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

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Kyle Marshall, MLIS, School Library and Information Studies, University of Alberta

Marshall, Kyle. Sex in the Stacks: Teenager Sex Education Information Seeking Behavior and Barriers to the Use of Library Resources. Journal of Research on Libraries & Young Adults 7 (2016): n. page. Web. <Date accessed>.


Due to the proliferation of sex education information sources in the twenty-first century, teenagers are faced 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 encourage harmful behaviors. At even greater risk are youth coping with trauma, particularly survivors of sexual assault and queer teens, or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who have limited Internet access. This qualitative pilot study identifies the explicit and implicit choices that teenagers make to seek and select specific information sources for sex education, and it examines the factors that prevent teenagers from seeking such information from library resources. Data was collected in the form of semi-structured, face-to-face interviews comprised of open-ended questions with four participants. The results suggest that teenagers use a variety of sources to gather sex education information, including curricular instruction and the Internet, as well as interpersonal, media, and print sources. A wide range of factors attracted participants to use specific sources, such as ease, privacy, comfort, perceived experience, familiarity, openness, and assured provenance. 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 of libraries.

Keywords: Sexuality Information, Adolescents, Credibility, Sense-Making


The twenty-first century has seen a proliferation of information sources, and the corresponding increase in access to such sources has had large impacts on the manner in which teens seek and evaluate sex education information. Classroom sex education curriculum is in need of updating in many North American states and provinces, where outdated, hegemonic narratives alienate certain youth. In other jurisdictions, initiatives to modernize and diversify classroom sex education curriculum, such as the 2015 Ontario sex education reforms, have been met with strong opposition from parent groups who view such reforms as not aligned with religious family values.[i] Due to the general nature of classroom instruction, teenagers are turning to a variety of information sources to individualize their sex education based on their unique desires and needs. Developing comprehension of how teenagers seek sex education information should assist information providers in providing relevant resources. A greater understanding is needed of how teenagers choose, implicitly or explicitly, specific sources for sex education, while taking into consideration such factors as prejudice, awareness, and access that might prevent teenagers from seeking such information from library resources.

The goal of this pilot study is to help school and public libraries to develop collections and provide services that are intrinsically relevant and of interest to teenagers. A focus on users’ information needs and information seeking behavior will disclose teenagers’ perspectives as they search for information on sexual health through a variety of sources. By unveiling the perceptions of teenage users, library professionals can commence work to engage this group with their collections or services that provide greater privacy, diversity, and authority than information sought from formal curricular sources or informal sources alone.

Research Questions

Research questions were posed to uncover participants’ sex education information seeking behavior, including the types of information, types of sources, and their reasoning behind selecting each information source. The second major line of questioning sought to uncover whether teenagers use the library for sex education and their rationale for using, or not using, it for that purpose. This study addressed the following questions:

  • How do teenagers seek sex education information sources? How do they select their chosen sources?
  • Do teenagers use the library as a sex education information source? Why or why not?

Literature Review

Importance of Sex Education

Sex education has historically encompassed such subjects as pubertal development, reproduction, menstruation, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections, but a recent expansion of this listing includes subjects like sexual orientation, sexual assault, and interpersonal relationships.[ii] While sex education is seen as a vital component in the maturation of teens into adulthood, the risks of misinformation or information poverty in sex education are particularly high for the individual and society.[iii] Chelton describes the vulnerability of people at this age as the consequence of reaching sexual maturity prior to mentally developing the cognitive capacity to fully comprehend the consequences of one’s actions.[iv] At even greater risk are youth coping with trauma, particularly survivors of sexual assault and queer teens, or those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who have limited Internet access.[v] Moreover, sex education for young males is often overlooked in comparison to that of females. This is due to two factors: First, there exists a perceived lack of sexual behavior consequence for males, since the threat of pregnancy predominantly affects females; and second, there is a comparative lack of a “signpost” for sexual maturity in males, whereas young women have a clear indication once they have begun menstruating.[vi]

