Strategic Portfolio Education for adults 20-35 in Public Libraries

Strategic Portfolio Education for adults 20-35

Part I

One of JCL’s central strategic goals is to provide adult programming. Over the years, I think it is reasonable to say that at JCL we have had mixed results when we have provided adult programming. Is it time to rethink our approach to adult programming? Do we have clarity as a library about what we mean when we talk about “adult” programming?

Adults both like learning and want to learn. This fact was underscored in a 2016, Pew Study that focused on Lifelong Learning and Technology. In the study, 73% of American adults identified themselves as lifelong learners. Lifelong learning can take many forms, many people read how-to magazines, while others attend meetings or classes. Some attend conventions or conferences and others have hobbies that help them acquire new skills.

So when do we stop learning, throw in the towel and sit on the porch? When do we get to look back at all we have accomplished?  I would guess for most of us the answer is never. A recent New York Times article, “To be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old” highlighted Dr. John Goodenough, who is 94-year-old physicist working on a new type of innovative battery technology. You might think that the article is a simple human-interest story but for me it unscored that life and learning go hand in hand. I love the fact that at age 57  Dr. Goodenough  invented the ion battery, and is now on the cusp of discovering a revolutionary new battery technology involving glass rather than the traditional photovoltaic technology.

Do we know what we really mean when we talk about lifelong learning or adult learning?  Does adult learning start at eighteen and continue throughout our lives? Does it make sense to talk or think about lifelong learning in this manner? Do we have a commonsense way that we could divide adulthood into natural developmental stages? Is there any research that defines the natural phases in an adult life?

In my research I found many methodologies that attempted to define the differing stages of adulthood. The institute for learning breaks life into 12 distinct stages. In the next couple of blog posts we will look at the four stages that define adulthood. Early adulthood is between the ages of 20-35, midlife brackets the years 35-50, mature adulthood is from 50—80, and Late Adulthood is 80+.

This is part one of a three-part series that looks at adults in the age range of 20-35. Part 1 will look at new mothers in Johnson County, Kansas. Part 2 will look at employment, and Part 3 will focus on purchasing patterns.

I wanted to start with 20-35 year olds because public libraries seem to lose touch with patrons in this age range at a high rate. I was curious to see if there were any commonalities or patterns in this age group.

If we are looking to provide value to people’s lives and educational experiences for this age group as part of our strategic plan, then looking at data might help us gain some insight and help with future programming.

The 2010 census data tells shows there are 544,179 people in Johnson County. That means that 14% of the Johnson County population is between the ages of 20-35, about 77,193 individuals. Between 81% – 87% are white and the next dominant ethnicity is Hispanic

We know that 4.2% of women between the ages of 15 – 50 will give birth in Johnson County, and we can calculate that there are 2,805 annual births.

Women 18 – 34 are experiencing a high level of poverty; connecting this to the above information, we could conclude that many new mothers are experiencing poverty at some level.


The University of Illinois reports that single mothers earn two thirds of single fathers.  In 2012, 28% of all children live in a single parent family. The single most important factor for getting out of poverty is full-time employment. Only 15.1% single female parents had year round fulltime employment.

In 1988 North Dakota University created a curriculum guide for single parents that covered what they thought were the foundational life skills. Some of them might need updating, but I think they are still worth reviewing

  1. Self-Esteem and Assertiveness
  2. Managing Stress
  3. Raising Happy, Healthy Children
  4. Managing Money
  5. Food for Healthy Families

Collaborating with other organizations that already provides these services, and offering these types of programs might increase adult attendance. Libraries are a trusted neutral space in the community, and could remove the stigma many single parents feel. Offering programs at times that best suit a single parent’s schedule might add a component of convenience and community building, both with the new partner organizations and amongst the participants.



Works cited