Thinking Big About… YA Books

As we get closer to the deadline for submitting entries for YALSA’s Thinking Big About Advocacy Contest,’  we’d like everyone to take a minute and think about your YA Book collection.’  Every library has one now, don’t they?’  Young adult books have never been more popular, and almost every major publisher has established an imprint devoted to the genre, but this was not always the case.

In their book, Teens and Libraries: Getting It Right, Virginia A. Walter and Elaine Meyers describe the birth of YA collections in public libraries and point to Mabel Williams, one of the first YA librarians at the New York Public Library in 1919, as an early advocate for teens. At the time, teens were not welcome in the library, and the adult librarians made no effort to have books related to their interests. Librarians were forced to sift through the adult and children’s books’  in search of suitable titles to recommend. Williams launched some of the earliest outreach efforts by creating booklists and hosting booktalks for teens.

In 1998, YALSA would take the lead in promoting the importance of YA books when it created the Margaret A. Edwards Award,’  the first major book award recognizing the work of an author in the field of young adult literature. The same year, Edwards was again honored with the creation of the Alex Awards, which honors the top ten books written for adults that have strong appeal for teenagers.’  Soon after, in 2000, the inaugural Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature was awarded to Monster, by Walter Dean Myers. Acknowledging the importance of including the opinions of teens themselves, YALSA’s Best Book lists were’  later born.

Without the advocacy efforts of these dedicated librarians and YALSA members, would we be able to go to our vendor websites and find more YA books than we could possibly afford to add to our collections?

We talked ‘ to Terri Snethen, the Chair of the Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee, ‘ who will end her three year term on the committee next month when the group finishes it work during the ALA Mid-Winter conference. ‘ ‘ Before Terri could elaborate on the importance of the work of the committee, she needed to first say, “It was the most fun I’ve had in my life, working with other people who read as much as I do! And it was an honor to provide this service to our colleagues.”

As for the advocacy component, she recalled her own first days as a high school librarian at a school that prides itself on a rigorous academic curriculum. The collection was very thin on YA literature, which was not a priority for the school administration.’  One of the first things she did was to consult the YALSA book award and selection lists and use them to lobby for a broader collection development process.’  Now, the library prides itself on having a diverse YA collection which offers something for everyone.

Her advice to other librarians when it comes to advocating for developing a strong collection? “You don’t need to serve on an awards committee to further the cause.’  Start a book club at your school or library, and read nominated titles, or create your own list. Students might not feel comfortable submitting field’  nominations for the actual ALA awards, but eventually they will start approaching you with suggestions for the collection.”

If you ‘ launched a campaign, or started a program to advocated for the importance of YA collections at your library, or ‘ for any other YA programs and services, ‘ share your story by entering YALSA’s Thinking Big About Advocacy Contest. Complete contest rules and electronic applications are available at www.ala.org/yalsa/awards&grants. Funding provided for this contest by the Friends of YALSA.

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