YALSA ELECTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH YALSA 2018 NONFICTION AWARD CANDIDATE WENDY STEPHENS

Get ready to vote! The YALSA election runs from March 15 through April 22, and to help you be an informed voter, we’re sharing interviews with each of the 2016 YALSA Governance and 2018 Selection Committee candidates.

Today we’ll hear from a candidate for the 2018 Nonfiction Award. Members on this committee serve a twelve month term. The committee consists of nine members including a chair. Four members and the chair are appointed and the remaining four members will be elected by the membership of YALSA.

The Nonfiction Award committee’s primary job is to select the best nonfiction title published for young adults between Nov. 1 and Oct. 31 of the current year.

A full description of the committee’s duties and responsibilities can be found here.

Full biographical information on all of the candidates can be found on the sample ballot and YALSA Election FAQs here.

Today we have an interview with Wendy Stephens.

Name and current position
Wendy Stephens, School Library Program Chair, Jacksonville State University

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection, evaluation, and working as part of a team.
I recently moved to higher ed after 15 years as a high school librarian, where I was the sole selector for my libraries, and I reviewed curricular nonfiction for Gale from 2009 to 2011. I have served on the Alabama Author Awards committee, the ALSC/Booklist/YALSA Odyssey Award committee, and the ALSC Batchelder Award committee, all of which gave me exposure to a wide range of authors and works. I also taught YA Lit as an adjunct before becoming full-time faculty. I have had lots of experience in leadership capacities as AASL and YALSA committee member and chair and as past-president of my state ALA chapter as well as serving in larger-scale governance positions as an elected at-large member of ALA Council and the EMIERT board of directors.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact the lives of teens?
Books offer safe spaces for teens to explore a range of ideas at a critical time in their self-definition. They are tools for roots and wings, mirrors and windows. We often focus on ensuring that students see themselves and their lived experiences reflected in our collections, but books also showcase the range of possibilities available, which is important for young people who are testing the waters of independence. And, as Amy Pattee asserted in her seminal 2006 YALS article “The secret source: sexually explicit young adult literature as an information source.” I believe that young adult fiction is often an important but often overlooked source of information about a range of lifestyles, something perhaps unique to young adult literature.

What are some ways award-winning titles can provide teens with a more expanded view of literacy?
I believe that award-winning books should stand the test of time and make up the foundation of library’s core collections. Today’s wealth of young adults literature demonstrates that authors who choose to write for young people have a full command of literary devices and do the same sorts of intensive research as authors writing for adults. I believe the range of award-winning titles for young people validates this audience as being capable of higher-order thinking and analysis, and that the number of writers for adults trying to break into the teen audience and the number of new adults continuing to read YA signals the increasingly importance and relevance of the message.

Describe a time when you’ve advocated for books to be more influential in connected-learning spaces.
Books remain the library “brand,” and they can be used as catalyst for conversations about the bigger issues of the day. From displays of books about cloning and genetic modification technologies to Skype author visits requested by my student readers, I have always tried to structure library services and spaces be responsive to what’s going on in the larger world and show the many aspects of any given situation. I remember creating a display of books related to 9/11 which instantly became a focal point for a group of students who had been preschoolers on that date, but whose lives had subsequently been shaped by the long shadow of the event. In that case, books can help young people explore nuances and interpersonal connections often lost in the 24/7 news cycle, and taking time to read a full-length book can be a form of meditation. In the connected work, libraries can harness the enthusiasm surrounding books to encourage students to explore online communities, learn new skills through digital fan art and mashup projects, and connect with other readers. At any moment, in any library, you have young people connecting in a way that wasn’t possible a few decades ago, and that is glorious.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
I am conscientious, organized, and completely devoted to improving library services for young people and growing our next generation of library users and advocates. I have a wide range of reading interests and enjoy encountering new perspectives and voices, both in print and in real life.

Talk about a time when someone shared with you how a book written for teens influenced them.
I don’t think anything compares with finding the perfect book for someone who self-identifies as a non-reader, where that transformation can be so profound it encourages me to keep pushing books. In one particularly memorable case, I had a former student attending a Veteran’s Day event at my school come up to me to confess that he had stolen Patrick Carman’s Skeleton Creek from our library, saying it was the only book he had finished since elementary school. Though he had since been in a a war zone, he remembered plot points and character names years later. This petty theft demonstrates the power of books, and I know as member of the community, he will continue to value that connection.

Published by

Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.