30 Days of Innovation #22: Staying Afloat in a Sea of YA Literature

I love YA literature, which is probably a good thing since at times it feels like I’m floating in a sea of books. ‘ And the analogy is not an accident. ‘ Depending on which statistic you read there are between 3,000 and 10,000 new books YA books published every year. ‘ How then, can we be expected to sift through all of these titles and find that magic novel that will turn all of our students into life-long readers? ‘ Unfortunately, there is no magic pill or super secret that veteran librarians can pass on to new librarians in some slightly creepy candle-lit ceremony. ‘ The truth is, it takes work. ‘ But the good news is there are so many different options for getting to know more about YA literature that there’s bound to be a strategy to keep even the most overwhelmed teacher-librarian from’ despair.

1) ‘ Start with what you’ve got. ‘ Learn your own collection. ‘ I’ve been fortunate enough to have shifted and reorganized our library’s collection seven times in six years (why this happened is another story). ‘ I say fortunate because it forced me to pick up/touch/look at nearly every book in the collection (about 17,000 titles). ‘ While I don’t recommend this to everyone (I don’t think my clerk has forgiven me quite yet) in hindsight it was a fantastic way to gain an intimate knowledge of what was sitting on the shelves. ‘  Okay, stop. ‘  Deep breath. ‘ For those of you’ hyperventilating’ at the thought of all the dust and heavy lifting, the same thing can be accomplished (almost) during inventory or repeatedly browsing your own shelves. ‘ That’s right. ‘ Get up and head to the stacks.

2) ‘ Read reviews. ‘ I will never have enough time to read everything I want. ‘ That’s just a sad fact. ‘ The great thing is that some people have more time (reviewers) and are great at sharing their thoughts about what they’ve read (reviews). ‘ Reading professional journals and following some’ good book review blogs will help get a new librarian familiar with what’s happening now in YA literature. ‘ Think of reading reviews as the medal-detector and the books as the sand. ‘ Reviews help to quickly identify hidden treasures that sometimes get buried deep in a sea of mediocrity.

3) ‘ Award Committees. ‘  So the ultimate committee to serve on to familiarize yourself with YA literature would be one of the ALA award committees. ‘ That said, the process is very compentative and the reading requirements may cause another panic attack. ‘ So what can you do instead? ‘ Maybe test yourself on a smaller scale (think completing a mini-triathalon before committing to an IronMan). ‘ One of the best things I did as a new librarian was to serve on the committee for Illinois’ Young Reader’s Book Award. ‘ The process forced me to read outside my usual comfort zone and also helped solidify my interest in YA literature.

4) ‘ Start Your Own School Book Award. ‘ So what if the national or state award committees aren’t something you are interested in? ‘ One of the most important programs I’ve started at my school is our school book award. ‘ My experience on the state committee was wonderful, but ‘ no matter how hard I tried I could not cultivate excitement about the state list with either my teachers or my students. ‘  In fact, that ‘ first year I only had one reading teacher “buy in” and a mere six students vote. ‘ After much reflection and discussion I had to admit that it was the list itself that was the problem. ‘ The individual titles were fine, but collectively the list did not reflect the interests, diversity or reading habits of the students at Jefferson. ‘ My solution was to develop a mini-system similar to the one used by the state award but recruit teachers in my building as committee members. ‘ The results were fantastic. The second spring I created a mashup list using some books I liked that were being considered for the state award and other titles that I thought would be interesting to our students. ‘ Then the new work began. ‘ I started to recruit teachers to serve on the committee to select books for the next list. ‘ I wasn’t disappointed. ‘ The first summer I had 10 teachers read and serve on the committee. ‘  Teacher support for the program skyrocketed the next school year and nearly 200 students voted in that election. ‘ And the growth continues. ‘  ‘ Last summer I had 20 teachers reading over the summer and this May I expect about 400 of our 700 students to vote. ‘  The most exciting part? ‘ Not all of the committee members are language arts teachers. ‘  Our committee includes representatives from science, social studies, drama, art, music and counseling. ‘  The dialog about YA literature among all of the people in our building–librarian, teachers and students–has exploded. ‘ And isn’t that our ultimate goal?

5) ‘ Young Adult Reading Challenge. ‘  ‘ Okay so I must be honest. ‘ As excited as I get talking about my school’s book award there are times when I still feel overwhelmed, unmotivated or like I need a reading holiday. ‘ ‘ So I was very excited to sign up for the’ YA Reading Challenge‘ sponsored by Bumps in the Road. ‘ Admittedly, I am still trying to puzzle out why I haven’t jumped on this before now, but c’est la vie. ‘ For me, sometimes setting a public goal is a great way to get results. ‘ ‘  I signed up as a “mega-reader’ (that’s 50+ books in 2012) and I think it may be just the thing to get me over my goal of reading 100 books in a year! ‘  In fact, this challenge is something I plan to pass on to my teachers to help get them energized for the summer.

6) ‘ NetGalley. ‘ Ah galleys. ‘ Those golden opportunities to read a book first. ‘ For real. ‘ Wouldn’t it be nice if we all had access to galleys more often then when we attend a conference? ‘ Well, we do! ‘ NetGalley is a website for people who read and recommend books. ‘  You simply register (have that ALA membership number handy), confirm your information and start requesting titles. ‘ Once approved, you will gain access a digital galley that you can read on your computer or have sent directly to your Kindle. ‘  There are some things to be aware of (like when it’s okay to post a review before a book is published) but the site is simple to use and the expectations are clearly outlined.

And that’s it. ‘ Six straightforward ideas to help a new (or maybe less new) librarian get a handle on learning all there is to know about YA literature. ‘ Happy Reading!


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  1. Don’t forget YALSA’s own Best of the Best reading challenge and keeping up with titles and news in the world of YA lit at YALSA’s blog, The Hub, http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/

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