I. Introduction

What is included in this manual?

This manual provides strategies for developing young adult collections, outlines a reading club designed specifically for young adults, suggests promotional ideas for the young adult reading club and young adult programming in general, and provides age-appropriate ideas for both formal and passive programming. Also included are a short booklist of fun summer reads for young adults and a bibliography of resources in all formats that are cited throughout the manual.

Who are young adults?

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) defines them as individuals between the ages of 12 and 18.1 Although many young adult (YA) programs in public libraries also serve pre-teens of 10 or 11 and college students, this manual is designed for library patrons who fall within the ages defined by YALSA.

What are the characteristics of young adults?

This is a question without a definitive answer. Young adults, like other library patrons, are individuals with varied interests, knowledge, attitudes, experiences, and problems. These young patrons use libraries to seek recreational and informational materials for personal needs, materials to complete school assignments, and to meet friends.2

A general characteristic of young adults is that they are searching for themselves in the midst of physical, psychological, and emotional turmoil. They are striving for independence and adulthood and do not want to be considered children. Teens today, like those in past generations, express their independence through their clothes, music, jewelry, hobbies and interests, creativity, and unique slang vocabulary. Social relationships are often their primary concern.

What does all this mean in terms of library programming, resources, and services for young adults?

There is a growing recognition of the importance of library services and resources for teens. Libraries are community partners in supporting their academic success and social development.

Optimally, libraries will have a teen room with a casual and inviting atmosphere, a dedicated young adult librarian, and age-appropriate programs, services, and activities that appeal to adolescents. Realistically, each library will face its own unique set of obstacles in regard to services, programs, resources, and staffing levels for young adults.

According to the report by the National Council on Educational Statics entitled “Services and Resources for Children and Young Adults in Public Libraries” (August, 1995), twenty-three percent of public library patrons are young adults. Eleven percent of libraries have a young adult specialist on staff. Fifty-eight percent of libraries have a separate young adult room or area housing the young adult collection; fifty-eight percent also consider lack of staff as a barrier to increasing services to young adults. (This downloadable report is available online at http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=95357.)

Librarians must decide that providing materials, programming, and services for young adults is a priority. Funds and staff must be allocated to serve them, the same as every other patron group. And - true enthusiasm is essential! Teens will be adults in a few short years. Their teen experience will shape who they become and their opinion of the value of libraries.

What are the challenges to serving young adults?

When young adults arrive at the library en masse each day after school, they are often clumped into one huge “hormonal” mass and may intimidate or challenge librarians. Some teenagers feel unwelcome in libraries, or they feel that libraries are uninviting. Some do not believe that librarians are interested in them, the things they like, or the books they read. Some teens have little time or interest in reading for pleasure. Some may not want to be served. Others may feel grateful for a place where they are welcome and enjoy the friendship and attention of a librarian. They come to the library knowing that they will find books that will give them hours of reading pleasure.

Librarians will gain empathy for young adults by remembering the challenges and difficulties that they faced as teens, by seeking to understand the experience of today’s teens, and by being open and supportive to them in this developmental stage. When adults remember the joy, excitement, and exuberance of their teen years, they will celebrate and enjoy this wonderful aspect of young adults. Each teen is a unique individual. All of their reasons for visiting the library are valid and important, whether they have come to surf the web, read magazines, or research homework assignments. To make teens feel welcome and appreciated, librarians may need only smile and say “hello” and provide the services that are requested, just as they would for any other patron group. All young adults have an attitude, positive or negative, about the library. Something as simple as a smile and a helpful attitude may ensure that it is positive!

Do libraries need a plan for developing young adult collections?

While selection of young adult materials is guided by the library’s collection development and materials selection policies, librarians must consider new and strategies and new sources for reviews, including magazines such as Entertainment Weekly which features reviews for books and other materials of interest to many young adults. Libraries may wish to include new formats in the young adult library collection, such as graphic novels and comic books, which appeal to the young adults. The inclusion of graphic novels has greatly increased the circulation of all young adult materials in many libraries. Chapter II of this manual provides information and sources for young adult collection development, and the bibliography in this manual may also be useful. Once again, recommendations from teens for young adult resources in all formats are indispensable.

Are young adult reading clubs different from children’s reading clubs?

