Sunday, July 12, 2009

Missing ALA - particularly the YALSA BBYA discussion

Many friends and colleagues are in Chicago for the ALA Annual Conference this weekend. I'm stuck at home this year, consoling myself with progress on my new novel and happy anticipation of attending the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in a couple of days. 

But I'm also worrying about the intense discussions going on about whether YALSA will disband the Best Books for Young Adults list and create, instead, a popular reader's choice list selected from online votes instead of face-to-face discussion. I know that lists come and go, and are often reincarnated under new names - one of my books was named an ALA Recommended Book for Reluctant Young Adult readers shortly before that list was abandoned, to be replaced by the newer Quick Picks list. 

Quick Picks is definitely pithier as a title, but both lists were connected by the fact that librarians actually read a collection of books and debated their virtues before compiling the list. The situation is different when a reader's choice list is decided by popularity instead of quality, and even less rigorous when any member can simply post virtual comments from their computer work station.

I'm glad to see reviewers and bloggers posting their opinions (nearly all opposing the plan to disband the BBYA list), but I'm dismayed that the YALSA Executive Committee would suggest eliminating the BBYA Committee without asking the membership its opinion. This is a change that would have a powerful impact on the way librarians choose which books they can buy for their collections within their budgetary constraints. Inclusion in the BBYA list can boost exposure for less well-publicized books and can lead to those titles appearing on state lists and reaching a much larger readership. 

I hope librarians and authors are speaking out against this plan, loudly and clearly, to every YALSA board member they encounter in Chicago. Popularity is nice, but having a list where quality counts seems as if it would be a hands-down winner in terms of usefulness. Right now I wish I were in Chicago so I could speak out against this plan, and speak up for the important principles of transparency in committee decisions and quality in list selection.

1 comment:

  1. I was a Children's Librarian at one time, tasked with spending the county's money in a responsible fashion with only published reviews as guides to new fiction books (replacing old favorites and acquiring non-fiction were not so difficult). I agree with Elaine that the considered opinions of knowledgeable readers can be a better indication of a book's quality than anonymous internet voting; however, popularity does play a part in acquisitions if you want books the kids will actually read. Some of the "best" books, from the reviewers' POV, never went off the shelf; these generally treated some currently fashionable "cause" rather than a topic the kids were naturally interested in -- the quality of the writing and illustrations was indeed very high, but that's not enough to attract readers voluntarily (school assignments can lead kids to good books they wouldn't otherwise encounter, but they can't make anyone like something -- I trust we all have an excruciating example from our own school days). Maybe there is some way to amalgamate the two methods rather than insisting on using one or the other exclusively.