The Internet as a Sex Education Information Source

Multiple studies have examined adolescent use of the Internet as a tool to find and retrieve sex education information.[vii] As a resource platform, teenagers have praised the Internet for its ease of use, confidentiality, safety, convenience, anonymity, accessibility, and affordability.[viii] Queer youth interviewed by Hillier, Kurdas, and Horsley reported that they considered Internet communities as supportive environments that permitted them to make inquiries they felt uncomfortable asking in real life.[ix] On the other hand, questions of the quality and provenance of such resources is of concern to health-care workers, and filters imposed by authority figures may limit access to educational resources.[x] Pornographic websites, to which 70 percent of youth aged fifteen to seventeen have reported even unintentional exposure, are not created for educational purposes and have been noted to inspire feelings of inadequacy or negative behavioral expectations in youth.[xi]

Formalized Sex Education in Schools

School sex education classes provide what Kerslake and Rolinson refer to as an “official” source of sexual health information.[xii] The effectiveness of these programs is vulnerable to political influence, parental consent requirements, and propagation of dominant, heteronormative narratives that lack potential to individualize the educational experience.[xiii] While governments and conventional wisdom suggest that parents should be the official source of sex education information, parents and students do not have a similar opinion, and the difficulty of approaching this sensitive topic leaves parents unlikely to fulfill their child’s information needs.[xiv] Forrest, Strange, and Oakley studied thirteen- to fourteen-year-olds in England to ascertain what students wanted from sex education programs.[xv] Although demand was highest for information on sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy—issues that typically receive coverage in sex education classes—responses also showed high interest in “how not to have sex when you don’t want to,” “sexual feelings, emotions and relationships” and “what people do when they have sex.”[xvi] The researchers noted in their discussion that school sex education programs’ focus on limited issues shapes societal discourses, possibly biasing the results of their questionnaire in favor of what the respondents might perceive to be the norm.[xvii]

Adolescent Information Seeking

Case describes information seeking as “a conscious effort to acquire information in response to a need or gap in . . . knowledge.”[xviii] The engagement of information seeking behavior is further explained in Dervin’s sense-making theory of communication.[xix] In this theory, she considers information seeking behavior as an activity that is undertaken to construct sense, and she views information as a subjective element that is used to guide behavior based on personal and interpersonal observations of reality.[xx] The theory relies on a contextual dependence of sense making that is informed by the user’s situation, and thus precludes predictive assumptions and connections between information and its use.[xxi] Dervin’s sense-making theory has been applied to a number of studies on adolescent information seeking behavior and provides the theoretical framework within which this study is positioned.[xxii]

This pilot study focuses on life-concern information needs. These types of information needs—which encompass drug, health, and career concerns—are germane to adolescent social environments and do not merit in-depth focus in schools; consequently, most information seeking occurs outside the classroom.[xxiii] Life-concern information needs feature prominently in Todd and Edwards’ study on adolescent drug information seeking, in which the participants viewed their environment to be devoid of desirable information sources, despite inhabiting a world that was in fact rich in potential information sources.[xxiv] Information encountering, which involves unexpectedly discovering information that the user finds useful or intriguing, has numerous applications to life-concern information needs due to the user’s inherent, self-derived interest in the information need.[xxv]

In the context of adolescent life-concern information needs, “social norms and the social landscape help to define and shape information seeking,” and information is sought from people with similar circumstances and thus “known to be experiencing comparable needs.”[xxvi] Moreover, research has suggested that young users attempt to simplify the search process to find sufficient information through minimal effort, seldom question the accuracy or quality of information, and overestimate, or fail to consider, the level of expertise of an interpersonal source.[xxvii]

