by Abby Hargreaves
I know we’re out there, because I’m one of them: New Adults. This category, often used as a marketing demographic for publishers, has more recently been creeping into the periphery of public library service. The Arlington Public Library in Arlington, Virginia, recently hosted an “indoor recess” event as part of their summer reading programming, catering to twenty-somethings in the area. That same system (one for which I admittedly work) is also doing a series of “adulting” programs this fall. But what else can we offer New Adults of the Millennial generation who seemingly have everything from information to socializing to entertainment literally at their fingertips every minute of the day? Whether they’ve moved back in with their parents in suburbia after graduation or have decided to strike out on their own in an urban environment, New Adults are in your community and need their libraries just as much as libraries need them.
What libraries are doing wrong
Without realizing it, libraries are already alienating their twenty-to-twenty-nine-year-olds. Although many of these patrons still enjoy YA fiction, signs on neon paper stating, “THIS SPACE IS FOR TEENS ONLY,” obviously exclude them (and reasonably so; teens deserve their own space, too). Meanwhile, many New Adults don’t consider themselves “adults” in name (myself included) and therefore feel uncomfortable in the adult space and collections.
So what can we do to fix this?
Book displays can be a great place to start – a literal standing invitation. “New Adult Titles” is a problematic theme name (are we talking about adult titles that have recently been published, saucy erotica titles new to the scene, or titles for New Adults?), but you’re clever people and can come up with much better. Select materials for this display with characters who are New Adults or who are facing common New Adult challenges. Choose items that reflect the current interests of New Adults in your area. Is bocce ball popular with New Adults right now? Put together a display on the game. Find out what New Adults in your community are already using and then use it to your advantage. Does your New Adult community love social media? Ask for age-targeted title recommendations through the library’s Twitter account. “A Little Bird Told Me: Favorites of Our 20-Something Tweeters” is quick and takes minimal effort with a few well-placed twitter icons to emphasize your target demographic.
Book clubs, too, can be a challenge. Your book clubs are probably inhabited by retirees. We love our grandparents, but discussing books involving the ins-and-outs of our main character’s sex life with them is uncomfortable at best. Plus, many of us are looking to make friends – we are either in a new place with a blank social slate or our friends have moved away. Senior citizens typically aren’t the best candidates for happy hour company. Ah, but there’s an idea: happy hours. Some libraries have started combining book club with happy hour at a local bar. Arlington Public Library has taken it a step further and, once a month, “meets” at a local cupcake boutique for patrons who want to read around others but may not want to actually socialize (they often do, anyway). Their advertising often emphasizes that there’s no pressure to chat, so it’s especially great for introverts and shy New Adults. Programs that are open to everyone are great, but age-specific programs can be appropriate too, in moderation.
Beyond book needs
Outside the library, New Adults are desperate to define themselves. They are no longer, in many cases, students. Distanced from their parents, it’s harder to actively identify as a son or daughter. They are not college athletes, members of campus clubs, or student government leaders any longer. Some do not even have job titles to boast of – and if they do, they may not be proud of it. I again speak from experience, as a New Adult who moved to a new town with no immediately local friends and, for a while, no job. Libraries can make an impact here by offering exciting opportunities for New Adults to try new hobbies. They may not be an expert container gardener now, but you can make them one.
Networking and invitational needs
Although I knew the value of networking, I did not go out while job searching, fearful my meager savings, no longer being replenished by on-campus jobs, would disappear in the name of networking which, let’s face it, happens frequently in bars where the tabs can add up rather quickly. I challenge libraries to make opportunities for free or low-cost networking happen. Get in on the job fair scene – donate space and refreshments. Bring in lecturers from various career paths for Q&A (many New Adults don’t yet know what they want to be when they grow up). Host seminars in crafting resumes and cover letters, team up with your local thrift shop for a talk on interview apparel, hold practice interview workshops. And above all, encourage post-event networking – better yet, make it part of the wrap up of your event by playing networking “games.”
New Adults need a lot of practical advice, too. They may go to the internet first, but they will find conflicting and non-region specific information and may not be able to ask follow up questions they have. You can help by bringing in experts or giving topics you are knowledgeable about yourself.
The library can be an Intro to Life
Public and higher education did little, if anything, to prepare modern New Adults for life in the “real world” (a phrase I take issue with, but that’s for another discussion). We don’t know anything about finances – taxes, credit cards, saving and budgeting, financing, investing – and if a few of us do, they’re lucky. With college graduates emerging with mounds of debt, financial literacy is paramount. Yet few of us have it. The library has the solution – call in experts, proudly promote financial collections with book displays, aggressively advertise relevant digital resources. Trust me, we need it – we just don’t know where to start.
Similar arguments can be made about housing. To buy or to rent?: that is the question. (And how do you find housing, anyway?) Chances are, if they’re at your library, they’re already in some kind of living situation – but what about next steps? The next moves? And roommates! “Speed roommating,” anyone?
After undergrad, I realized I was short on basic etiquette, too. Many friends moved into their first apartments – was I to buy a housewarming gift? And weddings – what do I wear? How much do I, jobless and in debt, spend on a gift? Babies, too?! Extended holidays with significant others’ family? What fork do I eat the salad with, again? Forget it – I’ll use my hands. Etiquette. Some New Adults want it, others want social reform. Either way, bring informed is a must. Book displays, role playing programs, and seminars are all options to help New Adults on their way.
You are new adults best hope
Are these topics all relevant to all of the population? Sure. Are they especially relevant to New Adults? Yes! New Adults need specific library services, just like any other age-range with already-specific services. Show them we can fulfill those needs. Impose vague age ranges on advertising for programs. Create book displays with a nod and a wink to New Adults. Help them achieve a sense of self as they encounter so much change, doubt of self-purpose, and lack of confidence in their role of New Adult.
And what’s in it for libraries? Our support. Our vote. We are quick to type “pics or it didn’t happen” into internet forums – the same can apply here: provide programming and materials for New Adults, prove that you’ve got something for them, and they’re there.
Abby Hargreaves is a graduate student in San José State University’s iSchool pursuing her MLIS. Prior to San José, she attended Hollins University among the Blue Ridge Mountains in Roanoke, Virginia where she earned a Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Her childhood was spent roaming the stacks of New Hampshire libraries. Her favorite color is yellow and she hates onions. Today, she reads, writes, and breathes in Arlington, Virginia with her cat, Oopsilon. Abby’s other ramblings can be found at www.24hourlibrary.straydots.com.