Currently Reading...

Just finished...

Should MS librarians “mark” their YA books?

Today’s discussion is about YA books in middle schools. I would love to open a discussion about this topic because 1) I am torn on the issue and 2) I haven’t found very much about it online. While there are some articles about content warnings on books (such as sex, violence, drugs, mature situations, language, etc.), I have seen very little about simply labeling a book as YA.

Some of the other middle school libraries in my district label their YA fiction with a sticker on the spine. All students are free to check out the YA-labeled books (no permission required), but students and parents are at least fairly-warned that there may be some mature content in them. The librarians’ argument is that it is just a YA label, not a specific warning about sex or language or violence. If a parent wants their child to stay away from YA books, the child has a way to make sure that happens. Again, in my district, permission is NOT required to check out the YA books.

The dilemma:

Young Adult titles are, by definition, intended for ages 12-18. Middle school students range in age from about 11-15, making some YA titles middle-school appropriate and other YA titles better for high school libraries.

Virtually every middle school library has YA titles, and there are lots of excellent YA titles that are just fine for sixth grade readers, despite their YA rating. But at the same time, there are many titles that I have more for my eighth graders than my sixth.  In my library, YA fiction and MG fiction are all shelved together into 18 genre sections.

I cannot possibly read every one of the 5000+ fiction titles in my library and therefore depend heavily on professional reviews when I order books. However, the reviews are very subjective. What one reviewer labels as Grades 6-9, another reviewer says grades 8-11. Professional reviews rarely contain any mention of mature content, so how am I to know if the book is a good fit for my readers? If it is well-reviewed and receiving literary praise, I will tend to order it if any reviewer labeled it for middle school. But sometimes, when I get around to reading that book, I decide it is okay for my 8th graders, but I worry about the PR mess I might have to clean up if a sixth grader gets it and shows certain parts to their parents. Argh!

I’ve thought about writing this post for awhile now but didn’t because I worry that I might get skewered in the comments for even suggesting labeling YA books as such. But I’d bet money that middle school teachers and librarians will be sympathetic and understand exactly what I am saying here. It’s tough!

Do you mark your YA titles in your middle school library? 

For example:

  • putting a “YA” or some other sticker on the spine as this school and others do (click the link and scroll all the way to the bottom to the YA label section for their policy–this is what some middle schools in my district do)
  • shelving YA fiction separately from MG (middle grade) fiction


I can see some pros and cons for designating books as YA:

Pros to labeling or separating out YA books:

  • Parents and students can tell at a glance if a book contains mature content. I am all for involved parents helping their children select materials, and if this helps facilitate that, then that is a good thing.
  •  Music and movies already contain labels about content, yet books do not. When I order a book for the library, I know if it is MG or YA. Using professional reviews, I know generally what grade levels the book is recommended for. Shouldn’t patrons also have quick access to that information?
  • Believe it or not, some students do ask for “clean” reads. They have asked me for help finding these, however, I am only one person in my huge library. Anything I can do to facilitate students finding their own books is a good thing.
  • Some argue that labeling books allow “lazy parenting,” but I actually disagree with that. Most parents work and have more than one child, which limits their time spent reading. I have students who read several hours each day. They have time to read at school. They have time to read at home. By the time the parent can finish a book, the child has already moved on to another book. Busy parenting is not the same as lazy parenting.
  • Could this lead to fewer challenges to library materials?

Cons to labeling or separating out YA books:

  • Will students gravitate to YA books because they know they have something more mature in them? Probably.
  • Is this a slippery-slope toward requiring permission to check out YA books? (movie ratings and parental advisories on music require permission or a certain age for access)
  • Don’t my 18 genre labels already kind of do this? My paranormal romance and horror sections are more likely to be YA than my action-adventure or humor sections.
  • Will this lead to more challenges to library materials?

Again, as a middle school librarian, I can definitely see both sides of this issue. In theory, I don’t think it is a good idea, but in practice, I completely understand why middle school librarians label their YA books as such.

Other online discussions of content labeling books:

WORD for Teens: What do labels do? Should YA books be labeled? (argues against labeling)

“Leesburg mom not giving up on library book warning-label campaign” (news article about a lady wanting the public library to separate YA fiction into high school and middle school sections)

What are your experiences with labeling YA books in your libraries? Do you feel any pressure from parents or school administrators to label your YA fiction titles? 


  • I label, because I don't really see a downside. A YA label might grab a student's attention, but that's a good thing because I just want them to read. Other students are uncomfortable with more mature situations in books, and the YA label helps them avoid that. I've had students bring me books, point out specific pages or phrases, and ask me to label. I'm at a 6th – 8th grade middle school, and probably wouldn't label if we were only 7th and 8th grades. Some of my incoming 6th graders are only 9! I don't consider the label a warning or restriction, just a heads-up for students.

    • I especially agree with your last sentence! Aren't the labels simply giving the students more information about the books? Book covers contain all kinds of information about the book–to me, this is just more information. Plus, at least in Destiny, the catalog record contains the interest level anyway; YA labels just make the information easier to find.

      I would draw the line at restricting access. That should not happen, ever.

  • I label "Recommended for 8th grade and up" so I can provide more mature materials for my mature students and it helps me to remember to give the younger ones a heads up. I haven't really had anyone mention it but it makes me feel better that I (and my clerk who may not have read the books) am giving them the best advice on what to read.

