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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Weightlessness in Blogland: The Currents and Crosscurrents of ALA

It was an Annual with a sense of arrival, new beginnings, but also disconcerting endings — as I mentioned, Sibert at 10, first for the new YALSA NF award, 11 for Printz, 41 for CSK — but also first for BFYA — those of us who had fought against the destruction of BBYA (best books for young adults) and its hijacked replacement (best fiction for young adults) all felt angry, defeated, resigned — we still don’t understand what a “vetteed” discussion list which comes out a year after the books means, we still do not have any venue at ALA for teenagers to talk about non-fiction, we still don’t understand or agree with the change the YALSA board — ignoring (so I have heard) the suggestions of its own task force —  made at Midwinter, we just have to live with it.  The one way in which the new order of things seems right to me is that, in fact, there is a new order of things in the ALA world.

On the one hand, we clearly have award sprawl. Think back a decade — when there were just the ALSC awards — Newbery, Caldecott — the lists, Notables and BBYA, and CSK — now we have YA awards, NF awards, Pure Belpre, Geisel, etc., etc, — one for everyone. It is much more democratice, there are many more ways to honoro — new talent, first books, lifetime achievement, early reders, graphic novels, etc. That is in a way like our lives today — we live in a post cable, blogified, universe where there is space for everyone, but far less of a center. There are far fewer book review sections and far more book reviewish blogs — sprawl of opinion matches sprawl of awards. That is healthy but also dizzying — like being out in space where the diminished pull of gravity means you can go far, go anywhere, but you are weightless — nowhere that you land matters much. That is just our lives today — galaxies of websites to visit, alite upon, but no center. We have to build a sense of weight, of center, a spacestation, by making our own links and connections.

The sense of weightlessness at ALA also came from the disturbing undercurrent that I began to notice, and became really clear by the end: many really good librarians are retiring, or taking buy outs, or losing their jobs. For anyone who has been working in children’s books for some time — I’ve been going to ALA since the 1980s — there is always a sense of generational growth and change — mentors rising to high and highest positions, going from one committee, to the next, to chairing major awards, to sitting on boards and councils; new librarians coming to their first conventions, writing first reviews, being placed on first committees. But what is happening now is that the middle is being lost. Some stalwarts stay at the highest levels, some very young and new librarians are coming in, but those with a decade or so of experience are in danger. Their jobs are prime targets for cuts — and so we lost that handoff of experience, of knowledge, of, well, wisdom. This ALA we were still in transition — I met librarians who had lost or changed jobs, but still came to ALA. Will they be there next year? The mood was upbeat — but lets see where we are at midwinter — whether weightlessness feels life freedom or like falling.


  1. Thank you Marc for your astute observations of this very particular time. Just a few moments ago I saw a message from yet another colleague, a long time young adult librarian who will be retiring on July 15. I know it’s a cliche, but time marches on.

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    Sandra: I was thinking of you, in part, when I wrote this — seeing you up there with the Virginia Hamilton jury, but no longer at NYPL, bothered me — and same when I ran into Margaret Tice.