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Thom Barthelmess's picture

Scope of Attention Task Force

Scope of Attention Task Force:

As the Association for Library Service to Children, we must be careful and deliberate in our definition of “children.” At the moment the term is defined one way in our Bylaws and interpreted very differently in our committee function statements and manuals. According to Article II of our Bylaws, ALSC is responsible for considering materials and services for “…children from preschool through the eighth grade of junior high school age…” In practice, ALSC Committee function statements and manuals interpret that age range as birth through 14. The Task Force’s job is two-fold, helping us to decide two things: 1) Do we define age in terms of age or grade? 2) What range does the term “children” represent?

As I’m sure you’re aware, the answers to these questions have huge ramifications. They will impact the Terms and Criteria of all of the ALSC Evaluation Committees. They will impact the work of the Process Committees, from Early Childhood Programs and Services to Legislation. They will impact the way we allocate resources to Initiatives like Every Child Ready to Read.

Ellen Riordan (eriordan@prattlibrary.org) is Chair of the Scope of Attention Task Force

Cecilia McGowan's picture

I'm glad we are tackling this issue as questions on this order have arisen over the past few years.  Ellen will be a terrific chair! 

Lisa Von Drasek's picture

Is there a history of this issue that I am unaware of? A pressing concern? I know when we are looking at award books or notable children's books, the question of where we draw the line in age often arises. For the majority of our service, is this an issue? I am in a prek- 8th grade school. When I worked in the Central Children's Room of the Brooklyn Public Library the borders from children to young adult were fluid. Many libraries simply box anyone under 18 as youth services.  We all know very mature six graders and very immature 8th graders.  I want my representatives in ALSC to commit to the continued serving children as defined up to 8th grade and/or age 14.  There is not a simple dividing line in the journey through the fraught tween years. Let's not rush these kids into YA. Let's make them welcome in the children's room.



Lisa Von Drasek, University of Minnesota Libraries

Thom Barthelmess's picture

Hi Lisa:

That's a good question. There is no pressing issue calling ALSC to change our age range. There is a need to clarify it, and reconcile the ways it is expressed in the Bylaws and in the Committee manuals and function statements. We need to clarify the range of service. The eighth grade of junior high is not necessarily the same as age 14, and birth is definitely not the same as preschool. We need to choose a measurement of that range. Age and grade each come loaded with references, and we should choose our measurement deliberately.

The expressions of age range are out of sync, and bringing them together will require some change, by definition. But that change won't be arbitrary. Having the discussion among the entire membership will allow each of us to explore and communicate our ideas. And when we get the recurring question of where we draw the line, we can respond with a considered, communal and meaningful answer that is more than "We've always done it that way."

Julie Dietzel-Glair's picture

Ok, so I'm not completely sure where I stand on this issue yet and hope to follow the comments here closely. Here is something to think about --

In recent years, many of the Newbery books have been for "older" children. People seem to either love this idea or disagree with it wholeheartedly. If we lower the definition of children to age 12, and therefore the Newbery is geared for 12 and under, perhaps we would find more elementary age books winning the award. This would also nudge publishers to publish more quality books for these readers (I am in no way trying to call out publishers here, they publish lots of great books, I'm just throwing out a hypothesis).

Again, even I don't know where I stand on the idea I present. I just think it is something to think about regarding this issue.


Martha Simpson's picture

I think that before the Printz Award was established, people on the Newbery Committee needed to consider books aimed at the middle school grades, or ages 12-14.  But now that there is a separate award for YA literature, I would support changing the scope of the Newbery Award to top out at age 12.  Case in point: In 2003, Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion was an excellent choice for a Printz Honor, but I think it had issues that were too mature for it to also be named a Newbery Honor.  Of course, there are books that straddle the "age 12" line that still could be eligible for both, such as Gary Schmidt's Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, which won honors in both categories in 2005.  I think limiting the Newbery to age 12 would also help committee members who are worried about that gray area of what is age appropriate, as well as give more books written for a younger readership a better chance of being considered.

Martha Seif Simpson, Head of Children's Services

Stratford Library Association

2203 Main Street

Stratford, CT 06615



Zachary Stier (non-member)'s picture

It has come to my attention that the grade a child is in may define who they are as a learner.  Working with children on literacy development for example, I find that standards that are set for their grade level may not be reflected with their age.  It is important sometimes in working with children and their parents who want to know what books they should read to perform a basic inventory about what they like to read and present to them several options to choose from.  For myself, I want to see if they are able to comprehend the information as well as if they can define the vocabulary on the page.   At our library what is important is to educate both the parent and the child to allow for them to contiune to interact in their reading and their development.  I feel that the meaning of a child should stop around the age of 12 years old because this the period of expanding their minds and a need for independence.  My opinion is this can be expressed more by age rather than grade. 


