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Overworked Heroes: Unpacking the Occupational Identities of Library and Afterschool Workers in the Context of the Learning Ecosystem

Colvin, Sharon (2021) Overworked Heroes: Unpacking the Occupational Identities of Library and Afterschool Workers in the Context of the Learning Ecosystem. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Youth workers, or adults who work with youth, serve a crucial role in the learning ecosystem. This dissertation focuses on specific groups of youth workers in two contexts: afterschool programs and youth services in public libraries. In order to understand their wellbeing and their connection to the larger learning ecosystem, I developed an interview tool that elicits conversation about external and internal perceptions of occupational identity. This tool allows participants to describe, through drawings and conversation, how they believe they are perceived by stakeholders at the community, institution and program level as well as their own aspirations and daily work.
Using this tool, I present two empirical studies and a theoretical chapter that builds a conceptual model of the complex layers of youth worker occupational identity. The first empirical study is a comparative case study of afterschool and youth services library workers. The results show that both groups of youth workers engage in relational practices with youth. The findings point to strong commonalities in the work that these youth workers engage in with youth and establishes library workers as youth workers. The second is a large survey study of youth services public library workers. This study showed that library workers engage in three different types of learning-related work: providing resources, facilitating learning activities and providing spaces for learning. Both studies illuminate deep friction between the way youth workers think they are perceived by outsiders (largely informed by stereotypes) and their internal understanding of their work. The theoretical chapter combines these findings with other youth worker research and probes some of the emergent themes such as youth workers being disrespected, overworked and/or depicted as super human. I present suggestions for future research on the cognitive dissonance between being overworked and disrespected and being heroic. Implications include a need for professionalization of the field, attention to social justice in youth work, and increased connection with the learning ecosystem. Overall, this dissertation introduces library workers to educational research and highlights the harm that stereotypes could be playing in the legitimization of youth work.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Colvin, Sharonsec133@pitt.edusec1330000-0002-0576-462X
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairAkiva, Thomastomakiva@pitt.edu0000-0003-1872-0316
Committee MemberRussell,
Committee MemberLori, Delale-O'
Committee MemberRoderick,
Date: 21 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 16 March 2021
Approval Date: 21 May 2021
Submission Date: 12 April 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 140
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: School of Education > Learning Sciences and Policy
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: afterschoool, occupational identity, learning ecosystem, public library
Date Deposited: 21 May 2021 15:18
Last Modified: 21 May 2021 15:18


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