Behind the Scenes in Collection Development: Finding and Providing Age-Appropriate Materials for Kids and Their Caregivers

Ever wonder how our Collection Development Librarians review, select, and organize materials? Here's an example of the expert work our Collection Development Librarian for Youth Materials, Jackie Davis, employs when thinking about materials for our kids and teens: 

Providing age-appropriate books to our patrons is key to supporting families. Libraries organize books into sections based on the ages of the intended readers. 

I learned in library school that in order to find information, to find the kind of story you want to read, it has to be organized to be findable. The very spirit of the library is making information accessible with tools that help patrons find what they are looking for. It is our mission. Walk into a library, and you will see that organization.  

The library organizes the books by suggested age ranges using the library’s own traditional labeling system. When you visit a branch of the Timberland Library system, you will find separate sections - for adults, for teens, for school-age children, and for preschoolers, and within those sections further divisions to assist readers. For example, in the preschooler E section (E for Easy), we have picture books for parents to share with their children, we have chunky board books for preschoolers to look at on their own, and we have Beginning Readers with simple vocabulary for those just learning to read.  

In the school age section, we label the books with a J, for Juvenile school age readers up to about 6th grade, including a children’s nonfiction section that provides information that recognizes the comprehension levels of young readers. 

For teens, we label the books YA for Young Adult. These are stories with teenage protagonists, going through experiences teens face, written at teen reading levels. Sometimes there are dragons in the stories too, or vampires, or zombies, all of which can be read as metaphors for the challenges teens face in their lives.  

To help navigate through these sections, our knowledgeable staff are there to help, to provide booklists and make recommendations. We provide professional reviews on our catalog, and readers advisory databases such as Novelist. I am always looking for the best, most informative nonfiction based on reviews and the expertise of the authors for our young patrons. 

Timberland Regional Library has always strived to empower parents, and all patrons, by providing quality information and enjoyable reading to educate and encourage children to become readers. As the selector of youth materials for the library system, my job is to find the best books I can for my patrons. I use professional tools to find those books – I am choosing out of selection lists provided by Baker & Taylor (our book supplier) and reading reviews from professional journals such as School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus to guide my selections. These reviews are written by librarians whose goal is to provide guidance to book selectors about the qualities of the story - plot, character, and setting – and for nonfiction how well the book informs and engages the reader. I am searching for books that educate, that inspire, and that entertain, to encourage children to become readers. I also am looking for books that represent the communities in my library system, and the diversity of people who live in them, as well as books that explore the wider world they live in.  

We understand and agree that parents need tools to help them find the books and other library materials they are looking for, for their families. And we provide those. But we also recognize that every family is different, and that it is the responsibility of each family to decide what is appropriate for their children. We honor that role, and do not seek to come between children and their parents. This is a partnership. We offer age-appropriate books that mirror all the families in our communities, and trust our families to choose among them using the guidance of our staff, the reviews of the titles available on our catalog, and through the many booklists and readers’ advisory tools such as Novelist we provide. 

Here are just a few tools parents can use to find appropriate materials for their kids:

  • NovelList K-8 Plus, opens a new window: A database of book recommendations to help kids find books that are just right for their reading level and interests. Recommendations for titles, authors, and series are crafted by experts in children’s literature. NoveList K-8 Plus lets you search for books with your kids' favorite story elements, then limit by reading level so you can find your young reader the perfect book.
  • Common Sense Media, opens a new window: An independent, nonprofit that provides reviews of movies, books, games, and more.