What Does It’s OK to Read YA Mean to YA Collection Development?

question mark made out of puzzle piecesI have to tell you, I’m nervous about the state of YA collection development. Why? Because I worry that teen collections may transition from collections for teens who read YA to collections for adults who love reading YA. Don’t get me wrong, I am a reader of YA and I know that that reading can be just as good, if not better, than adult book reading. But, yet, I don’t think my library’s YA collection should be filled with the YA that I want to read if teens don’t also want to read it. And that’s why I worry. There is so much talk of late about adults reading YA and why that’s OK that I begin to wonder, who are we building YA collections for? The adults who love YA or the teens who are simply looking for a good book to read?

My take is that we always build for the teens. If adults want to read YA titles that aren’t popular with teens in the community, then those titles should go in the adult collection and be a part of the adult collection purchasing budget. Those serving teens often have to struggle with budgets as it is. So, if they are buying books for adults that read teen AND teens that read teen how are they going to have enough money to do both? They won’t. The teen collection is the teen collection. That’s the priority. That’s who teen library staff serve. That’s the bottom line.

Yet, I continue to worry. I think about the books a library buys that circulate and have great statistics and so more of that type of book is purchased and put on the shelves. Yet, if the library really delved into those statistics they may find that it’s not teens checking out the books, it’s adults. But, circulation can drive collection development so the books continue to land on the shelves. That just isn’t right.

I worry that a teen walks into a library filled with titles that are being read and titles that are published for teens, but, yet, the titles aren’t of interest to the teen or his friends. Or, for that matter to a large part of the community’s teen population. So, what does that teen think and do? He doesn’t think of the library as a place that serves his reading needs. And, he doesn’t use the library to find materials for leisure or informational reading.

Or, what about the teens who hang out in the library and notice that the stacks are always inhabited by adults looking for their new favorite teen novel? What message does that send? If you were a teen would you really want to be hanging out in a teen section filled with adults looking at and talking about the books that are supposed to be for you? Come on be honest. Would you?

I have to say, “be careful.” Sure, it’s OK that you and other adults you know read YA but don’t make that the focus of your teen collection. If you know adults in your community are really into a dystopian series but that the teens just don’t show an interest, then don’t buy that series. Inform the adult collection development staff of the adult interest. Save your money, and your shelf space (virtual or physical) for the books teens want and need. That’s really what you are there for. Right?

Are my worries completely unfounded? Let me know what you think in the comments.

17 thoughts on “What Does It’s OK to Read YA Mean to YA Collection Development?

  1. Building a collection around my tastes (instead of my teens’) is a constant worry for me. When I first started working here, I saw a dearth of current YA, so I started by buying a lot of YA I knew and loved, but some of those books have never really moved from the shelves.

    My other struggle is with purchasing adult titles that appeal to our faculty/staff but not to students. I inherited a not insignificant adult mystery collection, which still moves, but should I be purchasing new Harlan Coben or Ann Tyler titles when I know they’ll only circulate among maybe 20 adults, rather than our 800+ students?

  2. I think it has much more to do with what is being published and promoted at the publisher level labeled as YA or Teen than who is checking out the material. Right now, as we’re all aware, the upper level of YA/Teen has had the strongest push.
    The vast majority of teen lit we see being read by adults is books that I would categorize as (at least originally) intended for the high school audience/maturity level. I haven’t seen much tween lit being grabbed by adults. The concern I see is to remember to continue to develop the collection with material suitable for all 6th-8th graders and not simply purchase up up up until we’re buying with only upper-level YA in mind (not to mention adults).
    As for the use of circ, I think that adults reading YA can only help our numbers; surely we can’t spend all our limited $ on adult demand, but I’d rather have any customer reading what has been purchased than do aspirational collection development and have a lot of shelf-sitters.

  3. I wouldn’t worry so much about what teens think if they see adults in the stacks (not their social space, the actual shelves). I think most teens would be more open to YA books if they thought it was something adult than they would otherwise. Don’t we lose tons of teens who could be reading YA to the adult section because they want to look “grown?”.

    As for who is checking out/reading the books I’m not sure how we would know. My own downtown department is the place parents run on their lunch hours. How much is it an invasion of privacy to worry about whether they are checking out the books for themselves or their teens?

    That said I am lucky enough not to have to make purchasing decisions in picking one book over another so much, if anyone’s heard of it we’re probably able to buy it. I suppose I would be thinking about this if that wasn’t the case.

  4. mk, I think that’s a really interesting point about school libraries and buying materials for teachers. You don’t have another department to ask to purchase titles that are not of interest to teens. I’d be interested in knowing what other school librarians think about that and how they balance things.