The Library as a Source for Sex Education

The consideration of the library as a neutral, community-oriented public space has led to a reexamination of its role in teenage sex education.[xxviii] School libraries, however, have been perceived by adolescent girls as extensions of authority that only carry socially sanctioned or curricular materials.[xxix] Creating a supportive environment, selecting a diversity of materials, identifying community resources, and providing displays and programs have been identified as some areas in which librarians can improve their role in adolescent sexual health.[xxx] Cohen’s study focused on “how public libraries serve adolescents in the area of sexuality education” and involved interviewing eleven librarians and library directors from three small public library districts in the western United States.[xxxi] She found that many librarians “view the role for the public library as a peripheral source for sexual-health information for young adults,” and none of the libraries, at the time of the study, provided programs or marketing of collection items relating to sex education.[xxxii] Cohen’s study exposed librarians’ prejudices against engaging in programming or materials promotion of and for sexual education, as well as institutional and political barriers to providing those services to the community.[xxxiii] Adding to this is the generalized discomfort that teenagers have reported with using the library due to the perceived unhelpfulness of librarians; in this regard, Julien describes the need for librarians to focus on providing compassionate help that is rooted in the trust of having the adolescent patron’s best interests at heart.[xxxiv]

While Cohen’s research considered library barriers for teenage sex education purposes, she reported opinions of library staff and did not focus on impediments from a teenager perspective.[xxxv] Additionally, research on adolescent information seeking behaviors has predominantly focused on one source—the Internet—or, conversely, comprehensive studies are too dated to consider the Internet as an option among other information sources. This study researches contemporary barriers to the use of library sex education information sources within the greater context of source-inclusive information seeking behavior. By taking a user-centered approach, these interviews provided insight on barriers to sex education from the teenagers’ perspective, which can potentially improve the educational sources offered by teachers, libraries, and other sex education service providers.


Upon receipt of ethics approval from the University of Alberta Research Ethics Office, teenagers aged thirteen to eighteen years old were recruited for participation. This age group was chosen for its emergent sex education information needs as a result of puberty, formal sex education instruction in schools, and statistical age of first sexual experience.[xxxvi] Participants were also required to be proficient in English to avoid the logistical and financial complications related to translation services. Recruitment efforts included postering on local university campuses, Listserv e-mails to sexual minority and other youth groups, and word of mouth, while convenience sampling augmented the final recruitment of the study participants.

As all participants in the study were younger than eighteen years old, guardian consent was obtained for each. Although some pre-interview contact was organized through e-mail or telephone conversation with parents, the researcher also offered his phone number to participants for texting. This method of communication was more successful at retaining contact with some participants who may have felt greater vulnerability in a telephone conversation, particularly with an adult stranger. Comfort, relaxation, and trust were of particularly high concern for interviews due to the sensitive subject matter, and thus the location of the interview was made adaptable for the participants. In each case, the interviews took place at local coffee shops that were convenient for the participants. In addition to the initial provision of letters of consent, assent, and information, the researcher held conversations with participants to discuss the concept of informed consent, the voluntary nature of participation, and the right to withdraw up to one week following participation.

Data were collected via semi-structured interviews comprised of open-ended questions. This method was chosen for its balance of flexibility and structure, and to permit for deeper conversation and data retrieval. While a series of questions was addressed, at a minimum, the study did not necessitate strict adherence to a script and permitted for follow-up probes that ultimately improved insights to the research questions. Trust between researcher and participant was of paramount importance to the retrieval of complete and honest responses, and a pre-interview activity was conducted to ease nerves and improve rapport. This process included a request that the teenager discuss one of her or his interests with the researcher; the ensuing conversations were very effective at improving the researcher-participant relationship and increasing comfort with the situation. Furthermore, the interviews were structured to first ask less potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable questions in order to settle nerves associated with the process. Interviews lasted between twenty and thirty minutes and were digitally recorded for later transcription, coding, and data analysis. A short demographic questionnaire was distributed after the conclusion of the interview to provide context to the data. Of the four interview participants, three were male and one was female, and their ages ranged from fourteen to seventeen years old. Three participants were heterosexual and cisgender (their self-identified gender corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth), and one participant identified himself as a bisexual, trans male. Participants were asked to select a pseudonym to ensure confidentiality of identity, and these are the names that will be used in this paper.


