This spring, many students have walked out of class to call attention to the need for greater gun regulations in the wake of the Parkland shooting and on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre. Seeing these teens’ bravery woke up many of my favorite memories of working with passionate and idealistic young people.

By rmackman [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

But this sort of activism shouldn’t been limited to those in positions of relative power. I know librarians around the country were embracing these walkouts as teachable moments and punctuating students’ rights to demonstrate.

Like the ability to protest, access to information is a constitutionally protected right. These protests dovetail well with one of YALSA’s identified Core Competencies for Library Staff, ensuring Equity of Access, defined broadly as “access to a wide variety of library resources, services, and activities for and with all teens, especially those facing challenges to access.”

Equity is one of the most critical roles that libraries play in the lives of young people, helping to level a playing field that increasingly seems to depend upon consumer buying power.

As with all of YALSA’s competencies, these can be viewed in terms of developing, practicing, and transforming the work of libraries working for and with young people. The progression of these skills begins with recognition of this critical role in the lives of young people, progresses to taking action to work with others in the community to ensure equitable access, then culminates in sharing your work so that others can learn from it.

Check out the granular examples of those phases of competency here:


  • Recognizes the impact limited access to services and resources has on the day to day experiences and future opportunities of many teens, particularly those with the most need
  • Communicates the value of intellectual freedom and equitable and inclusive access to library resources and services for teens and their families
  • Recognizes the role the whole library and community play in supporting equitable and inclusive teen access to resources and services
  • Fosters relationships with community members and families to advance equitable and inclusive services for and with teens and help teens build digital citizenship skills
  • Provides unfettered access to information, including information of special interest to the particular cultural groups within the community
  • Identifies opportunities to increase equitable and inclusive access to resources and services through the library and the community


  • Designs and implements library services that expand access for teens of all cultures and abilities, including those who are unserved or underserved
  • Partners with other community members and agencies to ensure teens have the broadest possible access to library collections, resources and services
  • Collaborates with the whole community and families to ensure equitable access to collections, resources and services for all teens
  • Delivers library services and programs inside and outside the library to ensure equitable access for/with all teens that support the development of digital citizenship skills
  • Creates opportunities for teens to actively engage in speaking up for the need for equitable and inclusive access to library services
  • Encourages the creation and dissemination of information resources that meet teen and community interests and needs


  • Mentors and coaches others on intellectual freedom principles and how to promote and implement equitable access in teen library services
  • Analyzes and applies current theories, research and best practices related to equitable access for/with teens
  • Advocates for and creates policies that support intellectual freedom principles and equitable and inclusive access for/with teens
  • Expands access to information and resources that support teen needs and interests and fosters digital citizenship skills

YALSA’s Research Agenda has identified critical questions around this competency:

1. How can librarians and library staff best ensure access to a variety of materials for teens in the face of challenges, including intellectual freedom?

2. How can librarians and library staff guarantee digital equity in their collections and programmatic activities including access and content variety?

3. What are the effective library practices for embedding access to technology, resources, and learning within families and communities?

4. How do teens themselves enact, create, and develop information practices and its associated literacies as they move between segments of their everyday life: school, after-school, leisure, health, social, etc.?

5. How does a lack of access to technologies in schools and libraries limit digital equity for teens?

6. What barriers exist in the information practices of today’s teens and how might libraries address them?

7. What role have libraries played in reinforcing these barriers and preventing or limiting the information practices of teens?

8. What is the impact of lack of access to new and emerging technologies in schools and libraries on teens’ successful and safe use of technology for informational and recreational purposes?

9. How can libraries respond best to socio-economic, ethnicity, gender and ability differences in supporting access to technology?

10. How can libraries support the development of digital literacy skills among youth who have limited access to technology or other resources?

11. How does the library’s historic focus on information access impact the ways in which digital equity practices are embedded into service?

Working towards equity could look very different depending on your setting. You might not be working with students who are in  a detention facility, but recognize the challenges to access might be based on physical ableism or systematic constructs of race, class and gender. Knowledge of your community is critical to identify who is being served and who can yet be served.  In a school, it might mean including accessible texts for below-grade-level readers to reach comprehension of subject area content. In a public library, it might be taking a deep look at demographics to see that you have materials to support young people in their preferred language. You must keep a critical eye on your library-wide policies and procedures to identify possible barriers. More practically, it might mean coaching teens with mobile-only Internet access in using word processing to complete an assignment, a college application or FAFSA, or DREAM paperwork.

YALSA has collected a stellar range of resources to aid librarians and library staff in this critical work here.

However you are pushing for equity for young people in your community, remember the terrific democratizing role that libraries can and should play in their lives as they move towards adulthood.

Wendy Stephens is School Library Program Chair at Jacksonville State University and a member of the YALSA Research Committee.

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