    TK, I think that’s a really interesting point about middle school titles. You are right, this is primarily a reflection of the older YA and true we do have to be careful not to have collections that are overly heavy for that age group. But, I would also say, I think if there are shelf-sitters that teens aren’t taking out but adults are, then doesn’t that mean they should be in the adult collection? Why not make room for things teens are taking out?

    Beth, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think it’s a good point about teens seeing adults in the stacks and thinking that hey, adults like this. But, I think there is a thin line between that being the case and not being the case. If there are adults hanging out in the YA stacks it might just feel uncomfortable to go looking for a book there. On the topic of knowing what people are reading, when I was working in libraries full-time I would have a really good sense of who was reading what. I got the chance to talk a lot to adults and teens and it was pretty clear to me who read what and who was talking about which titles. It’s true, a parent might check out a book for their teenage child. But, even without being intrusive when working the floor, so to speak, it’s pretty easy to learn, figure out, etc. who is checking out for themselves and who is checking out for a teen in the household.

  5. I don’t understand why YA can’t fulfill both. I typically think of YA as more high-end and literary than your typical Teen novel. Which is why it draws young readers looking for something beyond Middle Grade/Teen AND why the genre also draws in adult readers.

  6. I have similar thoughts when purchasing titles and to be honest, some of those award winning books are not books my teens will read. If I think they won’t read them, I don’t buy them. I used to feel bad about this, but now with budget constraints, I’d rather have books they’re going to read than books that will sit on the shelf.

    Also I think that I’m one of the adults who still reads like a teen. I gobble up teen books and pass them off to other teens.It makes my day when one of the comes back asking for more and sharing how much they loved that first book. That’s the moment I keep in mind when I’m ordering books.

  7. When I think of the titles that adults are reading, I think of Hunger Games, Knife of Never Letting Go, Shipbreaker and Graceling. All are hugely popular with our teens. I am not so sure that adults are reading anything that I don’t also have teen demand for. Perhaps some of the Award winners, but we have those in the teen collection for different reasons.

    My take is that adults are tired of navel gazing and ponderous tomes that bore you to death and are loving the YA titles that have great characters, lots of action and sharp social commentary– see above. But you may have titles in mind that I’m not considering.

  8. Jennifer, award winners are some of the titles collecting dust here, too! I still try to buy for a wide range of reading interests, though, because I’ve found some genres don’t circulate well because we don’t have a good selection. I found that out the hard way when a student (who ordinarily devours manga) asked if we had any pre-WWII historical fiction, and I realized I had no idea–largely because I’m not well-versed in historical fiction myself. Yet another reason to develop the collection beyond this adult’s reading tastes!

  9. I don’t think your worries are unfounded at all; this has been worrying me for some time as well. I worry that we are losing our objectivity when it comes to collection development if we are “loving” teen books more than the teens that are coming into our libraries. I worry when I read drippily glowing reviews of books that turn out to be more on the side of “meh.” And I kinda find the whole “adults reading gobs of teen books” thing a tad…weird. It makes me wonder what their issues are, and why they haven’t grown up yet. Yes, I know that’s judgmental and a violation of the 2nd and 3rd laws, but in our case where we are reading professionally to a purpose, I’m sticking to it.
    I will freely admit that I don’t (for the most part) love reading teen books. I left high school behind a long time ago and don’t relish revisiting said era. I believe that this is important in allowing me to judge the suitability of a teen book for my patrons because I’m reading the book *for them*, not for my own reading pleasure. And I’m a pretty darn good judge, as my teen collection and its movement will bear out (and I agree Linda – it’s not hard to know who is checking stuff out, and is also pretty important.).
    Our teen collections are for the teens who want to read teen books. Parents, politicians and administrators should not enter into the process, and neither should our personal tastes or reading interests (heck, if they did, 90% of my collection would be adult books). And while I’m not opposed to any of us adopting guilty pleasures (get me started on the awesomeness of, say, Ranger’s Apprentice and I won’t shut up!! LOL), I think if they become the norm of our reading habits we are potentially doing ourselves and our teen patrons a professional disservice.

  10. So many different things I want to say here but I do want to address your statement, Ken. I have grown up. I am a mother. I am a wife. I love adult things. And I read YA books for many different reasons…1) Because they’re just damn good books, 2) Because that is my JOB, and 3) Because when I put my faith and heart into a book that I recommend to a teen, I want to do so from experience.

    Developing my teen collection, reading teen books…I do all of this because I DO LOVE my teens.

    I feel as if we are trying to create a problem to explain how and why to deal with the problem of slashed budgets for teen collections. The answer is not to purchase some teen books with adult money and then put them in the adult collection. And let me just say that I think the application of a ‘type’ of book, be it adult, ya/teen, juvenile fiction, does not exhibit a person’s lifestyle, intelligence, or any said factor. People read what they want to read because they enjoy it. Plain and simple.

