What is youth advocacy?

The variety of definitions of youth advocacy, both within the library world and beyond, illustrate that youth advocacy can be many things. As we craft our own definition to guide our work, we’re drawing on all of these. Our goal is to create a definition that is as inclusive as possible, recognizing the many forms that advocacy can take and the many roles that those involved in advocacy work can perform. At the same time, we want our definition to identify specific situations, projects, and goals connected to advocacy work, so that the definition has practical as well as theoretical significance. We’ll post that one later. For now, check out all the different ways that youth advocates define what they do:


Youth-serving professionals must advocate for the above rights and services for youth within their libraries, schools, and communities, while providing opportunities for youth to practice decision making and responsibility in running their own projects.


A youth advocate in the library supports or defends the rights of youth to services, resources, and programs equal to those of other user groups. Equal access, equal services, equal resources, equal programs regardless of age. Advocacy assumes that youth have rights, and that those rights are enforceable.

Youth advocates assume a responsibility to empower youth to identify, retrieve, and use information and they seek to expand resources made available to youth, promote access, and encourage exploration of ideas. These advocates remove barriers between youth and information.

MacRae, C. (2002). A quarter century of VOYA: visible acts of youth advocacy. Voice of Youth Advocates, 25(1), 5:

Effective youth advocates reach outward from our workplaces to connect with other professionals who deal with youth in our larger communities, from social workers to counselors, from juvenile probation officers to adolescent health experts.

Muller, P. (1999). Come on down: Your leadership role in advancing the national YA agenda. Journal of Youth Services in Libraries, 12(2), 13-17.

Advocacy means speaking out on behalf of a belief or a cause. When we think of youth advocacy, we should remember that teens are capable of being their own advocates, given the right guidance and the opportunity to do so.

New Directions in Library Service to Young Adults by Patrick Jones and Linda L. Waddle (2002), pp. 24-25:

Youth advocacy is almost deeper than a core value… It is the very core essence of what we do. Dorothy Broderick, the founder of Voice of Youth Advocates magazine, defined a youth advocate as “a person who believes in creating the conditions under which young people can make decisions about their own lives.” Youth advocacy means that youth should be treated as “first class citizens” in the library world, not as poor cousins. Youth advocacy means believing that services for teens are a right, a given, and an indispensible part of the very business of every library, not an afterthought or a “special program.” Youth advocacy means believing that every young person who walks through the door of a library deserves respect, attention, and our best efforts. Youth advocacy means being a voice with and for youth at all levels of a library organization, from ensuring that circulation systems can measure teen use to selecting appropriate furniture to providing information literacy instruction to programs which increase student learning and achievement. Youth advocacy means believing in youth.

Youth advocacy means believing in the best of youth, not accepting media stereotypes. It means engaging youth, rather than ignoring or judging them. Youth advocacy means providing youth with a voice, either directly through youth involvement or indirectly by standing up for the rights of youth. Youth advocacy means recognizing that adolescence is a time of passage and that the role of adults, especially those working in institutions like libraries, is to do everything possible to ensure the trip is successful. That belief is the foundation of our values, our attitudes, and our actions. Ultimately, youth advocacy means finding, celebrating, and sharing the value of young adults in libraries and in our community.

Between Movement & Establishment: Organizations Advocating for Youth by Milbrey McLaughlin, W. Richard Scott, Sarah Deschenes, Kathryn Hopkins, and Anne Newman (2009), pp. 8:

The term advocacy implicates a broad range of activities, causes, and organizations, from mobilizing political participation, to action on behalf of others, to service provision, and often is used synonymously with lobbying. Advocacy organizations and community organizers often function as educators, informing policy makers and citizens about the issues that frame their mission and providing individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to take part in the political process. They can also serve as a check on the political establishment and provide a channel through which individuals can press for action on public concerns. Because advocacy organizations can express opinions and push for issues in a more powerful way than can most individuals acting alone, they can provide the benefits of direct citizen participation without the limitations of personal time, access, or resources. In this way, advocacy organizations potentially enhance both the quality and the consequences of representation and broaden political discourse.

Stay tuned for our definition(s).

How do you define youth advocacy?



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