by Cindy Welch
Brooke Shields is a descendant of Louis XIV; Emmett Smith is seven percent Native American; and Matthew Broderick’s ancestor fought at Gettysburg. We learn these things courtesy of a new television show called “Who Do you think You Are?,” which follows the rich and famous as they trace their family trees. For me, one of the most interesting aspects of the show is how each celebrity reacts to revelations about familial connections. It fascinates me that people who are believed to have everything consistently indicate that some dimension of their lives is incomplete and that learning their family history adds something invaluable to their identity. This is what history does; it gives us more of ourselves and we know and understand how we came to be who we are today.
Everything has antecedents, even blogs. In this article you’ll meet one of In the Library with the Lead Pipe’s second cousins, twice removed, an adolescent known as the Young Adult Alternative Newsletter (YAAN), published from 1973-1979. What familial traits does YAAN share with In the Library with the Lead Pipe (or blogs in general)? The essence of blogging – the need to be heard, to connect, to share and communicate – is something that has deep roots. Other characteristics include humble beginnings, a desire to challenge the status quo while inspiring the growth of the field, and the need to make connections with people of shared interests. In the Library with the Lead Pipe’s stated mission, “To explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions,” also works as an elegant summary of YAAN’s purpose, as stated in Volume 1, Number 1:
This is the first in a series of newsletters to get YA librarians in touch with each other, learn what’s going on around the country, and (hopefully!!) be a motivating factor to increase YA services, local and national (PUSH, PUSH, PUSH)—climb on the bandwagon, here goes … (Starr, 1973, p. 1).
YAAN was created, lived, and ceased in the 1970s, before blogs—or even widespread access to or interest in personal computers—existed. The Internet was known as ARPANET and was used by a limited number of military units and higher educational institutions, and the World Wide Web still waited to be born. Professional development for librarians consisted of twice yearly ALA conferences (which people may or may not have had the funds to attend—sound familiar?), perhaps a state or regional conference, professional reading, and for really pressing needs, the telephone or letter, delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
Like its cousin In the Library with the Lead Pipe (Bonfield, 2009), YAAN was born at a conference when a group of young adult librarians at the 1973 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Washington D.C. sat late into the night discussing their work. This conversation was priceless since many of them were isolated in their home libraries by the unique (and mostly unappreciated) nature of their clients (teens), and a professional environment in which “developmental opportunities” were limited to picking through mainstream publications such as School Library Journal and Wilson Library Bulletin for the few articles and stray columns dedicated to work with young adults (YAs). According to author and former YA librarian Patty Campbell, it was a “very lonesome business” working with teenagers in public libraries (P. Campbell, personal communication, May 25, 2009).
Carol Starr, at that time the teen librarian from Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, was so excited by the conference conversations that, upon returning home, she powered up her IBM Selectric typewriter and wrote three pages of single-spaced text about conference news, YA programs, and membership in the Young Adult Services Division (YASD). A few short weeks later, she mailed the first issue of the Young Adult Alternative Newsletter (YAAN) to approximately 300 teen librarians in “any city of any major size whatsoever” (C. Starr, personal communication, January 22, 2005).
Starr’s passion for serving teens and connecting her fellow YA librarians resulted in a publication that was a veritable buffet of YA programs, free materials, success stories, and affirmation. Over the years YAAN’s content evolved from bite-sized news bits to longer feature articles and guest editorials. Every issue included reports of or ideas for programming, updates on YASD (which would later become YALSA) division news, recommended professional resources, and free materials that could be sent for or shared between readers. In contrast to most youth publications of the time, there was evidence of Starr’s decidedly feminist political leanings – and the occasional curse word. According to Mary K. Chelton, noted YA services expert,
Top of the News and School Library Journal and everything—they simply weren’t specific enough and personal enough. There was an idiosyncrasy to YAAN that gave it a personality all its own. You didn’t have to write in a box, there wasn’t a style manual necessarily, and as long as you weren’t screaming obscenities you could say anything you pleased … you felt like you were talking over the back fence to people (M.K. Chelton, personal communication, June 4, 2009).
