Recently, members of the YALSA Board discussed how the Division defines “young adult.” Specifically the Board wondered if more attention should be paid to the older or younger age edges of the group that makes up what we call young adult. In that discussion, the group realized that it could be useful if YALSA looked at ways to support librarians that serve older teens (including those in college and the work force) and those in their early 20s.
I don't like even the remote possibility of YALSA encouraging the idea of expanding the YA age definition, and I'll tell you why:
I think YA librarians taking on the 18-25ers is a great way for YA librarians to do more work for the same amount of pay and to devalue the work we're already doing. Speaking for myself, in my YA positions I have always had my hands full with the 12-18-year-olds. Doing collection development and library services just for those ages is full time and then some. Being a good YA librarian, to me, means keeping up on pop culture trends, reading a ton of books, maintaining a collection, having interesting, relevant programs, knowing about college and career advisory sources for high schoolers, visiting schools, you get the picture. If we take on the duties of great service to 18-25-year-olds, something for the 12-18-year-olds is going to have to go because we're now making more bricks with less straw. If YA services takes on older young adults, that means less money for books for middle and high school students (and how much crossover will there be between YA and adult collections?). It means less time for the YA librarian to visit schools, never mind attending workshops and conferences.
By saying, "Yes, I already work with the 12-18 group but now I want to expand it to 12-25," YA librarians are sending the message that we don't already have enough to do with our time. We're devaluing the services we already give by saying that it's super easy to get all our work done in the time allotted to us and we're totally willing to do even more work for the same amount of pay. How many YA librarians are also children's librarians or adult librarians? How many YA librarians are doing jobs that should be done by two people? Offering to expand the YA librarian's job to include up to age 25 sends the message to our directors that we're willing to take on more work than we can realistically do well. Aside from this, by adding 18-25 to the YA definition, we're saying that the reference, recreational, and reader's advisory needs of that age group are closer to the reference needs of middle schoolers than they are to those of adults.
I acknowledge that the idea of 25 being the new 18 exists, though I find it silly. At 18, you're an adult for all legal and educational intents and purposes. I know because I watch TV and read YA lit that college is the new high school. I know that the 18-34 demographic is a big moneymaker for television advertisers and Apple computers. None of this, however, means that I am willing to take on more work for the same amount of money. If the 18-to-25 age group is a concern for YA librarians either individually or as an organization, then this is something to be addressed by both YA and adult services librarians. I know that many of my colleagues are making an effort to reach this age group, and that's great; it's an age group long overlooked in public library services. I do not, however, think that the idea of services being offered as part of YA and handled exclusively by YA librarians is a good one. Time should equal money. If we're not going to get more of either of those when we take on a new demographic in YA services, then how can we be expected to perform those services well?