BBYA Changes – Here We Go Again

smiley-faceLynn and Cindy: So here we are again. Less than a week from the start of an ALA conference and we’re posting an unhappy rant about a YALSA Board proposal for BBYA. A draconian proposal in June received such an outcry of dissent that the Board tabled the proposal and agreed to try again. This time at least BBYA will continue but in a much diminished form. Gone are adult books, graphic novels and nonfiction. This neutered BBYA will produce a list of YA fiction only. The proposal rationale has six points. ALA members can log in and view the proposal here (Agenda items #14 and #15).

We’d like to address several points of the rationale.

* YALSA now has seven lists and there is “noticeable overlap.” Why is this a problem? Although the seven committees have seven distinctly different charges, there will be overlaps. What this tells us is that those “overlap” books have significant value in multiple categories. Interesting that this does not seem to be an issue for ALSC with their more extensive range of lists and Notable Books for Children. It is this inclusive nature of the BBYA list that makes it so valuable to so many librarians.

* There remains “concern about the workload and other issues but despite multiple attempts no viable solutions have been implemented.” Two Task Forces have presented solutions that recommended less drastic changes. Those changes have not been implemented. We contend that more should be done to select and support committee members who are best suited to the challenges of the committee work load. Changes in the initial selection, placement and support of committee members would greatly serve the entire spectrum of YALSA committees.

* “There is concern among member leaders that the portfolio of YALSA lists, as they are now, are not useful for many members of the library community.” What members of the library community? How does the Board know that? Certainly the people who crowded the Boardroom in June disagree with that statement. Person after person rose to speak to how valuable BBYA is to working librarians. None of the hundreds of people we have presented to this year have been contacted by “member leaders” and we’ve heard much support for the continuance of the committee’s broad range.

* “An analysis of 2005-2009 BBYA lists found a total of 16 ‘small press’ titles out of a total of 430. In five years, 3.7% of titles on the BBYA lists have come from small press.” Is that really an issue? What is the percentage of small press that actually publish books for teens? BBYA is a committee that carefully weighs the quality of books that make the list. Just because a book is published does not mean that it meets the standards of the committee. Small press books are considered just as carefully as books from larger committees. If they pass the rigors of the committee consideration – and some do – small press books will make the list. Does the Board wish BBYA to lower their standards?

While it saddens us to see the loss of adult books and graphic novels on BBYA, we have been worn down on this issue by the continued whining about work load. With the proposal of adding titles to the Alex list and the charge of the Great Graphic Novel list including popularity and a final list of 25 titles, we can live with those reductions. What is truly distressing is the elimination of nonfiction titles on BBYA.

Eliminating nonfiction from BBYA just because we’ve added a Nonfiction Award to YALSA’s menu is like replacing a brunch buffet with a continental breakfast. This year’s inaugural short list is fabulous, but there are many other fine nonfiction books that teens and YA librarians will know are outstanding by seeing them included in the BBYA list. Even if the Nonfiction Award’s procedures are changed to publicize their entire nomination list (something no other award does) that would only be a list of nominations by single readers without the committee process of extensive discussion and evaluation. And this committee is selecting their nominations on literary merit alone, whereas BBYA also considers potential and proven teen appeal.

Nonfiction publishing for teens has improved dramatically in the recent years and the addition of YALSA’s new award will only promote more writing and publishing for older teens. The Board should not remove nonfiction (and poetry?) from the purview of Best Books for Young Adults. We already have too strong an emphasis on fiction in the youth field due to the reading inclinations of most librarians. Reading research has shown the importance of nonfiction for teens–especially boys–and this change says to teens loud and clear: only fiction is REAL reading. That’s a stereotype many of us have been working hard to break.

If ALSC can have the Sibert AND nonfiction included on their Notables list we don’t see why that can’t work for YALSA as well. Currently YALSA has a rule that all Printz titles must be included on the final BBYA list. Will that include nonfiction and graphic novels if those are removed from consideration?

Changes to BBYA’s list should not just reflect what makes the job easy. It should include what’s important to teens and the librarians who consult the list. Many suggestions were made to the YALSA Board to improve the selection and mentoring process for BBYA committee members. Have any of these been tried? Perhaps the Board should take it slowly in making changes. Why not remove adult books and graphic novels and give it five years to see if that makes the work load more manageable before eliminating nonfiction too, thereby trimming the list down into something no one recognizes…or perhaps even cares about any more.

