Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Have Some Teen Slang, By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

As the years pass, language develops and changes a lot. It can sometimes be hard to keep up with some of the things that are said, but I hope this can help make current teen lingo a little easier to understand. I’ve made a list of a few terms that teens use often.

  1. Sus- shortened version of suspicious (eg. He’s pretty sus)
  2. Fit- shorten version of outfit (eg. Check the fit)
  3. Throw hands- fight (eg. I’m gonna throw hands)
  4. Gang gang- a term of agreement
  5. Bet- another term of agreement or a way to say “watch me” (eg. “You can’t do that” “Bet”)
  6. Cap- a lie (eg. That’s cap)
  7. Flex- to show off or something that’s being shown off (eg. Weird flex, but ok)
  8. Lowkey- slightly (eg. I lowkey hate it here)
  9. Vibes- can be used to say “cool”, the energy a person gives off ,or hang out (eg. They have bad vibes or We’re gonna go vibe at the park)
  10. Tea- gossip (eg. Spill the tea)
  11. Salty- bitter (eg. I’m lowkey salty that they said that)
  12. Simp- someone who’s willing to do anything for someone because they like them (eg. I’d simp for him)
  13. Cancel- to stop supporting someone, usually famous, for doing something problematic (eg. He’s cancelled)
  14. Stan- to support someone or something (eg. We stan them)
  15. Shade- subtle insult (eg. He’s throwing shade)
  16. Go off- way to encourage someone to keep talking. it can also be used sarcastically (eg. I don’t really care but go off I guess)
  17. Aight- shortened version of alright (eg. Aight bet let’s do it)
  18. Drop- to stop talking to someone, stop talking about something, or give something out (eg. Drop the skincare routine)
  19. As you should- another term of agreement, usually said when someone says something about themselves (eg. “I dropped them because they were toxic ” “As you should”)
  20. Period- term of agreement used when it’s a finalization of something (eg. “They had such good vibes” “Period”)

This obviously isn’t all of them, but these are the ones that are probably heard most often. A lot of these are very similar, but when they’re used is up to the situation. Hopefully this makes understanding slang a little bit easier.

Riley, Teen Reviewer

I am a senior in high school and an avid reader. I have been reviewing books on this blog since 2012. I love musical theatre and listen to show tunes a lot. I also love murder books (both fiction and nonfiction), and want to go to college to be a forensic scientist after high school. Reading is one of my favorite things to do, so I just put that hobby to good use for my mom.

A Brief History of YA Literature, an Infographic

Several months ago someone on Twitter asked a question about YA literature and I went looking for an answer. That sent me down a rabbit hole in which I started reading a bunch of research and articles about YA lit. It was a fascinating journey through space and time, and my life as an adult. I started working as a YA paraprofessional in public libraries in 1993 at the age of 20, right around the time libraries really started committing sincere time and energy to serving teens. I became a degreed librarian in 2002, just a few months after The Teen, a prolific YA reader herself, was born. So this research was both professional and personal. In many ways, the timeline you see below is a timeline of my career working with teens and reading the books that I was sharing with them. My life as a reader and my career as a YA librarian is woven into the fabric of this infographic you see below.

To make the following infographic, I took a deep dive into the history of YA literature, reading a lot of research online and in professional journals. I also sought out the help of my fellow TLTers who checked and then double checked my work. We checked initial book publication dates. We swapped out lesser known titles for more well known titles that represented that era best. We looked to make sure we were as inclusive and diverse as we could be, understanding that early eras of YA literature were sadly definitely not focused on representation. Then we combed through this searching for typos (I sincerely hope you don’t find any!). My friend and YA librarian extraordinaire Heather Booth was a particular help to me on this and I thank her. The infographic itself was made using Canva.

Today I present to you a brief history of YA literature, an infographic

Please note, because this is an infographic, it is by no means comprehensive. There are lots of great YA titles and authors that I would have liked to included here. For example, Sarah Dessen’s first book, That Summer, was published in 1996, just a few years after I started working with teens in libraries, and she has always been there with me working with teens in libraries. It also seems weird not to have John Green on this infographic given the influence he had on YA readers in the earlier 2000s. It seems especially weird not to have one of The Teen and I’s favorite authors, A. S. King, on this infographic. There are way more amazing books and authors that everyone should know about, hands down, but this infographic is a place to start.