That openness and inclusiveness, much like blogs, was pronounced and deliberate. Starr wanted to mirror the radical practitioner approach to YA services. “Rather than go through ALA and have it run by people in their 40s, entrenched in their ways, we wanted to have more control … we could publish it ourselves and we owned it” (C. Starr, personal communication, January 22, 2005). Like blogs, which build on the interaction between the creators and readers, original material came from library front lines, energizing and affirming practitioners who discovered they had valuable information to share. YAAN served as a catalyst for creating a large, reflective community of practice, and much of the material in YAAN is an exchange of “here’s how I did it, how did you do it” correspondence. Many contributors were leaders—or later became leaders—in the field. Julia Losinski, Dorothy Broderick, Regina Minudri, Mary K. Chelton, and Patty Campbell, all winners of the distinguished Scholastic Library Publishing Award (formerly the Grolier Award) for outstanding contributions to work with children and young adults, all were contributors to YAAN.
YAAN had approximately a thousand subscribers across the United States and Canada and Chelton declared that, “until [Starr] started the Young Adult Alternative Newsletter, I never realized what a national community of practitioners would mean intellectually or politically … [she created] a vehicle for an entire generation of YA librarians to communicate with each other” (Chelton, 2007, p. 32).
Starr produced YAAN with a little help from her friends. She typed and mailed the first three issues herself from Wisconsin, but when she moved to a new YA position with Alameda County Public Library in California, she was able to get a bit of institutional support. Starr paid her secretary, Marilyn Mansouria, to type the newsletter and, while she was at it, Mansouria added embellishments and dividers that made YAAN at once more decorative but also easier to read. Supervisor Regina Minudri allowed Starr to use library facilities to print it; Don Nunes and Carol Yuen were briefly credited with help on design and production; and Mike Smith, a family friend, was given credit for original artwork. Other artwork came from Forest Grove (California) nursery and elementary schools. Paper, printing, and postage costs for YAAN were also offset by subscriber fees, which were $3.00 per year in 1973 and rose to $5.00 ($6.00 if billed) by 1979, but YAAN was mostly a labor of love. Any extra money generated by YAAN subscriptions was used, according to Starr, to help other fledgling newsletters such as Inside/Outside, and Women Library Workers, which became Starr’s next project. She remained YAAN’s sole “employee.”
In the same way that blogs reflect the immediacy of the times in which we live, YAAN was very much a publication of its time. The 1970s were a dynamic and dramatic period in the development of young adult services in public libraries. Federal funding initiatives from the 1960s created opportunities for new buildings and collections, and the social upheaval that continued into the 1970s encouraged libraries to expand or create new services—among them more specific services and collections for teens. This funding and increased social awareness coincided with the first young adult literature “golden age,” when books such as A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich (Childress, 1973), The Chocolate War (Cormier, 1974), and Forever (Blume, 1975) made their appearance. There was strong motivation to be socially conscious and public libraries, ever rooted in their communities and society at large, developed outreach services and collections that reflected a broader spectrum of the general population.
Experimentation and reform was particularly welcome among young adult librarians, whose client group was actively pushing for change. According to Patty Campbell, teen librarians “were in sync with what was happening that decade. We were ‘with it,’ and we were looking at the kids to find that out” (P. Campbell, personal communication, May 25, 2009). Miriam Braverman, in her 1979 book, Youth, Society and the Public Library, indicated that YA librarians became “sensitive to the culture and concerns of youth, broke through the constraints of the ‘conventional wisdom’ in young adult work, and developed exciting and original programs and services” (p. ix).
YA librarians scandalized fellow staff members by collecting films such as About Sex and Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer, (Starr, 1975, p. 4) and circulating educational comic books about sexually transmitted diseases. Innovative programming from across the country included opportunities for teens to make films, discuss rock music, and learn about health issues (VD, acne, diet) and drug abuse. When I interviewed former YA librarian and noted booktalking expert Joni Bodart, she recalled conflict at her California library over water “couches”—they weren’t allowed to call them water ”beds” – in the teen rooms. As blogs have had to do, YA librarians also had to earn credibility while they celebrated their divergence from the mainstream. Bodart crowed,
We started in the 60s, and in the 70s we were all outrageous and it was hard to convince average librarians that we were worth something … We were very proud of the fact that we were unconventional, that we were different, free (J. Bodart, personal communication, May 25, 2009).
