Sunday, March 1, 2009

Underserved Populations: The "Other" Young Adults

In the library world, the term "young adult" is used to refer to individuals aged 12-18 (sometimes 21). In recent years, much attention has been paid to this group and to the historical lack of services and materials that cater to the interests of these young folk. Over the past ten years, however, publishers, authors, and librarians alike have dutifully tapped this market, giving rise to teen divisions of publishing houses, honors such as the Printz Award to recognize the contributions of young adult authors, "Young Adult" or "Teen Librarians" tasked with developing a collection and providing programming to teens, and of course, Nerdfighters.

But what about those other young adults? You know the ones I'm talking about. Those guys and gals in their post-high school/college years. Quarter-lifers. Twenty-somethings. The "real" young adults, who are both already adults, but still young and new to the scene of adulthood. Maybe I'm more sympathetic to the cause because I am one myself, but I find that this is truly the most underserved age-group, librarilly speaking. There's a sense that people in their twenties who are busy starting careers and settling into long-term romantic relationships aren't exactly the library demographic, but libraries also don't tend to offer programming that caters to their needs and interests. And so I wonder: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

It just may be a case of "if you build it, they will come." It worked for teens, right? So why can't it work for twenty-something young adults? Most of them are going to wind up at the library sooner or later as parents anyway. Why not bring them back sooner? I'm not saying it will be effortless, and I certainly don't think it's something that would catch on overnight. But with the proper foundation, I think it could really catch on. A lot of people in their twenties don't have a lot of money and could benefit from some free media. Think about it. The collection is already there, it just has to be marketed in the right place and in the right way:

* Commuters could save major duckets by checking out books (or CDs) of their favorite new releases instead of buying them at Barnes & Noble or
* And what about downloadable audio? You can do that from home!
* The library's DVD collection is ripe for replacing the monthly Netflix/Blockbuster subscription

And what about programming?

* A fiction book club where monthly reads feature protagonists in their twenties
* A non-fiction book club focusing on topics like jobs, relationships and finances
* Cooking classes on "Meals for One" (bonus: a nice way to meet other singles!)
* Displays including titles like Suze Orman's Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke and Abby Wilner and Alexandra Robbins' Quarter-Life Crisis,

But how to get 'em to the library in the first place? What about promoting events and the collection...

* through posters/flyers at the gym, restaurants, the supermarket, laundromat and bars?
* in the calendar and advertisement sections of area publications similar to On Tap, The Village Voice, and Time Out?
* via direct mail (or e-mail!) to patrons in the age demographic?

I think this could really work - especially in high population centers. I think I see the next wave of library patrons coming our way.


  1. I'm all for this! :-)

    Two possible additions/modifications:

    1. I love the book club idea but would add that books on pretty much any topic would be of interest. Book-loving folks who're out of school (and not using Facebook for this purpose :)) are, I think, eager to talk about books in general.

    2. A lot of folks I know are either choosing to have children later in life, choosing not to have children at all, or just in circumstances where children aren't a realistic proposition. So, I like the idea that "young adult" services vs. services for young parents could be viewed as totally separate ideas, rather than a sooner vs. later thing.

  2. Yay, great ideas! I know most of my friends who haven't gone to grad school yet have been itching to get some sort of academic/intellectual stimulation or interactions and have recently joined book clubs. It seems so obvious (and yet, not happening) to host a twenty-something book club at the library.

  3. Ads on social networking sites are super cheap, and also can be targeted very effectively. We use them all the time to get the word out for events.

  4. At the 2007 ALA annual conference, there was a program called "Future Friends: Marketing Reference and User Services to Generation X." Three(?) of the speakers were from the St. Charles Public Library and the Young Friends of Kansas City Public Library, if you're looking for advice.

  5. Oh hooray! I'm not alone in thinking this would be a good idea! I wish I was in a position to get something like this going myself, but I'm not sure it's in the cards. Very exciting as a possible opportunity for greater outreach.