Also, a brief note about Monster by Walter Dean Myers. It was originally published in 1999, but it won the first ever Michael L. Printz Award for Young Adult literature in 2000 so I put it on the 2000s.

It’s also interesting to note that although YA literature originally was defined as being a book written for someone aged 12 to 18, today most YA literature is suggested as being for readers ages 14 and up and more often than not contains a protagonist who is 16 and up. More and more, it’s is Middle Grade fiction, defined as being for readers ages 8 to 12, that the youngest teen readers turn to. Younger teens, those ages 13, 14 or 15, are often left out of the literature all together these days. Andrea Sower did some anecdotal data collecting about this which she shared on Twitter.

Whether you are an experienced YA librarian or someone who is just diving into the world of YA lit professionally or personally, I hope you will take a few moments to journey into the history of YA lit and learn a bit more about it. Understanding the history of YA lit helps us understand a bit more of what makes YA lit, well, YA lit and why that matters.

When you think about YA literature, what are some of the authors and titles that you think of as being representative of that time in YA history? Talk with us in the comments about the history of YA literature and what it means to you.

Resources and Some Further Reading:

Be sure to go down the rabbit hole yourself and follow the links on each article to even more reading about the history of YA.














A Brief History of YA Literature

Teen Services 101: Foundations – Understanding Teens Today

I’ve been working on doing some training in various avenues with staff that are new to working with teens in public libraries. I recently outlined what I think is necessary to make a comprehensive and successful teen services plan here, and now I’ve been working on pulling out some of those pieces and fleshing them out. Today I’m going to be talking about understanding who teens are, the foundations. I believe when we understand who teens are, break down our personal biases and truly flesh out what motivates teen behavior, we better serve them. In subsequent posts I will be talking about what teens want from public libraries, the challenges we face in serving teens, and going over some programming fundamentals. We’ll wrap up with a brief overview and timeline of YA literature – I’ve been working on an inforgraphic! But for today, let’s delve into the life of teens and see if we can serve them well by understanding who they are.

The Teen working on some digital media

The Foundations: Understanding Teens

Basic Stats

In general, teens make up around 13.2% of the population. Though that number is expected to decrease in the next few years, the overall number of teens will still grow because the population is growing. A failure to serve teens and serve them well means that we are failing more than 10% of our local communities. And like any population, teens are not a monolith, they are diverse and complicated and always changing. Knowing some basic statistics about teens helps us better understanding who they are and how to serve them. Some things we know:

  • 46% identify as a person of color and that percentage will keep growing
  • 10-20% identify as LGBTQIA+, though recent polls suggest that number may be much higher
  • Around 1 in 5 faces food insecurity, meaning they aren’t sure where there next meal is coming from and they often go to bed hungry
  • Around 1 in 6 teens of all genders will be the victim of sexual violence by the age 18
  • Around 1 in 4 struggle with a mental health issues

These are just a few of the statistics that help us identify who our teens are. More importantly, what they remind us of is the fact that in one way or the other, in ways that we often will never know, our teens are struggling with a wide variety of issues that can influence behavior. It never hurts to have compassion for the teens walking through our doors.

You can find more statistics here: see http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2015/01/serving-full-t-i-l-t-making-the-case-with-demographics/)

Basics of Adolescent Development

In addition to having some basic statistical knowledge, we know that adolescence having their own unique challenges in terms of development. When we talk about adolescent development, here’s what we know:

  1. Teens are social and relationship oriented
  2. Identity formation is an important task during this period
  3. Teens are working on gaining independence and often straddle two worlds and receive conflicting messages about who they are and what is expected of them.
  4. Hormones and body changes take a lot of physical energy and teens often need a lot of sleep
  5. Teens are under intense pressure, literally & peer pressure

For more information on adolescent development, see

Teen Brain Science

We now know through teen brain science studies that the adolescent brain functions differently then an adult brain. In fact, young adults don’t begin to think like adults until the age of 24 or 25. Teens don’t utilize their frontal lobes in the same ways that adults do. Since the frontal lobe is responsible for things like complex decision making, impulse control and understanding potential consequences, we find that teens are often impulsive and act in ways that don’t make sense to most adults, especially those who have forgotten what it is like to be a teenager. It is critical that those working with teens understand how the teen brain differs from an adult brain and adjust their expectations accordingly.

