Promote YALSA and its Awards

I guess I am a little spoiled and maybe a tad complacent. In November, I had the chance to sit for two days at the ALAN conference and listen to the best and the brightest in the field of YA literature talk about books and reading. Chris Crutcher, Sherman Alexie, E Lockhart, and Laurie Halse Anderson and dozens of others spoke about their own writing. Breakout sessions focused on reading motivation and the use of YA literature in classroom and libraries. Several YALSA leaders were in attendance and on the program including Bonnie Kunzel, Mary Arnold, Ed Sullivan, and Michael Cart.

Why am I waxing nostalgic now? Well, it seems that YA literature takes a back seat sometimes within ALA. As I prepare to attend the Midwinter meeting, I am reading all about the awards press conference in the recent news releases and online newsletters (AL Direct, January, 2007, and the latest issue of American Libraries, for instance), Newbery and Caldecott get top billing. I understand that. They have been around since 1922 and 1938 respectively. However, not to mention the Printz, ALEX, and Edwards awards as part of the ceremony seems to me to consign the YALSA awards to a less important category. Maybe I am guilty of assisting this slight. I will occasionally define the Printz as the YA Newbery. That’s wrong, and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to promote the YALSA award winners even more in presentations, articles, and speeches.

Adolescent literacy is at the forefront of our attention in education right now. It seems to me that ALA should be hyping what it does to keep teens immersed in books and reading. Instead, it elects to focus on the past and is, therefore, ignoring a golden opportunity to promote one of its prime initiatives in the battle against aliteracy. Highlighting YALSA awards would bring some national attention to the field of YA literature which (IMHO) is the best hope we have of creating teens who read for pleasure and who become lifelong readers and learners.

However, this does not help remedy the slight within my own professional organization. YALSA is one of the fastest growing groups within ALA and yet we take a back seat at the awards ceremony. Our winners do not appear on The Today Show (according to the ALA PIO, the show is not interested in adding the Printz winners). Last year we were encouraged by YALSA to show up Tuesday morning in New York and carry signs about the Printz. We need to do more this year. What can we do to bring this to the attention of our leadership in the organization? Why is our leadership not interested in making a moe concerted effort to get Printz winners on the show?

First, as many of us as possible need to communicate our displeasure to those in charge. Send letters to ALA Direct, American Libraries, and to the leadership of ALA. At Midwinter, be sure to talk to our leaders about the need to make YALSA awards visible. Here are some key email addresses for you: the email address for letters to the editor of American Libraries: americanlibraries@ala.org. The Director of ALA’s Public Information Office (PIO) is Mark Gould, mgould@ala.org and the CEO of ALA is Keith Fiels, kfiels@ala.org Attend the press conference and make some noise for the YALSA winners if you are planning to be in Philly.

Letters are one place to begin. We need to go further. The psters for Printz did not generate a great deal of sales. Show your support this year with a purchase of the bookmarks and ask one of your library vendors if they will produce a poster each year with cumulative lists of Printz winners. How about some professional books about using the Printz winners in school and public library settings? (and we do have one coming: the Official Guide to YALSA Awards is scheduled to be published by YALSA with Neal-Schuman in June 2008. It’s been edited by Tina Frolund and has sections on Alex, Edwards and Printz). How about using our votes to speak as well? Look at the candidates running for ALA Board. Think about endorsing those who are YALSA members and/or who support YALSA’s initiatives. Dora Ho, the 2008 local arrangements chair for our annual conference, is one of the YALSA people running for ALA Executive Board.

YALSA should share the spotlight with ALSC when it comes to the awards presentation. Make your voices heard. It is time to demand more from our professional home. Instead of sitting us at a separate table, ALA needs to invite us to sit at the head table at the banquet.

Posted by Teri Lesesne

About Teri Lesesne

I am a professor of YA lit in the department of library science at SHSU in Texas. I am an active YALSA member, an author of two professional books, a blogger, and a grandmother of 6. I am on the Printz 2010 Committee and the YALS Editorial Board currently. I have also served on the QP, Edwards, and Odyssey Committees.
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