Making the List: Behind the Scenes of the Best Books for Young Adults Committee: A Retrospective
Koelling, Holly, Young Adult Library Services
As with all great and complex machines, the Best Books for Young Adults (BBYA) committee needs regular care to run smoothly so that it can successfully complete the job it was designed to perform. Like any machine, it stutters and coughs when a screw comes loose or a wrench falls in the engine. Keen attention to its operations and the quality of its output is required, as is a strong commitment to updating and upgrading the machine to keep it in top working order.
The BBYA committee faces challenges as a committee, as a group of people with different life ways, outlooks, ideas, and practices who are brought together to meet a broad charge and achieve a demanding goal. Through a series of interviews with former BBYA members, publishers, and authors, this article will examine both the hardships that go into creating the BBYA lists as well as the list's achievement.
Common challenges for the BBYA committee include interpersonal challenges, such as poorly performing members or a demographic makeup that's somewhat homogenous, but the single greatest challenge BBYA members face is the volume of books and the time required to read them. "The number of books to consider just grows and grows," Mary Arnold said in an interview. Arnold, the regional teen manager at Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library, noted that this is "a happy problem, but a challenge for the committee to truly read and consider everything available."
Donna McMillen, senior library manager in the King County (Wash.) Library System, said in an interview that she can't imagine how she handled the "tremendous" amount of books. "Looking back, I wonder at how I was able to do it. You end up taking time out from many of your interests for several years."
Indeed, former chair Erin Pierce, teen coordinator at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, admits during an interview to being overwhelmed. "I literally did nothing outside my full-time job but read for a year of my life, and I still felt like I didn't do justice to creating nominations."
There is no doubt the BBYA committee has hills to climb and obstacles to overcome. Is it worth it? Although many might like to see changes to the process and to the lists, no one seems willing to imagine a world without each year's BBYA list in it. The lists are highly appreciated and utilized, as are the library professionals who create them. In the words of Canadian publisher Colleen MacMillan: "A group of dedicated and knowledgeable librarians who have committed their time and energy to reading, evaluating, and creating annual lists of great books for teens and the teen-serving community? Is this real? Pinch me."
Among what is likely a lengthy list of benefits of the BBYA committee's work is a selection of commonly expressed themes. First and foremost, the work of the BBYA committee fosters an awareness of the variety and quality of teen literature published for teens and adults. In the opinions of some librarians, this awareness sets the stage for the Printz Award. Beyond this, the BBYA committee and its lists both set and raise professional standards, promote professional recognition, enhance professional development, provide local and national connections for teens, provide readers' advisory and collection development assistance so that outstanding reading connections with teens can be made, and encourage links with authors and publishers.
Professional Standards, Recognition, and Development
In addition to giving credibility to literature for teens, the BBYA committee sets an example for how professionals and readers at large might evaluate this teen literature to identify, promote, and even encourage works that not only attract and resonate with teen readers, but that are exceptionally well-crafted.
The committee's demonstrated commitment to teens, to literary tools for teens, and to feedback from teens regarding the world of teen literature also sets a standard. …