Teen Librarian Toolbox
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Serving Teens Full T.I.L.T.: Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming

Early on in my career as a YA librarian I was invited to a community meeting where I learned about the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets. This information became one of the guiding principles for me in youth librarianship; it informs what I do as a YA librarian along every step of the way from planning to evaluating to communicating the value of youth services. The 40 Developmental Assets are meaningful goalposts that help inform and guide what anyone who works with youth should be doing to help nurture the youth they serve. To help give a basic introduction to the 40 Developmental Assets, let’s turn to the Search Institute itself:

In 1990, Search Institute released a framework of 40 Developmental Assets, which identifies a set of skills, experiences, relationships, and behaviors that enable young people to develop into successful and contributing adults. Over the following two decades, the Developmental Assets framework and approach to youth development became the most frequently cited and widely utilized in the world, creating what Stanford University’s William Damon described as a “sea change” in adolescent development.

Data collected from Search Institute surveys of more than 4 million children and youth from all backgrounds and situations has consistently demonstrated that the more Developmental Assets young people acquire, the better their chances of succeeding in school and becoming happy, healthy, and contributing members of their communities and society.

YouTube clip from inspiredtoserve

The value of the 40 Developmental Assets is that they have been tested and evaluated against a wide variety of diverse teen groups for many years. They cross cultural, social and economic boundaries and help those of us who work with teens understand the key needs of the patrons we serve irregardless of the communities in which we work. Our communities may differ, but the need for these 40 Developmental Assets remain consistent among all teens.

Here’s how the 40 Developmental Assets works. The 40 assets are divided into two main categories: External Assets, those that come from outside of the teen, and Internal Assets, those that come from within the teen. These larger categories are then further divided into subcategories where each asset is listed. For example, the External Assets are subdivided into “Support” and “other adult relationships” falls into this category. Similarly, we can look under External Assets and find the subcategory “Empowerment.”

It looks like this:

External Asset: Empowerment

  1. Community Values Youth
    Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth. (The Search Institute)

The Building YOUth page at Bernard Communities has the 40 Developmental Assets organized and presented in a very concise presentation. You can also see the complete list at The Search Institute.

The more of the assets a teen has, the less like they are to engage in risky behavior like drug and alcohol abuse and the more likely they are to engage in thriving behaviors. When teens have more than 10 of the assets there is a decrease in risky behaviors and the more assets a teen has the better choices they seem to make. The goal is to help teens develop as many of the 40 Developmental Assets as possible.

The 40 Developmental Assets are a key part of library services to teens because they inform so many aspects of teen services:

1. Understanding Teen Development

Knowing and understanding them helps us better understand our teens, how they develop and what they need to develop in healthy ways. When combined with our knowledge of basic adolescent development and recent science about the teen brain, we have a better picture of who teens are and what they need to succeed.

2.Planning with End Goals in Mind

They provide a good framework for building teen programming. Knowing that teens need these assets to be successful adults guides my library programs and services with these assets in mind. They become part of the goals in my library planning and decision making.

3.Evaluating Teen Services

They provide a good framework for evaluating programs. When helping teens develop these assets is one of the end goals library programs and services, they can be evaluated to determine whether or not they are helping teens gain the greatest number of assets.

4.Communicating with the Public

They provide a good rationale for the value of teen programming to library administrators, co-workers and the community at large. Letting the community know what the library is doing to help teens gain assets provides talking points to demonstrate that programs and services for teens are essential in my community.

Using the 40 Developmental Assets for Program Planning, Evaluation and Communicating with the Public

Use a Rainbow Loom program as an example. It may be easy for staff to look in at a Rainbow Loom program and think the library is wasting money and staff resources while a teen services librarian sits there making Rainbow Loom bracelets with a group of 20 teens, but deeper examination shows a wide variety of constructive developments. Teens are using cognitive skills, such as sequencing, planning, creative thinking, interpreting instructions and problem solving. Teens are engaged in a meaningful social activity while developing these cognitive skills. But more than that, teens are also engaged in building some of the following assets:

Young person receives support from three or more non-parent adults. (External Asset: Support: Other Adult Relationships)

Young person experiences caring neighbors.(External Asset: Support: Caring Neighborhood)

Young person feels safe at home, school, and in the neighborhood. (External Asset: Empowerment: Safety)

Young person perceives that adults in the community value youth. (External Asset: Empowerment: Community Values Youth)

Parent(s) and other adults model positive, responsible behavior. (External Asset: Boundaries and Expectations: Adult Role Models)

Young person spends three or more hours per week in lessons or practice in music, theater, or other arts. (External Asset: Constructive Use of Time: Creative Activities)

Listing each developmental asset as a programming goal helps determine the effective of the program in helping both teens the the community.

