Though teen services are usually defined as serving patrons in the 12-18 age range, in practice, teen librarians serve a broader range of patrons than merely 12-18 year olds—from 10 year olds with mature tastes and reading abilities, to college students uninterested in transitioning to adult fiction, to grandparents pulled to teen books by the young adults in their lives and the quality of the materials.

In serving this broad age range with teen materials, I find that I need to have different cultural glasses at the ready during readers’ advisory.  After all, the patron whose adolescent experience is being molded right now, page by page, is different from the patron who fondly recollects reading a particular book the summer when she first fell in love.

Here is some information we teen librarians can use during readers’ advisory to guide adults to new teen titles similar to those they loved in their adolescence.

Graduated 2000—Born 1982—Today 30 years old
Cultural milestones*:

  • A “45” is a gun, not a record with a large hole in the center.
  • The year they were born, AIDS was found to have killed 164 people; finding a cure for the new disease was designated a “top priority” for government-sponsored research.
  • They have never referred to Russia and China as “the Reds.”
  • There has always been a national holiday honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • They feel more danger from having sex and being in school, than from possible nuclear war.

Technological milestones:

  • They have always bought telephones, rather than rent them from AT&T.
  • There have always been ATM machines.
  • The year they were born, the New York Times announced that the “boom in video games,” a fad, had come to an end.
  • They have never used a bottle of “White Out.”
  • “Spam” and “cookies” are not necessarily foods.

Popular YA books in 2000:  Little separates the books on the children’s bestseller list from the books on the youth bestseller lists.  All of the books on both of the lists fall into either the sci-fi or fantasy genres, and the Harry Potter phenomenon is at full steam.  When romance is a part of these titles, it is not a primary selling point.

Suggestions for YA books today: For fantastic world-creation and mild or secondary romantic content, I would recommend Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games series, Michael Grant’s Gone series, the books of Scott Westerfeld, and “The Scorpio Races” by Maggie Stiefvater.

Graduated 2005—Born 1987—Today 25 years old
Cultural milestones:

  • Heart-lung transplants have always been possible.
  • Pixar has always existed.
  • Aretha Franklin has always been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • “Baby M” may be a classmate, and contracts with surrogate mothers have always been legal.
  • Snowboarding has always been a popular winter pastime.

Technological Milestones:

  • They learned to count with Lotus 1-2-3.
  • Car stereos have always rivaled home component systems.
  • Voice mail has always been available.
  • They may have fallen asleep playing with their Gameboys in the crib.
  • They have always been challenged to distinguish between news and entertainment on cable TV.

Popular YA books during adolescence¥: Realistic fiction such as “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “Because of Winn Dixie” dominate the youth charts, while television tie-ins (primarily Dora the Explorer) crowd the children’s bestseller list.

Suggestions for YA books today: I find that titles by Ellen Hopkins and John Green make good choices for this group.  For patrons wanting less angst, perhaps recommend a book by Deb Caletti or Sarah Dessen.

Graduated 2010—Born 1992—Today 20 years old
Cultural milestones:

  • With increasing numbers of ramps, Braille signs, and handicapped parking spaces, the world has always been trying harder to accommodate people with disabilities.
  • Colorful lapel ribbons have always been worn to indicate support for a cause.
  • DNA fingerprinting and maps of the human genome have always existed.
  • Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.
  • Adhesive strips have always been available in varying skin tones.

Technological milestones:

  • Email is just too slow, and they seldom if ever use snail mail.
  • Unless they found one in their grandparents’ closet, they have never seen a carousel of Kodachrome slides.
  • Computers have never lacked a CD-ROM disk drive.
  • They’ve never recognized that pointing to their wrists was a request for the time of day.
  • They first met Michelangelo when he was just a computer virus.

Popular YA books during adolescence Ω: Books with movie tie-ins take up nearly the entire youth bestseller list, with all four books of the Twilight Saga, three of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and two of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books on the list.  The children’s list reflects this same preference for multi-platform characters.

Suggestions for YA books today: Only a few years out of high school, these young adults are, in my experience, most likely to share tastes and interests with today’s teens.  I prefer to recommend titles whose themes are culturally on point, but which demand mature reflection, such as the works of Kristin Cashore; dystopian tales like “The Pledge” by Kimberly Derting and “Bumped” by Megan McCafferty; or dark romances along the lines of Meg Cabot’s Abandon series.

Do you serve this broad an age range in your teen department?  What teen materials do you recommend to adults?

* Cultural and technological milestones obtained from the Beloit College Mindset Lists.  See http://www.beloit.edu/mindset/.

2000 USA Today List: http://books.usatoday.com/list/index?date=2000-04-03&f=5,0,150

¥ 2005 USA Today List: http://books.usatoday.com/list/index?date=2005-04-04&f=22,0,140

Ω 2010 USA Today List: http://books.usatoday.com/list/index?date=2010-04-05&f=22,0,140

About Jacqui Taylor

Jacqui Taylor is the head of Youth Services at a small Ohio library. She participated in the 2011 YALSA Mentoring Program, and served on YALSA's Baker and Taylor Award Jury and Indiana's Children and Youth Professional Development Division.

3 Thoughts on “30 Days of Innovation #25: Providing Teen Services to Adults

  1. This is fantastic! As one of those 1987 babies and a newly minted librarian, this was educational and nostalgic. :)

  2. Jacqui Milliern on April 25, 2012 at 1:06 pm said:

    Thanks, Malorie! I’m an ’85 baby, but my memory of YA literature is of my library not having any!

    The teen section at my public library was made up of two shelves no longer than my arm, filled with books deemed “too dangerous” for the children’s department. I jumped to Adult titles instead, and only really discovered YA literature in college.

  3. Sarah on April 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm said:

    Great post! But I have to ask, as 1984 baby…

    Who doesn’t use bottles of white-out anymore?

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