This isn’t usually a topic I’d talk about on STACKED — I’d take it over to my library-related blog — but this is such an important issue and one that impacts anyone who loves and advocates for ya books, so I’m going to talk about it here.
You know I am fired up this year about making sure books I care about are nominated for any of YALSA’s award and selection lists. And you know I’ve talked about how anyone can nominate books they think are worthy of consideration for those award and selection lists. That’s a huge deal and something not many people knew about. I think I’ve beat this horse pretty well.
Wednesday night, I went to go look at a book list on YALSA’s site and came across something that bothered me (click to enlarge):
What was once an open and freely accessible resource of YALSA book award and book list information was suddenly requiring me to log in to my YALSA account to access. I clicked around for quite a while without logging into my account and realized that not only could I not see any of the award or selection lists without signing in, but I couldn’t even see what the award or book lists were without logging in. That means, I had no idea how many awards there were, what they were called, what the criteria were for books to be considered for any of the lists, nor anything else related to any of YALSA’s award or book lists. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, accessible about the award nor book lists without logging into my account.
Part of my professional responsibility as a librarian, at least in my head, is belonging to my professional association. It’s very pricey, especially since I pay for the membership on my own and don’t have an organization that pays it for me. To be a member of YALSA, you must also be a member of ALA — you can’t just be a member of YALSA. Yearly membership into ALA for me costs $100, and my membership into YALSA costs $50 (I’m also a member of PLA and ALSC, which are also additional costs). I think it’s a steep price to pay each year, but it’s one I make. Paying means I’m a member and I help support the creation and development of these award and selection lists, among a host of other things. It gives me the ability to have a say in the organization, as well. It’s $150 I spend because it supports many things I am passionate about and allows me to have a say in many of these arenas.
When I hit the fire walled screen on Wednesday night and found out I needed to log in to my account to access, I was at first confused. Why would my professional organization hide information about one of the biggest things they do? Why would they require me to log in to see something that’s always been openly accessible and available? I passed along the link to a non-member to see whether it was just me, and I came to find out that no, it wasn’t just me.
No one could access these lists from YALSA’s site without logging into an account of some sort.
For me, this means another couple of clicks on the screen to log in to my account. It’s not the biggest deal in the world on a practical level. And non-YALSA members can also access the lists and information about the awards by filling out a short form that asks for a name, email address, and what products or services they might be interested in from YALSA. It also opts them into being signed up for YALSA email.
Let’s step back a second here. To access even information about what awards or selection lists YALSA makes each year, you have to log into either your YALSA account or provide your personal information to the organization and be opted in to an email list. No longer can you access these freely from the YALSA site without information being collected about you. No longer can you hop onto YALSA’s site to look at what books were Alex Award winners last year. No longer can you look at the criteria for Printz Award books. No longer do you even know how many award or selection lists there are without logging into some kind of account. No longer can you nominate a book for a list without breaking through the fire wall.
I’m disturbed by this because it chokes access to information. More than that, though, I’m bothered that nothing was said about this change in access. Librarians strive to prove access to information and our goal is always to make it as painless as possible. But here, YALSA, the biggest professional organization for young adult library services, has put up a barrier to information about the biggest honors they bestow upon ya literature each year.
And they did it without telling anyone.
After a little investigation, it was discovered that there was a Board of Directors document discussing a potential change in access to information about these award and selection lists. The document suggests that there should be a change in access so that due-paying YALSA members can access privileged information. More specifically, annotated lists would be put behind a fire wall and made members only, but general information about the award and selection lists, as well as the non-annotated lists, would still be freely accessible for anyone. This change makes sense to me — as someone who pays the dues, getting the benefit of an annotated list, one that not everyone can access, seems fair. It’s a small perk for paying the money each year to keep the organization going.
However, that is not what happened. Rather than hide simply the annotated lists behind a log in screen, YALSA has hidden everything behind a log in screen, and this change in policy was never discussed. It is not in any Board document, it was not discussed with membership, it was not put to vote, and it was certainly not shared on their website nor in any of their communications. This was a decision made behind closed doors somewhere.