    • Yes! I wish I could read all my books, but that is just not possible; even if I read constantly without sleeping or working, I wouldn't even make a dent.

      The only thing I would worry about with designating grade level is that it's subjective. What is fine to me might not be fine for a parent, who might then demand to know why I didn't have the label on the book her child checked out.

      A YA designation is available in the catalog as well–easy enough to look up.

    • I agree with ALA's position about labeling books with reading levels (such as AR). I fought AR labeling at the elementary level and finally gave in in my last year as an elem librarian. I had moved to a new district, and the teachers and principals were just too steeped in AR by the time I got there. I fought the battle but ultimately lost. Went to middle school the next year.

      This ALA post, however, really addresses reading levels more than mature content. I guess YA labeling is kind of the same thing, but it's on a much smaller scale since access is not restricted. The YA label is also not about reading ability; it's about maturity and, as SEMS Library Lady stated above, giving readers a "heads up."

  • The four middle schools in my district started using YA labels last year. We four librarians talked a lot about it first. In the end, we decided that labeling books provides more information to students, teachers, and parents and that it would allow us to expand our offerings to interest more 8th graders, who would often ask to ILL from the high schools. We identified titles on recent Alex, Printz, and Abe Lincoln (Illinois' high school book award) lists with reviews that said grade 8 and up or age 14 and up to consider for purchase. Personally, I have found that I am more likely to buy new YA books that are aimed at 8th graders and up because I have the YA labels to go with them. As I introduced the labels last year, I did point them out to the 8th grade classes. The books are interfiled, and I did not notice 6th or 7th graders focusing on the labels much. Our policy is not to restrict access/check-out regardless of student age/grade.

    • @ipushbooks–I think your response sums up my feelings on this pretty well. It's a difficult decision but in the end, I think it will benefit my students. I especially like your statement that you are more likely to purchase new YA aimed at 8th graders. For that reason alone, I think this could be a positive thing.

  • I have an elementary library that went from being K-8 to K-6. I started labeling the YA books when I lost the upper grades. As awful as I feel about it, and know I shouldn't, I do not allow students lower than fourth grade to check them out. Even then parents sign a slip that I send home explaining why the YA books are labelled differently. On the note home, I compare them to being similar to a PG 13 book. I tell them that they usually contain more mature subjects whether it be bad language, violence, or relationships. I also explain that sometimes books get a YA label just because the main characters are teenagers or the setting is in high school. I have all the fiction books shelved together and the younger kids like to pick out books that are really thick or have an interesting cover. There are some students in the lower grades who are capable of reading the YA books and want to just to prove they can even though most all of them are way beyond their maturity level. I work at a very small school (less than 250) students and the parents that I've talked with are extremely glad that I do this.

    • "students and the parents that I've talked with are extremely glad that I do this"

      I agree that the parents will be glad for this and probably many students as well. You had an extra great reason for doing it, what with losing your 7-8 graders. I am leaning toward doing it, but it will be a slow process. Maybe I can print a list of our YA titles in Destiny and have my student library aides pull/label them.

      I also understand the signed slip for the kids to be able to check out the YAs. YA books were not intended for 4th graders, so getting their parents' permission is more than reasonable, I think.

  • When I started 15 years ago, my high school library served 5th through 12th grades. Not good. Eventually, the 5th & 6th grades went back to the elem library. (Our elem and high schools are attached.) I should have labeled books then. It's better now that I'm just 7-12. If a 7th grader checks out a book that I know has mature content, I do give them the heads up about it. Last year I had an 8th grade student who wanted to read realistic fiction and girl drama. She didn't like the books her friends recommended (Sarah Dessen) because they were too mature. I recommended one that I knew was pretty tame. After she read it, she said she was flustered because there was some kissing in it! I think
    labeling is a good idea if the library serves a wide range of ages or grades. But I wouldn't use it to deny a book. I know some 7th graders who can handle mature YA content and others who aren't ready for it. I always tell younger students who check out YA that if they come across words or scenes in a book that make them very uncomfortable, just return the book and I'll help them find something else.

    • @Kris–Agreed! As long as it is not used to deny access, I don't have a problem with it at all.

      I also have students who request "clean" books, although it's hard to find girl drama books without any kissing. I'm sure they are out there, but there are not as many.

  • My library had labels when I started, "8th grade check only". It got to be annoying, since 6th graders would check out the book when I was with a class. I don't buy books if they have sex, too much gratuitous violence to humans, or the fbomb. Most of my circ depends on me directly handing a book to students. If it's uncomfortable, I don't buy it. Our public library delivers to our school, so I spend my money on books everyone can read. Some 6th graders do still complain about mild language, so I tell them to just return the book!

  • Hi everyone, my library is a K-12 grade catered collection, so I have issues with buying only age-specific books. Ive had many conversations with myself at night regarding whether or not I should buy books for my kids that are great reads, but have innapropriate content (i.e. Frank Herbert's Dune), but I feel that is too close to banning books (I'm absolutely AGAINST this). I had never concidered labeling my YA section, but I LOVE the idea and will begin doing it post-haste to my collection. Its a great way of warning my kids of content without necessarily banning books.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I accept the Privacy Policy

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop