Best Fiction for Young Adults by Gender

Over the past year, I have served on YALSA’s Best Fiction for Young Adults committee. At the ALA Midwinter Meeting in early January, the 14 other committee members and I deliberated all of the nominated books and selected a final list of 64 exceptional young adult fiction books with teen appeal. We also chose a top 10 from our final list.

When the list was announced, several people on Twitter noticed that the top 10 list featured more male-centered stories than female-centered stories. Because of the way we chose a top 10, this fact was not apparent until after we finalized the selections. While gender equity on a list like this is not a goal, I was curious to take a closer look at the full list of 64 titles to see what the gender breakdown was and how the top 10 list compared.

I noted the gender of the author (determined by author bios in the books or the author’s website) and the main character or characters. If I made any errors in coding the data, please let me know. A spreadsheet with the data is available here.

Main Character

All books

  • 30 with female main character(s) (46.9%)
  • 20 with male main character(s) (31.2%)
  • 14 with both male and female main characters (either dual perspective or multiple perspectives)  (21.9%)

Top 10

  • 6 with male main characters (Challenger Deep, More Happy Than Not, X: A Novel, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, The Bunker Diary, The Boy in the Black Suit) (60%)
  • 2 with female main characters (Audacity and Shadowshaper) (20%)
  • 2 with both male and female main characters (though arguably both Bone Gap and Six of Crows are still male-centered) (20%)


All books

  • 46 female authors (71.9%)
  • 16 male authors (25%)
  • 1 joint book with one male and one female author (1.6%)
  • 1 short story collection with both male and female authors (6 male, 6 female) (1.6%)

Top 10

  • 5 female authors (50%)
  • 5 male authors (50%)

It’s clear the the top 10 do not reflect the gender breakdown of the list as a whole. It certainly isn’t required to. But when there are many excellent books with female protagonists and written by women, it’s worth thinking about why the male-centered and male-written stories rise to the top. I don’t want to speculate why this happened for this list, but I know I will continue to be mindful of my own reading habits and actively work against my unconscious biases when selecting titles to read, review, and recommend.

I would love to examine issues of gender and diversity in YA on a much broader scale, looking at all the books published in a year and comparing various awards and best-of lists to the total output. I made an attempt at wrangling this data in 2014, as recounted in my YA Literature Data Project post. And back in 2010, I did a similar exercise with the nominated titles for the then Best Books for Young Adults selection list.

Mock Printz Roundup 2015

The Youth Media Awards, the collection of awards handed out by the American Library Association, will be presented Monday, February 2. For young adult literature, the Michael L. Printz award is considered the highest achievement. Awarded annually since 2000, it honors the best book (fiction, non-fiction, poetry, or anthology) in terms of literary merit and up to four honor books that were published in the United States during the award year. A committee of nine YALSA members discuss the eligible titles at the Annual and Midwinter ALA meetings and choose the winner and honor books in a closed door session.

To promote the reading and discussion of quality YA books, many library systems and regional library groups organize Mock Printz events. Typically, librarians will choose a shortlist of titles that they think merit inclusion on the Printz list. They then meet to discuss the books and choose their own winner and honor books before the official ceremony.

I’m always curious to see what books look like contenders for the award, so for a few years (2014, 2012, 2011, 2010) I have compiled Mock Printz lists and winners. It’s not the best predictor of the eventual winner, especially since a lot of the groups share lists to some extent and most librarians aren’t reading as widely and extensively as those on the committee. It’s still an interesting exercise to see what’s buzzing before the announcement of the actual winners and honorees.