Chapter III of this manual provides information and ideas for young adult reading clubs. It discusses how to organize them and incentives for participation. The Missouri Teen Summer Reading Program, 2000 Planning Manual states that the most successful reading clubs are youth driven. Coordinators “may provide the spark, the expertise, the knowledge, space and supervision, but only through the involvement of teens will the program grow and succeed.”3 Young adult involvement in the planning, presentation, and participation of the reading club and related programs is invaluable. Young adults will provide the best input about what they do and do not like.

A young adult reading club with a theme that is different from the one for younger children and that uniquely appeals to teens will let them know that librarians do not consider them as children. Let young adults suggest and select the theme. This is an excellent activity for teen volunteers and teen advisory board members.

Teens are often very socially oriented. Reading clubs that provide opportunities to socialize through activities such as discussing the books that they read and the resources that they use will appeal to them. Allow the teens choose the books and resources they will read and discuss.

Young adult reading clubs may be designed to reward teens for all of their participation at the library, including time spent volunteering and using educational computers. A teen reading club organized in this manner by the Fort Bend County Libraries is described at the beginning of Chapter III.

What kind of programs do young adults enjoy?

Many age-appropriate programs for young adults are suggested in Chapter IV of this manual. These include teen volunteer and teen advisory boards, a poetry workshop, a book discussion program, readers’ theater and role-playing programs, an introduction to the Internet, origami and storytelling, finding money for higher education, and a mini-game convention. Many young adults will enjoy these formal programs. They will also enjoy the “Passive Programming” such as scavenger hunts, come and go craft activities, book swap, and more that are also described in this chapter. Flexibility and creativity are keys to YA programming. Librarians are encouraged to use their creativity and alter the programs suggested in this manual and in other sources to fit the unique requirements of their libraries and teen populations.

Ideas for programs for teens beyond those in this manual may also be found in many books. For a list of programs that have been offered in Texas public libraries, see “Best Practices in Young Adult Services in Texas Libraries” on the Texas State Library web site at www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/projects/ya/practices.html. These were compiled during a workshop series that Patrick Jones conducted for the Texas State Library in March, 2002.

How do librarians reach teens and promote young adult programs?

Some teens frequent libraries because it is a place to “hang out” with their friends. Librarians have the opportunity to tell these teens about programs and books, show them the teen area, discover their interests, invite them to participate in programs, become volunteers, and serve on the teen advisory board. Other teens cannot be enticed to step into the building, much less to read a book. Others are simply unaware that the library has anything to offer them.

Librarians must be proactive in advertising and encouraging young adults to visit the library and must consider new venues for promotion. Eye-catching posters placed near young adult collections and in high-traffic areas of the library such as the circulation desk, the reference desk, and other information areas will draw the attention of teens in the library. Posters will be most effective in reaching and attracting teens who do not visit the library if displayed in places they frequent. These include school libraries, movie theaters, arcades, and bookstores. Public service announcements will be heard and seen by teens if aired on radio and television stations local teens like. Chapter III features a section on promoting young adult reading clubs and programs in the library, schools, community, and cyberspace. Ask teens for suggestions for promotion. They are a librarian’s best resource!

How do libraries contribute to the positive development of teens?

The Search Institute is an independent, nonprofit, nonsectarian organization with a mission to advance the well-being of adolescents and children by generating knowledge and promoting its application. At the heart of the institute’s work is the framework of 40 developmental assets which are positive experiences, relationships, opportunities, and personal qualities that young people need to grow into healthy, caring, and responsible adults. Young adults who are exposed to more of these assets have higher levels of academic success and are less likely to participate in risky behavior. Students with greater exposure to the 40 assets have fewer problem behaviors, including tobacco use, depression and attempted suicide, antisocial behavior, school problems, driving under the influence of alcohol, and gambling. These developmental assets are at the heart of many programs for young adults nationwide. They are developed by participation in library programs such as the young adult reading clubs, teen volunteer programs, and teen advisory boards, and other programs outlined in this manual. The “40 Developmental Assets” are reprinted at the end of this introduction with the permission of the Search Institute. To learn more about the developmental assets, see the Search Institute web site at www.search-institute.org/assets. Additional information about the value of the 40 assets and the research conducted by the Search Institute may be found at www.search-institute.org/research/.

