At the request of a writer colleague, I’m going to write a little about my day-job as a young-adult librarian (among other things), in turn, (hopefully) de-mystifying the librarianish job of ordering books.

Young Adult Literature: It’s a little different in the library stacks

In the book world, the term ‘young-adult’ often references the age group from 12 to 25. It can encompass just about anything — coming of age, death, loss, turmoil, hate, revenge, friendship, love, you name it— with few exceptions. However…

Libraries are a bit more specialized in how they organize. For starters, most libraries have your children’s section (usually broken into picture books and chapter books), your teen section, and your adult section (which covers most things, from soup to nuts). And within those sections there are sub-sections, and sub-sub-sections, and more, all under the jurisdiction of 1+ librarians who are in charge of selection and development of the collection.

You must be this tall –><– to enter…

The first thing that comes to mind when ordering is who am I ordering for? Which means, the answer to this question is going to depend on which librarian you ask. (Meaning, you could ask 40 librarians and get 37.575 different answers.)

At my particular job, the YA section covers the things not covered in the children’s and adult’s sections. Which leaves ages 13/14 to 19, and, like most samples, imagine a bell-curve, with the majority residing somewhere in the middle.

We all love to read books about people like us, therefore, one of the first questions I ask when considering a book is “how old is the protagonist?” If the protagonist is within my age range, I put the book in my “for further consideration” pile. If the protagonist is twelve, I pass the request onto the children’s librarian. Unless….

The devil is in the details

I’m not going to lie. Ordering books for a library collection can be hard. Especially when you have to take into account the tenor of your community.  Some books may see more circulation in certain sections than others. Likewise, the content of some books is more suited to certain areas than others.

The basics? Drug use/addiction, abuse, violence, foul language, and sexual topics written with younger protagonists and for younger readers get thrown in the YA pot. But it’s a sticky subject, and no two people agree on what’s “appropriate.” I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Other nit-pickies…

Sometimes, a book that has all the earmarks of a middle-grade chapter book will end up in the teen section. Factors for this may include:

  • Vocabulary. This may play back into the content argument, or it may just be that the book’s wordage is simply too difficult for any but the very best MG reader to tackle. Hence, it gets shelved in YA, where it will see wider circulation.
  • Requests. Sometimes, a book gets put in YA just because a large number of teens are asking for it.
  • Shelf space. It’s kind of goofy, but I’ve seen audio books (for example) get put in one section for the fact that their *actual* section has less room (or is nonexistent) than the one they got catalogued under.
  • Classification system. Some libraries are now using a “bookstore model” of cataloguing, rather than Dewey decimal. I’m not sure how this would effect YA and children’s literature, but it could potentially change how they’re shelved.
  • Genre. While probably 9 out of 10 books on an order list have romance in some form or another between their pages, that doesn’t guarantee a spot on the YA shelf, even despite the trend. Teen tastes are VAST, and for every handful of teens reading solely in one genre, I can show you twice that who’ll read anything they can get their hands on.

Where librarian meets writer…

What it all boils down to at the end of the day is, we librarians simply put books where we feel they best belong. It is an effort to ensure books get read. (What’s a book that’s never been opened? A doorstop!)

Nothing more, nothing less.


4 thoughts on “young-adult lit: it's different in the stacks

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