Miriam Lang Budin's picture

I think the vibrant rise of YA literature and library service to teens has brought more pressure to bear on the ALSC definition of a child.

Those of us in public libraries certainly see many patrons moving freely between the children's and teen collections.  In my own library there is significant duplication in our purchases of "cross-over" materials.  There aren't clear-cut borders--just as there have never been clear-cut borders about when kids pass into reading in the adult collections.  I'm a children's librarian and I am loathe to relinquish the incredibly interesting literature focusing on those pivotal years--say, 11-14--when kids really begin to explore who they are and how they fit into the world.  These books are the best fodder for discussion groups, precisely because they can induce a level of discomfort.

That said, I do think books for the older end of the age spectrum can muscle-out books for the younger end when award committees are making their decisions, just by virtue of their provocativeness (is that a word?).  It can be difficult to give less complicated books their due in the heat of battle...um...I mean amicable discourse.   

Miriam Lang Budin Head of Children's Services Chappaqua Library Chappaqua, NY

Monica Edinger's picture

I'm not sure it is provocativeness so much as that books for older readers are often complex, thematically dense, and when we use known means of literary discourse (say on a committee) it can be easier to convince others that such a book is excellent over, say, a book for younger readers --- a simpler one, if you will. 

Monica Edinger's picture

I'm a teacher, but I definitely think you should stick with age over grade. Too didactic if you go with grade. We do for the NCTE Notables, but that is for an organization focused on teachers.  You have a broader mandate, don't you?  Not just teachers and schools, that is. 



Ellen Riordan's picture

It has been interesting to read the posts so far.  Not surprizingly, most posts have been concerned with possible changes to the evaluation committees and the possible changes to the award books and publishing trends.  My hope is that this task force can help the membership wrestle with the whole of our mission: books, programs, services and the resources the national association allegates to initiatives and projects.

The recent emergence of the "tweens" concept seems to me to speak to the urgency of defining our scope. Tweens are an amorphous group by definition --neither fish nor foul.  The more on the cusp our public is, or perceives itself to be, the more definitive we should be in how we channel our resources.  As caring professionals, we serve all who come to us.  They will vary widely in reading skills, interests and levels.  We will find the books they need regardless of our bylaws but we know too that the reality of budgets, management and the strategic plan of the Division and our own systems, requires us to move in purposeful directions with clear plans.

I look forward to our continued discussion.

Teresa Walls's picture

Please excuse me while I ramble a bit.

We should include "children from birth" in our function statement. The older age range is one with which I struggle. For patrons, the notion of grade level seems more natural when discussing programs and books, because many school-age children, parents and teachers identify more in terms of what grade they are in.

As a member of the combined AASL/AASL/YALSA committee for School/Public Library Cooperation/Partnerships, I appreciate this important work among ALA divisions. Could we team with AASL, PLA and YALSA to create a subgroup/initiative to address the unique nature of the 12 to 14 age range or "tweens"? Perhaps this is already being considered?

K. T. Horning's picture

It's been interesting to read the discussion in this thread. It's obviously a subject librarians feel passionate about!

In terms of the award and evaluation committees, this question has obvious implications.  We have the 12-14 overlap with Newbery and Printz; Newbery is forever selecting books in the 12-14 group and Printz choices, except for Kit's Wilderness,  have been skewing older.  Yet many people feel that the problem rests with the Newbery Award, which has had the birth-14 age definition since 1922. (Same is true for Caldecott since its inception in 1938 but that never comes into play in these arguments.)  If ALSC lowered the age level for Newbery books, would great books like The Graveyard Book and Criss Cross get any attention at all?

The age question has come up regularly in the lively discussions in the online Newbery class I teach for ALSC, and most people seem to come down on the side of keeping the up through age 14 age level, not for literary reasons, necessarily, but for practical ones: many public libraries define their children's collections as serving patrons through age 14, and many of these libraries do not even have a separate YA collection.   And, as Lisa von Drasek pointed out, there is the same breakdown in K-8 libraries, which are common throughout the U.S., especially in small towns and rural areas.

In terms of the Great ALA Tween Turf War, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that both ALSC and YALSA claim we serve the 12-14s, but I don't see a whole lot of evidence of either group rolling up its sleeves and jumping in to do much, beyond the occasional bibliography, program, or preconference. There's been a lot of noise about 'tweens in recent years, but not much substance, and I'm afraid that this group of kids has gotten lost in the muddle.