Teenagers Use a Variety of Sources to Find Sex Education Information

The participants discussed certain information sources with greater affinity than others, but each of them sought sex education information from multiple sources. Health classes in junior high school (ages twelve to fourteen) were mentioned by each of the participants as a base-level information source from which they and most, but not all, of their peers had derived sex education information. Albertan high school–level (ages fifteen to seventeen) courses, including Career and Life Management (CALM) and Psychology, were also noted for inclusion of sex education instruction, with the latter including specialized instruction on sexual minorities and gender variants as a specific aspect of sex education. Conscious, personally initiated information seeking was often done on the Internet, and sources mentioned include Wikipedia, health or sex education organization websites, fan fiction, advertisements, queer community websites, and papers from academic scholars. While some of these sources were described as not credible, there remained a conscious admission that information was nonetheless extracted from the exposure. Most Internet sources were not identified specifically, with the exception of Wikipedia, Google, and a local reproductive health center. Google was frequently noted as the search engine from which information search processes were initiated. Interpersonal sources were also frequently mentioned as sex education information sources. The range of interpersonal sources was large and included peers, parents, teachers, sex education presenters, members of the queer community, siblings, and therapists. Film and television media, including news stories, were also noted as information sources, while books received peripheral mention for their discussion of relationship information or role in incidental information encountering.

Information Seeking Behavior Was Discussed Abstractly

In discussing habits or type of sex education information sought, participants often gave responses that took the form of hypothetical abstractions rather than concrete examples. Participants displayed difficulty in responding to recollection-based questions. For example, when Regina was asked to recall a time she came across sex education information despite not looking for that type of information, she said, “No, [I can’t] really [recall] any time that happened.” Rephrasing to a scenario or invitation to respond in more general terms typically would help to elicit a response, but at a low level of specificity. In Regina’s case, she responded to the rephrased question with, “Um, maybe watching the news and . . . when we watch the news, [there are] sometimes sexual assaults that happen. And so I see . . . what’s happened there.” As with her case, other participants had difficulty providing examples for serendipitous exposure to sex education information, and they rarely recalled incidental exposure as impactful or memorable to their information environment.

Internet as the Most Frequently Used Source

The Internet was named by three of the four participants as the information source where they most frequently obtain sex education information, with the fourth participant mentioning teachers as the most frequent information source. Despite its ubiquity as an information source, John reacted negatively to the Internet by stating:

I would say the Internet [is where I get most information about sex] but, like, I mean . . . not willingly. So like, the Internet . . . There [are] always [ads] like . . . “10 ways to get your girlfriend into bed.” It’s all these, like, pop-up ads. I don’t want that information, but that’s where I get the most information from.

This incidental exposure to information on the Internet, piqued by curiosity, contributes to the frequency of its use as an information source. Other participants, however, would actively engage in information seeking on the Internet as a source to learn from and research sex education. This confirms previous research findings that teens praise the Internet as a sex education information source for a variety of reasons, including ease, confidentiality, and convenience.[xxxvii]

Wide Range of Factors That Attract Teenagers to Sex Education Information

The teenagers in this study attributed the appeal of sex education information sources to a variety of factors. Quite often the Internet was a preferred source due to the ease with which information seeking was facilitated, and participants also mentioned personal devices through which this searching might be fulfilled in a private manner. Similarly, comfort was described as a factor that improved information seeking conditions. Although comfort was attained in the privacy of Internet searching, it was also described as an essential element to the information retrieved from interpersonal interactions. John describes conditions in Health class that would improve information seeking:

I know that some people don’t feel comfortable talking about sex . . . and that’s totally fine . . . but I feel like Health class should make a person feel comfortable and . . . open and . . . like [the] classroom is safe enough to talk about their personal opinion and personal experiences.

The comfort that John describes in classroom discussion enhances the opportunity for what Stuart referred to as “parameter [readjustment] to get . . . more accurate information,” or further information seeking that is engaged as a result of a conducive atmosphere. On the contrary, discomfort described by participants or their peers led to strained, off-topic Health classes. While Health classes were viewed as a major information source, they were also criticized for a redundant curriculum that may not have maintained age-appropriate material reflective of the students’ maturation in their progression through junior high school.

