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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Last Thoughts On the BBYA Issue

MK’s Comments Have Helped Clarify The Issues

Thanks to MK for her (?) thoughts and comments, which have helped me to define exactly what is wrong with the new system.
1) Splitting up one committee into many means there will be no place where ideas cross-pollinate. Lets face it, that means that fiction lovers will be exempted from getting to know other genres — until they get a list of authors and titles they do not know, have not shared with teenagers, and are free to ignore.

2) Right now, as Linda admits in her response, there is no public venue for discussion of NF at ALA, no list for libraries to use, no model. MK points out that very few NF titles came up in recent ALA teen session. The obvious conclusion is that it would not tax the committee to be open to NF and would not extend the list a great deal. In other words we have a loss now that would be easy to remedy.

3) Linda objects that ALA discussions are not terribly important since 85% of the YALSA membership does not attend conferences. But as MK points out, the teen session was available as a live webcast — so we already have the means for substantially changing that ratio. 

Thus — the new rules remove two valuable functions of BBYA 1) cross-pollination of genres 2) public discussion by informed committee members and teens of NF — and offer no means of replicating these benefits in new formats — except for the vague promise of possible change in the future. And yet, it would be easy as pie to fix this problem — just add NF back to F — little additional work, much benefit.

Finally, I cannot help thinking that one of the animating forces behind these changes is that there are YA librarians who like fiction and dislike NF and prefer to be able to concentrate on their own passion. As they say in law and detective stories, when you want to know who is responsible for an action, look for who it benefits. This arrangement frees fiction lovers from having to consider NF, if they want to serve on BBYA. And to me that attitude is a betrayal of what a librarian is supposed to be — not an advocate for his or her passions, but a conduit from the great wide world to all of the interests, passions, and needs of those who use the library.


  1. My new year’s resolution is to engage less in online arguments, but here we go anyway–

    I really don’t think you’re giving YA librarians enough credit. I’ve used BBYA for collection development, and I’m someone who personally reads more fiction than nonfiction titles, but the changes to YALSA lists don’t mean I now have some grand license to ignore nonfiction.

    And I think it’s a little short-sighted to say that “there will be no place where ideas cross-pollinate.” There’s a nonfiction title on the Printz Honor list this year, as there have been in previous years. There are also nonfiction Alex titles (and remember that Alex vetted nominations will now be published, which no doubt will mean more nonfiction titles). I think the fact that we’re all talking about booklists and awards in the blogosphere–just as we do at Midwinter and Annual, when we go to some sessions and talk with our colleagues about the ones they attended–proves that robust discussion is still alive and well.

  2. As one who has followed BBYA since before even being on the committee in 2000, I have heard from many committee members over the years regarding how to change it. Many of them suggested that if there were to be a change that non-fiction be taken off the list.
    I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I, and my fellow Board members, made these changes haphazardly. It was really years in the making.
    So now what are we going to do? Continue to debate this or steer all librarians, whether conference goers or those that don’t have the great opportunity to go to conference (most librarians) to a variety of lists that will assist them in planning greater collection development for the teens. Because that is really the bottom line, kids reading books.

  3. Yes we all need to get on with the rest of our lives. But neither of you dealt with the matter of open discussion — Printz must be a closed committee, and Nick speaks of lists. Why has BBYA been an open committee — long before teenagers were invited? Why, to give air space to the discussion of books so that librarians, authors, editors, reviewers could learn. At the very moment where that valuable function is being shared electronically with any who wish to watch, all discussion of NF has been silenced. That is simply wrong — and if this plan was years in the making, why did it miss this obvious flaw?

  4. Marc, I work in a children’s room of a town library which also has a YA room. I recently read Claudette Colvin and Charles and Emma, neither of which my library owns. Why? Because we have NO YA non fiction;the YA room is too small. So rather than a “dislike” of nonfiction, I wonder whether YA librarians feel constrained by space and budgets and whether this is influencing the BBYA decision. I wonder how typical my library is: it was renovated 10 years ago and a separate and cozy YA space was created. Was YA nonfiction 10 years ago what it is today? I sincerely doubt that there are YA librarians out there who wouldn’t passionately embrace the 2 books mentioned above as well as the many other excellent NF titles. I am personally not happy that we have such a “hole” in our otherwise excellent collection.

  5. Joyce: Is that decision on YA NF something that can be appealed? Just now YALSA has a NF award, and Claudette won the NBA — why would the library want to deprive teenagers of such excellent books? If it is a matter of budget then one gets into the question of necessity — is one more fantasy novel, or dating novel, really more valuable to the library community that pathbreaking NF — for young people living in an information age? That lean to fiction seems like a decision worth revisiting.

  6. Marc, I totally agree that it is a decision worth revisiting and have started talking it up with my library colleagues. Space is the issue. I’m wondering if this is not an uncommon problem: libraries who have done renovations in the past decade or so have created YA rooms but have not had the foresight to plan for YA nonfiction. Is this a problem in other libraries other than my own? My library has no space in the YA room for a meaningful NF collection. Thanks for your input!

  7. space — interesting; last year in one discussion we talked about putting new NF in the front of the library — the way bookstores feature the latest titles. Is there a place for a table stacked high with award-winners, eye-catching covers, appealing subjects? That way NF gets treated as a featured new offering and you don’t need new shelves.