What are your thoughts? Are we being reactionary stick-in-the-muds? Or do you agree with us? Post your comments here and be sure to let the Board members know what you think too by leaving a comment on the YALSA blog or by emailing one of the board members.

nonfictionmondayThanks to Whispers of Dawn for hosting this week’s Nonfiction Monday blog round-up celebrating the extraordinary nonfiction books being published for children and teens.

Update:  from Beth Yoke, Executive Director of YALSA:

1) Regarding the assertion that the YALSA Board failed to implement the recommendations of two task forces that investigated issues in BBYA, while one task force presented possible solutions for addressing issues relating to BBYA, the suggestions were voted down by the YALSA Board of Directors after some members’ opposition persuaded enough board members to vote against it.

2) The committee policies state that the finalist and winning titles must “include excellent writing, research, presentation and readability for young adults,” which is more than “literary merit alone.” The post seems to suggest that the committee was using one, lone, single criteria to select titles, which is not correct.

3) Regarding the comment that the Nonfiction Award nominations are “a list . . . by single readers without the committee process of extensive discussion and evaluation,” in the policies and procedures, available at, the committee is instructed to follow this rule: “Furthermore, all nominated titles must be discussed.” The committee calendar mentions meetings specifically to discuss nominated titles at three occasions-Midwinter Meeting, Annual Conference, and a conference call in November.

A book will not show up on the final, published nomination list simply because one committee member recommended it. The committee will discuss as a group which titles will be on the final, published list of nominations. In the past few years BBYA has averaged 14 nonfiction titles per list. The Nonfiction Award Committee will put forward about 30 titles of recommended nonfiction each year.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

18 Comments on "BBYA Changes – Here We Go Again"

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  1.' Teri Lesesne says:

    I agree with your points, ladies. This whole idea that YALSA is making change because of the poor committee members and their workload just does not work for me. I would love to serve on the committee. I know the reading load. So what? And as for overlap, I hope the publishers speak up here, too. They adore it when a book appears on more than one list. Just because we have a GGN, the ALEX, and a nonfiction award does not mean those should be eliminated from BBYA. There is also overlap between BBYA and QP (though to a lesser degree). Overlap, IMHO, is good.

    Keep ranting!

  2.' Liz B says:

    An award is different from a list; and there are different concerns & criteria for each. So I have to say, I’m confused as to why a nonfiction Award means that nonfiction titles shouldn’t be on the BBYA list.

  3.' Angela says:

    As Chair of the new YALSA Nonfiction award committee, I would like to clarify a few misconceptions. First, this new committee DOES publish its full nomination list. The list will be available on the YALSA website with annotations next week. It is extensive.
    Second, this committee does not limit itself to literary merit. We are charged to consider “excellent writing, research, presentation and readability for young adults”. We have had many conversations about appeal, and where it fits into our charge.
    Finally, here is the URL for the Policies and Procedures of the Nonfiction Award, should you wish to examine them:
    I have not read the new BBYA proposal and have no personal opinion yet. I simply wanted to make sure everyone is working with the facts.

  4.' Brenda Kahn says:

    Thanks for keeping your fingers on the pulse of all things BBYA. To eliminate non-fiction, graphic novels and adult books with YA appeal seems to cut the heart out of BBYA. Admittedly, my kids (I’m in a middle school) are at the lower end of BBYA, but it’s a great source.

  5.' Betsy Fraser says:

    I loved my time serving on BBYA. I entirely agree with you that narrowing the focus of the list to fiction is too limiting. Teenagers that prefer nonfiction (or graphic novels,) and they are out there, deserve to have their voices heard. That is a prime function of BBYA and one that would then be severely limited. BBYA, QP and the new nonfiction award are complementary in this regard and I agree with the people that point out that when a book is named on more than one list it truly is a mark of distinction that helps to bring attention to that title.

  6.' Angela says:

    (Different Angela from above – trust me, I’m not a chair of anything!)

    I’ve been ruminating on this post all day so I could try to post something coherent. Here I go to take a stab at that:
    1) Getting rid of adult, graphic novels and nonfiction – why are they keeping the name Best Books for Young Adults then? The list will simply become Best Fiction Published for Young Adults, since the committee will no longer be able to consider crossover appeal. And I’ve heard rumors that a new publishing category is on it’s way called “new adult” that sounds like it would have a lot of appeal for older teenagers, since new adult stories would be geared towards recent high school and college students. Eliminating so many genres from BBYA effectively does what was proposed this summer: it eliminates the list. BBYA after these changes would be quite different from previous BBYA lists.

