Lions and Tigers and Best Books–Oh My!

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 happened—and what is happening—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 it—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, okay—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 them—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 happens—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 people—on the board and from the general public—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?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.
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6 Comments

  1. MK,
    Thanks for writing this. One question I have is when we say “reader’s choice” who are the “readers.” Does that mean teen readers? Or librarian readers? If it’s teen readers, how is this different than Teens’ Top Ten? If it’s librarian readers, how does this get closer to our goal of increased teen input and voice? I like to see new awards, but I don’t like overlap much. What new niche is this covering that isn’t being covered? I always thought that the Teens’ Top Ten functioned as a reader’s choice award. Although 15 teen groups get the initial nominate, it is opened to all teen readers in the final national poll. I have to admit, I haven’t read a lot of the info so I am hoping you know enough to answer these questions or at least give your view.

  2. Hi Lindsey-

    If you check out the board documents (and Sarah Debraski’s earlier post on the readers’ choice list) you’ll see that in this case “readers” are YALSA members who aren’t necessarily sitting on a selection committee. When I first heard of the list I’d assumed the readers would be teens, too, but that’s not what was put forth in the original proposal.

  3. I live-tweeted the comments from members at the meeting, so if anyone’s interested in reading what the people who spoke had to say: http://annearchy.com/blog/?p=2745 . (My apologies to anyone who’s name I misspelled/etc.)

  4. As a youth services librarian but not directly responsible for teen programming, I found the nominated list for BBYA extremely useful, even when half the books on the list had to been nominated from proof copies (a search of Amazon revealed release dates 4 months from appearance on the list). This is one where the list of books nominated is almost better than the final list (and maybe is better for interesting items to suggest to teens interested in something new to read). The final list is ok, but the discussion with adults and teens about the books nominated is even better. I would hate to see the lists go away.

  5. I tend to concur that the current system provides the best of both worlds — YALSA members reading and selecting for BBYA and the 15 groups “where teens nominate and choose their favorite books ” for the TTT. And would hate to see either dropped.

    That said, it may be worth noting that as a high school librarian who reads for a state list, I know that I involve my students and ya relatives in the process. Odds are failrly good that tihs method is not unique and that the YASLA members are getting feed back from their YA’s as part of the process for nominiating BBYA choices. So most likely they are already having a say, albeit indirectly.

  6. As someone who has sat on on BBYA meetings for more than twenty years, I find it strange that the apparent conflict between teen appeal and adult selection is being described as something new, or capable of being resolved in one direction or the other. Every single BBYA committee has, and will, struggle over what “best” means, where that crossing point of appeal and adult judgment stands. In fact that tension is inherent in the committee and is what is so good about it. Trying to tip the disucssion further towards teens, or adults, subverts the very creative dynamic that makes the list important. Teenagers know what they like, they do not know what they would like — or care about, or find important — if an adult brought it to their attention. Adults have a lifetime of experience reading and being with teenagers, but they are often trapped by their rigid beliefs about teenagers. We need both voices to amke a great list.

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