Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Ex-Librarian's Club Vol. 1: YALSA'S Worst Idea

Because the Columbia Publishing Course magazine workshop begins on the Sunday of ALA Annual, I am not going to the conference this year. This upsets me because I've had to leave the Printz committee AND I don't get to eat the filet mignon they were going to feed me at the 2009 Movers and Shakers Luncheon. I also won't have the opportunity to attend any of the YALSA board sessions. If you're going, you can see more information on the YALSA wiki here. With your ALA member number and password, you can also see the Board documents in the "for members only" section of the site. Thanks to Jen over at Reading Rants, I saw a board document which I found deeply disturbing. It calls for the disbanding of Best Books for Young Adults and replacing it with a sort of reader's choice award. Personally, I say bring on the reader's choice lists. I think they're a great idea. I don't, however, think they're a great idea if it means taking away BBYA in the process. BBYA is 40 years old, and I think it's needed now more than ever because publishers are printing more YA novels than ever.

The need for BBYA as a vetted list done by a panel of YA literature experts with input from teens can best be summed up by the life of Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link.

Pretty Monsters is one of my favorite YA books of 2008. It's a beautiful, macabre collection of short stories, all with a weird, semi-supernatural twist. In Link's stories, a handbag contains a faery world. A group of friends form a fandom over a show that has no set broadcast time or channel. It got starred reviews and acclaim from Link's peers, as it should have. Those things, however, are forgotten as we move on to the next book. Pretty Monsters wasn't eligible for the Morris and it didn't get a nod at the Printz, but it did deservedly make BBYA. Now, it's got a spot on a list that librarians use for collection development, a list with an available archive.

Pretty Monsters would fade without BBYA. It's certainly not popular. It's published by a big house, but it wasn't a lead title. Short story collections, though they have a special place in my heart, are not popular with teen readers. The books that make BBYA are the ones we look back on as a profession and remember. They're the ones that stood out in a year when thousands of books were published. The BBYA committee makes an effort to read a range of genres and formats from both large and small publishers. They recognize quality and potential popularity in books that don't have big print runs or expensive marketing campaigns and they give those books a lasting home. Because books go out of print fast, and because it's easy for us to get saturated with YA titles, BBYA serves as a reminder of the great books of a year, ones on which we can build our collections and ones which are setting today's standard of YA lit.

One of the arguments in favor of disbanding BBYA is that a reader's choice award would allow more people to participate in the booklist selection process. I think there's room for a popularity contest, but why should BBYA have to suffer for the sake of wider participation? We already have rewards for popular books in place. Although not everyone can be a member of BBYA (and why should they get to be?), anyone can nominate a book for BBYA, anyone can contact any committee member about any book, and anyone attending ALA can attend the BBYA sessions. BBYA isn't done in a vacuum.

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan wrote more about this at the Bookends blog: Replacing BBYA: What do you think? They have some great points about the work BBYA does and how it cannot be replaced by a popular choice award. Also, check out Alex Flinn's blog post about what BBYA did for her first novel, Breathing Underwater.

Please, YALSA, instate that popular choice award. Open it to all librarians and give everyone a vote. I'm all for more chances for YALSA participation. But keep BBYA, because the need for it is greater than ever before.


Marie said...

I think they should have both. I totally agree with this post. Keep BBYA!

P.S. I too am not attending ALA this year- so you are not the only one missing out

tanita davis said...

I've been reading all of the reactions, and I think your suggestion that YALSA institute both is a win. That only a popular choice list would be published is a seriously a bad idea. So many titles written by or about ethnic or gender minorities would be lost, I'm afraid. With so few spots, few would be able to be listed, and no one would profit from it. I'm not sure what the impetus behind dismantling the list was to begin with... ?! Is it so expensive and/or time-consuming?

Cynthia said...

So far I have seen no justification for linking these two lists. This is the big mystery to me--why is it either or?

Is there some Harry/Voldemort pact that says neither can live if the other survives?.

BBYA is a goldmine for those of us who love teens, work with teens, but are not YA librarians (I am in Adult Services and teens are at my desk two or three times a day).

I read as much YA as I can so that when they walk up, I can talk with them about things other than 'reference'. They respond--they challenge me to read and I push them to 'adult' titles they should know about if they liked sparkly vampires, etc. However, I can not read enough--BBYA fills in the gaps nicely. I am able to relate to what they are reading without having read it--and I make them tell me why I should take the time to read it.

Save BBYA--if not for YA, for YA lovers in other areas of the library.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

I've already weighed in on this, but it's worth saying again -- I'm definitely not a fan of implementing a popular choice component to BBYA.

My debut, LAMENT, was lead title with Flux, a smaller imprint, and SHIVER, my title this year, was lead with Scholastic. The different in opportunities these two novels -- by the exact same author -- have had is amazing. It feels like everyone in the world has heard of SHIVER, which just hit shelves this week (a week early), and no one had heard of LAMENT until this spring, months after its release. If it was a case of a popular choice list, SHIVER would be far, far ahead of the game. How many other small press books would fall through the cracks? And that's just not fair, nor is it what the BBYA list should be all about!