    2) The workload – aside from eliminating non-fiction, will these other cuts actually have an influence on the workload? How many adult novels really have crossover appeal? Doesn’t seem like it would be that many. Of course eliminating nonfiction will cut back on the workload, but that’s because there’s a lot of great nonfiction out there and we should be working to celebrate as much of it as possible!

    3)Since there is so much nonfiction being published, it is quite possible there will now be a lot of crossover between BBYA and the nonfiction award. I don’t necessarily think that would be a bad thing (I believe it was mentioned the last time there was a BBYA discussion that having BBYA as an inclusive list hammers home the point that nonfiction books can be just as entertaining as their fictional counterparts). However, before eliminating nonfiction totally from the BBYA list, I would think a much better plan would be to let the nonfiction award and a nonfiction-inclusive BBYA co-exist for 3-5 years. If after that period of time there is “significant crossover” between the two, then it might be worth it to eliminate nonfiction from BBYA, but I would first like to see whether the two committees would develop different tastes.

    4)Small press titles – I can’t see the proposals since I’m not a member, but that bit really feels like it comes out of nowhere. Is the idea that by streamlining the BBYA list small press titles will have the chance for more attention? I would think a large part of the reason small press titles make up a limited number of BBYA nominees is that small press titles make up a limited number of YA publications in general. Trust me, I’ve been looking for jobs in YA publishing and it’s hard to find publishers that deal in a lot of YA outside of the big houses.

    Okay, I think that’s all I have in me for tonight. Are the troops going to rally for another save BBYA session at midwinter?

    • Angela,

      Thank you for your very thoughtful response! We will be able to say we knew you before you were famous 😉 I know Cindy appreciates, as much as I do, your words on this issue. It is really valuable to hear the thoughts of those who will carry the torch. Yes, we are rallying the troops and I hope BBYA can remain an inclusive and valuable list. Keep thinking and writing! -Lynn

  7. I believe the small press part of the rationale is intended to address a comment made by several Board meeting attendees this summer regarding the light that BBYA shines on smaller/quieter titles. I believe I made this comment at one point, and while I can only speak for myself, I was referring to both small press titles and books that are excellent but not at all splashy. The quintessential author of this type, to me, is someone like the late, great Siobhan Dowd, who wrote powerful books about everyday things for a small-ish house.

    I’m interpreting the small press bullet point as data refuting the point about these smaller/quieter titles that could be overlooked by a streamlined version of BBYA. Of course, there’s small press, and there’s small press — how did the author(s) of this document arrive at their definition of what constitutes “small”?

  8.' Liz B says:

    At the Board Meeting at Annual, the issue of how a book became nominated was raised to cut down on amount of reading. Is this proposal being considered, still? I would imagine that having something seconded/thirded would reduce the amount of titles, yet still keep NF, Poetry, etc.

  9. As ALAN Past-president, I was one of those who spoke at the Board meeting this past summer. I’d like to reiterate two points:

    1. The BBYA list serves more than librarians. It is used extensively by teachers and professors, which means that the list serves the greater academic community. I hope that YALSA realizes how important it is to serve more that its membership.

    2. Small books can be published by big houses. It’s very easy for a worthy “quiet” book to get lost in the promotional glitz of a major house.

  10.' Pam Spencer Holley says:

    Gosh, I’m probably one of the few who will say this, but having just compiled all those annotations for Quick and Popular Reads for Teens, the committee that seems to always select a lot of nonfiction is the Quick Picks Committee, so I don’t feel that nonfiction will be ignored or not receive true representation.

    Over the years, nonfiction has never done well on BBYA lists partly because not all the committee members seem to want to read it. Wish I’d kept all those ballots over the years, because if you’ve ever looked at the final voting lists, nonfiction generally suffered from few readers, as did a few other categories.

    Personally, I think having an all fiction list is worth a try. BBYA committee members have been leaving before their terms are up because of burnout, which relates directly to the great number of titles submitted and a really conscientious effort to read everything. So maybe removing nonfiction, adult and graphic novels will lessen the load…let’s wait and see.

    Pam Spencer Holley

  11. Pam, thanks for posting an alternate view. I’m eager to hear more from people on either side of the issue–maybe those of you who think we are tilting at windmills will convince us. If there are others lurking out there, don’t be shy.–Cindy

  12.' mk says:

    To piggy-back on the updates from Beth Yoke, YALSA has published a blog post clarifying some of the misinformation that’s been floating around on blogs and lists. I encourage anyone interested in BBYA to read it, along with the relevant Board documents.

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