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Adolescent Development in a Library Context

Thinking critically about the various aspects of adolescent development when implementing library services is vital in providing relevant information to and programming for this age group. Being knowledgable about youth and teens' development as well as listening to young people who voice their needs can help librarians to provide the best service possible.


Just as with any other patron at the library, when providing reference services to teens, focusing on user-centered services and positive customer service is a must. As shown in the other adolescent development pages, teens can have rather rocky relationships with authority as they are trying to become more independent. Sometimes, library staff and administration might have negative feelings regarding teens and an "us-versus-them" mentality can arise (Bolan, et al., 2002, p. 42). However, if adults are able to show teens that they value teens' opinions and respect them, then teens will be more likely to use the library for their information needs and become lifelong library users.

One of the most popular types of reference questions librarians will receive from adolescents is the "imposed query" (Harris, 2005). This is a question related to research for a school or other required project. When adolescents have to go to the library and ask reference questions about research they may or may not be interested in, they may not view the library in the most positive way. Libraries can become a place just to get schoolwork done, rather than a place to be curious and discover new information. However, by providing great customer service, librarians can help adolescents come away with a more positive experience. Then patrons will be more likely to come back with other questions. Teens have many everyday information seeking needs that librarians can help to answer. By creating a positive, welcoming environment, adolescents may be more likely to come to the library to find out more about various subjects (Harris, 2005).

Check out the YA section of the Reference Services for Youth wiki page for more detailed information and the page on Adolescent Literacy for related information.

Programming Considerations

When creating programs for teens, considering aspects of development can help to create successful programs and better serve teens. Benson (2002) writes of the importance of empowering adolescents through community involvement. To promote healthy development, adults can "encourage children and adolescents to become actors within a community, with a focus on being valued and useful within it" (p. 128). Creating programs that show teens that they are independent and valued in the library and community will help to empower teens and contribute to positive development.

Some ways to show teens that their opinions are valued and to help empower them through community involvement are through the following programs (Bolan, et. al 2007):
  • Teen Advisory Boards (TABs), also called Teen Advisory Groups - The Teen Advisory Boards wiki page provides further information
  • Focus Groups - these can help to find out from teens how best to serve them while also empower teens to show that the library values their opinion
  • Teen Mentors - teens can be computer mentors for adults or kids and homework or reading mentors for younger kids
  • Teen Representatives to the Library Board - if the board is open to this, it can be a great opportunity to show (especially older) teens how a library as community organization works

In addition, during adolescence, young people are often concerned with social peer-to-peer relationships, so hosting programs that have a more social element to them, can be very beneficial. Teens also have a wide spectrum of interests, so programs should be varied, creative and fun. As teens grow older, they become more interested in future plans such as work or college. Hosting programs that focus on these plans, such as job or college fairs, college prep programs or career development workshops, can help teens to continue to develop positively.


Outreach can be an important way to impact youth who may not usually visit the library. For more information on outreach in terms of marketing to adolescents who may (or may not) visit the library, check out the library marketing wiki page's section on marketing to teens. Outreach also has an important role in serving adolescents in unique situations which may negatively impact healthy development. Young people face many of the same problems adults can: homelessness, poverty, discrimination, limited access to information resources, and many other unique needs.

Some groups where outreach efforts might be beneficial include those for homeschoolers, incarcerated youth, non-native speakers of english, and other special needs youth. Each of these groups has important, unique information needs, and it is important for libraries to know the youth in their communities and reach out to serve them better.

One example of a demographic that may not be at the forefront of outreach services is youth in foster care; nearly all libraries serve children in foster homes. These children may have special needs when it comes to resources and relationships with librarians. Foster children are kicked out of foster care when they reach "adulthood" at 18 years of age, but in many cases these teens still lack the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the adult world. How can youth services librarians better serve the developmental needs of foster children of all ages? Jessica Snow, Young Adult Outreach Librarian for Oakland (CA) Public Library, writes about how her experience as a mentor for foster children helped her develop an outreach program to reach these youth. She notes that while in care, foster children do not learn how to accomplish life tasks because things like buying clothing, buying food, and budgeting money are largely done for them by the system and their foster home. Snow partnered with community organizations and schools to reach foster children in order to help them use the library--a steady force in an often unsteady life for foster children--for recreation, and as a place to learn vital life skills.

Through outreach services, youth and teen librarians can help to serve these and other young people with unique needs.

For more great general information on how to serve adolescents, check out RUSA's Guide for Library Services to Teens