This year, I looked at 18 lists. Several titles appear on multiple lists, but there are a lot that only appear on one list. A total of 44 individual books were listed. Of the lists I looked at, here are all of the books that appeared and the number of lists they appeared on:

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (16)
  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (16)
  • The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (10)
  • This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (10)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (9)
  • Noggin by John Corey Whaley (9)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King (8)
  • 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (8)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye J. Walton (8)
  • Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson (7)
  • The Story of Owen by E.K. Johnston (6)
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (6)
  • The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin (5)
  • The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer (5)
  • She is Not Invisible by Marcus Sedgwick (5)
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (4)
  • Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (3)
  • Egg and Spoon by Gregory Maguire (3)
  • The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin (3)
  • Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer (3)
  • The Doubt Factory by Paolo Bacigalupi (2)
  • The Hit by Melvin Burgess (2)
  • Pointe by Brandy Colbert (2)
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin (2)
  • Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld (2)
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (1)
  • The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean, Telt by Hisself by David Almond (1)
  • Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley (1)
  • When Mr. Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan (1)
  • Half Bad by Sally Green (1)
  • A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn (1)
  • Conversion by Katherine Howe (1)
  • And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard (1)
  • Love Is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson (1)
  • Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (1)
  • Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern (1)
  • How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson (1)
  • The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson (1)
  • Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (1)
  • We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt (1)
  • Freedom Summer: The 1964 Struggle For Civil Rights In Mississippi by Susan Goldman Rubin (1)
  • The Riverman by Aaron Starmer (1)
  • The Scar Boys by Len Vlahos (1)
  • Wildlife by Fiona Wood (1)

Only eight of the groups have publicly posted winners and honors. With those weighted (3 points for winners, 2 points for honors), the top of the list changes a bit:

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (21)
  • Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith (20)
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (14)
  • The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming (13)
  • This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (13)
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye J. Walton (11)
  • Noggin by John Corey Whaley (10)
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King (9)
  • 100 Sideways Miles by Andrew Smith (9)
  • Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero (9)

What do you think? Who will take home the big award Monday morning?

These are the lists I surveyed:

A couple more that haven’t posted lists, but that include some discussion:

Selection Committee Prep Work

I’m thrilled to announce that in 2015 I will be serving on the YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) selection committee! This is both exciting and daunting. Along with 14 other committee members, we will be selecting about 75 of the best YA fiction titles published between Sept. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2015. This means I have to read a lot—more than I have ever read in a single year. This year’s committee has about 110 nominees, but we will have to read many more than that to find the good stuff. Good-bye to the rest of my TBR pile, I’ll see you in 2016!

My BFYA binder!

With so much reading, it’s crucial to write detailed notes about what books I’ve read and what I think about them, as well as keep track of review books received from publishers, what books I need to read, and what books I need to track down. This means I had an excuse to buy some office supplies—woo! Inspired by Jennie Rothschild, my current set-up is a bright pink 3-ring binder with dividers and lots of blank paper for notes. I have put the committee policies and other important information in one section. Another section houses my notes for eligible books I have read. Right now, I have reserved a page per book where I write down character and plot details and my impressions of the book. Once nominations start in February, I will separate the notes out into two sections—nominated and not-nominated. I will also be putting any teen feedback I have into the binder. I also bought some 4×6 post-it notes to have on hand while I’m reading to jot down thoughts.

Page of notes for an eligible title
Committee policies and procedures for quick reference

I debated analog vs. digital for keeping my book notes. I like being able to scribble and draw a bit in my notes and I think the hard-copy version will work better for me as a reference in committee meetings, but I will be doing some digital tracking. As back-up, I will be taking photos of my hand-written notes and saving in Evernote. I also plan to keep a Google spreadsheet of books received, books read, and books to-read, so it will be easier to reference both at home and at work. Finally, I have a separate BFYA-only Goodreads account, mostly to keep track of eligible books to look out for, since I like the visuals and sorting capabilities. No stars or reviews from me on there, though. It’s already been hard not to gush about some of the 2015 books I’m reading!

And don’t forget that all YALSA selection lists take nominations from the public. If you read an awesome YA book in 2015, please nominate it to bring to the attention of the committee.

YA Literature Data Project

Like many librarians, I am a bit of a data enthusiast. Over the last couple years, I’ve noticed a preponderance of articles looking at data surrounding books, especially children’s and YA books. Most of these analyses focus on the representation of traditionally underrepresented groups in media. There have also been numerous individuals tracking things like starred book reviews and best-of lists. Some of these include:

Rather than take one facet of the YA literature landscape and examine it, I thought it would be useful to build an open source of YA book data that tracks multiple criteria that can then be used to perform any number of analyses. As far as I know, there is not a comprehensive source of this kind of information. Several of these analyses have mentioned the lack a clear number of how many YA books are published each year. There are several sources that maintain some form of bibliographic information, though I’m not certain that any are tracking the kind of metadata that would be helpful to those researching trends in YA literature.