Intrinsically aligned with the feeling of comfort in interpersonal information seeking was the facilitation of an open atmosphere. Interpersonal information sources who were able to convey an open atmosphere of honesty and participation were viewed favorably by interview participants. This quality was attributed to presenters from the queer community, as mentioned by Ryan: “It was easier to talk to people at Queer Prom about sex than it would be to talk about sex with other people that I know mainly because there’s a tendency in that LGBTQ community, that they’re a lot more open with sex.” Presentation of an open, frank perspective also fostered an appearance of credibility, assessed by Stuart as positive here: “If they don’t dance around the topic and if they just answer the question . . . that makes me feel they understand the material more.”

Personal experience with the subject matter was mentioned as another important factor in assessing positive information sources for sex education. The participants considered people to be experienced based on factors such as age, disposition, position, and hearsay, and they evaluated experienced sources as credible and “trustworthy.” These interpersonal credibility assessments were also described as easier when the source was someone whom the participant knew well, and thus was able to make more sophisticated, contextualized evaluations of the information based on their knowledge about that person. John described the complex manner with which he assessed these interactions: “I can take their viewpoint and see what they’re trying to say, kind of analyze it, and think, ‘OK, well, if they’re trying to say this, that means this, and I believe in that so I guess maybe it is true.’” Regina also added, “I think . . . if you know them better, then you can trust them more because you’ve had a connection with them for a longer time and you’ve shared more things with them.” Interpersonal sources were also viewed favorably and as more trustworthy if they exhibited similar values to the participants.

Some of these source-credibility assessments were accredited to skills learned in school, such as searching for grammar and vocabulary accuracy as well as language that implied a bias of opinion. Health organizations and academics were also considered to be authoritative sex education information sources based on credentials or specialized knowledge. Participants expressed skepticism with the provenance of information on the Internet, as well as an awareness of the ephemeral, editable nature of some sites, including Wikipedia. Two of the participants engaged in reliability checks of information across sources as a way to verify credibility of newly presented material. Regina recounted this scenario: “I think of everything else that I’ve . . . learned, and so if I see something that . . . goes against everything I’ve already learned, then I’m thinking maybe that’s not completely right.” Sometimes these reliability assessments involved a more internal process, while other times they inspired seeking out additional sources in order to assess the consistency of the new information.

Libraries Were Not Used as a Sex Education Information Source

None of the four participants used the library as a sex education information source. While some of the participants used their school library for academic resources and education-related assignments, most had not even considered using the library to find sex education information. One participant described himself as an active patron of public libraries, and another bemoaned the obsolescence of libraries in today’s technologically driven world.

Privacy and Awareness as the Largest Barriers to Library Use

Privacy and confidentiality were cited as major concerns to using the library for sex education information. One participant, Ryan, commented on the perceived lack of confidentiality at library computers as a barrier to use:

Usually [they keep Internet histories.] I mean, with the way a lot of computers that are open to the public are used . . . there will be someplace where they can actually track everything, even if you delete it . . . they would be able to track back who logged on and when, and what they searched up.

Two respondents referred to the awkwardness of browsing or selecting a physical resource related to sex with peers in proximity, and comments also described wanting to avoid the sensitive interaction of having a library staff member signing out a resource relating to sex education. John discussed the potential for automated, self-checkout stations to ameliorate this embarrassment. Stuart mentioned these self-checkouts as a reason why privacy did not concern him in considering the public library as a sex education information source.

Being unaware of sex education items within the library’s collection was also noted as a barrier to use. The school library, in particular, was viewed by John as a literature repository as opposed to a space for nonfiction or “information” books, whereas others noted the inclusion of nonfiction books at their school library but were not aware of books related to sex education. In order to improve awareness, a participant suggested that a more thorough introduction to the school library and its diverse materials be completed. Moreover, one participant discussed the addition of sex education materials to the library as a potential solution to normalize the use of the collection, and thus to alleviate potential embarrassment.

The difficulty of using the library to seek sex education information, as compared to the relative ease of using alternative methods such as the Internet or people in close proximity, was described as another barrier to library use. Stuart described a preference for the Internet over physical materials from the public library’s collection: “I just find it a lot easier to look it up online. . . . I don’t have to go anywhere or do anything. It takes five minutes as opposed to an hour to go to the library, take out a book, bring it home and read it, and take it back.” In addition to its inconvenience, the library was perceived to have a focus on one type of information source. Ryan mentioned his aversion to using books as a sex education information source and attributed a “funny” writing style as another hindrance to library use.