For more on teen brain science see:

The 40 Developmental Assets

Research from the Search Institute focuses on a concept known as The 40 Developmental Assets. These are 40 assets, or attributes, that researchers have identified that benefit teens and help them to grow into healthy, successful people. The more assets a teen can check off of the list, the less likely they are to engage in risky behavior. Risky behavior is defined as things like drug use, drinking, unprotected sex, etc.

You can read more about the 40 Developmental Assets here: http://www.teenlibrariantoolbox.com/2015/02/serving-teens-full-t-i-l-t-asset-building-101-how-using-the-40-developmental-assets-can-help-us-plan-and-evaluate-teen-programming/ and https://www.search-institute.org/our-research/development-assets/developmental-assets-framework/.

Understanding Generation Z

Defined: Born between 1995 – 2014

Largest group of teens yet: Roughly 60 million

Life Defining Moments: 9/11, Recession of 2018, Today’s group of teens have never lived in a time when the United States was not involved in multiple wars in other countries


•Digital Natives – Multi-taskers, visual, less focused (average attention span is 8 seconds)

•Entrepreneurs (want to turn interests into $, but they are bargain hunters)

•Prefer quality over quantity and do most of their shopping online •Socially conscious and engaged (March for Our Lives, Little Miss Flint, Climate change protests)

•Like making money but saving it (they are bargain hunters)

•Although they are online, they care about privacy and personal contact

•More diverse and accepting than previous generation

For more information on Generation Z, check out these 5 Infographics on Gen Z.

What else do you think we need to know about teens today? Drop us a comment and add to the discussion. Next Time: What do teens want from public libraries?

Take 5: Things I Learned at the Library Journal Directors’ Summit


I had the honor last week of attending the Library Journal Directors’ Summit although I am not, in fact, a library director. I was invited to attend and speak about doing a collection diversity audit and I challenged the library directors in attendance to put some intentional effort into building equality in their collections by asking their staff in one way or another to engage in diversity audits. If we don’t audit our collections – or at a bare minimum our book orders – how do we know that we are in fact building inclusive collections? Far too often we rely on good will, gut feelings, and this idea that because we believe in diversity that we are doing the work. I would argue, and my own experience auditing my collection supports this belief, that even those of us with the best of intentions can find ourselves falling far short of our stated goals. In fact, because the state of children’s literature is so far from diverse, building inclusive collections takes a lot of very intentional work.


Intentional equity was a big theme of this year’s Directors’ Summit, and it was inspiring to hear about what other libraries are doing to meet the needs of their local communities and to help make the world a better place. Here are just a few of the things that I heard talked about this past week.

San Francisco Pop Up Care Village

If you are engaged in the professional discussions in any way, you are probably aware that the city of San Francisco, like many cities, is struggling to meet the needs of a large homeless population. San Francisco began hosting pop up care events that includes inviting LavaMae mobile shower units to come provide free showers, inviting local barbers to come give free hair cuts, providing free food and more. What an amazing service this is and I was moved by the care in which participants talked about what they were doing and why to help serve their homeless population.


Outreach to New Citizens, Immigrants and Refugees

Both the San Diego Public Library and the San Francisco Public Library shared stories about how they did outreach to immigrants and refugees in a variety of ways, including being present at citizenship graduations and swearing in ceremonies where they handed out free books and celebrated the new citizenship status of their patrons. Although there is a lot of divisive rhetoric happening in political discussions regarding refugees and immigration, both of these libraries have made it part of their mission to be sanctuaries to these marginalized groups and they are actively working to engage and meet the needs of immigrant and refugee families and their children in profoundly moving ways. You can get examples of the work they are doing here and here.