Web Sites

National Center for Education Statistics

Services and Resources for Children and Young Adults in Public Libraries


Search Institute

Raising Caring and Responsible Teenagers


Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Young Adult Library Services, Collections, and Programs


Professional Resources

Connecting Young Adults and Libraries: A How-To-Do-It Manual by Patrick Jones.

The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult by Margaret A. Edwards.

“The Lone Ranger: YA Librarians Alone on the Range” by Jane R. Byczek and Renee J. Villancourt.VOYA 21 (June 1998): 105-08, 116.

“What’s a Teen?” by Carolyn Caywood. School Library Journal 39 (February 1993): 42.

40 Developmental Assets

External Assets


  1. Family Support - Family life provides high levels of love and sup- port.
  2. Positive Family Communication - Young person and her or his parent(s) communicate positively, and young person is willing to seek advice and counsel from parents.
  3. Other Adult Relationships - Young person receives support from three or more nonparent adults.
  4. Caring Neighborhood - Young person experiences caring neigh- bors.
  5. Caring School Climate - School provides a caring, encouraging environment.
  6. Parent Involvement in Schooling - Parent(s) are actively involved in helping young person succeed in school.


  1. Community Values Youth - Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth.
  2. Youth as Resources - Young people are given useful roles in the community.
  3. Service to Others - Young person serves in the community one hour or more per week.
  4. Safety - Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood

Boundaries and Expectations

  1. Family Boundaries - Family has clear rules and consequences and monitors the young person’s whereabouts.
  2. School Boundaries - School provides clear rules and consequences.
  3. Neighborhood Boundaries - Neighbors take responsibility for monitoring young people’s behavior.
  4. Adult Role Models - Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior.
  5. Positive Peer Influence - Young person’s best friends model responsible behavior.
  6. High Expectations - Both parent(s) and teachers encourage the young person to do well.

Constructive Use of Time

  1. Creative Activities - Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts.
  2. Youth Programs - Young person spends three or more hours per week in sports, clubs, or organizations at school and/or in the com- munity.
  3. Religious Community - Young person spends one or more hours per week in activities in a religious institution.
  4. Time at Home - Young person is out with friends “with nothing special to do” two or fewer nights per week.

Internal Assets

Commitment to Learning

  1. Achievement Motivation - Young person is motivated to do well at school.
  2. School Engagement - Young person is actively engaged in learn- ing.
  3. Homework - Young person reports doing at least one hour of home- work every school day.
  4. Bonding to School - Young person cares about her or his school.
  5. Reading for Pleasure - Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.

Positive Values

  1. Caring - Young person places high value on helping other people.
  2. Equality and Social Justice - Young person places high value on promoting equality and reducing hunger and poverty.
  3. Integrity - Young person acts on convictions and stands up for her or his beliefs.
  4. Honesty - Young person “tells the truth even when it’s not easy.”
  5. Responsibility - Young person accepts and takes personal responsibility.
  6. Restraint - Young person believes it is important not to be sexually active or to use alcohol or other drugs.

Social Competencies

  1. Planning and Decision Making - Young person knows how to plan ahead and make choices.
  2. Interpersonal Competence - Young person has empathy, sensitiv- ity, and friendship skills.
  3. Cultural Competence - Young person has knowledge of and com- fort with people of different cultural/racial/ethnic backgrounds.
  4. Resistance Skills - Young person can resist negative peer pressure and dangerous situations.
  5. Peaceful Conflict Resolution - Young person seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.

Positive Identity

  1. Personal Power - Young person feels he or she has control over “things that happen to me.”
  2. Self-Esteem - Young person reports having a high self-esteem.
  3. Sense of Purpose - Young person reports that “my life has a purpose.”
  4. Positive View of Personal Future - Young person is optimistic about her or his personal future.

Reprinted with permission from the Search Institute, (Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute). © Search Institute, 1997. www.search-institute.org.

1 Young Adult Library Services Association.

Directions for Library Service to Young Adults. 2nd ed. ALA, 1993.

2 Chelton, Mary K., and James M. Rosinia.

Bare Bones: Young Adult Service Tips For Public Library Generalists. American Library Association, 1983.

3 Missouri State Library. 2000.

Book Your Summer: Missouri Teen Summer Reading Program Planning Manual. Missouri State Library, 2000.

Page last modified: March 2, 2011