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!