Talking With Thom
While at TLA I had a chance to meet Thom Barthelmess, who has served as ALSC president this year replacing the beloved Kate McClelland www.alsc.ala.org/blog/ I asked him about the idea which was discussed at Midwinter — changing the official age range for ALSC, and I learned a lot. As quick background — though surely nearly all of you know this — ALA has two youth services divisions, ALSC and YALSA, and we all thought that their ages oddly overlapped — ALSC serving kids up through 14, YALSA running from 12-18. The word at Midwinter was that ALSC was discussing, weighing, considering, a shift down to 12 (initially) or 13 (as actually proposed). Like many people I had equal and opposite reactions to this — fueled also by my indignation over the YALSA BBYA debacle. On the one hand, the overlap had always seemed odd to me. On the other, it served to allow Newbery, Sibert, Notables to all blur upwards into some version of adolescent/coming-of-age/"stretch" books.
Thom explained that ALSC actually had never been defined by ages but rather by grades — extending through 8th grade (which we all read as "14"). So establishing an age was a good idea per se — and then once the division was going about selecting an age, the question opened up: whom do we serve? When they polled members, the clear answer was that 12 was the upper limit. The question then is — should ALSC listen to its members, or to the concern of those of us who attend meetings and watch the awards closely? And that is a fair and legitimate concern.
The other side of this coin is that ALSC’s parameters began in preschool (again a grade) rather than, as is the actual reality in libraries, at birth. So in opening up the age question, the starting point is as important as the ending. To be clear, none of this is going to be decided now. As it happens it is too late to get on the ballot this year. But with Annual coming along soon enough, it is important to air and consider these questions. And to me they come down to the fact that ALSC and YALSA actually have multiple identities. In one way, they serve their members, as any organizations do. In another way, through their awards, they influence literature for children and young adults. As an editor and author, it gives me some concern that ALSC awards would skew younger — and thus perhaps YALSA awards as well, since 12-14 would now loom larger as part of YALSA’s mission. But I can also see the basic logic of the clean split. And no matter what happens on the older end, clearly including the very youngest children and families — whom I often see at the libraries these days — makes sense.
What do you all think?