Some potential existing sources of data:

Last year I embarked upon a project to track all YA fiction releases. I built an online database using the free Zoho Creator and from January 1 to April 29 I entered information about all new YA releases (the ones I know about at least, more on that later). I intended for this to be a year-long project, but it became overwhelming and difficult to maintain alongside some increasing work and life responsibilities. I also came up against a lot more questions and issues that would need to be dealt with before a project like this could be a viable and useful source for analysis.

What I tracked:

  • Title and author
  • Publisher at the imprint level
  • Publication date
  • Reviews including starred reviews*
  • NY Times and USA Today Bestseller status*
  • Author gender and race/ethnicity
  • Main character(s) gender and race/ethnicity
  • Country originally published in
  • Genre(s)
  • Debut author status
  • Setting (urban/suburban/rural)*
  • Whether the book featured LGBT main character(s) or dealt with LGBT issues
  • Whether the book is stand-alone, first in a series, or a second+ title in a series
  • Which YALSA list the book appears on*

(*these categories were harder to track, so I didn’t actually use these categories for the most part)

These were the major questions that arose for me as I thought about this project and would want to address if continuing a project like this. I’d love any guidance from other librarians, readers, or authors. Realistically, I would also need additional support populating the database, especially for tracking reviews, bestseller lists, and other criteria and would need a plan for longevity and maintenance of the database.

  • What counts as published? No one would quibble with including books from the long list of traditional print publishers starting with the Big 6 (Big 5?) and moving on through the other classic publishing houses like Candlewick, etc. But we are entering a new publishing era and the line between traditional and self-publishing is blurring. So far I am not including books that appear to be self-published. But what about publishers that do exclusively ebooks? I have yet to find a reliable, comprehensive source of newly published books. I have been relying on Edelweiss book catalogs, Goodreads, reviewing sources, especially Kirkus, and the masterposts of monthly YA books from Paperbackd.
  • What counts as YA? For most books, it’s usually pretty clear and indicated by the publisher. If a book indicates ages 8-12, for me that is clearly middle grade. Something like ages 10-14 is a little dicier, but I think that’s still more middle grade. It’s for books that are something like 12 and up or even 10 and up that are a bit more challenging to determine and honestly some of it is just gut feeling. The other side of the age range–New Adult– hasn’t been much of a problem yet, but could become one as the genre becomes more popular.
  • Publication Date: I’ve come across a couple books that have different publication dates in different places, notably book review sources often differ from Goodreads or Amazon. I’m trying to do a month at a time and not get too far ahead since I know pub dates do change. If possible, I try to go with the official publisher info (though publisher sites are often not up-to-date, which alarms me a bit!).
  • Publisher: I’m trying to be accurate with publisher and imprint, but sometimes the inter-connectedness of publishing houses and distributors still baffles me!
  • Author gender and race/ethnicity: Gender is usually easy to come by, especially with Goodreads profiles and author websites. I don’t want to presume anyone’s preferred gender, though, so I’m still treading lightly here. Race/ethnicity is something that most people don’t declare in a bio or public profile, so some of it is presumption based on photos. A few authors of color do explicitly state their ethnic backgrounds in their bios, so I use that as a source. I honestly don’t know how to deal with this issue short of sending out a demographic survey to all YA authors (kidding!)
  • Main character gender and race/ethnicity: Like authors, gender of main characters is usually easy to determine. For better or worse, when a character is transgender or chooses to identify in some other way, this tends to be called out in the book description. There are also a few books that have multiple main characters–I allow for two in my tracking, which accounts for most books, but there are still several books with large casts of characters that cannot be tracked in this way. Race/ethnicity is very rarely explicitly called out in a book summary. Again, it seems to only be mentioned when the character is ‘other’ in some way. For YA books, ‘other’ is non-white. Book covers are not necessarily a source for this, since there have been notable cases of white-washing characters of book covers (see the Book Smugglers post on this topic). Should we assume a default white character if it’s not explicitly called out in the text? Again, this area is highly problematic in many ways. I’m not sure how other analyses of race in literature have handled assigning a race to a main character, but it’s definitely an issue to consider.
  • Debut authors: I think it’s important to track debut authors to see how many new voices we are hearing in literature. But how do we count debut status? First novel ever? First YA novel? Do self-published titles count? What about authors who have published in other countries first, but this is their first American publication? I have allowed for two debut categories–first-time author and first-time YA author–and rely on Goodreads to determine. If they have published short stories in collections, I do not count that as being published. I will likely go with the criteria used with the Morris Award (though even that is not cut and dry as Kelly Jensen has pointed out at Stacked).
  • Tracking reviews: Ideally I would like to track when a book gets reviewed in one of the major reviewing sources, including when it gets a starred review, and eventually, which year-end best-of lists it ends up on. Kirkus puts all of its reviews online, so those are easy to track. I also have access to Booklist Online and they have a great search feature, so I can be sure to track all of those. Horn Book, SLJ, and BCCB put their starred lists online, but not all of their reviews, so I am lacking those. I do have online Horn Book, SLJ, and PW access through a database, but it’s not easy to read or search (text-only, no PDFs). VOYA is even harder to track down. So I do not have comprehensive access to these reviews. This is where more contributors would be super helpful!
  • Genre: I’m trying to keep genre minimal, but useful. My categories may not be as faceted as I would like, but it’s hard to determine when I haven’t read every book. In a limitless world, this would have an extensive tagging inventory to track all kinds of subject matter, but that’s probably beyond the scope of this at the moment.
  • Format: Most books tracked will be standard novels, but I am tracking various formats like short story collections, graphic novels, novels in verse, mixed media, etc.
  • The Non-Fiction question: I have only been including fiction. But what about more novel-like non-fiction? I’m thinking something like Bomb or The Notorious Benedict Arnold. What memoirs or fictionalized accounts of real people?

