How Can I Designate Books Appropriate for Older Readers in My K-8 Library?

Q: I’m responsible for a K-8 library. Some of the books are simply too mature for elementary school-age children. I’m labeling these books “Y.A.” I know “labeling” is wrong, but how else can I designate which books are really suited for older middle school readers and not appropriate for children who are still in elementary school?

The American Library Association has a number of documents that offer interpretations on the Library Bill of Rights, including one on Access to Resources in the School Library that promotes unrestricted access, and one on Labeling Systems that states labels in and of themselves are not wrong as long as they are used as directional aides and not to restrict access or discourage users. In addition, the American Association of School Librarians adopted an AASL Position Statement on Labeling Practices in 2021.

Whatever you do should be designed with the idea of helping users of any age in your library find books they are most likely to enjoy.

If you don’t have separate shelving or shelving area for students in grades six to eight, then you’ll probably want some way to designate which books in the library may be of particular interest to them, while not restricting or limiting anyone’s access to library materials. So if you are labeling books YA, the intent should be to help older readers find those books rather than restricting younger readers’ access to them,

You can also think about other ways to help readers of all ages find, and find out about, books they may find of interest, such as genre- or topical booklists; you might target these at specific age or grade ranges, or organize the list by broad age/grade categories.

Finally, remember that the children and young teens in your school not only have a wide range of ages, but also interests, abilities and experiences. Every child and young teen is different in terms of what they will find appealing and relevant, and you are doing a terrific job when you strive to build a collection in which every one of them can find an range of materials to meet their needs.

See a related question about talking to library aides and teachers for other ideas about how you can explain the value and role of the school library.

Updated: September, 2021
September, 2005