Pat Scales's picture

KT and Lisa do a great job of defending our commitment to 12-14 year olds.  I worked with middle school students most of my career, and I have to say they are my favorite age group.  They are neither child nor teen --clearly somewhere in the middle.  They don't necessarily need to be defined.  They are who they are. If anything, we should step up our services to this age group.  I have conducted workshops across the nation about creating programs for middle school students.  In almost every case, librarians have told me that they are nervous about grouping this age with 16-year-olds.  I have even encountered one situation where a public library is so concerned about this that they now feel that children and teens should be defined in 4 age groups.  In this case, I think the literature has driven this decision, and not "true" services.  Those schooled in child and adolescent development say that children and adolescent must move through each stage of development at their pace.  12-year-olds and 13-year-olds aren't ready to take the giant leap to "teenager."  Please, let's consider the child.  They will be ready to for the "teen" years if we help them along during those middle school years.

To support my case about child development I ask you to read The Language of Goldfish by Zibby O'Neal.  It's an old book, but one of the best I know that deals with a child who just isn't ready to become a teenager, though society demands that she be ready. I have known many middle school students who could be the main character in this novel.  I'm sure Lisa and Monica would concur.

 I agree with Monica that we should lose the 8th grade label in favor of age. And, Lisa makes a great case of sticking with up to age 14.  There are schools and public libraries throughout our nation that depend upon ALSC to guide them in serving this age group.  And, as KT says, there are schools that are K-8 and small public libraries without budgets for teen librarians that would go unserved.  

Richie Partington-2 (non-member)'s picture

I agree with what has been said by KT, Lisa, Monica, and Pat.  We need to do our utmost to well serve 12-14 year-olds.  There is no other age range that encompasses children at such wildly varying developmental stages.  (As a shy, studious firstborn, I was still a child at 14.)  And, on a practical level, for those of us who live and breathe ALSC selector and award committee decisions, it would be tragic to lower the age up to which we serve and then have so many distinguished books be ignored and go out of print because ALSC committees saw them as too old for their charge and YALSA committees simultaneously saw them as too young for their charge.

Richie Partington
Richie's Picks

K. T. Horning's picture

I would love to see some opposing viewpoints on this issue, so I can try to better understand why there is a sudden need to re-visit this age issue.

While I appreciate Thom's comment about not wanting to respond "That's they way we've always done it" when someone asks about our definition of children, we shouldn't assume that those who came before us were any less savvy or knowledgeable about child development than we are. The "way we've always done it" isn't always a bad thing.  Certainly our society has changed in the past century, and library services have changed, too, but I don't think children have changed all that much.   What has happened in the past few years that would call for a change in our definition of children?

As the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." So my question is: "What broke?"

Melanie Gibson's picture

K.T. said that she didn't think children have changed all that much, but I think maybe they have. I see higher academic expectations of kids of all ages, with concepts that I was introduced to in 8th coming up in 4th or 5th, and books that I read in high school being required reading now in middle school.

Also, I would say socially and emotionally things have changed in the last 40 years. Most kids are hearing more about the grittier facts of life (i.e., sexual awareness, alcohol and drug abuse, child abuse, sexual predators, etc.) at an earlier age. Whether they experience that stuff in their own lives or not, they certainly know people, maybe friends, who face problems with these things. And they are bombarded with references to these things in the media at much younger ages and from many more information sources than ever before.

So even if children are not very different, they are certainly expected to cope with a lot more information and deal with a lot more scary stuff at younger ages than children were expected to when the definitions were written.

Melanie McGarrahan Gibson

Librarian, Bishop Dunne Catholic School

Dallas, TX

K. T. Horning's picture

I think what you're describing, Melanie, are adult expectations for and perceptions of children, not the children themselves. I don't think their brains are developing any faster just because they're being pushed harder in school or are being exposed to sex and violence at an earlier age.  No matter what the social environment, the human brain is not fully grown until late adolescence, and children under the age of 15 are not capable of adult reasoning. (That's why it breaks my heart to see juvenile offenders tried as adults.)

I would also argue that, historically, there have always been children in situations where they have had to grow up fast.  Certainly sexual predators and alcohol and drug abuse are not inventions of the late 20th century.  And consider that the federal child labor laws didn't go into effect until 1938, the same year the Caldecott Medal was established.  I would be willing to bet that many of the children our forebears served were coping with much harsher realities than most children today are experiencing vicariously.


Pat Scales's picture

Streetwise kids are not necessarily mature.  In fact, most of the kids I worked with were streetwise.  Most weren't mature.  Sometimes the most streetwise kids asked for books with immature topics and themes.  These types of kids often need an escape.  If children watch the news, they are exposed to mature subjects.  They may still want to read a fairy tale. 