As you can see it’s very daunting! I’ve also realized how much I really don’t know about database creation and maintenance, and especially about data manipulation and presentation. All of that said, I am still majorly interested in working on something like this. Please let me know if you have any thoughts about continuing some sort of open YA book data project!

ALA Annual 2014 Recap

This year’s ALA Annual Conference was my fourth. I also attended in 2007, 2008, and 2012, but this was my first time attending as an employed librarian. (I actually did my first round of interviews for my current position back at Annual in 2008!)


An early morning to get to the Flamingo hotel for the YALSA Pre-Conference Workshop. There was some disorganization on YALSA’s part — there were not originally enough chairs for participants because they let in people who had not pre-registered. They eventually got it all worked out, but not the best way to start the day. The workshop ended up not really being what I thought it would be (I was expecting a more hands-on workshop related to collaboration and connected learning), but all of the presenters were fantastic and it was an invigorating start to the conference. I wrote up a full recap for the YALSAblog, so check that out for more details related to the content.

To kill a bit of time, I visited the Polaroid store (fun!) and got a Sprinkles cupcake (yum!). Then I met up with a library school classmate to hit the exhibits opening, which was, as usual, a complete madhouse. (And, as usual, I never found the free champagne.) I was very judicious with which ARCs I picked up, but I did get a couple that interested me including Garth Nix’s Clariel.


First thing Saturday morning, I hit up Guerrilla Storytime. This was hands-down the best conference learning experience I’ve ever had. Though I’m solely a teen librarian at the moment, I still hold a torch for children’s services. Kudos to all of the storytime ninjas for coming up with this format and spreading it far and wide over the last year. There were so many great ideas shared and now I want to be a children’s librarian! All of the notes from the weekend are already up on the Storytime Underground site. I would also love to use the format to share ideas for teen services. (Maybe look for a future post on this topic?)

Later in the morning, I also hit up a Reader’s Advisory panel, since I’m on my system’s Reader’s Services committee. Some of my takeaways from this presentation:

  • Reading is not passive, it’s creative. Every reader rewrites a book as they read.
  • The library is not in the business of books, it’s in the business of reading.
  • Libraries should help people find what they like, help them understand why they like it, help them make connections from books to their lives, and help them share
  • In finding materials to enjoy, scarcity is not the problem, there are endless to choose from. It’s picking just one that is hard. That’s where librarians come in.
  • Library should focus on finding specific things for each patron, beyond what’s popular
  • When creating booklists, it’s good to include one or two popular items that people will recognize to validate the other choices on the list.