    The problem we need to address is how to keep our teens reading. That’s our job. To provide the BOOK for PATRONS, regardless of who they are.

  11. Armchair diagnosis of YA readers’ psychology is beside the point. If you are uncomfortable revisiting your own adolescent years, that’s understandable but not a good reason to dismiss a whole genre or population of readers.

  12. I am a grown up and a professional. I have spent the past 19 years devoted to the cause of connecting teens with libraries and literature. That has involved spending the time to study adolescent development, collection developement, marketing, the 40 developmental assets, advocacy, program development, project management – to name just a few. I have served on committees, professional boards, and more. Part of what makes me good at my job is that I do read and love YA. And that I spend time having meaningful conversations with my teens about it. We are capable of looking at a sheet of statistics and making collection development decisions from them. I find the idea that I and other librarians can’t separate the personal from the professional actaully offensive. We all spend time cultivating the tools that we need to serve our teens in our communities effectively because we believe in what we do. I also believe, very strongly, that it is important for those working with and serving teens to be able to remember what it is like to be a teenager; to be able to talk meaningfully with teens about the world that they live in – including the books, movies, and music that they like as well as their experiences. I believe that when we can’t, we fail. Just yesterday I sat in a meeting with my teen volunteers discussing what they were reading and loving, what types of programming they wanted, what types of SRC prizes they were interested in. And teen librarians around the globe are engaging in these same professional pursuits. Because I live in a community with teenagers – and because we all always will – it behoves us to respect them, to be engaged with them, and to – wait for it – read teen lit (also true of children’s and adult lit). And if we are reading it, it is okay that we love it too. That doesn’t mean that I’m not intelligent or thoughtful or mature or doing grown up things. It also doesn’t mean that I am building collections to suit my personal tastes. It means simply this: I am both a grown up professional who works hard to be successful at my job as a teen services librarian because I believe it has value AND I am someone who likes to read teen fiction. Call me crazy, but people are just complicated that way and not easily put into boxes.

  13. I find it disheartening to see it insinuated that if one doesn’t passionately love teen literature as a personal reading interest, one is something of a lesser librarian. It is possible to passionately love teen literature for what it can bring to the life of a reader, and I believe it is very possible to convey that passion in a believable way, without having an interest in reading teen literature for personal pleasure.

  14. I think most of the teen books adults like have also been popular with teens. I don’t see it as some major concern, and as a teen adults in the “teen” section would have just made me feel like a grown up. I write YA, but I never really think of it as I’m writing for teens or I’m writing for adults who read teen. I just write what I love.

  15. Another high school librarian here – I don’t really buy books for teachers. I might be ignoring a segment of my users, but when I came here the library collection had been built mostly with teacher donations. The amount of Danielle Steele that I weeded was ridiculous. So I have spent the past 5 years making the collection into something that will appeal to the teens. The teachers that do use our collection are often looking for books to use in the classroom (criticism, etc). The teachers who check out fiction always seem to be concerned about taking books out of the students’ hands so they don’t check out popular titles.

  16. Interesting conversation going on here. Personally, I DO think this is something to worry about. I’m lucky to purchase for a system & building large to accommodate a lot of what’s being published today, so I don’t have to be overly picky, but I DO often wonder at what’s being published. I love John Green, as many of us do, as many adults do, and so I wonder if his insane popularity amongst 20-somethings as well as the rise of what is being called fiction for “new adults” will have teen stuff headed more in that direction, similarly with what we saw with tween fiction as opposed to juvenile fiction not too long ago.

    I also think there’s a HUGE difference between what most of my teens want (fluffy romance or action-packed; Sarah Dessen and Charlie Higson) & what I consider truly awesome teen fiction. Our system generally buys one copy of all the “notable” stuff, & it’s housed here at Main (& often doesn’t move), but for the much smaller branch collections, it’s definitely more of the popular stuff.

  17. I agree with Stephanie, Carrie, and Karen, among others.

    I also wanted to make a statement about YA versus Teen books…it used to be all YA and lately I’ve seen Teen sections popping up all over the place for the same books. At 26, I feel that I am a young adult and I’m not ashamed to read YA books or Teen books, but this extra labeling seems to be putting people into boxes and pushing others out. As for me, I enjoy browsing for books online, so I won’t scare away any teens in the YA section at my local library (at least, last I checked they still called it YA) because I “order” the books online and go pick them up from the hold shelf. It might make some extra work for the pages, but if librarians are worried about adults invading the teen space, well, I guess this adult is one less you have to worry about.

    “There is so much talk of late about adults reading YA and why that’s OK that I begin to wonder, who are we building YA collections for? The adults who love YA or the teens who are simply looking for a good book to read?”

    I say, why not both?

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