As described in Dervin’s sense-making theory, the teenagers in this study expressed a contextualized construction of knowledge from the sex education information they viewed.[xxxviii] When exposed to sex education information in educational settings or through the media, for example, the participants described evaluating the reliability of information in two ways: by taking external action to verify with other resources, and by making internal comparisons with previously constructed knowledge. The relevance of the information to their searches was only valuable if it aligned with their sense-making processes and context-dependent situation; as such, the sex education information attained was highly subjective and held no objective value. This extended to the perceived bias of the information source, since information that confirmed established personal values was preferred because it could be more easily related to the participant’s situation.

Credibility assessments that took place appeared to vary between information sources. While fairly extensive reliability evaluations were described for Internet or media sources, class presentations and interpersonal conversations were not evaluated in the same way. Rather, interpersonal sources derived their credibility from the participant’s endowment of cognitive authority. Wilson describes a cognitive authority as a person whose hearsay is considered to be credible, reliable, and valid for an individual’s purposes.[xxxix] Cognitive authorities were often considered by participants to have experience in the field as a result of their age, perceived honesty, or professional position; it is possible that this valuation of experience over other factors was due to the participants’ perceived and communicated sexual inexperience. Once granted this status of cognitive authority, minimal effort was expended to question the accuracy or quality of the information source, which confirms Shenton and Dixon’s findings on teenagers’ evaluation of interpersonal sources.[xl] While the participants’ interpersonal sources were still subjected to credibility evaluations, they expressed less formal, time-consuming assessments of those sources than for Internet or media sources.

Although participants were unable to articulate specific examples of serendipitous information encounters, they were able to broadly discuss encountering sex education information that had in turn stimulated further information seeking behavior. These interests ranged from the desire for novel information, stemming from diversive curiosity, to the desire for deeper understanding, a result of epistemic curiosity.[xli] The presence of either of these curiosities presents a rich opportunity for libraries to raise awareness and provoke serendipitous discoveries of sex education information sources. The participants’ unanimous lack of awareness of sex education items in library collections implies that, as Cohen found in her study, librarians are not engaging in promotion of collections or programming relating to sex education.[xlii] While the librarians interviewed by Cohen may have viewed sex education as peripheral to their work, the participants of this study affirmed the importance of the topic to their lives.[xliii] By crafting displays to showcase collection materials, providing community resources, and experimenting with programming, library staff can commence work on Levine’s best practices for sex education in libraries.[xliv] One participant’s suggestion that libraries devote a part of the library website to information on sex education resources, along with call numbers, would ameliorate unease with asking library staff to locate books on the topic and might also be extended to the promotion of digital sex education resources. Moreover, interests expressed by participants in sex education that do not directly pertain to their behavior should encourage library staff to take greater risks in diversifying their collection of sex education resources; while these will aid those in circumstances outside of hegemonic discourse, it is likely to reach other curious individuals as well. Overall, a more open and candid approach to sex education service provision would help to establish the library as a credible information source for this topic.

This forthright approach to promoting materials should be balanced with the consideration that privacy and confidentiality were also described as barriers to library use. The addition of self-checks within school libraries was suggested as a measure to improve confidentiality, but this solution is too high a cost for most schools. Library orientations for new students can be used as opportunities to discuss the availability of sex education materials along with an explanation of how confidentiality and respect guide the staff’s professional ethos. Privacy should be improved by placing sex education collections in a quieter, more hidden area of the library, and efforts should be made to remove filters and purge Internet history records. If Internet browsing is a truly confidential experience for library patrons, this should be explicitly identified to teens in order to remove doubt and cultivate information seeking that is unfettered by fear of reprisal.


