Library staff, workshop tutors and participants all had positive responses to the workshop. Although part of the day was lost due to bad weather, it created good feeling between library staff and young skaters, who may or may not be users of the library. Formal and informal feedback suggested that everyone felt such a workshop was a good idea and one that they would like to see continuing. It was obvious that holding the workshop helped bridge the gap between the library and this part of its community.

While the workshop was being held, there were no skateboarders outside the library so all users could access the building without feeling intimidated.

The day after the workshop, young people asked for the equipment to be set up again. Unfortunately, this was not possible, as the equipment did not belong to the library and the presence of St John's Ambulance officers or supervising staff could not be offered. However, it was pleasing to see young people who are usually uncomfortable about approaching staff, feeling comfortable enough to enquire about facilities. Staff also noticed that older skaters were offering advice to younger skaters and were even suggesting to young skateboarders that they move away from the area directly outside the library entrance.

The library felt the workshop had been very successful. It provided local skateboarders with a venue as well as professional tutors to demonstrate and offer advice. It also meant that skateboarders were not using the library entrance as a venue and, therefore, other users were not inhibited in using the library.

The workshop also contributed to a positive relationship with local community groups, such as the New Brighton Project, which donated $80.00 to the St John Ambulance Association, covering its attendance that day.

While the workshop took up staff time for organisation, this was mainly because arrangements and requirements were new to library staff. Subsequent workshops would not require as much time. Costs involved were comparable with other library events and were not considered prohibitive.

The impact of organising and holding a workshop such as this was overwhelmingly positive. Some people did ask if this was the sort of thing libraries should do. The library responded that as a community place, it was important to be in touch with the needs and desires of our community.

Libraries need to remain relevant to the communities that they serve, and to be seen as important social places for everyone. Organising an activity like the workshop was completely valid, given the needs of the particular community and was also a simple solution to the dilemma apparent in trying to encourage access to the building to all groups in the area.

Since the workshop, the library has continued with its aim of attracting the YAs by staging several events in the 2000 TILT Youth Festival (a citywide festival focusing on the 14-18 age group), and has planned chat groups with local young people. A second skateboarding workshop is also being planned.

Reaction from the participants could be summed up by one comment from a young man surprised, but pleased, to see the library organising such an activity who said `We didn't think the library liked us'.

Library staff know that libraries, as institutions, can convey a rather stiff, rule bound image. Despite our best efforts, the image remains. Yet we are still surprised to hear comments such as this from young people. Imagine the paradox apparent to a young person in a building which is purposely designed to have the WOW factor, a place which sets out to attract them with multimedia, with technology and up to the minute fittings, but which also sets out to deter those same young people from taking part in their favourite activity.

Everyone wants to be liked. The library wants the community it serves to appreciate it and use it. Is it too difficult to take a chance once in a while? Do something a little `unlibraryish' and show the community that you do like them, really.

Dawn McMillan BA(Hons) MLis has worked in medical and public libraries since 1994, most recently as Youth Librarian at the New Brighton Community Library of Christchurch City Libraries. In November 2000 she was appointed to an information services position at the Physical Sciences Library University of Canterbury. Address: Central Library University of Canterbury Private Bag 4800 Christchurch NZ tel +6433642987x7590 d.mcmillan@libr.canterbury.ac.nz
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Author:McMillan, Dawn
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2001
Words:2454
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