In the afternoon, we had our first in-person Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers discussion. I’m the administrative assistant for the committee, so I don’t get to discuss titles, but I help keep the meetings running smoothly. It was fun to meet everyone in person and there were some lively discussions about the first half of this year’s nominated titles.

After our meeting concluded, we zoomed over to the Wynn for the Penguin Young Readers cocktail party. We had a special cocktail called “The Librarian” (delicious) and got to hear from several authors, including Jandy Nelson (love), Marie Lu, Katherin Howe, Ally Condie, and Meg Wolitzer. In the evening, I was treated to dinner by Egmont USA with some other librarians and Len Vlahos, author of The Scar Boys.


More authors were in store for Sunday morning at the YA Author Coffee Klatch. This is basically speed dating on steroids, with dozens of tables full of librarians and YA authors rotating around every few minutes to talk. At my table we had Marcus Sedgwick, Paolo Bacigalupi, Matt de la Pena, Mary Pearson, Caragh O’Brien, Ryan Gaudin, Jim Di Bartolo, and Jonathan Maberry. I also hit up the The Future of Library Services for and with Teens session. I didn’t take any notes, but I did do a couple tweets!

In the afternoon, we had our second Quick Picks meeting to discuss the rest of the nominated titles so far. We don’t make the final list until Midwinter, so nothing to report yet. We love field nominations, so if you’ve read anything that might resonate with reluctant readers published between July 2013 and December 2014, please nominate! Then I was so tired from the heat and the walking around, that I lounged around my hotel Sunday night and did some reading.


Back home. Looking forward to Midwinter in Chicago (except for the cold)!

Notes from a First-Time Book Talker

Last week I did my first real-life book talks as part of our summer learning program promotion. I talked to five groups of 6th-grade language arts classes over a full school-day. Most of the periods were two full class groups, so about 60 kids at a time in the school’s library. It was also the last full school day of the year, so I was a little apprehensive about the attention level, but they were great.

How I Prepped

I had about six weeks of lead time between scheduling the talks and the presentation. I had a few books in mind already, then looked for some inspiration from other librarians in my system. We also had a book talk sharing presentation at our spring teen services meeting, so I stole a few ideas from that. The hardest part for me was choosing books that would appeal to 6th graders, since they’re a little in between middle grade and YA. I tried to check out copies of all of the books I was considering, so I could read new titles or refresh myself on titles I had already read. In all, I think I seriously considered about 25 books before finally settling on 17 to share (odd number, I know!).

I first started with a Prezi to show the book covers and summer program information, but ended up using Powerpoint based on how I wanted the presentation to flow and some audio-visual elements I wanted to include. For example, there were a couple animated gifs I wanted to use, but I couldn’t figure out how to get them to show in Prezi. In my Powerpoint, I just put a cover image and title/author information on individual slides. I also used some audiobook clips, so I had to rip some files and clip them down using Audacity before inserting them into the presentation.

I wrote out all of my book talk summaries in Word at first, either writing them on my own or pulling some wording from the book jackets, other publisher blurbs, or the book introductions for non-fiction titles. I also re-wrote the summaries onto individual index cards, both to have to refer to during the presentation and to help with memorization.

The night before, I made sure I had my Powerpoint loaded up on a flash drive, as well as uploaded to my Google Drive. I also brought along some of the non-fiction books with lots of pictures to use as props, a copy of our summer reading log, my note cards, and a bottle of water.

What Worked

The audiobook clips were a hit. Hat tip to Emily for her awesome suggestion of Zombie Baseball Beatdown as an audio for middle schoolers. I also used a bit from Etiquette and Espionage, though that didn’t go over as well with these 6th graders. This also gave my voice a bit of a break!

Using pictures from graphics-heavy non-fiction books and graphic novels was also a nice way to break up the parade of book covers. Both Unusual Creatures and One Big Happy Family were big hits, almost entirely due to the animal pictures. I also found some cool images from some of the book websites, including an animated gif of the exploding wicker chicken from Etiquette and Espionage (they liked this much more than the audio clip that referenced it!)