Narcan in the Library

I have personally been against the idea of asking or requiring staff to provide first aid measures of any sorts to patrons outside of calling 911 and handing out bandages. I felt very strongly when my library installed AED devices and required all staff to receive training. My argument has been simple: I purposefully chose to become a librarian as opposed to a first responder or nurse or other medical care provider because I didn’t want the high responsibility that came with it and, if we’re being honest, because I have the highest gag reflex you’ve ever seen. Michelle Jeske from Denver Public Library talked about libraries as first responders and how her libraries staff had saved 22 lives using Narcan in the past couple of years by administering this drug. One of the things I liked best about it was that staff were allowed to take the training if they wanted to, but they were in no way required to do so. She talked a lot about the realities of the opioid crisis, something that I have seen first hand working in public libraries in Ohio, and the emotional trauma of witnessing someone die in your library, something I have thankfully not experienced. The big point she mentioned is that whether we want to be or not, public libraries ARE in fact first responders and that has to change how we respond to community crisis. It was an interesting presentation that left me with a lot to think about regarding this issue.

A Seat at the Table and Emergency Response

One of the themes that came up repeatedly in the various discussions among those present was the idea of having a seat at the table in communities when it came to budgets, planning, and responding to crisis. Some libraries discussed how they were partnering with outside and city organizations to help make sure that they were assured a seat at those tables. Palm Beach County Library System is working with city organizations in crisis response, for example. When a crisis happens, library staff are sent to shelters to provide storytimes and information services. At the same time, other staff are sent to the response hub to help provide timely research regarding issues that come up and to archive data as it’s coming in. This was a creative way to network with outside agencies and meet the needs of a local community in crisis.

Going Fine Free

One of the sessions was specifically about the need for libraries to go fine free. There were three presenters and each of them talked about how they did the research and it showed that fines were keeping the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in our socety, the very people who needed the library the most, from using the library. They crunched the numbers regarding the local service populations and blocked cards and found that the largest percentage of those blocked cards were from households living in poverty, where paying even a small fine would be a huge hurdle. This meant that those households weren’t using the library. But more than that, they had developed a negative view of the library. Each of the libraries stated that they first implemented automatic renewals to help alleviate this problem but eventually went to fine free. This resulted in many positive outcomes: staff were happier because they didn’t have to fight with patrons about small fines, circulation went up, the public had more positive feelings about the library, and the most vulnerable populations were once again able to use the library resources and services that they needed to. Going fine free helped these libraries better meet the library’s mission and goals. I am a big advocate for going fine free and hope that every library out there is seriously considering doing so moving forward.

There were a lot of other interesting things discussed at this event and I’ll be thinking about parts of it for a while. Since this event was geared towards library directors, it was interesting to get an inside glimpse of the types of things that directors are thinking about, talking about, and working towards. There was a lot of discussion of strategic planning, meeting goals, deciding what service populations were most under-served and how best to meet their needs, staff buy-in, and staff support and development. I also got to hear first hand a lot of the obstacles these directors face in trying to best serve their goals, including local politics and ordinances, budgets and, unsurprisingly, staff buy-in.

This was a very interesting event to get to glance behind the curtain and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do so. Don’t worry, I don’t suddenly want to be a library director, I feel genuinely called to be a YA Librarian. But it was nice to see a lot of good directors thinking and talking about a lot of the same things I hear my fellow YA Librarians discussing. I know that many of us don’t often feel supported by administration, but there are a lot of directors out there who are listening.

What’s In Your Teen MakerSpace Manual? : Forms Edition

This week, I have been desperately ill. It’s only a head cold and strep throat, but I will swear to you I have the plague. So yesterday I texted my boss and told her, “When I die, please bring the Teen MakerSpace manual to my funeral and tell everyone it was my greatest professional achievement.” She promised she would.

Tada: The Stupendously Amazing TEEN MAKERSPACE MANUAL

Tada: The Stupendously Amazing TEEN MAKERSPACE MANUAL

But it also reminded me that each time I tweet loving pictures of the manual – yes, I tweet loving pictures of the manual – someone will ask, “What’s in your manual?” So today, I will share that information with you. But first, some history.

I have been a YA services librarian for 22 years now. This is both the first and the fifth library I have worked at. That’s right, I’m working at the first library I ever worked at again. I cam here this time with a storehouse of experience to draw on and a manual that I have developed over those 22 years and adapted for this library and this community. It is now and always will be a work in progress.

