Wondering When They’ll Pursue Young "Adults"

To read a lot of library professional literature, or to read just about any positive news story about libraries of the moment, there is currently a huge focus on teens. The stories proclaim that nurturing teens means cultivating future patrons and support. So libraries cater and plan to the best of their abilities to get teens into the library- to stuff them full of snacks and play video games.

Before certain bloggers jump down my throat, I’ll say up front I’m not ‘against’ gaming. This shouldn’t be taken as an anti-gaming diatribe to be used as an excuse to tell me that I’m not “with the movement of the future.” We have gaming, I’ve helped with gaming, I can understand it and appreciate its value without finding it particularly interesting. I can also do readers advisory for genres I find utterly tedious. But a lot of teens don’t game and are getting passed over in this rush to grab the gamers. (I’m also not against snacks but it’s occasionally frustrating to know one of the only ways we’ll get teens in the door is to have food.)

It raises the question: what happens once they turn 18 or 21? What happens when at 25, they’ve moved beyond high school or college and are ready for something different? Are libraries stepping up?

Consider your adult programming: Are your adult services librarians reaching out with as much enthusiasm to patrons in their 20s and 30s as your YA librarians are to the teens? Are you as aggressive about meeting the needs of new home owners or independent business starters, those newly independent from parental homes, adults who have newly relocated to your area, or just people who are looking for others with whom they share a common literary interest? Is the majority of your adult programming done at times inconvenient to working adults or is it very limited in its appeal? I know, we can’t be all things to all people, but I’ve encountered libraries where it seemed they weren’t being anything to anyone of those age groups beyond a repository of materials.

There’s a weird break that I’ve come across in library public programming: tons of stuff for kids, an increasing level of programs for teens, and then–seniors. While these are all valuable age groups to consider and program for, that cuts out about 35-40 years of people, many of whom are active library users and who are tax payers supporting public libraries.

Certainly with the increasing focus on gaming you could offer gaming programs for adults. But while the number of gaming adults is increasing, there are many adults who–like me–aren’t interested in a library program based around a Wii or an RPG. I hear rumors of libraries making a concerted effort to reach out to adults with appropriate computer classes, programs on cooking or home buying, and business development assistance. I recently heard of one librarian who took a strong group of “aged out teens” and developed an adult version of their popular manga/anime club. I hope that’s a growing trend.

I worry that some libraries run the risk of over-cultivating the teens. Is the concern being raised that we could potentially fall flat on our faces if teens feel they’ve outgrown us once they’ve left high school? Our teen librarians are working like crazy to keep them involved, what is happening to make them care beyond their 19th birthday?

One side note–it’s broader than libraries. There’s a trend to write and read more young adult and teen literature. While in many ways this is admirable, bringing out new writers and new voices and a wealth of enjoyable books–we’re also seeing backlash of adults finding it unacceptable that other adults aren’t reading “adult” books. If the good books are in teen though…

I’m pleased to see such a growth of outreach to teens. As much as I laud preschool storytime, it’s wonderful to plan programs for youth old enough to have a “craft” with small pieces and hot glue. I’m glad there are librarians with enthusiasm and drive that are pouring their passion into making their libraries a teen-friendly place. I love and read a lot of the new literature coming out for young adults.

But I’ve grown weary of the magazine covers celebrating all things teen gamer. I’d like to hear about more things that worked to engage those just post-collegiate or ideas that we can use for our teen programming that may translate better into adult programs. Younger adults too are seeking their identity. Why not make the library a part of it?