I was intrigued to read Penny Johnson’s post (April 9, 2010) about serving older teens and twenty-somethings and the formation of the “Serving New Adults Interest Group” earlier this month.’  She suggested that older teens and twenty-somethings are abruptly cut off of the’ Y/A services currently’ being offered and, as a result,’ lose interest in the library until they become parents and return with their children.’ ‘ One of the comments to this post in particular, got me thinking.’  Amber asked, “Where, pray tell, will YALSA draw the line?”‘  Indeed, drawing the line does seem to be the issue.’ 

Last month, for example, Linda Braun discussed space (“Whose Space Is It?”, March 5, 2010) and whether or not adults should be allowed to work in areas identified as teen spaces in the library – again, we’re drawing lines here.’  Her post solicited a huge variety of responses.’  Of particular interest was a link to Sarah Fisk’s blog (be sure not to miss the follow up post and comments).’  Fisk is a YA author who likes to browse the YA shelves but was deterred (and I’m being kind here) from doing so at her community library because she is an adult.’ 

As it turns out, my first post graduate position is not with what YALSA would classify “Young Adults,” but is instead with what Johnson refers to as “New Adults.”‘  I am working at a community college.’  And it is the view from here – my vantage point, if you will – that I would like to share with you.

The lines between young adults and new adults appear blurry here.’  I see some students who seek out the quiet corners of the library for independent study to get down to task working on their assignments.’  I see others who seek out the quiet corners of the library for snuggling and giggling (maybe even “full-frontal snogging,” to borrow a term from Georgia Nicolson’s confessions) (Rennison 2001).’  And others still puff out their chests or hike up their skirts in a manner reminiscent of the experimentation with sexual identity that so often is displayed in high school locker rooms.

Yes, it’s true, these same students who I find snogging in the corner need help with not only academic research but also budgeting and cooking – often they’re away from their parent’s home for the first time.’  But they are also still teens at heart, wanting to have fun with their friends, go to movies, order pizza, and hang out.’ 

Now, I am not an expert on developmental psychology but I have to wonder, given the YALSA discussion and my own observations, if these categories aren’t really just arbitrary line drawing designed to ally with the North American education system.’  And, if they are, if we as librarians shouldn’t use them as guidelines only.’ 

Any developmental psychologists out there?’  What do you think?

4 Thoughts on “Who are Young Adults?

  1. Amber on April 28, 2010 at 7:27 pm said:

    Amber again. I’m not of the mind that, you’re 18 and you’re out the door. The point I would like to make is that in times like these, when budgets are tiny and staff is slim, why can’t we focus on doing our jobs really good? Why do we have to expand our services NOW? So many of us have furlough days (including the ALA).

    I’m all for people doing more with less, but I cannot stretch myself any more than I already have.

    The adolescent brain develops until it’s 25, but just like 16 year olds probably don’t want to be with 12 year olds, 21 year olds probably do not want to be in programs with 16 year olds. Yes they’re arbitrary lines, but why do YA librarians have to be at the poles expanding? Why cant we ALL serve all ages?

  2. Anthony Bernier on April 28, 2010 at 11:30 pm said:

    There are nearly 40 million youth (aka teenagers, under the legal age of “minority”) in the US. I’m not certain what kinds of universal generalizations we can get into here about what all libraries should do about defining how spaces are enacted.

    I’m happier with more modest claims, such as once YA spatial equity is achieved (and there are precious few examples of that still) let the social experience determine usage. If a space, for instance, is properly purpose-designed, few adults will be attracted to stay once the place is claimed by young people.

    On the other hand I’d like to avoid rushing to consensus , as we so frequently feel compelled to do on so many topics. Why do we feel we need to create “models” out of everything for applying to all circumstances? Different circumstances require different approaches.

    Instead, let’s expend our professional capital by developing and expanding our vocabulary instead of chasing our tails trying to “solve” the unsolvable.

  3. Penny Johnson on April 29, 2010 at 9:00 am said:

    Last night I had half-a-dozen new adults, young adults, graduates, twenty-somethings, whatever it is we want to label this demographic (and you know how we librarians feel a need to label everything!!) approach me with a request. They want weekly activities at the library just like we offer our teens. The public library was an important part of their teen years, and they don’t want to give that up!

    I realized I can easily comply with their request. These older teens/young adults offered to do most of the planning and publicity. I just need to provide the program room and some structure. I can do that without a budget and without much strain on my time. When we think about providing services for this group, we don’t have to start with big, fancy events.

    Many have raised the question: why should teen librarians be the ones to expand our focus? I ask, who else if not us? We are the ones who have developed a relationship with these teens. (I know, I know, ALL staff should be developing a relationship with teen patrons. But, really, how close to that ideal are we???) While it would be lovely to think the adult department might provide programming specifically for twenty-somethings, I’m not holding my breath.

    These young adults approached me, and I am going to serve them, just like I have for the past several years. These same questions: who’s going to pay for it, who has the time to spend, etc. etc., were raised when the idea of services specifically for teens was first introduced. Indeed I’m sure the concept of spending time and money specifically for children’s services was once debated. But we librarians love being on the cutting edge of change. It’s growing season again….

  4. Nancy Bertolotti on April 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm said:

    Hi Amber, Anthony, and Penny,

    Thank you for your comments. Amber, I think you are right with regard to your desire for ALL of us to serve ALL patrons. Yes, some of us are specialists in understanding the needs of a certain demographic, but that doesn’t mean we should limit our service based on an individual’s age. I think you design a program with a certain age group in mind, but if others want to join in, I can’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed to. The same should apply to space although I hear what you’re saying, Anthony, about having achieved spatial equity for Young Adults. If older or young people think they want to take part in a program or sit in a space that has been designed with a specific demographic in mind, then there must be something in that program/space that appeals to them.

    I like the way you are resolving the issue Penny, and it is good that those who are approaching you will take charge so that all you need to do is provide the space. I wonder though, if it is really necessary to go so far.

    I think we all need to remember that the boundaries are arbitrary and should therefore be seen as guidelines only. You never know, some teens might be quite comfortable in adult programs too.

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