I incorporated a few audience participation bits. At the beginning I asked for shows of hands for who had library cards and who had visited some of our local branches. In the middle, I asked for the students to volunteer book recommendations to their peers. ‘Recommend a book to a friend’ is one of the activities on our summer activity log, so this was a good tie-in, but it would also work in any context. I asked them for the book title, author (if they remembered it!) and one word to describe the book. Some classes were much more into this than others, but overall it worked well. At the end, I also asked for volunteers to share what book they heard about from me that they were most interested in reading. This was a good on-the-fly way to gauge interest in the books I was promoting. I’m pretty sure at least each book was mentioned once over the course of the day, but the most students expressed interest in Cinder, Steelheart, and Zombie Baseball Beatdown.

All of the books I talked are below!

Program Idea: Escape the Room Game

You are locked in a room with 11 others. The room is filled with mysterious and puzzling objects. Can you put the pieces together to find the key and escape in one hour?

A few weeks ago, I went with some friends to try Puzzle Break in Seattle, a live escape the room game. I can’t give too much away (spoilers!), but you have to work together to solve puzzles of various sorts to find a way out of the room you are in. This was super fun and I can’t wait until they release the new puzzle, so I can go again. There are also variations in other cities, including SCRAP Entertainment, which puts on events in Japan and on the west coast, and Escape the Room NYC. Adventure Rooms Canada even offers it for classroom groups. I also thought it would make a fun teen library program!

It would take quite a bit of planning to set up a cohesive game, but I think the concept would be easily scalable for a group of teens. I think of it as a mix between a murder mystery game — there should be a cohesive theme or story that the puzzles revolve around — a scavenger hunt, and puzzles. It could be set up in a meeting room, or even done in the whole library after-hours.

According to Wikipedia, these are some common escape the room game tropes to possibly include in a real-life scenario:

  • A wastepaper basket in which or under which is a clue
  • The safe holding an important key or clue
  • The dresser or set of cupboards, whose drawers must be individually searched
  • The bookcase, each of whose books might contain a clue
  • The flat surface whose underside might hold a clue—e.g. tables, chairs or benches
  • The two-sided flat object, such as a poster or painting, whose reverse side holds a clue, tool or key
  • The inexplicable object that the player discovers early in the game, which later turns out to be one of many such parts that combine to form an outlandish but necessary device (e.g. rounded prongs that turn out to be the ears of a toy rabbit that completes a set, thus opening a hidden compartment)
  • The rug whose corners flip over to reveal tools or keys or trapdoors
  • The movable box, chair or table, which either reveals a hidden object or allows the player to reach high shelves and ledges
  • The cushion or pillow that must be slashed open with a knife to reveal some important object inside

If you’ve ever played any of the Professor Layton video games, those would be a great source of puzzle ideas that utilize different learning/thinking styles and are appropriate for a teen audience.

If I get around to implementing this idea in my library, I will share how it goes!

My First Four Months as a Teen Services Librarian

I just passed the four-month mark in my first professional library job. I work as a teen services librarian for a large system in Washington state and I split my 30-hour week between two small branches, with a couple shifts a month at a larger branch for reference desk coverage and one shift a month doing outreach visits on our small bookmobile. The biggest learning curve has been learning the system’s policies (and there are many!) and culture. I look forward to continuing learning and developing as a librarian!

What I’ve Been Working On

Programs at Branch 1

My “home” branch has some history of teen programming, though it took a bit of legwork to get info about past events and I have only anecdotal info about attendance. This is a small branch, not really near any schools, so it doesn’t get tons of traffic from teens. On any given afternoon/evening, I might see 5-10 teens in the library using the computers or checking out books. They are often with families, though we do see some independent teens hanging around.

Weekly drop-in gaming program: This is a long-standing program that most branches in the system offer. We don’t have a dedicated teen space in my branches, so for two hours, once a week, I set up our meeting room with video game systems (Wii, XBox360, PS2) and teens can drop in to play. So far, I’ve run this for 10 weeks. Most weeks we have one or two teens stop by, though two weeks we had six. This seems to be in line with how this program went before I took the position, so I’m not sure if this is worth the time investment on my end. I will keep it going for the rest of the school year to possibly build up interest, but will probably re-think gaming programs for next year.

