Communities and Collections

Sex in the Stacks: Teenager Sex Education Information Seeking Behaviour and Barriers to the Use of Library Resources

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • The proliferation of sex education information sources in the 21st century has left teenagers with a wealth of available sources on the topic. However, hegemonic narratives from classroom education alienate certain youth, while negative misinformation from unreliable sources has the power to instill harmful behaviours. At even greater risk are youth coping with traumatic experiences, particularly survivors of sexual assault and queer teens, or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds that have limited Internet access. This qualitative study identifies the explicit and implicit choices teenagers make to seek and select specific information sources for sex education, and examines the factors that prevent teenagers from searching for such information from library resources. Oriented in Dervin’s sense-making theory, this study acknowledges that information is conceptualized as an internalized, subjective construction, and gaps in knowledge prompt seeking behaviour. Data was collected in the form of semi-structured, face-to-face interviews comprised of open-ended questions with four participants aged 14-17 years old. The results suggest that teenagers use a variety of sources to gather information about sex, including curricular instruction, the Internet, interpersonal, media and print sources. A wide range of factors attracted participants to use sources, such as ease, privacy, comfort, perceived experience, familiarity, openness and assured provenance. The teenagers also assessed source credibility in a more systematic manner for Internet or print sources than for interpersonal sources, which were generally approved based on experience or value-alignment with the seeker. None of the participants visited the library for sex education, and lack of awareness of collections as well as confidentiality concerns represented the main barriers to use. A more open, diverse approach to collections development and promotion that respects and communicates patron confidentiality, as proposed by Levine, would respond to these concerns and increase use of library sex education resources.

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  • Type of Item
    Conference/Workshop Presentation
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  • License
    Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International