Julie Dietzel-Glair's picture

I realize that YALSA has been around for 50+ years and I don't really know a lot about their history, however, it seems that there is a recent increase in excitement and work related to that division. Perhaps nothing broke, it's just that another viable train has entered the station.

All that being said, I understand your point in an earlier comment about "a lot of noise about 'tweens in recent years, but not much substance." I certainly don't want them to be lost any more than they already are because of a decision made by ALSC.

Ellen Riordan's picture

 The Scope of Attention Task Force is charged with bringing the question of how we define who we serve in line with what bylaws and committee manuals state.  There is currently an inconsistency between the bylaws and what we do since our bylaws define "children" as "preschool through grade 8." Much worthy discussion has focused on the issues involved at the higher end of the specturm but we should address making sure that we include our youngest customers in our stated bylaws.  Much library work has  focused on babies and most libraries now have formal services and programs for this age group.  So do we want to formally state that we serve younger than preschool age?  That is another piece of this debate. The discussions about where the upper age responsibilities lie is an interesting debate that continues... 

K. T. Horning's picture

That really helps to clarify.  Thanks, Ellen!  If it's the lower end of the age group that's an issue, then I agree that changing the age range to read "birth through age 14" makes sense, and seems like a simple solution.

Thom Barthelmess's picture

Thanks, K.T., for asking the question, and thanks, Ellen, for your prompt clarification.

As the person who put this business in motion, I'd like to add a little background.

"Birth through age 14" may seem like a simple solution. But we're talking about a change to the expression of our age range in our Bylaws. That's a big deal. I'm not sure that simple is what's called for. It is certainly true that the ALSC Board could have considered this at the Board level, and put "birth through age 14" on the ballot, without asking for up-front feedback from our members. That would have been the path of east resistance, and probably a whole lot less tumultuous. It also would have been irresponsible. No one is advocating for a particular change to either end of the age range, but we are opening both up for discussion. I suppose that does constitute questioning the wisdom of our elders. They can take it, and so can their wisdom. At the end of the day the question boils down to this: "Is this (still) what you want and need your professional association to be?" I believe we'd be derelict in our duty if we moved on a change to the ALSC Bylaws without asking it of the entire membership.

Thom Barthelmess, ALSC President

K. T. Horning's picture

Thanks, Thom. But that leads back to Lisa's original questions: Is there a history of this issue that I am unaware of? A pressing concern? I know when we are looking at award books or notable children's books, the question of where we draw the line in age often arises. For the majority of our service, is this an issue?

A little more context from the ALSC leadership would be helpful, otherwise it seems to those of us on the outside that you are either randomly choosing a big issue to grapple with or that there is a hidden agenda.  What we're curious about is not how you're approaching it but why.  

So what happened that brought scope of attention to the table?  If no one is advocating for a particular change on either end of the age range, then why are we discussing it? Are you asking ALSC members to think about completely redefining our association and its consitutents? If so, please do so in a straightforward manner.

I would like to hear more about this from members of the ALSC Board, as well as any ALSC members here who feel that the birth-14 age level presents us with a challenge.


Thom Barthelmess's picture

Thanks, K.T. Another good question.

The thing that brought Scope of Attention to the table was the discovery that our Bylaws don't match our committee manuals and function statements. Many of us have been approached with questions about age range. I have been approached with those questions. In the course of answering, I did some research, and in my research, I discovered the discrepancy. That was the initiative for the Scope of Attention Task Force.

The issue is not that the birth-14 age range presents us with a challenge. The issue is that birth-14 is not the age range in our Bylaws. The age range in our Bylaws is preschool through the eighth grade of junior high school. That needs to be fixed. I did say that we're not advocating for a particular change. But we need some change. The Task Force is charged with proposing that change, and will be looking at this conversation, and at the results of the survey, to make sure that the change they propose reflects what the members want.

It's wonderful to see so many folks participating in the conversation. I hope that people will speak to the terms of the range (do we use age or grade level) in addition to the range itself. That's another thing that needs to be reconciled, and another place we're hoping for input.

Lisa Von Drasek's picture

I was reminded that I had posted on this blog when I received the notice of the survey. I will go on record for our scope to be birth through age 14. As members of ALSC, we serve parents, teachers and children. In my position, I serve six months through age 14. We do not define our students by grade. One could be in the 4/5s classroom and be either four-years-old or five-years-old. When I worked at the Brooklyn Public Library, we worked with parents of infants to children through 14. I am okay with the overlap with YALSA. I am a member of YALSA and feel comfortable with my tweens being part of that community, but I also want them welcomed by ALSC. If there is ever a population who needs more not less attention it is this at-risk group. Too young for this, too old for that.

