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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

My Response to Linda

I am willing to believe that the process was broken, and indeed that the board is to be commended for being willing to take bold steps to fix it. However the system you have created ignores one crucial function of the old BBYA, destroys another, and misses an obvious solution. .
1) the value of a Best list — to the committee members, the audience at ALA, and those who received it — was the very fact that it included a mix of genres. A librarian who knew little and cared less about, say, graphic novels when I published Pedro and Me, was exposed to it because it was discussed, shared, and then included on a general list of Best Books. For years fantasy was a secret pleasure of boy readers, disdained by many reviewers and librarians. BBYA was the one place where fantasy was discussed alongside the latest YA novel — before Harry Potter changed the landscape. Your system creates a series of niche interests, silos, and no opportunity for cross fertilization — no committee with cross interests, no public discussion of genres together, no list that considers whatever is Best — no matter what the genre. Yes you have an overall list culled from top tens, but since those books were never discussed together, it is easy for a librarian to cherry pick — instead of going through the alphabet and finding the unexpected, she will select the areas she already knows she wants.
       One immediate problem this creates is for Printz judges. As you know BBYA often serived as a kind of training for future Printz judges. Since all books are eligible for the Printz, how will a librarian who has never been exposed to discussion of the merits of say, graphic novels, or NF, be prepared to make informed judgments?
2) On YALSA’s own FAQ, here is how you talk about teen discussion at ALA:

Yes! There will continue to be teen feedback sessions at conferences.

you emphasize this with an exclamation mark — clearly showing that you, and your membership, value face to face open discussion at ALA. But NF has been excluded from what your own board highlights as an important and popular function. You point to recent statistics — fair enough, though a person who served on BBYA in the past checked over her lists and found a much higher % of NF, so these numbers ebb and flow. And, related to that, you are making a demographic mistake. The teen boom is passing. That bulge in teenagers brought with it a great expansion in YALSA. But as the population bulge shifts down, YA librarians will need to work hard to keep their positions. One way to do that is to build alliances with teachers and schools — who need, more than anyting else, help with NF. By marginalizing NF you are depriving your membership of exposure that they will need.
3) Finally — you speak of the contrast between well-funded libraries and a general membership, as well as — in other posts — the utility of virtual attendance. Ever since teen participation in BBYA at ALA began (I was there in Denver on the day it did), I have urged there to be some digital expression so that other teens and adults could watch and even perhaps participate virtually. Rather than eliminate a committee that treats all genres, and includes teenagers speaking about all manner of books, the obvious digital solution is to make those discussions a live feed that any library can watch and perhaps join in on.
Thank you for agreeing to let me post your comments. Once again, I believe you and the board were right to see a need for change, but that in fixing one set of issues you have destroyed something valuable. That is wrong — and any evaluation of the changes must begin with that recognition


  1. Marc, how is having a dedicated award and full nominations list for excellence in nonfiction “marginalizing” nonfiction? I actually think this new award recognizes the popularity and quality of nonfiction for young adults better than BBYA, which for years has predominantly been a fiction list.

    As for the “obvious digital solution” you suggest, perhaps you missed the live blog of last weekend’s BBYA teen feedback session–which includes live streaming video and participation from librarians both in the room and joining the session remotely.

    I’d also recommend that anyone who’s interested in the changes to selected lists read the FAQ now available on the YALSA website.

    (Sadly, your comment interface doesn’t seem to allow html, which apparently includes URLs without code around them–both the FAQ and live blog are available from the YALSA blog.)

  2. Marginalized because there is no public discussion of NF at ALA, no list of YALSA-committee-nominated books for local libraries to use (until a year after the books are published, while fiction books are discussed in year of pub).

    I was there in the room. But the fact that there is a live blog now is exactly my point — if NF were being discussed as part of the ALA teen (and regular) session, then it would be easy for others to at least listen in — thus Linda’s objection that ALA served only 15% of the YALSA membership would be met. The fact that the session was live-blogged only proves my point.

  3. Of all the titles discussed at the feedback session, how many were nonfiction? I count two: Claudette Colvin & More Than Friends (which is poetry, and I’ve always felt odd calling poetry nonfiction, but that’s neither here nor there). I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure the numbers were similar in Denver.

    I don’t disagree that more teen (and YALSA) discussion of nonfiction titles would be great, but if the teens who participate in sessions where fiction and nonfiction are both fair game don’t choose to discuss nonfiction, I think it makes absolute sense that nonfiction be taken out of the (former) BBYA equation so that we can give more attention to these titles in a different venue.

    What all this speaks to, I think, is a desire to see the Nonfiction Award evolve, or perhaps for a new committee and list to emerge that would incorporate more teen feedback specifically on nonfiction titles.

  4. Yes, there was really only one — poetry does not count for this discussion. That is true. But it was also the book that teenager picked as her favorite of the year — and at other teen sessions (as I said, I have been to many of them since the very first) while NF is always a minority interest, it is not as much so as it was this time. The mix of kids — whether older or younger, more male or female, urban or suburban — has a strong influence on what they discuss.

    Taking it out of the equation — I have two problems with that: 1) it guarantees that fiction lovers (both librarians and teens) will have less exposure to NF 2) there is no such venue.

    The award evolving, maybe. But notice that is a promise of a possible future, while the board’s decision leaves us now, and for the forseeable future, with nothing. I believe that was a mistake, and one that needs to be admitted and corrected.