Context Book Reflection

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

This book provided a spectacular look into the online lives and behaviors of young people in the new generation. The members of my immediate family are older than me, so I’m very often not around young people. This reading has given me a renewed appreciation for the complex social landscapes that teenagers have to navigate within – especially as it relates to the difficulties in balancing schoolwork, part time jobs, self-discovery, social lives, and a desire for independence while also being in the awkward stage between childhood (restrictions) and adulthood (freedom).

Reading through Boyd’s recounting of her encounters with teens, it’s surprising to hear that the same parental conflicts that emerged when I was a 13-year-old begging my parents to allow me to create Myspace, Xanga, or AIM accounts seem to have lingered over a decade later. I remember not understanding why adults were so suspicious of the internet. At one point, I even began blaming those cantankerous old geezers on the news for unfairly influencing adults’ perceptions about the web. Boyd saw a need to directly confront parents’ most pressing suspicions about the internet and tackles them according to seven major areas – identity, privacy, addiction, danger, bullying, inequality, and literacy.

This content seems to align well with our course content, especially as it relates to participatory service. Of course, it’s our goal to engage all library users including young people and to encourage them to participate within our evolving libraries (Stephens). Naturally, each type of patron will have varying needs and desires, so to better serve communities of young people in particular, an important first step would be to understand how they actually use new technologies. Equipped with this knowledge, we may more effectively involve them in our participatory services.

As an example, if we understand that young people tend to conceptualize privacy as relief from relentless, prying parents/guardians rather than as an effort to protect themselves from government surveillance (Boyd, 2014), as many parents and adults do, we can begin to understand the value that providing specialized youth spaces might have for them. We can further engage them by requesting, for example, feedback and suggestions from them about the quality and features of the space(s) provided to them – as shown in some examples in the Module 4 lecture.

Another way to engage this population would be to consider using some of the tools suggested in several of our reading assignments for Module 4 – by utilizing service designs like crowdsourcing (Mack, 2013) or by taking better advantage of current social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to engage our young users rather than just making one-sided announcements to them (Casey, 2011). Taking a more user-centered approach to services can greatly impact the way that library staff interact with youth, the way that young users perceive modern library services, and the way that both staff and youth communicate with each other.

Take a look at this lovely TED Talk by Pam Smith. Apart from discussing the how libraries of the 21st century are creating new and innovative ways to encourage users to participate in library services, she discusses how important it is for us to respond to young users’ needs openly rather than shutting them down as a reflex. This point was echoed in another one of our readings this week: Dr. Stephens along with Michael Casey mentioned that this type of negative attitude is decreasing “as libraries begin to listen to their users, come to learn about new technological tools, and see that a ‘yes but quietly’ is so much better than a big ‘NO’” (Casey & Stephens, 2007).

Overall, while a lot of the issues discussed in in Boyd’s book could double as a fantastic resource for parents of teenagers, it can provide those of us who are librarians with incredibly nuanced information about how young people engage with the diverse, dynamic technologies of today. Additionally, it can equip us with the knowledge necessary to encourage them to share their invaluable input about the library services that affect them the most.


Boyd, D. (2014). It’s complicated: The social lives of networked teens. New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Casey, M. (2011). Revisiting Participatory Service in Trying Times. Retrieved from

Casey, M. & Stephens, M. (2007). A Road Map to Transparency. Retrieved from

Mack, C. (2013). Crowdsourced Design: Why Los Angeles is Asking the Public to Create the Library of the Future. Retrieved from

Stephens, M. Participatory service and transparency. [Panopto Lecture]. Retrieved from


4 Thoughts.

  1. It is so very tricky to market to the younger demographic. My teen cannot stand Facebook and I think many feel the same and they also know when they are being directly marketed to, they can smell it a mile away. It’s funny but my daughter seems more concerned about privacy than I am.
    Enlightening post!

    • Absolutely! I think it’s easy once we get older to forget what it was like to be a teenager. I know I’m definitely guilty of this and it’s not difficult to develop an almost infantilizing perception of them. They’re so much more knowledgeable and aware about important things than they’re often given credit for.

  2. Hi Bree, Thanks for sharing your book review on It’s Complicated. I work in public education and some teacher friends and I read this book over the summer. I wasn’t wearing my librarian hat when I read the book but was instead thinking about teens in high school and the ways that teaching hasn’t caught up with the science that we now know about the teen brain and technology. You do a great job in your posting tying the book to the themes of the class and I learned quite a bit from your observations about teens, tech, and the library. Thanks for sharing. The video TEd talk is great.

    • Hi, @maryfinn! That’s extremely interesting and definitely something I’d be interested in learning more about. I’m sure there are lots of discussions going on about how to modify current high school curriculum to match up with advancements in technology and science. I’m glad you enjoyed my little post! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar