Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past few weeks, you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding one of YALSA’s best-known lists: the Best Books for Young Adults. Heck, you’d have to be ignoring Twitter, various journals, and this very blog to have not heard a peep about the kerfuffle.
But what really happened?
First, it’s important to realize that the board was considering two separate proposals that have been conflated in many places around the web. One, which the board heard on Saturday, was an action item (meaning the board had to vote on it as part of the meeting’s business) that would create a reader’s choice book list. That item passed. The other item, which was moved from an action item to a discussion item (meaning that the board did not necessarily have to take any action), would have phased out the Best Books for Young Adults committee and list. The board discussed this item on Monday, at what turned out to be YALSA’s attempt to fit a hundred librarians into a phone booth.
(Okay, it wasn’t a hundred librarians. And some publishers snuck in, too. But needless to say, it was a very well-attended board meeting.)
To really understand what happenedâ€”and what is happeningâ€”you should do a little reading. First, the board documents are available to all YALSA members. Log in with your ALA member ID and password, select board documents, and read both item 14 (it’s called Modernizing Selected List Portfolio; this covers the BBYA proposal) and item 15 (Readers’ Choice List). Please note that the fact that these two agenda items are next to each other doesn’t actually mean they’re linked in any way. On Saturday, the TV Task Force presented our final report, but we have absolutely nothing to do with the Mentoring Task Force, who presented their final report right after us. We rubbed shoulders on the agenda, but that’s really itâ€”just like with items 14 and 15.
Next, consider taking the time to read about the current policies and procedures for the BBYA committee itself. These are available for anyone to read, not just YALSA members.
“But the board meeting!” you shout. “What happened at the board meeting?”
Okay, okayâ€”the board meeting.
What happened was this: at then-president Sarah Debraski’s request for opening observations and remarks, each board member (including non-voting members) spoke. As someone who attended the meeting, I think I can safely characterize all of these remarks as very reasonable and diplomatic. Board members spoke briefly on a number of concerns: the workload for the BBYA committee members, the importance of the list to professionals, and the YALSA brand were just a few. It should be noted that not one board member spoke in favor of sunsetting the committee.
The floor was then opened to concerned observers. We were initially limited to two minutes for remarks, then one minute as the meeting progressed (and the item continued to eat up the allotted time). Observers ranged from publishers to members of other ALA divisions to current and past BBYA committee members and chairs. (Oh, and twits like me who just graduated from library school.)
The overwhelming theme of the comments from observers? BBYA needs some work, but shouldn’t be eliminated. Once again, not a single observer spoke in favor of eliminating the list or the committee. (It’s entirely possible that some people in the room did support that end, but apparently none of them wanted to face a phone booth full of angry librarians, and I don’t really blame themâ€”I spoke in favor of increased youth participation and felt like that got a fairly icy response from some corners of the room).
So what happens now?
Here’s what I hope happensâ€”and remember that I’m just some twit, but I’m also a twit with 900 teens to serve: I hope that YALSA members and the rest of the concerned public can keep their pitchforks in check and make some good come of all this. This is an opportunity to re-examine the way our lists and committees function (or don’t function). Who are we ultimately trying to serve? I heard many peopleâ€”on the board and from the general publicâ€”speak on BBYA’s importance for professionals, but currently the target audience for the list is young adults. (Don’t believe me? Look again at Policies and Procedures, under “Target Audience.”) Whose voices should we be amplifying? Are we literature experts, or are we experts in what appeals to young adults?