II. Developing a Young Adult Collection

Young adults vary greatly in maturity level, in psychological development, in physical development, and in specific educational and personal needs. Young adult library collections must offer a wide range of materials at various reading and interest levels. A young adult collection will optimally include print and non-print materials in all formats that young adults might enjoy reading, watching, hearing, or perusing. An array of both fiction and non-fiction resources will be included in a well-rounded collection. Genre fiction such as romance, horror, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, and adventure are popular. Non-fiction genres and topics will include poetry, supernatural and paranormal phenomena, drawing instruction, music instruction, up-to-date college and career information, true crime and mystery, personal hygiene, and sexual relations, as well as materials for school projects. Adult materials, picture books, short stories, comic books, puzzle books, graphic novels, and materials with unusual structures or alternative formats often catch the attention of teens. Coming-of-age novels and stories depicting teenagers dealing with real issues also appeal to young adult readers.

To best develop a collection for young adults, a librarian must be familiar with some characteristics of young adult reading. Young adults, like children and adults, read for pleasure and for information. According to Alleen Nilsen and Kenneth L. Donelson, reading development follows six stages. In their “Birthday Cake Theory of Reading Development,” they describe these stages as layers on a cake. The bottom layer is emergent literacy. The second layer is figuring out what reading is all about. The third layer is unconscious delight. The fourth layer is looking for one’s self in the literature. The fifth layer is looking at society through literature. The sixth and highest level is aesthetic appreciation of literature.4

Most young adults are in the third, fourth, or fifth stage. Those in the unconscious delight stage want to practice reading. In this stage, familiar stories with fun, predictable, and reassuring plots are most popular. Those in the fourth stage want to see themselves, their friends, their enemies, and their lives in books. These readers may find themselves in fiction and non-fiction, and in familiar and exotic settings. Young adults in the fifth stage are beginning to look beyond their own circles towards the larger world. Reading offers insight into the world around them.4

Librarians must consider the reading characteristics of young adults as well as the library’s mission statement and collection development policies when developing a young adult collection. Selection of young adult materials must conform to the library’s goals and objectives. Most materials selection policies call for a balance of titles with favorable professional reviews, literary merit, and popular demand. Each library must carefully and thoroughly review its current young adult collection, assess its strengths and weaknesses, and define its optimal scope based upon the needs of young adults in the community. The library must then develop the young adult collection accordingly.

Reviews of materials for young adults may be found in journals such as Booklist, School Library Journal, and Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA). Entertainment Weekly and The New York Times Book Review also offer reviews on some materials of interest to young adults.

Additional tools that will assist in developing a YA collection are booklists, award lists, and web sites. However, lists are not meant as substitutes for careful collection development decisions.

Young adult involvement in collection development is a tool that many librarians overlook. Ask young adults what materials do and do not interest them, and why. Pay close attention to the types of materials that are most often requested for pleasure and for completion of school assignments. Lead discussions of books with young adult patrons. Librarians may ask teen volunteers and/or the teen advisory board to play integral parts in the collection development process. These teens may read reviews, search for topical materials on web sites, and make suggestions for purchases. The input of the target audience is invaluable to librarians who make collection development decisions.

Web Sites for Collection Development

BWI Wholesalers


BWI’s Title Tales offers subject, title, author, and series searches for materials and provides some reviews of those materials.

Follett Library Services


Follett’s Title Wave provides free selection tools for Librarians and reviews for materials that may be used to build a YA collection.

Teen Hoopla


This web site for young adults provides reviews for books as well as links to other interesting sites.

Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)


YALSA offers a variety of booklists, including: Best Books for Young Adults, Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults, Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, Selected Videos and DVDs for Young Adults, and Selected Audiobooks for Young Adults. YALSA also offers many award lists, including the Michael L. Printz Award, the Margaret A. Edwards Award, and the Alex Awards.

The Young Adult Round Table of the Texas Library Association (YART)


The YART web site features reading lists for young adults, including the Lone Star Reading List and the Tayshas High School Reading List.

Professional Resources

Best Books For Young Adults: The Selections, the History, the Romance, 2nd Edition by Betty Carter.

Nonfiction for Young Adults: From Delight to Wisdom by Carter, Betty and Richard F. Abrahamson.

4 Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Kenneth L. Donelson.

Literature for Today’s Young Adults. Scott, Foresman, 1985.

Page last modified: March 2, 2011