As a pilot study, this project has limitations that could be improved upon by further work in this subject area. Time limitations necessitated recruitment through convenient means, and a lengthier study would permit for an increased number of participants with greater heterogeneity, particularly in terms of socioeconomic and racial diversity. Additional benefits of a lengthier project include increased testing of the interview instrument to reduce social desirability bias, and multiple meetings with participants to further improve interviewer-participant rapport and trust.

The findings of this study have implications for the approach to provision of sex education information by educators, health professionals, and library staff. Consideration of the diversity of sources used for sex education information, in addition to the factors used to appraise those sources, should indicate potential service improvements to help teenagers find credible sources that respond to their unique circumstances. For libraries in particular, attention should be paid to reducing barriers by raising awareness about collections and taking measures to improve privacy for teenage patrons.


[i]   “Ontario Parents Opposed to Sex Ed Changes Threaten to Pull Kids from School,” CBC News, May 4, 2015,

[ii] Rebecca J. Cohen, “Sex Education and the American Public Library: A Study of Collection Development, Reference Services, and Programming for Young Adults,” Young Adult Library Services 6, no. 3 (Spring 2008): 40–45,; Debra W. Haffner, “Towards a New Paradigm on Adolescent Sexual Health,” Siecus Report 21, no. 2 (1992): 26–30,; Evelyn Kerslake and Janet Rolinson, “In the Name of Innocence: Adolescents and Information about Sex,” New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship 2, no. 1 (1996): 57–73,; Amy Levine, “Providing Information on Sexuality: Librarians Can Help Youth Become Sexually Healthy Adults,” Journal of Youth Services in Libraries 15 no. 2 (2002): 45–48.

[iii] Kerslake and Rolinson, “In the Name of Innocence.”

[iv] Mary K. Chelton, “The Public Library as a Sex Education Resource for Adolescents,” Collection Building 3, no. 1 (1981): 31–42,

[v] Nicola J. Gray and Jonathan D. Klein, “Adolescents and the Internet: Health and Sexuality Information,” Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology 18, no. 5 (2006): 519–24,; Simon Forrest, Vicki Strange, and Ann Oakley, “What Do Young People Want from Sex Education? The Results of a Needs Assessment from a Peer-Led Sex Education Programme,” Culture, Health & Sexuality 6, no. 4 (2004): 337–54, doi:10.1080/13691050310001645050.

[vi] Helen Balme and Lesley Gunn, “Sex Information for Boys: Are the Available Sources Suitable?,” New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship 5, no. 1 (1999): 133–50,; Chelton, “The Public Library as a Sex Education Resource for Adolescents.”

[vii] Kenneth Carswell et al., “Integrating Psychological Theory into the Design of an Online Intervention for Sexual Health: The Sexunzipped Website,” JMIR Research Protocols 1, no. 2 (2012): e16, doi:10.2196/resprot.2114; Juliette D. G. Goldman and Lisa E. McCutchen, “Teenagers’ Web Questions Compared with a Sexuality Curriculum: An Exploration,” Educational Research 54, no. 4 (2012): 357–73, doi:10.1080/00131881.2012.734722; Gray and Klein, “Adolescents and the Internet”; Lynne Hillier, Chyloe Kurdas, and Philomena Horsley, ‘It’s Just Easier’: The Internet as a Safety-Net for Same Sex Attracted Young People (Melbourne: Australian Resource Centre in Sex Health and Society, 2001); Mansi Kanuga et al., “Adolescent Sexuality and the Internet: The Good, the Bad, and the URL,” Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology 17, no. 2 (2006): 117–24, doi:10.1016/j.jpag.2004.01.015.

[viii] Carswell et al., “Integrating Psychological Theory”; Goldman and McCutchen, “Teenagers’ Web Questions”; Gray and Klein, “Adolescents and the Internet”; Hillier, Kurdas, and Horsley, ‘It’s Just Easier.’

[ix] Hillier, Kurdas, and Horsley, ‘It’s Just Easier.’

[x] Gray and Klein, “Adolescents and the Internet.”

[xi] Balme and Gunn, “Sex Information for Boys”; Kanuga et al., “Adolescent Sexuality and the Internet.”

[xii] Kerslake and Rolinson, “In the Name of Innocence,” 60.