Accessing any information about book award and selection lists is now a privilege.
For me, this means another couple of clicks on the screen to log in to my account. It’s not a big deal, but it’s an extra step in accessing information I need. And people who aren’t members of YALSA can still access the lists by filling out a small form on the website. The problem is, YALSA’s now collecting your information and it’s now forcing you into their email list. This isn’t an opt-out situation but an opt-in. You can’t choose not to be forced into their mailing list.
Think about it this way: say you’re a library patron whose library has always allowed anyone to use the computers in the building. You don’t need to log into them with a library card, since you can just use one if it’s open. One day, though, there’s a change in the policy. It’s not written down anywhere but you find out when you go sit at a computer and discover you need some kind of ID number and password to sign in. You’re a little frustrated because no one told you there was a change, but you go to the librarian and sign up for a library card to get your log in information. Not a huge deal, but an extra step in the process.
Except in this scenario — with the YALSA list access — you aren’t even allowed in the building without some sort of ID. You aren’t even allowed to see what the library can offer you because you have to have the log in information before you walk inside.
I’m deeply bothered by this change in access to information by YALSA, and I am frustrated that as a member, I wasn’t told about this change. When YALSA was asked about this, their response was that the choking of access to all of this information was a technical glitch and that the Board’s decision about what information would be privileged would be the information fire walled when the glitch was solved.
But in my mind, besides sounding like a really bad excuse, the damage has already been done.
If we’re advocating for books and reading, if we’re advocating for the best of the best, and if the goal in having these awards and selection lists is to provide information, then there is no excuse for cutting it all out of public reach. Yes, I believe there is value in member’s only content — especially for something like annotated lists — but there is no value in blocking off everything about these award lists. What is the value in not letting anyone even see what the award and selection lists ARE? It’s locking out not only information, but valuable promotional opportunities. It puts barriers up to advocacy. Everything I told you about nominating books for awards because it’s important still stands, but now there are extra steps involved in making those nominations. How many people will go through the extra hassle? I know I wouldn’t.
Whether or not you are a YALSA member, you should have access to at least the basic information about these awards. That’s one of the reasons you’d consider joining the organization in the first place — you want to know what your money will be supporting. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the reason YALSA took these steps was so it could collect information about non-member behavior in hopes of growing their membership. And it makes sense. There’s money to be made through growing membership, but this is not the way to achieve it. In fact, by developing this fire wall and not telling anyone about it, YALSA’s pushing people away. It’s making it an exclusive club.
Fortunately, there are workarounds to this situation that allow you access to the information without logging in or creating an account with YALSA. The first? Google the lists. You’d have to know what lists you’re looking for, but a Google search of “YALSA Alex Awards” will take you to the information without forcing you to log in.
Now I don’t know about you, but it seems backwards that you should be able to access information available on YALSA’s site without restriction by going through Google, rather than YALSA, but I digress. You can do it this way.
The second means of accessing this information is by asking someone who is a YALSA member to log in and share the link to the list with you. I guess if you’re given a link from a logged in member, you can go directly to it. Again, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but it works.
What this long post is about is this: YALSA screwed up big time, and they didn’t bother telling any of us about it. Instead, we’re finding out when we’re being locked out of information that’s always been freely available. Information that’s always been freely available and accessible. We’re being forced to share our information with YALSA. We’re being forced to figure out workarounds so we can access and share this information with others.
We’re being pushed away from advocating and promoting these awards, these selection lists, and we’re being pushed away from spreading the information about why these things are important.
The organization which supports freedom of information and spreading of knowledge is breaking down those very ideas.
This is not okay.
Edited to add this: Liz has also blogged on the topic, and her post is worth thinking about as well.
Later edited to add that YALSA has responded to this issue. For the record, I do not equate collecting email addresses to access this information as any sort of nod toward value but rather a nod toward needing to access the information. I’m a little disappointed this wasn’t addressed with the membership nor was it in any Board documents, but there it is.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).