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Fast-paced, third millennial sociological shifts have created a Generation Z of teenagers, otherwise known as the ‘iGen’ who are very different from the X and Y generations. Driven by technology, these digital natives are hard researchers, avid gamers, and social media experts with a desire to be entertained on demand. The world of smart technology, gaming consoles, and social media platforms has resulted in today’s teens being predominantly driven by technology and reliant on swift access to information on the go.   

In the minds of the iGen google has always existed and Wi-fi access is the norm – known to be more independent from an early age, and more driven, alert and even entrepreneurial; but on the contrary, are more self-absorbed, can struggle with face-to-face and real-life social situations, are easily distracted and have declining patience levels.   

Some staggering Gen Z statistics demonstrate just how technologically driven this group is:   

  • More than 74% of this generation spend their free time online 1 
  • In the UK Gen Z spend an average of 10.6 hours online every day 2 
  • 66% of Gen Z report using more than one internet-connected device at a time 3 

Barriers to Reading

The increasing use of smart devices and technology has transformed the way today’s young adults think and behave and two of the biggest shifts are poor attention span and a lack of ‘patience’ and the ability to wait to be gratified. Fast or instantaneous access to information on the fly is their expectation, which makes the ability to slowly absorb mass information through reading more challenging.   

Interest plays a large part in this, but it is keeping them engaged regularly and for long periods which can be the difficulty. If teenagers are interested in the subject, topic or genre then they may be more likely to read, however when it comes to education and mandatory reading the desire decreases and teens will reach for their devices to learn through technological means such as video and imagery rather than a book.   

For babies, toddlers, and young children reading is a great tool for learning and engagement which is simpler to encourage, and with little resistance. However, very young children today are still learning through technology and although this fast access to vast amounts of information is making our generations ‘brighter’, it is making them lazy, especially as adolescents.   

A short text, YouTube video, rapid information quickly absorbed on social media are all easily accessible channels that stimulate young adults today. As children get older reading can become onerous and just something, they must do rather than simply reading for pleasure.   

Positive Impact of Reading

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So, what’s the point in trying to tackle this trend? It is well-known that reading improves memory function, increases concentration levels, and can relieve stress, but reading significantly improves emotional intelligence too.  

This can play a key role in supporting young people, their mental health, and their journey into adulthood. All teens will go through huge changes to their body and mind and many will face life experiences that are difficult to deal with.  

Fiction is an important form of escape for many teenagers, helping them imagine, relate, and can be a great aid for dealing with their problems, especially when reading in the first person. Literature provides opportunities to find and identify with people just like them.  

Question is, are there ways in which schools and libraries can further enhance the reading environment to help teens embrace the art of reading… the answer is yes!  

Breaking the barrier…

As many librarians and educators know, encouraging teenagers to read in the first place can be a battle but how do you maintain interest and build a love for reading once engaged? 

WF Education set about interviewing and surveying hundreds of public and school librarians from across the UK and France to gain insight into what works and what doesn’t when it comes to retaining the engagement of teen readers.  

It was clear that as themes emerged from our research that the learning environment will be one of the biggest engagement tools you’ll have. Whether a public or school library, the way you present your reading/learning environment has a huge impact on how interested teens are, how long they spend reading and maintaining a desire that keeps them reading regularly and more importantly, into adulthood.    

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Creature Comforts

As human beings, we have a natural need to feel comfortable in our surroundings and will be influenced hugely by the environment in which learning and reading take place.  Professor Peter Barratt’s oft-quoted research – The Clever Classrooms results provide robust evidence that differences in the physical design of a classroom explain 16% of the variation in the learning progress of the pupils in those spaces.

Several of these factors are related directly to students comfort levels. This perception of comfort is also one of the six key elements identified as critical for a modern learning space that supports 21st-century learning.  While contractors, architects and designers should focus attention on factors such as lighting, noise and air quality and temperature control during the design and construction of educational spaces, educators can make significant choices that impact the effectiveness of internal library spaces. 

WF’s teen reading solutions, encompass several factors cleverly combined to create a space that works.

Raising Awareness 

It is important to let teenagers choose their own books to read but this can be daunting to unconfident readers. There is such a variety out there regarding new authors, formats and genres that ensures you are appealing to everyone, especially readers with lower concentration levels and patience is key.    

It is, therefore, necessary to bring ranges closer to the reader and to draw attention to the breadth and variety available to them. The teen reading modules combine traditional shelving with face-out display and browsing shelving options to balance book stock and promotion. Browsing a cover is much more powerful than browsing a spine. 

Floor-standing browser boxes are also available options to increase your browsing potential. 

Why not create a display section “Our choice of the week”, “Our favourites”, “Our summer selection” “Books about Love” “Stories Tackling race” New Non-Fiction Titles, etc. These displays will be perfect to ensure a thorough rotation of the entire collection but also to help teenagers discover titles that are relative to them, forgotten about or completely unknown – quickly and easily!  

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Sitting Comfortably

For a successful teenage space, opportunities for browsing and selecting materials should be balanced with multiple opportunities to sit, relax and curl up with a book.   Each of our solutions include at least two different soft seating options. Single and double-sided dens, bean bags and our Claria™ modular seating system are comfortable and deliberately informal to encourage autonomy and ownership of their space. 

Bean bags can be moved anywhere around the space and Claria™ seating provides the perfect solution for small cosy spaces or larger collaborative areas. Soft modular seating is more flexible than sofas where students must sit in close quarters and more importantly offer the ability to rearrange the seating according to need.   

Soft seating areas where students can gather and relax are recognised as important for health and wellbeing. In an ideal world, every learning space across the learning landscape would offer students some sort of soft seating option. An uncomfortable student is more easily distracted and unproductive. Opportunities to move to sit in a less rigid position throughout the day is linked to higher academic performance, better health and wellbeing. 

Eyecatching Areas

The aim is to create an area that young people are drawn to and enjoy spending time in.  

In visual experiences, harmony is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer, and it creates an inner sense of order, of balance. Our carefully curated collection of colours has been selected to compliment most library design schemes with fresh, contemporary combinations, that work in isolation or with your existing décor – helping to create harmonious schemes. 

To enhance the scheme, we have included a range of funky graphics which can be selected to be applied to blank bays – further identifying the designated space. 

Zoned In

The need to create specific areas for teenagers in your educational or community library space is well accepted but the location of these spaces should be carefully considered.  Our market research (talking to librarians, educators and students) suggested that teenagers much preferred their area to be in the corner of the room and public spaces (rather than centrally), clearly removed from areas aimed at younger children. 

They wanted to feel that it was a reading space that they could take ownership of and congregate in with an element of privacy without disturbing other users. Each module we’ve designed maximises the utilisation of the space within a tight footprint, with the smallest fitting into less than 10 m². 

Students who regularly read for enjoyment have more opportunities to improve their reading skills through practice. They also perceive themselves as more competent and motivated readers.  

(Smith et al., 20122; Sullivan and Brown, 20153) 

1. Select your module 

2. Choose your colour scheme 

3. Add extra elements 

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