April 10, 2014
When you walk into the library and head over to the YA section, and you see all of those books with YA on the spine, do you ever wonder: Why these books? Who gets to decide what books are in the YA collection?
The process generally goes something like this: An author writes a book. The author is almost always an adult, but there are a few exceptions: S.E. Hinton famously wrote The Outsiders when she was in high school, and more recently (and check this out if you’re into the current dystopian craze), Isamu Fukui wrote Truancy when he was only 15.
When the book is written, it goes off to a publisher, who is certainly an adult. If they decide to print the book, they consult with a marketing team (also adults) to determine who is most likely to read the book. Often times the author of a YA book has a YA audience in mind when they write a book, but sometimes the author thinks they are writing an adult book, but it ends up being marketed as YA instead. Such was the case with Rainbow Rowell’s novel Eleanor & Park.
Once a book is published it is up to librarians (all adults, are you beginning to see a trend here?) to pick books to add to the YA collection. This isn’t done randomly. Some librarians specialize in working with teens, and have spent years learning what sorts of books appeal to teenagers.
So there you have it: Adults write YA books, adults publish and market YA books, and adults collect YA books. And that’s how we build a YA collection.
But that doesn’t seem quite fair, does it? Why should adults have all the say in trying to decide what teens read? The truth is, we don’t. We don’t decide which books you should and shouldn’t read. We guess. A YA collection is our best guess at what teenagers would like to read. And like all guesses, we don’t always get it right, nor do we always agree as to what constitutes a YA book. At Winnipeg Public Library we have copies of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card in the YA collection, but many other libraries don’t. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster only appears in our adult collection, but you can find it listed in YALSA’s Teen Book Finder. If you’re a teenager who has picked up and enjoyed a book off the general fiction shelf, you wouldn’t be the first.
So if adults are only guessing at which books belong in a YA collection, who does get to decide what teenagers read? Teenagers do, by reading. What teens enjoy reading in a large part defines YA literature.
If you’ve ever read an ‘adult’ book that you think should be in the YA collection, please let us know in the comments below. And if you’re really passionate about how to improve teen services at the library, consider joining our Youth Advisory Council (YAC), where teenagers can have their say about what goes on in the library.
Alan is a Branch Head at Transcona Library. He tried really, really hard not to grow up, but is currently an adult.