[xiii] Goldman and McCutchen, “Teenagers’ Web Questions”; Kerslake and Rolinson, “In the Name of Innocence”; Levine, “Providing Information on Sexuality.”

[xiv] Kerslake and Rolinson, “In the Name of Innocence”; Virginia A. Walter, “The Information Needs of Children,” Advances in Librarianship 18 (1994): 111–29,

[xv] Forrest, Strange, and Oakley, “What Do Young People Want?”

[xvi] Ibid., 341.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Donald Case, Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior (Boston: Elsevier/Academic Press, 2007), 5.

[xix] Brenda Dervin, An Overview of Sense-Making Research: Concepts, Methods, and Results to Date (Seattle: University of Washington School of Communications, 1983).

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Rosalie J. Amos et al., “Developing a Strategy for Understanding Adolescent Nutrition Concerns,” Adolescence 24, no. 90 (1989): 119–24; Heidi Julien, “Adolescent Career Decision Making and the Potential Role of the Public Library,” Public Libraries 37, no. 6 (1998): 376–81; Luka Lucić,” Use of Evaluative Devices by Youth for Sense-Making of Culturally Diverse Interpersonal Interactions,” International Journal of Intercultural Relations 37, no. 4 (2013): 434–49, doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.04.003.

[xxiii] Ross J. Todd and Susan Edwards, “Adolescents’ Information Seeking and Utilization in Relation to Drugs,” in Youth Information Seeking Behavior, ed. Mary K. Chelton and Colleen Cool (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004), 253–86.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Sandra Erdelez, “Information Encountering: A Conceptual Framework for Accidental Information Discovery,” in Information Seeking in Context: Proceedings of International Conference on Research in Information Needs, Seeking and Use in Different Contexts, ed. Pertti Vakkari, Reijo Savolainen, and Brenda Dervin (London: Taylor Graham, 1997), 412–21.

[xxvi] Todd and Edwards, “Adolescents’ Information Seeking,” 382; Andrew K. Shenton and Pat Dixon, “Youngsters’ Use of Other People as Information Seeking Behavior,” Journal of Librarianship and Information Science 35, no. 4 (December 2003): 231,

[xxvii] Shenton and Dixon, “Youngsters’ Use of Other People”; Andrew K. Shenton and Pat Dixon, “Issues Arising from Youngsters’ Information Seeking Behavior,” Library & Information Science Research 26, no. 2 (Spring 2004): 177–200,

[xxviii] Cohen, “Sex Education and the American Public Library”; Levine, “Providing Information on Sexuality.”

[xxix] Barbara Poston-Anderson and Susan Edwards, “The Role of Information in Helping Adolescent Girls with Their Life Concerns,” School Library Media Quarterly 22, no. 1 (1993): 1–6.

[xxx] Levine, “Providing Information on Sexuality.”

[xxxi] Cohen, “Sex Education and the American Public Library,” 41.

[xxxii] Ibid., 44.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Julien, “Adolescent Career Decision Making.”

[xxxv] Cohen, “Sex Education and the American Public Library.”

[xxxvi] Michelle Rotermann, “Sexual Behavior and Condom Use of 15- to 24-Year-Olds in 2003 and 2009/2010,” Health Reports 23, no. 1 (2012): 1–5,

[xxxvii] Carswell et al., “Integrating Psychological Theory”; Goldman and McCutchen, “Teenagers’ Web Questions”; Gray and Klein, “Adolescents and the Internet”; Hillier, Kurdas, and Horsley, ‘It’s Just Easier.’

[xxxviii] Dervin, An Overview of Sense-Making Research.

[xxxix] Patrick Wilson, Second-Hand Knowledge: An Inquiry into Cognitive Authority (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983).

[xl] Shenton and Dixon, “Youngsters’ Use of Other People.”

[xli] Ian Leslie, Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It (Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2014).

[xlii] Cohen, “Sex Education and the American Public Library.”

[xliii] Ibid.

[xliv] Levine, “Providing Information on Sexuality.”

About Anna Lam

Anna Lam is a Communications Specialist for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA).
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