Baby, Bathwater, and Beyond

I recently returned from ALA, where I once again sat in as the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) committee deliberated. The members’ comments were thoughtful. They clearly took their jobs seriously. The composition of the membership was fairly diverse as to gender, age, ethnicity, and region. I was sorry to miss the part where teen readers are able to comment on the books they read from the nominated list. They have strong opinions!

Meanwhile, before the conference, word was out that YALSA was discussing the possibility of phasing out BBYA. I wondered what the conference buzz would be about that. From following YALSA member blogs, such as Booklist’s Bookends, and discussing with some teen librarians I know, it sounds like the librarian community is of two minds.

Some find the idea of dumping the committee a great mistake. BBYA nominations mine the lists of a broad range of houses, so strong offerings from new authors or smaller publishers get into the mix. Dropping the committee could redirect lists toward the offerings of mainly the bigger houses—a move I don’t think serves the needs of the librarians who depend on the BBYA list for broad collection development. And, of course, it doesn’t appeal to the smaller publishers who might get overlooked.

Others feel the committee has compromised its mission by equating “best” with “most worthy” in a literary sense. They feel this approach has populated the BBYA lists with titles teens would be highly unlikely to pick up. For these librarians, “best books” means that the titles appeal to teens as well as having literary merit. I can see that point of view as well. I mean, what’s the point of putting a book on the list that won’t circulate, even if it’s book talked like crazy.

No final decision was made at annual. We’ll have to wait until Midwinter in Boston in January 2010 to learn the fate of BBYA. Will this be the last BBYA list? Let’s hope whatever decision YALSA makes doesn’t throw out the baby and the bathwater.