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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The BBYA Disaster

Here Is What I Know — And I Wish Some YALSA Officer Would Come Here to Discuss and Explain

Luanne Toth at SLJ went to interview the board, so I am sure there will be a piece with some official clarification soon. But this is the word on the street.
Why they felt some change was needed:
Complaints from librarians who found the list too long and therefore not useful.
Complaints from committee members that they had too much to read and therefore could not really do the job
These seem to be the two main strands. A third is supposedly some concern that books were appearing on too many lists (I fail to see the problem. If a book is terrific in many ways, wow, lets celebrate that.)
Weaving in there somewhere is also the fact that there is now a GN list, a NF award, and there is the Alex list/awards for adult books for teenagers.
      [This is tangential, but I should have mentioned this in my original post: ALSC is also placing on the ballot the idea of changing its own age range to birth-13, rather than (wherever it now begins) to 14. While there is some logic to that, the net effect of course will be to lower the ages of Newbery, Sibert, Caldecott, Notables. I mention it here because many of us felt that the two divisions were making changes to make changes — that there was some sense of not completely considered rapid activity.]
OK so lets say there are real problems with a list grown too long, and people who decide to run for BBYA and then get a sense of reading vertigo when they realize what they are in for. 
Ed Spicer has made the very logical suggestion that you address these problems by requiring more nominees (3, say) before a book is considered by the whole group. In other words, tighten the nomination process, don’t eliminate genres. As many people have pointed out, the heavy work load does not come because of a flood of NF.
The new NF award is great. But an award is not a list — and also, by rule, it does not involve open discussion, or direct and open input from teenagers. The YALSA board has wiggled around this by saying not only the winner and finalists will be announced but some vetted annotated version of the nominees list. To many of us that seemed like a half baked idea dreamed up to mediate between an award and a list. The board does not seem to have commented on, or recognized, the crucial role open discussion plays in the value of BBYA — to all — to librarians who listen, to publishers, to authors, to teenagers. They have — without admitting it — eliminated all open discussion of nonfiction books. At annual, when the Board first began moving in this direction, they wanted BBYA to be selected by a vote of all — an electronic open universe. Well if they believe vox pop is important — why have they silenced all librarians and, especially, teenagers who want to speak about nonfiction?
I invite any and every board member to address this concern here.
The Board has said that they will come back in a year and evaluate the change. However, since they have neither clearly articulated what the change is meant to accomplish, nor set any benchmarks for evaluation, it is impossible to know what they will be looking at next year. Since this time they refused to listen to objections, who are they going to listen to in a year? What could possibly happen in a year that would influence them to undo this mistake? They have not said.

Finally I cannot help thinking that a bias against NF plays a role here – and in that is just wrong. Think about it — some schools are eliminating NF books in favor of databases. We (authors, publishers, librarians) believe that a book is not a database — that great NF (as we saw honored today) offers a reading experience impossible to find in a database. But to remove NF from BBYA is to say that NF is not "best" — in other words to agree that libraries need not spend too much effort on selecting it. I simply cannot understand what logic would impell the YALSA board to send that message.


  1. I was definitely all for a title requiring multiple nominations before it had to be tackled by the whole group! It’s just so logical. And really, how much of the list was made up of non-fiction, graphic novels, and adult titles? YA fiction is still a huge category, so I fail to see how changing the list to Best Fiction for Young Adults is going to substantially cut down on the reading load.

  2. I’m with you Angela. And think of this — if the problem is that the list was getting too long to be useful, how does replacing a too long list that reaches, say, 150, with four lists, all of which — are told — will be Extended, All Inclusive — and thus add up to, what, 300 books — help? Librarians will be awash in far more books — unless we are encouraging them to cut down by eliminating whole genres (sound paranoic to me, and yet I just cannot see how more lists makes it easier when the problem was too many books).

  3. I just read the post at the website and this really bothered me:
    “All of the top ten titles selected by YALSA’s selection list committees, including Best Fiction for Young Adults…Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults…will be compiled annually into a Best of the Best for Young Adults list published by YALSA.

    I’ve served on Popular Paperbacks and the lists are thematic, not “the best paperbacks published this year.” The books can be from any year as long as they’re in print, readily available, and popular. I don’t know where they’ll get the “top ten titles.”

  4. they have said there will be Top Ten from all of the lists — but there again you have a real confusion of different committees with different charges — I did not know that about Popular Paperbacks, but just another example of muddied thinking and rushed judgment

  5. Ed Spicer says:


    A board member assured me that these changes will mean the YALSA promotes far more nonfiction than before because not only will they select a winner and four other books that are on the short list, but they will publicize and distribute the entire nomination list, which will contain many more nonfiction titles than the average BBYA list. However, you are correct, I believe, about the fact that these lists will not be available until January, and, consequently not available for discussion by teen groups.

    I asked a board member to provide the criteria to YALSA by which they will determine whether or not this change is or is not successful. I would like to know that criteria NOW. I hope that the procedure for evaluation is in place now, but after my discussion with a board member (who did not seem to know these answers) that there is no procedure and no criteria and that this claim is without substance.

  6. Ed:
    Thanks for speaking to the board member. we have to keep pressing them to make good on their promise of evaluation — if only they would say what they are evaluating. Also, I need to find a way to press them on this issue of teen discussion of NF — for if teens can only speak in public, at ALA or in their libraries, about a fiction list we are clearly sending them the message that we adults only value their views of fiction.

  7. karlan sick says:

    The change to BBYA will not help librarians looking for collection development assistance. I went back and looked at years when I was on BBYA and found that roughly half the titles were adult and half of the adult and ya books were nonfiction. This was not planned but just happened. I hope that future committee members will be warned that they will need to average a book a day on this committee.

  8. I know the main thrust of this post is YALSA, but the ALSC debate over age range was mentioned in the initial post, so I’ll address that:

    Please don’t dismiss this as “change for the sake of change.”

    For those who aren’t familiar with the changes under discussion, ALSC governing documents and practice are inconsistent with regard the beginning age of its service population (birth, preschool age, ??) and the ending age (14, junior high, ??). This needs to be rectified.

    ALSC has sought member input and a task force has examined the issues over the past year. To offer input, and see what others have said, please look at the ALSC-L electronic discussion list archives as well as the new ALA online meeting forum, ALAConnect, in which ALSC has established discussion space. I can’t put links here in a comment, but both venues are accessible via the ALSC Web site. I trust librarians to be able to find that without my listing the URL here.

    These associations have been around for decades, and society’s definitions of children, young adults, etc., have continued to evolve. It’s essential for ALSC to periodically reconsider and clarify its service population.

    Bylaws changes may be forthcoming on the 2010 ALSC spring ballot, and I’ll be paying attention — I encourage fellow members to do so as well! It’s not as simple as “end at age 14″ versus “end at age 13.” Please take a peek and weigh in, via comment and/or vote!

  9. Diane

    Thank you so much for posting about this. I must admit that my focus really was on BBYA and I mentioned the ALSC discussion as an aside. The two arriving at the same time at Midwinter added up to a great senes of anxiety that perhaps the ALSC discussion alone. We do all need to read up and learn more about the issues.