It seems that the biggest concern of these writers is the award overlap not who we serve.  Our awards draw attention to excellence in literature and illustration. I serve on the Children's Book Committee at Bank Street. Each year we present an award for a fiction book, a poetry book, and a non-fiction book. Each year we attempt to compare apples and oranges- how does one discuss the literary merits of an exquisitely funny chapter book for third graders with a moving tragedy for twelves. We have solved our conundrum somewhat. If there is a consensus we may give two poetry awards that year one for that perfect poetry book for pre-schoolers and one for older children. (not as easy as it sounds- have you ever tried for consensus with 26 people?)  I am not suggesting that ALSC do that, only that there is a difficulty in judging for the different age groups. A typically developing 8-year-old is as different from a 12-year-old as a rabbit is from a wolverine. That said, it seems that our committees do an excellent job evaluating materials for our range of service and I trust that they can continue to do so.



Lisa Von Drasek, University of Minnesota Libraries

Pat Scales's picture

Bravo, Lisa.  I agree. Our public library has always offered programs for babies.  We should serve birth - 14 years-old.  Service should be our focus.  It is my hope that overlap in service means better service.

Amy Kellman's picture

This is an interesting and on-going discussion.  I think changing from grades to birth to 14 years old is a positive change.  Right now I am serving on a committee choosing 2009 "Best Books for Babies" which means birth to 18 months.  At the other end of the spectrum, I agree with all the comments made about overlap of service.  More service from ALSC and YALSA for the 12 to 14 years olds can only help libraries and librarians.  Amy Kellman


Ann Crewdson's picture

Everyone has spoken so eloquently and explored all sides of the issue that I have very little to add.  Thanks for the lively debate and your honest perspectives.

Personally, I'm an advocate of as many access points as possible for our young patrons as well.  I'll second Pat's idea that the more overlap there is, the better our patrons are served.  And I also firmly believe that tweens are some of our most frequent patrons, as KT astutely pointed it out.  If YALSA isn't ready to pick them up and if we don't embrace them, who will?  Does it seem fair that we should drop one end of an age range to shift toward another? If we decide to drop 13 to 14-year olds, in all fairness, do we need drop birth to three-year-olds or should we focus on 6 to 12-year olds?  These are all very different developmental ages, yet we serve them all and we have done so for years with excellence.  I am someone who believes in mental age rather than physical age.  So please forgive me for the cliche--the world is not black and white, and I prefer it that way.

If there is a "qualitative" difference rather than a quantitative difference in this reexamination then I'm ready to accept the idea that age ranges have to be further refined in order to serve children.  Are we looking at just the Newbery Committee (and to note, I hold this committee in high esteem) or are we also looking at Great Websites or the Great Interactive Software for Kids Committee as well? And if we look at international age ranges (which would fall under the Batchelder Committee's terms and criteria), is this consistent? In an increasingly globalized society, we need to acknowledge that many immigrants come from societies where "growing up" is a different age.  The next question we need to ask is--do we need to choose the infants over the tweens, the preschoolers over the 2nd graders? How do we make such a decision?

I know I often hold unpopular views in search of the truth.  Uncovering the truth is the only way I know how to serve kids to the best of my ability.  And please, I invite you to correct me if I'm wrong.  I do honestly want to be enlightened, if your version of the truth is different from mine.

"You don't get harmony when everybody sings the same note."  Thanks for furthering my understanding of ALSC's mission.


Julie Corsaro's picture

KT has asked to hear from ALSC Board members, as well as for more background information. I am one of the former and in response to the latter; I think it is important to know that YALSA has as one of their “Mega Issues” the overlap of services between YALSA and ALSC. My understanding is that YALSA is advocating that ALSC focus on ages 0-11 and YALSA on 12-18. While I don’t think it is articulated in this way, my interpretation of YALSA’s proposal is that it is really more about the awards than it is about service.

I appreciate the eloquence and vigor of the previous posts and agree with many of them (KT, Pat, Anne, Monica, and Lisa come immediately to mind). While my library experiences with young people have run the gamut from birth through 18, the majority of my time has been spent with middle-school students. Based on my own experiences with tweens and young teens, I agree with Pat that there is vast variability in development at this age. I believe that many of these young people still have one foot firmly rooted in childhood while the other is tentatively exploring teenage hood. The dual nature of their status is reflected in their reading at this age, which can range from very simple picture and informational books to popular adult fiction. I also agree with KT that the 10-14 age group too often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to library services. For this reason and as Ann persuasively argues, overlap in services is a positive feature not a negative one. My fear if we were to lower the top end of our service to 11 or 12, more tween and young teens will fall through the cracks, a concern that is heightened for special population children such as ESL and learning disabled. I was just reading Howard Gardner’s update (2006) of his highly influential multiple intelligences books and found it validating that he considers  “adolescents” ages 15-25.

