Reference and Information Services for Young Adults: A Research Study of Public Libraries in New Jersey

By Winston, Mark; Paone, Kimberly Lione | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Reference and Information Services for Young Adults: A Research Study of Public Libraries in New Jersey


Winston, Mark, Paone, Kimberly Lione, Reference & User Services Quarterly


This study is intended to contribute to the discussion of important issues in library services to young adults by reporting the results of a survey of all of the public libraries in New Jersey--a large, diverse, well-populated state, with a range of sizes and types of public libraries, and a significant young adult population. The results indicate that services are provided for young adults, but that such services are less formalized than those for other service populations. Staffing devoted to services for young adults is limited and other opportunities to enhance the services provided are missed.

According to the Census Bureau, the total number of young people aged ten to nineteen in this country is increasing from nearly 35 million in 1990 to an estimated 43 million by 2020. (1) At present, young adults make up approximately 25 percent of the public library's clientele, and given the census statistics, that percentage is likely to grow in years to come. It is for this reason, as well as on the basis of the specific research and information needs of adolescents, that services in public libraries targeting this age group should be examined and, where necessary, improved and expanded. The information needs of young adults include homework and research assistance, as well as personal information, information regarding careers, colleges and universities, pleasure reading, and entertainment.

Despite the fact that the teenage population in public libraries is so large and in need of support, young adult services are seemingly not afforded the same amount of attention, or allocation of budget resources, as adult, or even childen services. Evidence suggests that young adult services are lacking. Teen programs are often nonexistent. While young adults may need the most help, they sometimes get the least.

Literature Review

Young Adult Services

As a review of the library literature demonstrates, little has been written about young adult services when compared to other aspects of public library information services, such as reference and other services for adults or children. It appears that this pattern of a limited focus on young adult services is evident in many aspects of the provision of library services for this population in public libraries as well.

The library literature pertaining to young adults covers several areas of focus: the history of young adult services, programming, evaluation of programs and services, and many "how-to" articles demonstrating the "best" way to organize and manage a young adult department. (2)

Books and articles of this how-to type, such as Jones's Connecting Young Adults and Libraries and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA)'s "Competencies for Librarians Serving Young Adults," are especially helpful for the library generalist whose duties include time spent with young adults. (3)

The library literature includes few surveys or other original research focusing on young adult services. Two notable works, both of which are national in scope, address issues that are the focus of the research discussed here. The studies focus on the number of staff who work primarily with young adults and the types of services provided for young adults in public libraries.

In his 1998 article, "Young Adult Library Service Redux?--Some Preliminary Findings," Cart discusses the results of a survey of the fifty largest public libraries in the United States. (4) This survey focused on the libraries' definitions of "young adult," the numbers of employees serving this age group, and the kinds of services provided.

Cart reported that half of the respondents in the study defined "young adults" as ranging from twelve to eighteen years of age, as do YALSA and the U.S. Department of Education. (5) The other respondents listed a variety of other age ranges, reflecting some inconsistency in the way in which the population is defined. …

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