Let’s Give YALSA Members a Voice

One of the things that struck me the most about the many comments on YALSA’s new readers’ choice list, is the opposition some people in the field have had to the idea of creating a list based on input from YALSA’s 5,700 members.



One of the key messages I emphasized to the press during my year as president–something I said over and over again–was that teens and their caregivers should turn to their local school or public librarians for guidance in choosing reading materials.’  YALSA works hard to show that young adult librarians are the experts in the field–not just a few, but all librarians.’  It’s an important message and YALSA even has a white paper on the topic.’ 



In stark contrast, respected individuals in the field have been vocal in their opposition to a readers’ choice list, somehow suggesting that the majority of YALSA members are not capable of identifying quality books for teens.’ This elitist attitude runs contrary to all the messaging from ALA and YALSA that says librarians are professionals with unique expertise in matching the right book with the right patron. It is also an insult to YALSA members, and I am saddened that respected individuals in the field would take this discriminatory stance.

Any librarian who works with teens should have the opportunity to select the year’s greatest young adult books. That is why I support the readers’ choice list. It can live alongside YALSA’s existing portfolio of selected lists and offer the entire YALSA membership a way to participate in the selection of materials for teens. 


I love the idea of YALSA’s new reader’s choice list because, as I said during the Board discussion of it, why wouldn’t I value the opinion of 5,700 of my colleagues?’  Additionally, with over 2,000 books being published for teens each year, I think that a list with broad participation and input will result in a strong final product.’ 

The theme for my presidential year was “Engaging the YALSA Community.” I hope and believe that this list does that and more.

Sarah Debraski
Immediate Past President

About Sarah Debraski

YALSA President, 2008-2009
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10 Comments

  1. Chris Shomekaer

    Many arguments that people give in favor of keeping lists in the hands of a select few also apply to the creation of a reader’s choice list.

    Librarians who are new to the field may not feel comfortable submitting their choices to the perceived “high literary” awards, and so their discoveries never reach a wider audience. Several blog comments remark on librarian’s ability to find “sleeper titles” that would have never been on their radar. I cannot imagine that YALSA would not have an annotated list of most, if not all, of the titles involved in the reader’s choice list; the quiet hits can still be found.

    Opening lists up to additional input means that genre fans have the ability to highlight the best titles in a particular field. Every committee member has groaned when presented with yet another horse book, fantasy tome, or dense historical fiction title. Why not let the genre specialist help more? Their passion will reflect in the nomination and voting process.

  2. Thanks for this alternate point of view. I am very excited about the idea of YALSA members voting on the year’s best books. I think we need to trust that our membership has the ability to read a variety of books and recognize the best among them. Word of mouth amongst librarians spreads like crazy and I don’t think that exclusively means big names or best sellers. Think about how many times you’ve heard a colleague rave about a book on Twitter, Goodreads, or Facebook–doesn’t it make you want to read the book too?

    If you feel like a particular book isn’t getting enough attention, make a case for it. I know I’ll be paying attention to those books that people feel so passionately about that they campaign for them. This is going to be fun!

  3. My only concern with the reader’s choice list is, will it give members the experience they’re looking for? The discussion about this new list made me realize that part of what I’ve enjoyed in my past service on Popular Paperbacks is the discussion of titles, allowing me to trade thoughts with my colleagues and look at books in a new way. Just nominating titles and voting on them isn’t enough for me.

    If the reader’s choice list includes some discussion aspect, I think it’d be a slam-dunk success. Yet either way, I think YALSA’s members are the winners, by having leadership that’s willing to create new benefits for them based on feedback. And you can bet that I’ll be there to promote a few titles, too!

  4. First, I think it’s important to note that I am not opposed to the creation of this list and look forward to participating in the process. I don’t think there’s such a thing as “awards fatigue” … I think all the awards that ALA hands out are useful selection tools and a testament to the strength and breadth of our professional organization. So, another one? Sure.