As far as the  award committees go, I think that the medals that honor text will always have a tendency to go to the books at the higher end of the age range. I remember back in library school Zena Sutherland saying that she thought it was easier to write an exemplary book for older than younger kids because there were not as many limitations regarding vocabulary, concepts, and so on. There will always be a top end and I rue the day when the ALSC award committees would have to debate whether or not a Russell Freedman book was eligible.

Although the majority of my library experience has been with middle school students, I have also been a graduate student in early childhood education, a kindergarten teacher, a Montessori school librarian and the author of an article about books for babies. That said, I’m a little concerned that a false dichotomy is at play here—somehow, if we serve babies and toddlers then we can’t serve young teens--and vice versa. I believe we can do both, and I support what every language works best that makes it clear that we serve children from birth-age 14.


Pat Scales's picture

Julie is absolutely correct.  I received a letter from YALSA leadership last spring stating that their "mega issue" discussion would focus on lowering their age range of service to age 12.  They wanted ALSC to consider stopping our age range of service at age 11.  Much of the reason that was stated to me centered around the awards program, specifically the Printz Award.  I don't think this is the first time that this has been suggested.  And, I don't believe that ALSC (in the past) has seriously considered such a move.  We all know that the oldest and most well-known brand of ALSC is the Newbery/Caldecott. But we offer numerous other outstanding services to librarians across this nation.  While the awards program is certainly a service, I would hate to see us turn our backs on an age group  that is suspended in the middle.  They are a vibrant group of kids who need us to help them make their journey to young adulthood.  What would happen to the fifth-grader who wants to read The Giver.  Would the children's collection lose that title, along with Dicey's Song, Jacob Have I Loved, Crispen, Kira-Kira, and even The Graveyard Book?  I can bet that these books would be moved from the children's collection to the teen collection, even though readers ages 10-14 is the age group that would most request them. I strongly suggest a Task Force that looks at better ways to serve this age group, rather than abandon them.

As for the lower age group, I don't think anyone would argue that we need to begin with birth.  But, the truth of the matter is that this all started because of the upper age group, not the younger age group.

Linda Braun's picture

As a long-time ALSC member and current President of YALSA I wanted to clarify two points in Pat Scales' post of 11/15.

  • For over 50 years the official age range that YALSA serves has been 12 to 18. You can read about who YALSA serves and the Association's mission on the YALSA web site at http://ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/aboutyalsab/aboutyalsa.cfm.
  • At Midwinter 2009, the YALSA Board had a mega-issue agenda item titled Addressing Expanding Adolescent Years. This discussion focused on how the Association serves members at a variety of levels of the age spectrum, including the three-year overlap that ALSC and YALSA currently have as well as the need to serve older teens and young adults 18 to 22.  The discussion did not focus on book awards, but addressed a variety of issues relating to providing services and support to members.  The minutes from that meeting are also available on the YALSA web site http://ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/boardandcommittees/midwinter09.cfm
Pat Scales's picture

Thanks, Linda.  I'm glad that you cleared that up.  The initial letter that I received last summer just prior to annual conference did suggest that ALSC lower the age of service to age 11.  The letter certainly did address library services to this age group, but it also specifically mentioned the awards program. While I know that the awards program for ALSC and YALSA is a big part of what we do, I think that both organizations do a lot to serve children and teens in public and school libraries.    I personally have no problem with the overlap in age. Having spent a career with middle schoolers, I truly believe that they need as many people as possible working on their behalf. This age still has one foot in childhood.  Somehow, I just feel that we are all dancing around this issue.  I would like to see us work together in serving this age, rather than engaging in a turf war.  Since the overlap has been there for so many years, then I'm not quite certain why this has become a recent issue.  As KT Horning says, "why fix what isn't broken."

Ernie Cox's picture

It appears from the YALSA minutes that the board decided to focus on expansion of services to the 18-22 year age range. This could be a great way for YALSA to interact with the academic libraries to improve library services and collections for teens and young adults.



Jennifer Ralston's picture

I am a new Board member, and find this discussion really interesting. I do believe that it is important for ALSC to retain our "birth through age 14" age range for our Bylaws and Committee function statements.