The Table of Contents (it has been updated since this picture was taken)

The Table of Contents (it has been updated since this picture was taken)

Teen MakerSpace Manual Table of Contents

Teen Services 101

The first part of the manual is an outline of basic YA services and includes the following:

1. Our YA services mission statement and outline

2. Teens 101: A basic overview of adolescent development

3. The 40 Developmental Assets: A basic overview of the assets and how to use them with teens

4. Customer Service to Teens: A basic discussion of customer service to teens, what is means and what it should look like

5. Teen Fiction Collection Development Plan: An overview of what we purchase, from where, etc.

6. Collection Development Outline and Budget

7. Weeding Guidelines and Calendar

8. Social Media Policy

9. Programming Basics: An overview of what we do and why

Teen MakerSpace 101

The second part of the manual, and the biggest part, is exlusive to our Teen MakerSpace.

10. MakerSpace Outline

11. MakerSpace Inventory: You can find an outline of our various activities and stations here.

12. MakerSpace Opening and Closing Procedures Checklist

13. Directions for each and every Teen MakerSpace station, items or tool: This makes up the biggest bulk of the manual. I can not stress enough how important it is to keep a copy of the directions for each and every piece of tech that you put into a makerspace. I scan in the directions so I have a digital copy and I keep a copy in the manual as well.

14. The Teen MakerSpace Collection Outline: We have 2 separate collections. The YA fic collection, which is outside the Teen MakerSpace, and the TMS collection itself. We believe strongly that each station, tool or activity we do in the TMS should have supporting book materials for check out.

15. Circulating Maker Kits Outline and Inventory


16. Forms


Many of the items in the TMS manual are actually discussed at length in the book I edited with TLTer Heather Booth, The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services. The collection development forms and policies, for example, were handed down to me, adapted over time, and written right into the book. They have worked for me so I use them.

Overtime, however, I have also developed a wide variety of forms that I like to use. They tease me at work because if they ask a question someone else will reply, “give Karen a moment and she’ll make a form for that.” All teasing aside, I have learned over time that I am a visual person, not auditory. For example, if you tell me we need to buy new 3D pen filament in passing as we pass in the hallway, I am less likely to remember that we had that conversation then if you send me a text or an email. Or better yet, just keep a running form of supplies we need to replenish.

I particularly like to have filled out forms for activities and programs. For one, they help me make sure I am doing all the steps I need to be doing in order to have a successful program. And two, I then have a record should I need to go back and look and see what I did. For example, our local community has a First Friday where we like to go set up a booth and do activities with the teens and promote our Teen MakerSpace. Over time we have worked out an exact checklist of what we need to take so we don’t forget anything. It’s the little details – like trash bags or chairs – that can often get overlooked.

So today I am sharing with you some of the forms that I have developed. Exactly zero of these forms were developed exclusively by me. They are forms that were shared with me and I adapted in some way to meet my needs; librarians are, after all, very good at sharing. So here’s a look at some of the forms in my (if I say beloved is that too much?) Teen MakerSpace manual.

Behold the Gift of Forms

So our appendix is just a master copy of all the forms we use in our Teen MakerSpace for easy access. Here’s a breakdown of what those forms are and how we use them.

TMS Supply Request Form

This one’s a pretty simple supply request form. I wasn’t even going to include it in this post but it’s in the manual under forms and apparently my completionist needs won’t let me leave it off.


TMS MakerSpace Assistant Training Checklist

Last year, I was incredibly lucky in that I got to hire two assistants to help staff the TMS. In order to make sure these new employees got extensive training, I crowdsourced examples of training checklists and put this one together for our needs.


TMS Monthly Goals

This is a new form I am introducing this year and, again, it’s crowdsourced. We wanted a tool to help us make sure that we are doing a couple of things in our TMS, like rotating our stations in thoughtful ways and making sure we keep exploring new TMS elements and find creative, new ways to use our existing inventory. Thus, a monthly goals form was born to help us as individuals make sure we are meeting our goals. We have a yearly outline that we use to help specify what our specific goals for the year are.


TMS Program Planning Worksheet

This is a worksheet I use to plan a big program, which is different then a TMS activity or station. For example, we are working on putting together what we are calling a Con Con (inspired by an idea from ALA 2016) – a convention for teens who want to start going to cons to learn some basic con skills like sewing, painting, etc. I am using this program planning worksheet to help put that program together.


TMS Outreach Activity Checklist

This is a checklist we use for any and all outreach activities, including First Fridays as mentioned above. We try to have more than 1 activity to rotate in and out of our outreach bag of tricks. A checklist is completed for each activity and kept in a notebook. When we want to do that outreach activity, we just go and grab the checklist and get our supplies together.