    But I also think it’s interesting that claims of “elitism” are now being raised. What I worry about this award is that out of the 2,000 books published every year, it will be a small handful that makes their way into the hands of our 5,700 colleagues. Please note, I don’t mean it will be a small handful that are selected because, obviously, that’s the point. I mean, literally, of the 2,000 books published every year, only a handful will physically make it to many of our colleagues. I can assure you that MANY of my colleagues in New Mexico have never even *heard* of an advance reader, much less seen one. How are they going to get their hands on these 2,000 books published every year, the ones that ‘everyone’ is talking about, the ones you can pick up at a publisher preview in NYC? How do limited budgets allow librarians from rural libraries to participate in the conversation? Are we only helping the members of YALSA here? What about the part-time library staff that ‘help out’ in their teen area because there’s no one else, the staff members in one room libraries that serve small communities? What about our colleagues who can’t afford to join YALSA but still use our resources?

    When everyone is ‘talking’ about, say, 80 books it seems like a somewhat approachable goal for collection development, but when we introduced “every book published this year for YA” well, that seems quite different. And if the response is, “Well, some titles will just naturally rise to the top because they’ll be the most talked about ones,” then we’ve come full circle to “not every book” but “a select few” so what makes this different than any other list created by the ALA?

    I also question, again, how books like, say, “Gringolandia” or “Retaliation” or will enter into this conversation. Are Curbstone Press and Yasmin Shiraz going to get these titles into the hands of 5,700 librarians as ARCs or galleys? If so, how? If not, how will these librarians who are now “voicing their choice” get to participate in the buzz and discussion about these titles? It seems like, just with any other committee or award, “full” participation depends on access, access to ARCs and/or access to a large budget.

    If you have to a really limited budget and have to choose between buying another copy of “Twilight” because it’s circ’ing really well or buying a copy of “Baby” by Joseph Monninger (a BBYA top ten and a great work) because a group of librarians are really talking about it and you might want to vote for it for “Outstanding Realistic Fiction” what should you choose? Should you just ILL it, assuming your library does free ILL of course, and hope for the best? I really don’t know.

    Again, none of my concerns are a rejection of this award, I am interested to see how it is developed and implemented. However, I do think we should all take some time to consider that not everyone has the same instant access to materials, which can easily skew this award from the beginning, and to remember that ‘broad participation’ isn’t always as simple as we might wish.

  5. I suspect that the objections are not so much to the concept of a virtual Reader’s Choice List but to the idea that it should replace the BBYA list. I’m overjoyed that the YALSA Board chose not to summarily execute the BBYA at the annual convention, but decided to hold off on its decision until the membership as a whole could have more say in the matter. Does a virtual Reader’s Choice List have to replace the BBYA? Can’t both have a place in helping librarians make choices that affect their collection?

    I am in agreement with Angie Manfredi: many publishers will be unable to supply nearly 6,000 ARCs or galleys, so many good books will not be considered for the Reader’s Choice Award. Let the “popular” books rise in the Reader’s Choice list, and let the BBYA Committee consider the wider YA offerings.

  6. Really good conversation here, thanks to everyone that’s joined in so far. I wanted to comment on a couple of points.

    First, Melissa brings up the idea that librarians need the opportunity to discuss books in depth and that’s something members of selection committees often benefit from. I can think of several ways in which YALSA can implement discussion on titles nominated for the Reader’s Choice list, or titles readers are thinking of nominating, including ALA Connect chats and discussions integrated into the new YALSA-TV resource currently in development. (I’m sure there are other possibilities for discussion but those two come to mind right away.)

    Second, the topic of ARCs, small presses, sleeper titles, keeps coming up in discussions of the Reader’s Choice. I’d like to suggest that there are many ways librarians learn about new books that people aren’t necessarily taking into account. For example, in many states and localities regional and state libraries have programs and sponsor services in which they make ARCs and recently published titles available to members. Perhaps a librarian doesn’t get an ARC sent to her library directly, but someone at the state or regional level may very well have access and makes it a point of her job to get the texts out to librarians. Regional and state library systems might even sponsor discussions with librarians in that area about the books that they make available.

    I’m also aware of at least one group of librarians in an area that is not ARC heavy that make it a point of their jobs to seek out new titles (ARCs too), read the titles, and sponsor small group discussions amongst themselves.

