Serving Older Teens and Twenty-Somethings

We have spent the last generation building up strong teen programs in our libraries.’  Many, if not most, public libraries now have a dedicated teen space.’  With YALSA taking the lead, we can be proud of the progress we have made in serving middle- and high-school students.

But what happens when our library teens graduate?’  They are unceremoniously dumped, cut off from library programs and relationships that we have worked so hard to provide for them.’  Or perhaps they lose interest in our programs as they become older teens, wearied by the presence of young middle-schoolers at teen events.

Either way, older teens and graduates lose an important connection to the library.’  Many do not return until they have children of their own.’  Others leave forever, seeking elsewhere for social and educational events they once found at the library.

Last summer YALSA approved the formation of a new interest group to address the needs of these older teens and twenty-somethings.’  The “Serving New Adults Interest Group” focuses on the issues of programming, collection management, and advocacy for this decidedly underserved age group.

Several of us gathered for the YALSA First Wednesday Chat this week to discuss ideas on how to best serve 16- to 26-year-old patrons.’  We generated a long list of programming ideas, including manga/anime, cake decorating, car repair, game nights, cooking for two, The Office Olympics, Minute-to-win-it, and many others.’  We acknowledged the challenge of finding the time, money, and staff to expand our focus to these older teens and young adults.’  We identified collaboration opportunities with community colleges and other groups.’  ‘ We also brainstormed for a few fun minutes on what to call this demographic.’  What would it take to change the definition of “young adults” to college-age, and use “teens” exclusively to mean 12-18 year olds?’  And if we did that, what would we call YALSA???

If this conversation interests you, I invite you to join the “Serving New Adults Interest Group”.’  I also urge you to subscribe to the “serving-OTYA” email listserv.’  Help us expand the YALSA focus to include the “new adults” in our communities.

About Penny Johnson

I am the teen specialist at Baraboo Public Library, Baraboo WI.

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6 Comments

  1. A friend of mine also suggested “facilitating low-cost/free tax prep help (cause it’s really intimdating for some people). Or having someone who can show people how to file for unemployment?”

  2. Where, pray tell, will YALSA draw the line? We are often departments of one who apparently are supposed to manage the tween population, and now “older teens”/adults, too? Let’s just get rid of youth & adult librarians and run the whole damn library. I have enough on my plate right now, thank you!!!

    Can YALSA please just focus on YALSA related things. We’re under hiring freezes, budget cuts, etc. It’s not the time to expand into world domination. YALSA is so scattered in so many different directions, that you are losing your way.

  3. I’m glad to see that we are addressing this lost demographic. As a youth services librarian, and someone in their mid 20’s without kids I am often disappointing in the lack of programs that interest me. I know it is extra work, but I think it offers us a chance in YS to coordinated with those in our libraries who are responsible for adult programming, and open up more common ground between these two departments.

  4. While I appreciate the points that Amber makes above, there is something to be said about the problem that older teens face when they graduate out of teen programs. As soon as a teen becomes 18 or 19, depending on terminology, they’re no longer allowed to participate in that library’s teen programming. (And no longer allowed in some teen areas, depending on how draconian the rules are in a given library.) As we all know, most adult programming at libraries is not exactly relevant to or skewed towards younger adults. YALSA certainly has a lot going on, but this under-served population is a natural fit for at least an Interest Group. I agree that too much focus on 16-26ers would be scope creep for sure, and to go much beyond an IG would need serious investigation before proceeding.

  5. The Free Library of Philadelphia has an annual event to bridge the teen-adult transition: a Youth Empowerment Summit. Here’s a brief description of the most recent one.

    Hundreds of eager high school students packed the halls of the Parkway
    Central Library on May 19th for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s
    11th annual Youth Empowerment Summit (YES). With keynote from
    acclaimed poet and educator Sonia Sanchez, the all-day event included
    workshops on college and career transition issues, an Information Fair
    with participants representing colleges and employers, and of course
    plenty of refreshments. The annual event is planned by the teens it
    attracts, and previous summits have featured “hip-hop intellectual”
    Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, authors Veronica Chambers (Mama’s Girl) and
    Mat Johnson (Incognegro), author Lorene Cary (Black Ice; The Price of
    a Child), and novelist/playwright/screenwriter Walter Mosley. For more
    information, access
    http://libwww.freelibrary.org/PressRel/Pressrel.cfm?id=456.

  6. I’m in my mid-20s and a graduate student in library services towards young adults at the moment, and the classes I have been taking have made me realize more and more how badly neglected my age group is by most libraries- no wonder patrons disappear from the time they are teens to when they have kids!

    I really do feel uncomfortable at adult programs, too- I went to one that offered help with taxes, the first adult program I attended because most of the ones offered are, quite frankly, boring, and was the youngest there by about 15 years. As though that alone were not uncomfortable enough, I found myself on the receiving end of stares along the lines of “What is this 25-year-old kid doing here?”

    I also have trouble finding literature of interest to me- it seems the characters are either in their mid-30s or older, or else it is a completely unrealistic picture of people in my age group- the characters don’t even seem to think like anyone I know even remotely close to my age. We do not think the same way as older adults, plain and simple.

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