In evaluating the program, I determine whether or not the teens in attendance had the opportunity to meet those gals as predicated. Again, the more assets gain the more effective the program. Looking at the 40 Developmental Assets is an important part of the evaluation process. I discuss my thoughts on program evaluation in more detail here. The 40 Developmental Assets are just one of the tools I use to discern whether programs are effective and meaningful for teens.

I then use this information to communicate to my library administrators, co-workers, and the community at large the value of teen programming at the library. It helps to know that by attending a Rainbow Loom program at the library teens engage in meaningful social activities that meet a wide variety of social, emotional and intellectual goals while having an opportunity to strengthen six developmental assets. It may not look like much to an outside observer, but important things are happening behind those Rainbow Looms. More than numbers on a page, the 40 Developmental Assets help us understand what our teens need to be successful, they help us evaluate our work, and they help us communicate our value and success to those who need to understand what we are doing and why.

Some of the key findings from asset based programming includes the fact that:

1. Asset building is relational

Have a dedicated team of trained, knowledgeable and invested library staff working with teens can help cultivate meaningful adult relationships that provide a solid foundation for asset building. Many of the assets revolve around the fact that teens need to know that their communities care about them and that non-parental adults serve as role-models and engage in meaningful relationships with them. Having the proper staffing in place to work with youth in our community is essential. The right staff will care about youth, understand youth, and be committed to working with youth. Having the wrong staff, having untrained staff or having inconsistent staffing can be just as detrimental as having no staff.

2. Asset building cultivates youth involvement

Whether utilizing focus groups or Teen Advisory Groups (TAG), asset building affirms the youth involvement that YALSA has championed. Giving teens a voice in library services isn’t just about getting good information and raising your numbers, it’s about creating library environments that nurture the 40 Developmental Assets in teens. Teen involvement doesn’t have to be a formal affair that involves meetings and evaluation forms, it can also come in providing teen volunteer opportunities or in those more informal moments that happen as you engage with teen patrons and develop those relationships as well.

3. Asset building promotes holistic development

The 40 Developmental Assets reach across a wide variety of needs and development areas to create a cohesive toolkit that nurtures holistic youth development.  They incorporate physical well being and educational pursuits into a rubric that allows us to look at and support the whole teen.

The best part about the 40 Developmental Assets is that just by having well built, diverse YA collection libraries are meeting one of my favorite assets:

Internal Assets: Commitment to Learning: Reading for Pleasure | Young person reads for pleasure three or more hours per week.

But just having collections isn’t enough, which is why YA services should include knowledgeable and passionate staff who are dedicated to providing well built collections, meaningful services, and a variety of programs. The more assets we can encourage in our teens the better it is for us all.

Additional Reading and Sources:

Building Developmental Assets: A Foundation for Youth Development

Serving Full T.I.L.T. series:

January 14 By the Numbers, making the case for teen services using basic demographic information (Karen Jensen)

January 21 Sarcasm, Spice and Everything Awesome: The Developing Teen (Rebecca Denham)

January 28 Teen Brain Science 101 (Heather Booth)

February 4 Asset Building 101, How using the 40 Developmental Assets can help us plan and evaluate teen programming (Karen Jensen)

February 11 Diverse teens, diverse needs (Eden Grey)

February 18 Sharing stories, how knowing and sharing the stories of our teens can help make the case (Heather Booth)

February 25 Empathy, remembering what it means to be a teen and how it makes us better teen services librarians (Heather Booth)

March 4 A Teen Services 101 Infographic (Rebecca Denham and Karen Jensen)

March 11 Talking Up Teens: Discussing Teen Services with Library Administration (Eden Grey)


  1. […] at your programs and determining if they’re succeeding or not. In fact, there’s a great post on Teen Librarian Toolbox that breaks down how many assets most of us are probably using at most, […]

  2. […] or attends a program. She especially mentioned the 40 Developmental Assets for Teens as well as this great post on Teen Librarian Toolbox about using those assets in your program […]

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