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This article is a study of six women and their contributions to young adult services in public libraries. The feminist perspective employed focuses on the voices of these women as advocates for young people.
Although it is clear that, in the late nineteenth century, public library service to "children" really referred to service to those we would now call "young adults," over time, the emphasis altered and the focus shifted to young children.(1) Consequently, young adults received less and less attention in public libraries. There were, however, women in libraries who consistently supported service to this age group, some seeing it as a part of their mission for the development of good citizens with moral consciences. These were women who spoke out, argued, demonstrated, and led the professional community in the recognition of young adults as a valid and important audience for public library service. Although children's librarians have consistently emphasized the provision of quality literature for children, it will be argued here that young adult librarians gradually diverged from this emphasis on appropriate literature to focus on young adults as persons with identifiable personal and social needs to which the public library could and should respond.
This article focuses on the contributions of some of the key women responsible for the development of young adult services in public libraries. It will offer proof of women's leadership of this development and demonstrate, through the words and lives of particular women, the inspiration they brought to bear on the profession of librarianship. It is important to note, however, that their work must be seen against the backdrop of a number of other developments that converged in mid-twentieth-century america. Psychological studies of adolescents, a new field of young adult literature, and the combination of sociological issues and new forms of technology, communication, and mass media changed both young people themselves and the ways others perceived them.
Male Psychological Interpretations of Adolescence
It was during the mid-twentieth century that new interpretations of Freudian research on adolescence emerged and dominated our understanding of young people. The work of Eric Erikson (1968), Anna Freud (1958), and Peter Blos (1962, 1967), rooted in concepts identified by Sigmund Freud, enunciated a male narrative of adolescent development. This narrative informed our perceptions of young people and the development of their identity, separation, and individualization. As a result of this work, adults came to expect rebelliousness from this newly identified group. This expectation, along with their size and the activity and noise levels emanating from groups of young adults, led to attitudes of antagonism and fearfulness from many adults, including library personnel.
Influences of Technology, Communications
and the Mass Media
Simultaneously, technology, communications, and the mass media opened the world to young people in new ways. Those who had been confined by home, family, and community expectations were now exposed to alternative lifestyles, disillusionment, and failed or corrupt authority figures through the mass media. Through these media also, young adults had access to an expanded youth culture and to role models who encouraged defiance rather than conformance to adult expectations. New technological and communications systems also brought the social and sexual revolutions of the 1960s into the homes and the lives of young people everywhere. This increased awareness, often without a depth of understanding, along with the threat of an unwanted war, encouraged antagonistic behavior - or at least the outward symbols of that rebellion. It also tempered the typical adolescent feelings of invincibility with a sense of hopelessness, resulting in behavior that almost courted death rather than challenging it. That courting of death unfortunately became a reality for too many young people as the sexual revolution was followed by the AIDS epidemic.
All of these societal changes broke down traditional authority systems and gave young people greater independence, mobility, market power, and control over their own lives. They also increased that divisiveness between young adults and adult institutions and authority. Thus, many public libraries backed away from their responsibilities for young adult services, and new library leaders with a stronger voice for youth advocacy emerged.
Creation of Young Adult Literature
It is important to keep in mind the evolution of the adolescent novel in this country and how this new body of literature provided additional opportunities for these women librarians to suggest relevant titles that specifically met adolescent needs and interests. Mary Lystad (1980) describes this evolution as follows:
Over a 200-year period, then, there have been definite changes in characterizations of and for adolescents. In the earliest period, until about 1850, the adolescent was seen as a person with one overriding duty: to cast off evil ways and engage in that religious and social activity which would merit him eternal life. The youth was born not to live but to die, and it was important to die in a befitting manner. After 1850, the adolescent was encouraged to expand his horizons and to think not only about life after death but also about life after childhood. Ways of Achieving in the world, especially for boys, were highlighted, and the adolescent was urged to think seriously about and to plan for adult roles, especially as they related to work.
In the books of the twentieth century there has been considerably less stress on future roles, either in this life or beyond. Rather, the adolescent's present feelings and values are explored. Negative feelings are seen as sometimes appropriate and certainly normal. Values are seen as relative rather than absolute. And the world presented offers choice - choice of lifestyle, career, family structure, artistic expression. Also at this time, adolescence as a legitimate growth period is acknowledged. Youth are no longer treated as potential celestial bodies, or as little adults, but as persons in transition from childhood to adulthood, with a need for adventure, for love, and for self-discovery. (pp. 32-33)
Although there were dime novels and formula series fiction popular with young adults in the second half of the nineteenth century, it was not until the 1940s that the young adult novel, as we know it today, was born. Thus, the history of this literature develops parallel to the history of public library service to young adults. Maureen Daly's Seventeenth Summer (1942) has been considered the first modern realistic female coming-of-age novel. Another writer popular in the 1940s was John R. Tunis whose first book, The Iron Duke, is now recognized as the beginning of the modern sports story. High school romances by Betty Cavanna, Rosamond Du Jardin, and Anne Emory were white, middle-class, and pure, but the characters were at least somewhat more realistic than earlier series books.
It was during the 1960s, however, that a new realism emerged in young adult literature with characters, topics, and language previously absent now included. In fact, S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders (1967) was the first book marketed as a young adult, rather than as a children's or a general interest, novel. This new publisher's category and corresponding marketing strategy was a recognition of something young adult librarians had long known, that is, that young adults have a need and a desire for books unrelated to school curricula. These books were as likely to be purchased by individuals as by libraries.
In the 1980's educational reformers rejected earlier reforms that had given more authority to individual learners, provided options, and emphasized process rather than just product. New studies, albeit based on traditional content and instruction, exposed what their authors considered the failures of newer options in schooling and called for a return to a general educational excellence rather than a focus on individual needs. In literature, this was interpreted as a move back to the classics and away from young adult books. Publishing mergers, the Thor Power Tool (1979) decision (which forced publishers to reduce their inventories and allowed many books to go out of print) (in Loe, 1986), along with the end of federal funding for school library materials, also marked a reduction of quality literature for young adults.
In recognition of the increased purchasing power of young adults and the corresponding decrease of federal funding for school library purchases, publishers concentrated on books that would sell directly to the intended audience rather than to those who select materials for them. The teenage "problem novel" and, more recently, formula fiction, new series, media tie-ins, horror, and other fast reads predominated as a result. Although many of these books are not of the highest literary quality, fine literature does exist within the genre of the problem novel, and innovative new literary works for young adults continue to be published.
A Feminist View of Adolescent Psychology
Carol Gilligan (1981) was the first to strike out in a new direction in examining adolescence, speaking in a different voice and establishing an alternative feminist view of adolescent development that acknowledged a defining of self in relationship/connection, not in separation (pp. 38-39). Although her work was published in the early 1980s and has received a great deal of attention in the professional literature, it has not as yet had a major influence on our perceptions of young adults, either in the literature or the library services created for them. Male patriarchal views prevail, and a new wave of political, social, and educational conservatism again is having both positive and negative results for young adults. In discussing Sara Ruddick's maternal thinking concepts as well as Gilligan's ethics of care, in a previous paper, this author wrote:
Gilligan's understanding of gender differences, as revealed in her modifications of Kohlberg's work on moral development, has become part of the mainstream study of child and adolescent development theories. Unfortunately, however, this theory and the ethics of care it represents is often just studied without any real effort to translate it into practice. (Hannigan, 1994, p. 303)
It remains for young adult librarians to examine such theories and consider ways to make them work in service to young adults. Adults must help young adults retain the positive benefits gained from the last three and a half, often …