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Is It YA or Adult Fiction?

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

Hello, Dr. Laura!

I work at a small PreK-12 school for 100 gifted students. I got to be the librarian since I am a bibliophile/bibliovore — and I love it! HOWEVER, I didn't go to library school — and I need help! The biggest problem is what to do with adult fiction, if I don't know all the content of the books.

95% of our 8000-volume library was donated, so I accept *everything* that is donated and sort them out later. I just got a big stack of trade paperbacks that are Booker Prize winners, Pulitzer winners, National Book Award winners... all GREAT fiction to have in a collection... IF you know what the content is. We mostly don't want anything super sexually explicit... but then there's The Kite Runner... and The Bluest Eye... and Beloved... and and and!!

So: how can I figure out whether or not to put a book into YA or if we should have a "fiction" section that implies it's for adults? (If we CALL it "adult fiction," there'll be no getting the 11- and 12-year-olds out of it, of course.) We intentionally have ONE school library, in sections like Primary Fiction, Middle-Grade Fiction, YA, etc., because these kids are voracious readers and we feel like they should be able to access both fiction and nonfiction books that are considered "too old" for them... though perhaps not in this instance... I think. Help!

Cheers! Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast Librarian

Hi and thank you for reaching out to me. Your school sounds like a very unique population with the full age range of students and all gifted! Interesting!

You are spot-on in needing to identify the books you will put out for student access and that is tied into who the target audience is for your book collection. I would suggest first checking with your school/district to see if they have a policy in place for adding books to your collection. If not, then I recommend getting a committee together that can help you build a collection development policy. That policy will guide what books you make available and what books you pass on to someone else to use. You can Google collection development policy for school library and see some examples.

Librarians will fight for intellectual freedom, but your school or district will need to decide how your collection should be built. This will guide you in selecting items to add to your collection. Once you have that in place, you’ll also need to have a process in place for when books get challenged - when someone questions whether a book should be available to all of your students on your shelves. If you are following the collection development policy your school or district developed, then you will be able to show that when someone challenges a book in your library.

Building a collection is much easier to do with books you purchase yourself (following your collection development plan), but as you mentioned most of your books appear to be donations. It seems like the heart of your question is tied into separating Young Adult (YA) from Adult Fiction. So, let’s look at those differences.

The Protagonist

The age of the main characters is what immediately comes to mind when I think of YA books. In my opinion, YA books tend to have at least one teenage protagonist. Younger teenage protagonists tend to fall into the middle-grade fiction area. Adult fiction will typically feature a protagonist who is at least 20+ years old. But this is where the book’s theme must also be considered.

The Themes

Certain themes often appear in YA books and are told through a teen lens. These themes include friendship, self-discovery, first love, relationships, and coming of age. YA books may include sex, drug abuse, or violence but they will not be as detailed as one might find in an adult fiction title.

Of course, there’s way more to identifying YA vs Adult fiction than that, but this should get you on your way to sorting through your piles of books. Consider having a book sorting party. Do you happen to live in a town that has a university that offers a library or education degree? If so, maybe some of their students could join you for some book sorting in exchange for some volunteer hours or even pizza! I would also consider having some parents join this group so you can have their input as well.

Guide them in helping you select books that meet your collection development policy and those that don’t meet the policy. The volunteers can make a pile of books they know are adult-focused (not a fit) and a pile of ones they know are YA (a fit).

Then they can also start a pile for books they are uncertain about. You can create a free account with some book companies where you can look up a title and see the professional reviews, which often include age appropriateness. And you’ll also be able to see a nice summary of some key information like the interest level as well. This is what is shown when I search for the book Disappeared by Francisco X Stork. It is suggested for grades 7-12.

I hope these simple steps can help you get going in the right direction. You’ve got a

a lot of sorting to do and I hope you find some great volunteers who make this a speedy task.

Dr. Laura

The Librarian Influencer of the Week is Alma D. Salinas, who is from La Joya ISD in Deep South Texas. She currently oversees 46 librarians and their clerks, instructional materials, and the district print shop. Listen to the podcast to learn how she partners with teams like transportation to get books in the hands of her students.

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