Girls at the Aguilar Branch of the New York Public Library looking at
New York Public Library
origin story / culture

How Did YA Become YA?

Why is it called YA anyway? And who decided what was YA and what wasn’t?
Not too long ago, during an author panel on Young Adult literature at the most recent Teen Author Festival, YA author Scott Westerfeld asked, “Why is it called YA anyway? And who decided what was YA and what wasn’t?” The answer of course is: librarians. More specifically you can thank New York Public Library librarians. Not only did they pioneer library services to teens, an NYPL librarian popularized the term “young adult.” However, before we get to all that we have to start at the beginning and it all starts with a young, passionate, pioneering children’s librarian named Anne Carroll Moore.

In 1906,  Anne Carroll Moore became the Director of Work with Children for The New York Public Library. As she was busy revolutionizing services to children and children’s rooms all over the city, she knew that there had to be a way to keep children, who weren’t quite adults yet, coming to the public library and not let all her hard work for children be for naught. It’s for these reasons, in 1914 that she hired Mabel Williams, a young librarian from Somerville, Massachusetts. Mabel was working as a reference librarian and collaborating with local high schools and Anne wanted her to do the same thing, only on a much bigger scale, at NYPL. Mabel began working with schools and inviting classes into branches and finally in 1919 she was appointed to Supervisor of Work with Schools and her groundbreaking work with young people (aka teens) began. Her official title (“Supervisor of Work with Schools and Young People”) wouldn't happen until 1948.

Mabel had her work cut out for her. To say that not everyone at NYPL was enthusiastic to have adolescents in their library branches would be an understatement. Some librarians were resistant to change and the idea of noisy, chaotic young people in their libraries. Mabel, however, stood firm against the “old ladies,” (Campbell, 8) as she called the older library staff, and strove forward in her mission to serve the teens of New York City. She started by going out and recruiting other enthusiastic librarians, like herself,  who understood her vision: that it wasn’t just about easing the transition from the children’s room to the adult room but doing actual distinctive work with teens and giving them the same equal space and services that children were getting through the children’s rooms. 
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