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Stuck in the Middle?

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

My mother was a "middle child." Not the eldest, not the baby of the family. There are people, some of the psychologists, who believe that if you're not the oldest child nor the youngest, you get less attention from your parents and feel “caught in the middle.”

I don't intend to speculate about such birth order issues, but have noted that the one age group that doesn't seem to have a book section of its own here in the library are the middle-school-aged students or "tweens." We have a picture book section for the youngest children, an ER section for "early readers" (approximately grades 2-4), a juvenile section for older children, a Teen Corner for young adults, and an area for adult fiction. Tweens are sort of stuck in the middle trying to find books in the Juvenile Fiction section and the YA section.

No matter how hard we try to organize the library, there are always limitations and hard choices. By accepted library standards, our building is too small for our service area. We are very limited in space.

There have been several major rearrangements, and some tweaks to overall arrangements, over the years. Formats have come and gone -- for instance, videos were mostly on VHS years ago, then DVDs became popular, and VHS faded. Audiobooks moved from mostly on cassette tapes to CDs. And, of course, there came the advent of downloadable materials, but at least you don't need to physically move hundreds or thousands of books to make room for them.

The biggest rearrangement in my time here was done by Library Director Amy Hanley, probably around 2012. She moved the Large Print from tall shelves at the very back of the library to shorter shelves at the front -- easier for folks to get to and to see.

Videos and audiobooks moved to the other side of the front shelves housing the large print.

Nonfiction moved to the perimeter of the library, and the section of free-standing shelves to the left of the entry became an expanded adult fiction section.

Finally, Amy added a Teen Corner for Young Adult books. Previously, everything older than Early Reader but younger than Adult was in the Juvenile Fiction area. Finally, with the addition of the Teen Corner, the high school and college-age patrons had their own library area.

Photo of Teen Corner in its early days.

There have been a number of tweaks over the years -- the addition of graphic novels, the demise of VHS -- but none of them helped with one problem. Students in the middle grades, the "tweens," were left out. The "tweens" (loosely defined as ages nine or ten through twelve or thirteen) were left to try to figure out if a Juvenile Fiction book was too simple for them, or a YA book too mature.

Our Junior Library Guild subscription includes books specifically curated for Middle School or Upper Elementary/Junior High readers, but it's always hard to decide where to put them. They may seem aimed at too young an audience for the Teen Corner, but will "tweens" spurn them if they have that "J FIC" label?

We don't have a space to create a "Tween" section, and I'm not sure I'd want to. There's nothing wrong with a 12-year-old enjoying a book aimed at a younger audience, and there are some YA books that may be appropriate for an intelligent tween with good reading skills. However I'm going through the paperwork from Junior Library Guild to find the books we've received over the past few years aimed at middle-grade students. I'm not moving them to their own section, but I am labeling many of them with "Tween" labels. This is not meant to restrict readers in that age group to those particular books -- there are plenty of other books suitable for "tween" reading -- but it's meant to offer some small measure of guidance that these may be books someone in that age group might want to explore.

More than anything, I want people of all ages to know that we are thinking of them and wanting to meet their reading and information needs!


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