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fostering literacy in the hip-hop generation @ the library


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getting started

the research



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research question | background

"I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves or figments of their imagination-indeed, everything and anything except me."

~Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

research question

"How do African-American adolescent males construct meaning for their social and academic lives outside of school?"

Using the experience of our applied practitioner as the basis of our project with this population, our project goal is to create a reference site to be used by library staff to attract African-American adolescent males into constructive activities at the library. Constructive activities are defined as reading, volunteering, participating in story time (as a reader or story teller), tutoring, computer use, attending programs etc.

We hope this website will be a useful tool in 1) improving teen-library staff relations, 2) increasing visibility of this population in the library, and 3) positioning the library as a beneficial, safe space to learn and create. For the purposes of this project, we are focusing on in-school African-American teen males ages 13-18.


The opening quote from Ellison's Invisible Man is an applicable summation of the current programs being conducted to encourage literacy and self-actualization in African American teen males. While there exist several social work oriented, reactive programs implemented to at best slow the "disappearance" of the African American teen from functional society, these programs are often in response to the disparaging plight of African American males. Although athleticism, teen parents and "scared straight" programs are necessary and effective components of the needs and desires of African American males these programs implicitly convey a proverbial "glass ceiling" of expectations for African American achievement and fail to address the need for proactive planning.

Current literature regarding enrichment initiatives for African American male adolescents, is pretty sparse. Over the past 10 years a body of work has slowly evolved with a work edited by Jewelle Taylor Gibbs entitled Young, Black and Male in America: An Endangered Species (1988) held as turning point in modern day conversation. Studies are mainly clustered among the disciplines of Education, Social Work, and Sociology. Although current research is limited to these realms, these studies play a significant part in helping libraries and librarians plan and implement programs and services aimed at encouraging self-actualization through the pursuit of education. Public libraries, as well as school media centers have historically positioned themselves as the entity through which the aforementioned pursuit is made possible.

From the available literature, three main ideas are presented as to why young African American males have no interest in reading or using the library:

Reading is not cool. As mentioned earlier, a wave of anti-intellectual behavior is sweeping through urban communities. Once young men start having negative learning experiences or embrace “anti-intellectualism” because getting educated is considered not cool or “acting white”, they often disengage from any type of formal learning processes (Reese, 2003). By comparison to their White counterparts, African American male adolescents are more likely to deny, devalue, and actually forgo intellectual interests to avoid the ridicule and shame that arise from academic success (Fordham & Ogbu, 1986; Harris & Majors, 1993; Mickelson, 1990).

No one around them reads. With the exception of in school reading, many teens do not encounter adults modeling these activities as means leisure or personal growth. There is an absence of adult male role models who take pride in intellectual pursuits and media images too often that portray African American males as athletic competitors and comedians also discourage the pursuit of academic goals (Bailey, 2004).

Negative interactions/experiences. Numerous psychosocial, cultural and environmental elements impact a student’s desire to learn beyond the construct of school such as peer perceptions, family dynamics, experiences with teachers & administrators, community resources and neighborhood safety. If they’ve interacted negatively with library staff or teachers once in the past, that will affect their interest in programming and available resources.