TMS Activity/Station Planning Checklist

Our Teen MakerSpace is set up in stations (we also sometimes use the term activities, just to confuse ourselves). For example, we have a permanent Stop Motion Animation Station. But we also have stations/activities that we can rotate in and out. We have a variety of robots, for example, that we can get out and have a day where we play with, say, Ozobots. We have also found that our teens like to do traditional crafts, so we rotate some of these in and out as well. Because our model is not permanent, we are always looking for new stations and activities to add to our reprotoire to rotate in and out. In order to do that, we have an Activity/Station Planning Checklist. Before we introduce a new idea, we do a little planning. We want to look at things like cost and materials, but we also want to make sure that we have or can purchase book titles that can be used to support that activity/station. Also, having the checklist filed away makes it easy to pull out and set up each station/activity when we rotate it back in.


TMS Daily Report

I like to have a daily record of when teens use our Teen MakerSpace and what teens are doing in the space for planning purposes, thus the daily report log. As we work in the space we just make hashtags of teens in the space by hour and note what they are doing. This helps us know when we need staffing and what stations/activities are the most popular with our teens. I find it to be an invaluable tool. Also, because of this tool we know that we had over 3,000 teen visits to our TMS last year during peak, staffed hours and that our teens favorite things to do are make buttons, work with the 3D pen, and use our iPads.


And now you know why these tease me about forms. But in all seriousness, I find them to be invaluable tools and they really help us organize our Teen MakerSpace. And they complete the amazing Teen MakerSpace Manual. (Was that last line too much?)

Do you have any favorite forms you like to use? Let me know in the comments. I do like a new form to look at and adapt.

Previous MakerSpace Posts

Small Tech, Big Impact: Designing My Maker Space at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH)

MakerSpace: The Making of a Manual

#MakerSpace: 1 Year Later

The MakerSpace Index at TLT

Serving Full T.I.L.T. (Teens in Libraries Today): By the numbers, making the case for teen services with demographics

The idea for Serving Full T.I.L.T. began with a seemingly simple question: How do you convince library administrators, staff and your local community that we need to be serving teens? One of the answers seems obvious to me and amounts to basically why would you want to invest in children and then start ignoring them when they become teenagers? If our goal is to meet the needs of our community, that has to include teenagers. Teenagers are a part of our community, they have needs and failing to help meet those meets is detrimental to us all. And if another goal is to grow lifelong learners and library users/supporters then we would be harming ourselves as well as our communities to neglect the unique needs of teenagers. But many administrators and staff want more information, often in the forms of numbers and facts as opposed to philosophical underpinnings. Library budgets are tight, which translates into tight resources. So over the next few weeks (full schedule at the end of this post), we ( Heather Booth, Eden Grey, Rebecca Denham and myself) will be trying to work on building a strong case for YA library services. Today we start with a basic demographic overview of how many teens there are in the U.S., what their lives look like, and what we need to know to start truly understanding who they are and where they are coming from. This information is a good starting point, but you will also want to use your resources to build a local portrait as well.

In Understanding the Community, Pramila Aggarwal suggests looking at the following areas to help you better understand and define your local community:

  • Geographic, corporate, jurisdictional boundaries
  • Demographics, statistics, subgroups
  • History, community strengths
  • Political structure, governance
  • Economic structure, major or key employers
  • Community action organizations
  • Civic and service problem

Not all of these will apply to the idea of serving teens, though understanding local politics and other areas can certainly help you understand who they key players are in your community to rally support, to identify any potential detractors, and to find other service organizations that serve teens to create networking partnerships and share information. Today we will look at basic demographics and break that down to help us develop a portrait of who our teens are today.

How many teens are there?

Why serve teens? The answer seems simple to me, because they are a unique group with unique developmental needs and we want to meet those because we are in the business of serving the people in our communities. Corporations and marketers realized not only the sheer number but the spending influence that teens have years ago and have very successfully tapped into the teen market. Many libraries, however, have lagged behind in this knowledge and we are still arguing for libraries to create and maintain quality services to teens. But the numbers suggest that if we really want to serve our communities, we need to do better with teen services.

