Getting the Most Out of Your Library: Young Adult Edition

Libraries are wonderful places. They are cornerstones of the community, they provide open-access sources of information and education, and they are full of books. (I repeat, full of books.) Though I think most people my age already know that they can borrow those books and often DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, or even video games from libraries, I have gotten the impression that we often don’t take full advantage of everything the library offers because we feel its services are not meant for us.

Obviously, story time and summer reading are for kids, tutoring and teen centers are for teens, and parenting classes are for parents. But libraries have begun reaching out to young adults by modernizing traditional resources and developing new, creative events that you probably wouldn’t expect. If you’re a literary-oriented, still-learning new grown-up like me, here are some popular library programs worth checking out (pun intended).

After-Hours Parties

The library might be an unusual place to seek out some fun nightlife, but “20-somethings” after-hours parties are one of the more creative ways libraries are specializing for young adults (sometimes specifically for ages 21 and up). Hosting the party after closing allows the library to offer attractions like dancing, alcoholic drinks, or loud entertainment that might not be feasible with the usual crowds on site. Quite a few of these parties have themes, too, so libraries will often change their activities from event to event to meet a variety of interests.

For example, I went to a young adult after-hours party at the beautiful Rust Library in Leesburg, VA that had a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” theme. They had a costume contest, a photo booth, a raffle, book displays, Shakespeare-themed food and drink, board games, and elaborate “fairy forest” decorations. The library also offered special “showstopper” activities like craft workshops for chainmail jewelry and flower crowns, wine-tastings, henna art, and live Shakespeare performances by a local theatre troupe. I brought a friend who was new to this library, and we were both very impressed by the atmosphere and the variety of things to do: we really enjoyed playing the games, making the art, and meeting some of the people in my community. Many of these parties are also free (or the fee is quite modest), so they can be a great opportunity to get your friends together for some low-cost, low-stress fun!

Book Clubs

Book clubs are fairly common library programs, but there are actually two different types you might find on your library schedule. The first is a more traditional book club, in which all of the group members select a book, read it, and then meet once a month or more at the library to discuss the book. These book clubs might focus on specific genres or choose their books based on suggestions by group members, and the social part of “club” is as much part of the meetings as the book. This type works great if you’re a big genre reader and want to meet others who share your taste in books or if you want to read a variety of things with one cozy group. Finding one that shares your interests and matches your personality can be a wonderful way to meet people and make friends if you have moved to a new place.

The other type is more like an open-call book discussion: the book is announced well in advance of the meeting, and the library will advertise its meeting information or RSVP sign-ups so that anyone can attend and join the conversation. You might not see the same people each time you attend this type of book club, but you get the freedom to read at your own pace and choose only the books you think you would like. Consider checking for “commuter” book clubs, a good fit for young adults who take a lot of public transport to work or class, or “book happy hours” and “books on tap,” which have their meetings at pubs, bars, and lounges. Not all libraries support young-adult-specific book clubs, but that also gives you an excellent opportunity to meet people you might not normally get to know. You can also always start your own young adult/new adult book club, and most libraries will be glad to provide meeting space and help spread the word.

Author Talks & Education

Sometimes I miss college. I don’t miss the homework and the exams and the long night hours spent slaving over essays, but I do miss learning every day. Fortunately, libraries often offer free educational events for the public, like lectures, seminars, and even author talks and signings. I’ve had the amazing fortune to meet Tamora Pierce, one of my absolute favorite authors, at the public library in Williamsburg, VA, and her writing buddy, Bruce Coville, at the Rust Library. In my experience, author talks in libraries are more intimate than talks in theaters, bookstores, or convention centers; the smaller audience and the community environment welcome more relaxed interaction between the author and their listeners than the pressure of performing for a ticketed tour or massive crowd.

Libraries also offer educational presentations from expert speakers or groups. The topics can cover everything from practical job hunting and career preparation advice to geeky academic lectures. For example, I recently attended an excellent one at the Central Library in Arlington, VA, an installment in their series of “adulting” classes for young professionals. One of The Washington Post’s travel writers taught us her tips and tricks for planning amazing vacations and travel destinations on a limited budget. Large libraries in highly populated or wealthy areas might have better access to a wider variety of subjects, and areas with nearby colleges or universities are more likely to have events with professors or researchers. But smaller libraries also make an effort to bring in special lectures, tap local organizations and societies with authoritative knowledge, or screen documentaries, so it’s worth checking their schedules. Be sure to check the seminar description in the library’s program, as well as any credentials they list for the presenter, so you can make sure it’s right for you.

Crafts & Workshops

I’m honestly very proud of my generation for our interest in DIY projects and arts and crafts, and our libraries are here to help us out. Not only can you choose from thousands of books with how-to information and technical advice for your woodworking, game programming, quilting, gardening, painting, sculpting, jewelry-making, cupcake-decorating, micro-brewing, candle-pouring, and so on, but many libraries also offer workshops, crafting circles, and tool-lending programs for a broad range of artistic interests. Some libraries now even host studio spaces in conjunction with the “makerspace” movement, which gives interested guests the opportunity to sign up for work hours with access to all the cool tools and materials inside.

These studios and workrooms vary greatly from library to library in terms of operation hours, guest input, cost, and available tools and activities, but with a little research, you can easily find out who has high-profile tools like laser cutters, electric circuitry, wood tools, and 3D printers. Not all libraries can support such a crazy amount of equipment, but if you are interested in picking up a craft hobby or would like to meet other enthusiasts, many libraries do offer single-day or variety crafting activities, and may support regular meetings for local artists. Check the library programming in advance, as workshops may require prior registration or a small fee so that the organizers can provide enough supplies for everyone.

Language Learning

If you want to pick up a new language or need opportunities to practice a language you learned in college or high school, check your local library system for language acquisition programs and conversation meetings. While you can find libraries that offer full language lessons, these may not always feature the language you want. However, you can often find libraries that host conversation hours where you can meet other language learners in your area. English conversation meetings are especially popular, and promise comfortable, constructive settings for people who want to work on English language acquisition. Other languages may be available depending on public interest and the availability of fluent speakers in your area. I’ve seen French and Spanish conversation hours at many places, but I’ve also found listings for free group lessons on Italian, Chinese, German, and Arabic taught by library volunteers, librarians, and visiting tutors. If you are interested in getting more involved with your community, consider attending conversation meetings for languages you speak fluently in order to help new speakers.

These are some of the popular events I’ve personally tried or come across at many different libraries, but this list only scratches the surface of what might be available at your library. Game nights, NaNoWriMo parties, craft fairs, holiday festivals, knitting circles, fun runs, day trips, video game tournaments, writers’ groups, music concerts, genealogy resources, private study rooms, small conventions, historic tours, book sales—these are all things I know my friends and people our age are interested in. I mean, I’m going to go to my new library for a haunted house next week and then get some quiet time to write my novel the week after that. Libraries have some amazing opportunities to have fun, get work done, and learn something new, and even if they aren’t labeled “young adult” in the program, we belong to the community audience. So look up your local branch, see what’s out there, and try more than just the books. (But also read the books.)

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