Book club: Oh, I so want to have a thriving book club! I have twice tried to hold a book club without a specific book to discuss (just come talk about any book!), but haven’t had any takers yet. I will try one more time before scrapping this plan. I have some feelers out at the middle school and high school in my service area about doing an after-school or lunchtime club at the school, but those plans might have to wait until the start of the school year due to some scheduling issues.

Craft programs: I am trying out doing once-a-month craft programs. My first attempt was a duct tape program in February, which brought out one very interested teen. I’m doing a BrushBots program for Teen Tech week in March, hoping to get some more takers!

SAT Prep: The system funds free SAT prep classes twice a year, so we are trying them out for the first time at this branch in the spring.

Volunteers: I’d really like to get a few volunteers at Branch 1, so I’ve been working on some materials related to that and will be doing at least one info session at the local high school to drum up some interest.

Programs at Branch 2

This branch is a tricky one! It’s one of the lowest use branches in the system, both by circulation and door count. It’s also on an Indian reservation, though it’s not exclusively for use by tribal members. The tribe has its own state-of-the-art teen center, so it’s difficult to draw teens into the library when they have transportation and friends already at the center. I have had some success with bringing programs there. I did a repeat of the duct tape crafts there and will be bringing a break dance group next month. As with any collaboration, there are some communication and scheduling issues with this as well.

I have had two presenter-led programs at the branch, one poetry related and one a craft program, that were not very successful. One very enthusiastic teen attended the poetry workshop and no one showed up to the craft program.


I am actively working with the school librarians at the local middle and high schools (one each in my service area) to come to the schools to do presentations on databases and get students signed up with library cards. Right now, at the high school, I am lined up to do lunchtime visits related to eBooks and volunteer opportunities, and an after-school session about our free homework help resources. I will likely do some book talking in the late spring to prep for summer reading. I am also working with the other teen librarian in my area to meet with other community groups who work with youth to discuss collaboration. Luckily, the system is very interested in outreach, so we have a lot of time and freedom to leave the library and explore partnerships. This is both the most important and most challenging part of the job!


We have central purchasing, but I am in charge of maintaining the teen collections at the branches. I did a full weeding of both collections when I started, since they hadn’t been looked at in about six months. Now I do a scan about once a week for books in poor condition and a monthly look at specific sections. I can also request new copies of popular titles, so I have a tiny bit of purchasing power! The system is lucky to have a healthy collections budget and a great teen materials selector, so I have yet to come across essential titles that we are missing! The biggest challenge with collections is not having the books you want to recommend to teens right there on the shelf any time you want them, but that’s a problem in all libraries. Some teens are on board with holds, but I’ve found that most want something to read immediately. I definitely need to keep improving my knowledge of less-popular titles to recommend in reader’s advisory.

System-Wide Projects

So far, I’ve gotten involved with my system’s Mock Printz group and am on a team working on developing new RA services for the whole system (across children’s, teen, and adult). I will also be working on an advisory group for a new system-wide teen website to be launched in conjunction with summer reading.

Teen Book Festivals

It seems like I keep hearing about more and more teen book festivals happening around the country. These one- or two-day events usually feature a large roster of YA authors to talk about their books and teen lit in general, sign books, and interact with readers. It looks like most of these festivals are teen-focused and are often organized by librarians and teachers, with assistance from local bookstores. I’m a little envious that there isn’t one near me, so I figured I’d live vicariously by visiting a lot of their sites and rounding up the festivals! Let me know if I’ve left any off the list.