ALSC supports and recognizes the wonderful research into early brain development in children, and the importance of introducing children (birth to age three) to rich language, rhythm, repetion, etc. This is true "early literacy", and libraries across the country recognize this, too, and provide baby storytimes. Our library has a "babe in arms" program, where parents learn about the importance of reading, nursery rhymes, etc.

In terms of the upper age range, there has been much discussion about tweens, and the fact that they are "neither fish nor fowl". Truly, these children have one foot in childhood, and an often tentative foot in the teen world. They go back and forth-until they are emotionally and phychologically ready to put both feet into teenhood. When they are ready to do this depends on each individual child.  I think that we have a commitment to serve the child in the tween, and to advocate cooperation and partnership with YALSA to JOINTLY address how both associations can serve this age group-together.I believe that we don't need to have "turf wars", but we can join forces to serve this group. Why not? I agree with Pat.

I did want to mention that in our library here in Harford County we have a middle school collection (mostly fiction, with some high-interest browsing nonficion and graphic novels). This middle school collection is part of our chilren's services, as we serve birth-age 14. This collection was started in the mid-1970's, and we consider it a "bridge" collection between the children's and YA (high school) collection. It recognizes that middle schoolers are not elementary students, but not yet YA. We also have developed joint programming created by our children's and YA librarians.



Jamie Watson's picture

Chiming in a bit late here, but it seems as if one thing we all agree on is the age range starts at Birth.

We as professional librarians of course know that one person's 13 is another person's 16 is another person's 10 1/2. Age ranges in their own way are just as arbitrary as grades, and are suggestions, nothing more.

However, I think about how programming is done (and collections used) in my own experiences. For the most part, programming for YA's in libraries attracts the 13-15 year olds. By the time MOST teens are 16, they are less likely to attend programs,etc. They're moving on. There are many exceptions, for certain, (Your most dedicated teens and TAG members never want to move on.) but this tends to be true.

The same comes with collections. As Jennifer stated above, we have a middle school collection and a High school collection. However, I would venture that many middle schoolers are using our YA collection, and many older YA's are straight to the adult collection.

I also agree with what has come before, that middle schoolers do have one foot in childhood and one in teen hood. But most of those 13 year olds identify with teenhood, for better or worse.

I'd like to suggest a compromise - ALSC be birth to age 12, and YALSA be age 13 and up. There will still be overlap in terms of programs and services, but those that skew particularly young will tend to land in ALSC and those that reach to be older will land in YALSA.





Ernie Cox's picture

Coming very late to this discussion gives me a chance to read well informed and reasoned views in the field.  The beginning of our scope of concern should be at birth. This doesn't seem to be a real area of debate for most ALSC members.  I've conducted babysigning story times at the Durham Public Library with large numbers of parents/kids attending. Children's librarians need to be present at the earliest stages (both in terms of services and recognizing great materials for these ages). While I teach in a Prek-8 school my students are siblings of younger kids. I interact with parents of kids from birth forward and ALSC helps me to maintain an informed professional stance to do so.

From my seat in a PreK-8 school I hope that ALSC maintains a range extending to age 14 (at least). I see overlap of professional attention in the middle school as huge potential. YALSA and ALSC could do so much to bolster services to tweens - perhaps by forming a joint effort in ALA Connect. As KT points out, there has been much discussion about tweens but not enough follow through (the Caldecott could go to more picture books for older readers!). I encourage Ellen and her committee to look far and wide at what it means for our profession to serve middle school age students.

Consider how the National Middle School Association defines "young adolescents" - this calls on us to consider age 15 as the top range. These definitions speak to what many of you are describing as the in-between time.  http://www.nmsa.org/Research/ResearchSummaries/DevelopmentalCharacteristics/tabid/1414/Default.aspx.

Pat Scales has explained how important this developmental stage is and how often kids miss out on the experiences they need and deserve. The NMSA hosted the "Month of the Young Adolescent" to respond to the time when kids are "growing up forgotten." http://www.nmsa.org/moya/Overview/tabid/1172/Default.aspx

Next Fall I will begin service as the chair of the VOYA Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers because I think it is one of the most valuable booklists for those serving young adolescents. It speaks directly to what I need for middle school kids. ALSC can be another important part of the puzzle for great experiences in the middle years.

I see the Scope of Attention question as an opportunity to redouble our efforts to serve the birth-14 (15 too?) range in all aspects of ALSC business.

Ernie Cox


Ernie Cox's picture

Perhaps this question will prompt ALSC to consider ways to expand collaboration with related groups along our range of concern.  What if we partnered with NMSA?

Goal Area:   Collaboration

ALSC will work collaboratively within ALA, the profession, and the wider community to ensure excellent library service for all children.