    Maybe we aren’t giving enough credit to the librarians that don’t come to conference, publisher events, etc. in assuming that they aren’t using tools and resources available to them to seek out new titles and to be aware of titles that are not easily found in the mainstream of publishing.

  7. Thanks to all for commenting on this post! It is exciting to see something new generating widespread interest of all kinds. One thing I’m curious about is the concerns regarding ARCs, as well as small presses. At my library I rarely saw any ARCs. But I did not feel that my collection develop or readers’ advisory skills suffered from this. I relied on book reviews and information from both mainstream and not-so-mainstream sources when choosing which books to order for my collection, as I imagine most librarians do. I read books when they are published and then I talk them up to teens and my colleagues. I don’t think it’s necessary to rely on having read a book well in advance of publication to be able to contribute to a conversation about it, especially as, in this case, the list will reflect books published that year.
    As for small presses, again I don’t think anyone should need to rely on receiving a copy from a publisher in advance of publication to find out about a book. And I think, as some have already said, that the majority of us don’t rely on that.

  8. I don’t want it to seem like I am not giving credit to the incredible amount of work librarians, or state and regional libraries, in disadvantaged areas already do. I understand COMPLETELY what a struggle, and what dedication it takes, this is. IAnd I know how much many of these librarians and library workers WANT to help teens in their communities, even if they lack the tools to do so. I have SEEN, firsthand, the hunger for it in conferences and workshops I attend and participate in. My library background is in two low income states, Mississippi and New Mexico, so believe me, I know what librarians in these states go through. Many times, even attendance at a state conference is prohibitive. Even geographically, NM is at a disadvantage, it takes over eight hours to drive the North-South length of our state. Meanwhile, our state library is CONSTANTLY facing staff turnover and budget crunches. Less than five years ago we had a Youth Services librarian on staff at the state library. Now we have one person, a gifted and tireless librarian let me add, who functions as “Library Development Bureau Director” which means she must handle all the Youth Services responsibilities (something she has no formal education in and has learned, admirably, on the job as she goes) as well as any other “library development” statewide. You can imagine what a task this is for one person. Will it now fall to her to coordinate these ARC groups? Perhaps to the largest library system (with a whopping 15 branches, some of them small, one-roomed buildings) which has had a hiring freeze on for almost a year now?

    I was present at the Board II meeting when BBYA was discussed. The comments I heard from the membership revolved around “education.” I’d like to echo that here. YALSA is going to implement this award? Great, now tell me the specifics of the group of librarians who sponsor group discussion of ARCs. *Tell us how they do it.* Put us in contact with them. Give us a white paper on that, so I can help make it happen in New Mexico, or someone can help make it happen in Idaho or Mississippi. If we want more equal accessAs an organization, it is now on us to offer solutions, concrete solutions, besides, “it can be done.” Make that education, that access, part of this “reader’s choice” award, a defacto part, from the inception and I think you’ll hear a lot less rumbling about small presses and sleeper titles. Of course, I would also argue, all that said, it’s good these issues keep coming up in discussion, because it means that librarians are concerned about these titles, about smaller titles, that they are still on the radar, that they still have advocates and can then still have a chance to be heard about, read, and even voted on.

  9. Hi, Just a quick factual correction–Reader’s Choice is going to be a list, not an award.
    Sarah

  10. Now that YALSA leadership has made it clear that Reader’s Choice is not a replacement for anything I am much more comfortable with the idea. I do have to wonder, however, if it is going to tell us anything any reasonably informed YA library worker doesn’t already know. I don’t see a way for this to represent anything but the most “widely read” titles. We hear all the time of YALSA members who are unable to have certain books in their collections and therefore don’t have access to them. The B&N in their communities are even less likely to carry those titles than they are.

    Let’s take Angie’s example of Retaliation. It’s a book that a lot of libraries won’t buy, because it doesn’t fit the community they serve. That’s cool, they should buy what fits their needs. However, when it comes time to select the Readers Choice books that’s a lot YALSA members who haven’t even seen that book, it wouldn’t have a chance even if it was one of the most brilliant books of the year. I’m not trying to lobby for that particular title to be anything, but it serves a great example.

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