NoVaTEEN Book Festival
Saturday, March 8, 2014
Arlington, VA

Colorado Teen Literature Conference
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Denver, CO

The Greater Houston Teen Book Convention
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Houston, TX

Pasadena Teen Book Fest
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Pasadena, CA

Greater Rochester Teen Book Festival
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Rochester, NY

Round Rock, TX

Austin Teen Book Festival
Austin, TX

Charleston, SC

YAK Fest
Fort Worth, TX

Primarily for Librarians and Educators

YALSA YA Literature Symposium
November 14-16, 2014
Austin, TX

Young Adult Literature Conference
Naperville, IL

Major Book Festivals with a Large YA Component

Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
April 12-13, 2014
Los Angeles, CA

National Book Festival
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Washington, DC

YALSA Blog: What I’d Like to See

There was a bit of hub-bub this month about the news that the YALSAblog was re-booting. First Wendy Stephens, the outgoing blog member manager, posted on her blog that the Editorial Advisory Board had been sent email notices that their terms were ending early. Then the Midwinter Board documents went up last week with item #18 YALSAblog Reboot. The blog is also currently seeking a new member manager, though according to the board doc, there will be an interim manager from now until the position is filled.

I think it’s great that YALSA is re-evaluating the blog, though I wish it had been a bit more transparent to the advisory board and manager than it appears it was handled. As mentioned in the board doc, the blog has been pretty much operating as-is since 2006. A lot has changed in the way YALSA communicates information to members, not to mention the changes in the broader information media landscape. As a YALSA member, here are a few things I would like to see from a new YALSA Blog:

  • Have a clear vision about how the blog fits into the YALSA communication structure. How is it different than the eNews, the other blogs (especially the new YALS blog), the print YALS, the website, listservs, and wikis? The blog should fill an information-sharing gap. I’m sure part of the declining numbers is due to the dispersed and growth of communication from other YALSA sources. Realistically, can the average member keep up with all of these sources? It should be clear what need the blog fills for professionals who have limited reading time.
  • One clear benefit to a blog, as opposed to a print source or even an email, is the ability to link out to other resources. As noted in the board doc, posts are often lacking in links to existing resources. In an ideal world, there would be a central index of all YALSA material, so one could quickly find print articles, blog posts, Wikis, videos, podcasts, etc. on any topic. I have no idea how that would work, but it would be cool!
  • Support the online network of YALSA members. There should be more interaction between the blog and YALSA members who write elsewhere online. An active directory of YALSA member blogs is one possibility, as is a Twitter list. People who already contribute online to their own blogs or to other online sources are a key group upon which to draw for posts.
  • Extend the conversations that are happening elsewhere online. A lot of discussion happens on Twitter and the listservs, but both of these formats are very transient and don’t have a great way to archive material. One idea would be to highlight the best conversations each week, similar to the current Tweets of the week, or to compile resources on particular topics that are discussed in either format. Also make it clear where to go for more discussion, that is, actively point people toward blog posts and comment threads.
  • Provide more coverage of live events, including Midwinter, Annual, PLA, webinars, etc. Assign bloggers to cover different events, whether in-person or compiling Tweets about the event.
  • Experiment more with multimedia, especially video and images from conferences.
  • Get more voices involved with the blog. Invite guest posts from other associations or professionals with intersecting interests. I’m not sure if bloggers need to commit to a certain number of posts, but I wouldn’t make that a requirement. One of the reasons I haven’t pursued contributing is not knowing what I would regularly write about! On that note, a wishlist of posts that need authors might help someone fill a niche.
  • Make the blog more personal. The author’s names are posted, but I would love to be able to click on a name and see more about the author. A profile of the manager and others involved would also be helpful.
  • Support professional development of members with more posts on contributing to the profession (how to submit a conference proposal, how to make a poster, doing research), more reviews of professional resources (and not just library-related books!), developing a personal learning network, etc. Depending on how the new badges work, tie those into professional how-to posts. I would love to see something like “So you want to be a teen librarian?” with resources for those considering entering the field.
  • Feature old content that is still relevant. Services like LinkWithin automatically list related content. Or create nice link buttons in the sidebar for particularly useful series.
  • Reconsider the new design. Can I just say, I really don’t like it?

Those are just a few of my disjointed thoughts about the YALSA Blog. I have no idea if any of these things have already been considered or are completely outside of the realm of feasibility. I have nothing but respect for all of the work the past member managers, advisory boards, bloggers, and YALSA staff have put into the blog up until now. And yes, I’m considering applying for the open Member Manager position and thinking about ways I can contribute to the blog!