Objective 1:   Increase the effectiveness of ALSC’s current collaborative efforts.
Objective 2:   Increase opportunities to work in coalition with other related groups.
Objective 3:   Increase public awareness of the value of library service to children.


Pat Scales's picture

One important thing that we must all remember is that ALSC doesn't serve children --we serve libraries that serve children.  There are libraries from sea to shining sea that define "children" in various ways.  That's why we have to be very careful that we don't write them right out of our mission.  There is nothing wrong with overlap.  There is great good in collaboration.  But, much will be lost if we attempt to tell a library how they must define "children".  I just spoke with a Director of a fairly large public library who told me that in her mind a 12-year-old isn't a teen.  I see this discussion as a real opportunity for ALSC to offer libraries help in dealing with this age group.  

Ernie Cox's picture

The questions before the task force are:

1) Do we define age in terms of age or grade?

2) What range does the term “children” represent?

My opinion is 1.) age 2.) birth-15 (with an understanding of the development stages within this range.

Phase Two for this Task Force could be to conduct an ALSC -wide reexamination of the services and material needs of this range (with renewed focus on the 10-15) and how various committee can address these concerns.




Kathleen Isaacs's picture

I can see the need to clarify the criteria and bring them all in line. Ages work well, and it is perfectly obvious to anyone who enters a library that libraries are serving all ages...from birth. But, like many others, I'm bothered by the idea of lowering the upper age level. I taught middle school for years, and can testify - as has been said before - that they can be children one day and young adults the next -- or even at the same time.  The National Middle School Association report Ernie cited, discusses their growing abilities for abstract thought. "this transition to higher levels of cognitive function varies significantly across individuals as well as across and within content areas."  The overlap between ALSC and YALSA reflects reality-- not only do the young people vary, so do the institutions that serve them in terms of their definition. Their intellectual needs can't be predicted by their ages and grades.

At one of my middle schools, we were not allowed to use the word "inconsistent" to describe particular students. It is a characteristic of the age. Rather than trying to put these 12-14-year-olds in one box or the other, let's keep our boundaries as fluid as the young people we serve are.

Julie Corsaro's picture

Because our shared understanding as an ALSC Board is to act as “one voice,” I have been reluctant to post my concerns—as well as my vote—regarding the “Scope of Attention.” However, as the draft of the Midwinter Board minutes scheduled to be published today should make clear, I did not support lowering the upper age of ALSC service to “13.” As a result, I voted against the motion to include it on the spring ballot. My objections were not only related to the content of this motion--as these minutes as well as my post on ALA Connect (made prior to the 2010 Midwinter Meeting) should demonstrate--but also to the process that led up to it.

KT has asked for clarification from Board members as to why this issue has been pursued with such vigor at this time. To be frank, I’m not sure why. Last spring, ALSC President Pat Scales received a letter from the YALSA leadership requesting that ALSC consider stopping our range of service at age 11. As the minutes of the summer 2009 ALSC Executive Committee Meeting demonstrates, this request was discussed yet there was no indication that ALSC would pursue lowering the upper end of our age of service. As the subsequent minutes from the fall 2009 ALSC Executive Committee Meeting also indicate, information about the Scope of Attention Task Force was presented, as well as the fact that the Organization & Bylaws committee would be informed of the Scope of Attention Task Force in the event that a “tight turnaround” was needed at Midwinter [to insure that a motion was included on the spring ballot]. What these minutes do not indicate--and I will request they be amended to include--is that Pat Scale’s request that discussion of the “Scope of Attention” also take place on ALSC-L was denied. Although Board members would have the responsibility to decide whether or not to support the recommendations of the Scope of Attention Task Force, I feel that our discussion was repressed at the Executive Committee meeting using the justification that it was a matter for the membership to decide. Ironically, if KT Horning had not brought the actions of the ALSC Board into question, I believe that such an essential membership discourse would never have happened.

As Vice-President of ALSC, I apologize for not being more assertive in guaranteeing that the membership be allowed the opportunity to fully discuss this contentious “Scope of Attention” issue. As a measure of my commitment to transparency, I will post this commentary on ALA Connect and request that it is posted on the ALSC Blog as well. ALSC Executive Director Aimee Strittmatter and I have already talked about our commitment to having regular meetings with the entire Executive Committee so that no Board member in the future will have to plead ignorance about why any issue is being pursed by the ALSC leadership. In addition, Aimee and I have also been discussing having the ALA Parliamentarian attend the ALSC Board Orientation Meeting this summer so that the Board is fully informed about the range of responses available to a motion beside supporting or rejecting it.

I believe that the best way to insure that the ALSC Board speaks as “one voice” is to respect the voice of each individual Board member. Julie Corsaro