Services and Resources for Children and Young Adults in Public Libraries
NCES: 95357
September 1995

Patronage in Public Libraries by Children and Young Adults

Children and young adults are major users of public libraries. In a typical week during fall 1993, three out of five public library patrons1 were youth -- 37 percent were children. and 23 percent were young adults (Figure 1).

Although aggregate children and young adult patronage figures were consistent across libraries having different characteristics, the distribution of youth patronage varied greatly among libraries. In almost one-third of libraries, young adults constituted 10 percent or less of all patrons, whereas in 11 percent of libraries, over 40 percent of the patrons were young adults (Figure 2). The pattern was reversed for children's

patronage. Only a fraction of libraries (5 percent) indicated that children made up 10 percent or less of their patrons, and a sizeable proportion (40 percent) stated that over 40 percent of their patrons were children.

Children and Young Adults Defined

The ages defining "children" and "young adults" are not consistent across libraries. Libraries reported for children and young adults as the library defines and serves them. One goal of these surveys was to gather national information on how libraries are currently defining these groups of patrons. Survey results show that the low and high ages that libraries use to define children and young adults vary widely. For example, some libraries consider 15 years of age to be the lower limit for young adults, whereas other libraries consider 15 as the upper limit.

However, the most common range for children was from birth to 12 years and for young adults, from 12 to 18 years. Twenty seven percent of libraries indicated that they considered children from birth to age 12 to be within the children's services domain, and 24 percent indicated 12- to 18- year-olds were considered young adults (Figure 3).

Ethnic Diversity

Librarians were asked to characterize the ethnic diversity of their child and young adult patrons compared to that of 5 years earlier. In over 40 percent of the libraries, librarians indicated that ethnic diversity among their patrons had increased (Table 1). The perceived increase in ethnic diversity was more prevalent in urban and suburban libraries than in rural libraries, and in libraries with more than 200 patrons per week than in those with less than 200 patrons per week.

General Information on Public Libraries

Although the survey's focus was on services to children and young adults, some basic information about libraries was collected: the number of patrons in a typical week, the weekly hours of operation, the number of librarians, and the number of children's, young adult, and youth services specialists on staff.


About 18 million people entered a library in a typical week in fall 1993, an average of 1,180 per library building (Table 2). Thirty-seven percent of these library patrons were children and 23 percent were young adults (Figure 1). Weekly patronage was related to the metropolitan status of the libraries. with urban libraries having the largest number of patrons pr week and rural libraries having the smallest number.

Hours of Operation

Library buildings were open an average of 39 hours per week in fall 1993. Libraries having 1,000 or more patrons per week were open more hours than those serving fewer than 2C0 patrons. Similarly, urban libraries were open longer hours than rural libraries.

Although the average number of hours responded was 39, this number does not capture the diversity in operating hours across libraries (figure 4). Libraries reported hours of operation from 10 or fewer hours per week (6 percent of libraries) to 61 or more hours per week (13 percent).

Library Services Staff

At the time of the survey (spring 1994), tie mean number of public service librarians per library building was 3.8 (Table 3); however, because of the wide variation in number of librarians per library, this figure can be misleading. More than half of all libraries had only one or two librarians --30 percent had only one and 23 percent had two (Figure 5). Moreover, a small fraction of libraries (2 percent) had no public service librarian. At the other end of the spectrum, 10 percent had 9 or more librarians.

The average number of librarians per building varied by metropolitan status and number of patrons per week, with urban and large libraries having more librarians than rural and small libraries (Table 3).

Children's, Young Adult, and Youth Services Specialists

 Two of eve~ five libraries had a children's specialist 11 percent had a young adult specialist, and 24 percent had a youth services specialists on staff (Figure 6). Youth services specialists spent about half of their time on children's services (55 percent) and 22 percent of their time on young adult services (Table 2). In those libraries that had specialists, the children's specialist was available an average of 36 hours per week, the young adult specialist was available 31 hours, and the youth services specialist was available 37 hours. Since the average library was open 39 hours per week, these specialists were available most of the time that the library was open.

Of the estimated 58.500 public service librarians in public libraries in spring 1994, an estimated 9,300 were children's specialists, 2,050 were young adult specialists, and 6,200 youth services specialists (Table 3). Although youth (children and young adults) constitute 60 percent of public library patrons, librarians specializing in services to youth makeup only 30 percent of the public service librarian population,
a ratio of one youth services specialist to every 618 youths.

Comparisons with Earlier Surveys

The demographics of public libraries have not changed greatly over the last 5 years. Average patronage per week, number of librarians per library, and number of hours open per week are similar, if not identical, to the number reported in the two FRSS surveys conducted in the late 1980s (Table 4). There appeared to be very little change in either the number of children and young adult patrons or the percentage of libraries having a children's specialist or a young adult specialist. It is important to note that the earlier surveys defined the age ranges for these groups, whereas the current surveys did not.

1 Number of patrons per week and the estimated percentage of patrons who are children or young adults are based on door counts of similar counts to the number of persons entering the library rather than on circulation or other measures of library usage. These figures are duplicated counts (i.e a person who entered the library several times during the week would be counted each time he ,or she entered the library): these counts include persons entering library buildings to attend activities or meetings and those using no library services.