This post was written by Jenny Bloom, Interim Teen Services Librarian at the Bainbridge Island location.
YA (Young Adult) literature is a big field in the publishing world: Over four billion dollars in sales for 2015 with several national organizations dedicated to connecting books to young adult readers. It’s BIG.
As a new librarian filling-in for our amazing Teen Librarian, Stefanie, at our Bainbridge Island Library branch, I am reading and listening to as many YA books as I possibly can. Each time a Patron or Parent asks for suggestions I get excited to discuss something I just read. There are lots to recommend, lots to love.
Some days, as I scan the stacks, I feel like I am facing a wall of stories about privileged young women in tumultuous traditional relationships. Some of these are terrific and exactly what patrons are looking for; But what about someone who isn’t THAT reader?
The subject of inclusion and representing diversity is important. As Librarians, we ask questions which lie at the core of our mission and values when we make selection decisions. Do we create collections in which every patron can find himself represented? Can we find great books for all the subjects our Patrons seek? In spreading ourselves broadly, do we take resources away from our largest main-stream patrons’ needs?
From where I stand, trying to get a handle on what is out there in YA, the sea of books is big, if not deep. Great writers are writing about a variety of characters and subjects both traditional and progressive: Racially diverse, gender and sexual-bias-inclusive, and politically diverse representations are here on our shelves. I won’t argue that the publishing world is diverse; a 2015 study found that 80% of the people who work in the publishing field, including authors and editors, self-identify as white. If you believe the publishing world should reflect the nation’s societal diversity in order to best reflect our diverse ideas and lives, we have a lot of work to do. According to the 2015 census report, more than half of Children in the U.S. under 18 will be part of a minority ethnic or racial group by 2020. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center reported that the number of children’s books published in 2015 by African-American, Asian-American, Native/First Nations, and Latino book creators is 20% of the children’s books published: And that was a leap of 10% growth from 1994.
As a YA Librarian, my greatest satisfaction comes when a reader connects with a book, and new pathways to learning and understanding form. I love to see it on their faces as they tell me what has inspired them: The odds of that happening increase when I have a diverse collection to draw from. It is not strictly about connecting a kid to a character who looks like them, but about a reader finding connections to a character’s voice. More diverse voices = more possible connections for a diversity of patrons. A win!
Today, scanning our shelves, I see authors who are offering me windows on experiences different than my own and voices which help me understand myself better. From M.K. Asante’s Buck: A Memoir, to Steve Sheinkin’s Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights, to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park, to Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, I am finding so much to love in YA.