According to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, there were 41,844,000 youth age 10-19 in the United States, 14% of the total U.S. population, in 2012 [1]. (Source: Act for Youth)

According to the YALSA paper on the future of library services for and with teens, “There are over 40 million adolescents, aged 12–17, living in the United States today, and they use libraries”. We can’t be in the business of ignoring 40 millions teens if we are serious about our mission to our local communities. And it’s not just about building future library users, it’s about understanding that teens today are – or can be – library users; they have real needs and we fail our communities if we fail to provide appropriate and quality services and collections to teens. Teens are not just the adults of the future, they are very real people with very real needs today, we should be in the business of meeting those needs.

You can use tools like the U.S. Census Bureau State and County Quick Facts to develop a more community specific portrait. City-Data is another resource that can help you develop a clear statistical portrait of your local service community. Don’t forget that libraries usually serve large areas and there can be a wide variety of smaller communities within those service areas. In Ohio, for example, many libraries serve large counties and what the local service area looks like can differ from branch to branch. So I think our goal should be to understand the big picture, but also all of the smaller pictures around us.

Who are teens today?

Part of the discussion permeating the Twitterverse and online universe is the need for more diversity to be represented in YA literature. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign is important because we do in fact live in a diverse world. Whatever your immediate service community may or may not look like, the truth remains that the United States is an increasingly diverse nation and understanding that helps us better understand and serve our teens.

According to that same YALSA paper mentioned above, “there are currently 74.2 million children under the age of eighteen in the United States; 46% of them are children of color.” The YALSA paper goes on to state that, “today more than one-fifth of America’s children are immigrants or children of immigrants”.

Approximately 5% of teens today have some type of a disability. (Source: Unicef Children and Young People with Disabilities Fact Sheet)

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. In addition to their own mental health, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and loved ones of many of our teens.

In terms of sexuality, PFLAG New York states that “reliable estimates indicate that between 4 and 10% of the population is gay, which means in a public school system of more than one million, like New York City, there are at least 40,000 to 100,000 gay students.” And remember that gender and sexual identity goes beyond just being gay or straight to include things like transgender youth, asexuality, questioning teens and more. For more information check out Amanda MacGregor’s resources for building collections and serving LGBTQ teens. Hannah Mitchell put together this Prezi on Statistics About QUILTBAG Kids that also provides some good statistical information.

When discussing the spiritual lives of teens the Barna Group notes that, “Teenagers are consistently among the most religiously active Americans, with nearly 6 out of every 10 teens engaged in some type of group spiritual activity in a typical week.” But having a spiritual life does not automatically translate to evangelical Christian. For example, 1% of the U.S. population is Muslim, another 1% is Buddhist and around 2% are Jewish. 16% are unsure or identify as Atheist. (Source: Pew Research Statistics on Religious and Public Life Project ; Child Trends Research Brief on Spirituality and Religiosity Among Youth)

The high school dropout rate has declined over several years, but still rests somewhere around 7.4% according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In total 1.2 million students drop out, or 1 student every 26 seconds according to Do Something. The flip side of course means that over 90% of students go one to graduate from high school, though 25% fail to graduate on time.

When looking at teen pregnancy, it is interesting to note that teen birth rates are also declining. In the year 2013 there were 26.6 births for every 1,000 teen girls. (Source: Office of Adolescent Health)

When looking at drug and alcohol use, it’s interesting (though not in a good way) to note that by their senior year 50% of students report having abused a drug of some kind. You can find more teen drug and alcohol use statistics at Teen Rehab.com or at the CDC.

Nationwide violence is down, and this is also true for acts of violence committed by teens. However, homicide remains a leading cause of death among youth and assault incidences result in around 700,000 youth seeking emergency care each year. (Source: CDC Youth National and State Violence Statistics) Another source maintains that youth are likely to be both the main perpetrators and victims of violence. Dating violence is also another important statistics to note as 1.5 million high school teens report being the victim of abuse by a dating partner (Source: Love is Respect)

Find a variety of teen statistics in infographic form here

The truth is that teens, like all demographic groups, are a very diverse group. Recognizing and understanding diversity is important, communicating that diversity is even more so, especially in those smaller town communities where our co-workers may not see that diversity and understand the importance of meeting the needs of not only the perceived majority populations, but the populations that are often under represented. In other area of statistics it is interesting to note that many of the negative complaints you hear lodged against teens – for example teen pregnancy and drop out rates – have been dropping for a pretty steady period. They are still significant factors, but the perception that some have regarding teens seems to be inconsistent with the facts. As teen advocates, knowing and communicating this information is important.

