Recently on YALSA-YAAC there has been some discussion regarding the terminology used to define library services to 12 – 18 year olds- is the term “young adults” an appropriate label for this age? Or is “young adults” more appropriate for the’ 19 – 35 age range?’ ‘ What ages should we be providing services for?’  Check out the discussion at

I’ve always struggled with the term “young adult” because as someone in the under 30 set, I’ve always considered myself a young adult.’  I have begun refering to my department “Teen Services” because not only is that the terminology that my target audience identifies for themselves, but it also clarifies the confusion for patrons unfamiliar with the ‘ library terminology.’  The biggest adjustment has been for staff, who struggle to no longer refer to the Young Adult area (recently named The Teen Zone through a vote of’  teen regulars) or me as the Young Adult Librarian (I go by Teen Services Librarian now).’  Officially, my library defines my service age as 13 – 18, truly the teen years, however I also provide services to the 10 – 12 year old set as well in collaboration with the Youth Services department.’  I believe that is how teen librarians should address the 19 – 25 set as well, through collaboration with Adult services.’ 

As we help the older youth/younger teens transition into teen services, we should also help our older teens transition into the next level of library services.’  After all, they have grown up along side us, so it is only natural that they want to continue with what they are comfortable with, and only natural for us to want to continue to include them.’  If we collaborate with adult services in providing transitional services for the truly young adult we can help provide some continuity for them to make the transition, and we are not struggling to ‘ provide services for three distinct age ranges alone.’  After all, there is a big difference between the needs of 12 year olds and 16 year olds, and there is just a big of a difference between the needs of 16 year olds and 25 year olds.’  Librarians have embraced the concept of “tween” and in recent years have begun to provide wonderful services to this age group to embrace them and’ ease their migration from the Children’s Services into Teen Services.’  I think that the next step is to begin to do that for our young adult populations, only with a lessor role as we transition them’ OUT of our department and into adult services.’  As teen services librarians we should be advocating that our library’s adult services departments begin offering programs that will attract these young adults, but also be willing to run collaborative programs like a 16 – 30 Game Night that allows your older teens to become familiar with your adult services staff and also allows your younger young adults to spend time with the teen services staff and some of the teens they may have befriended through teen programs.

4 Thoughts on “Tweens, Teens, and Young Adults… oh my!

  1. What a great post! I think collaboration is definately the answer, within the library and within ALA. I think one thing that is great about the YALSA use of “young adult” is that it allows local librarians to be part of YALSA yet serve their own unique library needs. So for some of us, our services include 7th graders who may be 12 — not quite Teens, not yet!

    “Young Adult” is definately a term of art in the library world and publishing; and how we define it is not necessarily how others define it. I guess I don’t have a big problem with that, but that may be my lawyer background. I’m used to the idea that we all may use the same words but with different meanings and that those meanings can vary depending on a number of things.

  2. Lorraine on August 12, 2009 at 11:38 am said:

    Great post, and great ideas about collaboration.

    The blurry dividing line between teen and young adult services gets more confusing when you factor in concerns about teens’ vulnerability in the adult world. In my setting, I would hesitate to have social programming like video game night that would throw together, for example, 16-yr-old girls with 25-year-old men, since we already spend some quality time trying to keep over-18s from hitting on under-18s in our area.

    That said, we do have a lot of 17-21 year olds who need the helpful atmosphere of teen services even while they’re being thrown into Adult Services. To that end, we’ve started extending the ages of our art/education/career programming to include teens who are aging out but still need the support (and whose behavior hasn’t raised red flags for us).

    I’m looking forward to seeing more discussion on this topic!

  3. Alissa Lauzon on August 13, 2009 at 2:46 pm said:


    I agree Lorraine that it is a blurry line when mixing teens and young adults in a smilar way to mixing teens and tweens. You have to do what works best for your community. I have similar problems to you, but the group that comes to my gaming programs are all boys- so I might try a 17 – 25 gaming program just to see how things went. It is the same with any type of social programming- you have to have clear expectations for behavior- I’ve made it clear to 20 something guys that hang out in my teen zone or in our computer area with teens that it is unacceptable for them to be romantically pursuing the teen girls at the library- and I’m very upfront with them about it and will call them out on it (both the older guys and the younger girls). But again, you have to do what works best for your community- maybe your social programs between teens and young adults work better without mixing genders, or that have a more academic/professional/educational focus.

    I think that it is important that we remember though that young adults need social events too- and a lot of the recently aged out will have younger friends that they have met at the library (through programs, Book Groups, Teen Advisory Boards) and they will want to still come to library events to socialize with them. I see it all the time with young adults who come home on college breaks and come hang out in my teen zone with me and with some of the younger kids they knew in high school. I think these connections can be important, but you have to encourage them in a way that is comfortable for your community and your library.

  4. Penny Johnson on August 20, 2009 at 10:18 am said:

    This is a conversation that is worth continuing! A new YALSA email listserv has been created for this very purpose. I invite everyone to join the “Serving Older Teens & Young Adults” list at

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