What is their financial situation?

Perhaps one of the greatest factors that affect the teens we serve are the economic situations in their homes. Income can affect a wide variety of factors, from whether or not our teens have their basic needs met to what types of access they have to technology and education resources. Understanding the economics of our local communities can impact that types of services we provide. Libraries in lower income areas often find themselves challenged to meet more basic survival needs as well as education and recreation needs by providing things like summer lunch programs. Whereas higher income areas may focus more on high tech and college preparation programming. It’s not because these things aren’t important everywhere, but because different communities have different primary and immediate needs.

More than 16 million children in the United States – 22% of all children – live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,550 a year for a family of four. Research shows that, on average, families need an income of about twice that level to cover basic expenses. Using this standard, 45% of children live in low-income families. (Source: NCCP)

Median family income in U.S. households with children was $59,500 in 2012. This amount is low by comparison with income in 2008, but higher than in the intervening years [9].

The percentage of adolescents (age 12-17) living in families with low income increased from 36% in 2006 to roughly 41% in 2012 [10]. Nineteen percent of this age group live below the poverty line [10]. (Source: Act of Youth)

Recent reports indicate that in the year 2013 1 in 30 youth were homeless at some point.

In 2012, 31% of children lived with parent(s) who did not have steady, full-time employment [11]. In 2011, 22% of all children (under age 18) lived in families that were at times unable to provide enough food [6]. (Source: Act for Youth)

The number I hear repeated frequent from a variety of sources is that 1 out of 5 youth are living with what is called food insecurity, the idea that income is unstable and they are not sure where their next meal will come from.

Not all communities are struggling financially, but somewhere around 45% of our teens are. Understanding this number is essential to providing balanced services. Even in well off communities, that doesn’t mean that all of our patrons have access to e-readers so we can’t abandon physical books altogether. Even schools that give a laptop or tablet to each student needs to be aware of the fact that a percentage of their students go home to homes without the wireless access to use them outside of school. Understanding the economic diversity of our local service communities is essential to providing access to resources, services and more.

What do their families look like?

As I have spent time with my teens over the years I have marveled over what a family can look like. My tween is currently the only person with an intact nuclear family that she knows, though we have had our own fair share of challenges. I have worked with teens being raised in foster homes, by grandparents, with a network of half and step siblings, etc. Understanding the various ways that a family can look helps us understand the unique challenges our teens can face. Many of them split time between more than one house, which comes with its own challenges. And yes, some of them are growing up in their childhood home with an intact nuclear family. Some have no siblings while others have 3, 4, 5 or more.

The increase in the number of only children you think you see is not in your imagination.  The rate of onlies has doubled.  20% of children are now being raised as only children.

Further digging revealed that the US Census government report indicates that 56% of married households have no children in the home.  Less than 10% have 3 or more children under the age of 18 in the home.  These statistics vary based on age and various other demographics. {www.census.gov/prod/cen2010/briefs/c2010br-14.pdf} (from a previous post on Siblings)

Recent findings indicate that 55% of 15 to 17 year olds do not live in an intact family.

Where Do Teens Live?

Remember the story about the city mouse and the country mouse? Just out of curiosity I thought I would look to see where teens today live. According to the numbers, it looks like a lot of teens live in suburbs. Though some of us are in city libraries so that number if irrelevant to us. Others of us can pull in from both rural areas and our local cities, I know this was true for me when working in Ohio where it goes from one to the other quite quickly.

In 2002, over half (54%) of adolescents age 12-17 lived in suburbs, 27% in rural areas, and 19% in central cities [7].

In 2007, about 82% of children lived in large urban or suburban areas, and nearly 9% lived in small towns (under 50,000) or more rural areas [8]. (Source: Act for Youth)

The truth is, I am sure there is a lot more information we could research to help us build those portraits of teens that we have been talking about. If you have information to add, please do so in the comments. But I think this is a good starting point. Next Wednesday, Rebecca Denham is going to discuss some basics of adolescent development that will better help us serve our teens.

Resources Consulted:

Be sure to check out all of the posts in the 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 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)