Mary K. Chelton noted that
[t]hose of us who had not come out of children’s services … were desperate to free ourselves of the sort of hidebound excessive deference kind of crap you got in children’s … [they] wouldn’t know a real kid if they fell over them. They loved children’s literature and that was it, and it drove us crazy. No matter what we did we were always seen as irreverent non-deferential outcasts (M.K, Chelton, personal communication, June 4, 2009).
YAAN’s publication was greeted with a swift and affirmative response. Editor Starr noted that the first issue generated an additional 300 names for her mailing list. San Diego YA librarian Nathalie Gushikuma gushed, “Isn’t it nice someone knows I exist?” She appreciated YAAN’s informal appearance and liked that “others have the same questions I do about YA work and are trying to get answers that we can all see” (Gushikuma, 1973, p. 7).
Its message was heralded by reviews and recommendations in professional journals, both alternative and mainstream. In the 1976 joint issue of Booklegger Magazine and Emergency Librarian that focused on library education, Carole Leita listed YAAN among titles of the “library free press … a network of free-speaking library periodicals which you can use to keep in touch with reality—and hope.” Readers were encouraged to “take a walk on the wild side” (Leita, 1976, 24). Emergency Librarian, in another issue that same year, called YAAN “irresistible to those struggling in an attempt to serve YAs” (“Small Mags,” 1976, p. 24). Wilson Library Bulletin, a mainstream journal, called YAAN a “lively alternative … [a] peppy informative newsletter … written in good socko style” (“Librarians Monthly,” 1974, p. 356).
Even Top of the News, the official journal of the Young Adult Services Division of ALA, whose job it was to publicize and support youth services, indicated that YAAN had
already done more to generate ideas and reinvigorate the mutual supportiveness which has always characterized the YA field. It has also raised the expectations of many librarians who have felt the need for the newsletter on YA services, and who now hope that YAAN will not only continue to meet this need, but that it will also expand and become a forum for the debate of issues as well (Varlejs, 1974, p. 437).
YAAN continued to inspire a new generation of YA librarians throughout its seven-year run. Mary K. Chelton used it as a resource in her YA service classes at Rutgers, and as a model for an internal newsletter in her day job with the Westchester County (New York) library system. YASD included YAAN in a 1976 packet of basic materials it marketed as the YASD Survival Kit. Professor Larry Amey, who along with his students created the Canadian publication, Young Adult Hot Line, declared that
The Young Adult Alternative Newsletter (YAAN) pointed the way toward a new model for youth service … the yellow-colored, long-format newsletter was packed with descriptions of exemplary and original YA programs, tips for practicing librarians, and avant-garde advocacy for teens. YAAN was outspoken, hard-hitting, and committed. It was practically the only publication available in the field at the time, and it was eagerly read by subscribers across North America. YAAN provided the model for the newsletter I created … (Amey, 2002, p. x).
YAAN was arguably one of the most important professional education tools in a young adult librarian’s arsenal. Diane Tuccillo calls YAAN a predecessor to modern blogs and Web sites, saying it was “one of the earliest forms of networking … a real foundation for what we ended up with now” (D. Tuccillo, personal communication, May 22, 2009). Its content was fresh and contemporary, timely and specific for a particular audience. Like today’s blogs, it was able to target a particular user group and successfully engage and motivate that group. In fact, one 1978 article identified YAAN readers as “the vanguard in young adult services” (Kingsbury, 1978, p. 22). According to Joni Bodart, “YAAN was ‘us’; all the others were ‘them’ … If something came up in YAAN, somebody was speaking the ‘real’ truth, he or she ‘knew where it was at’” (J. Bodart, personal communication, May 25, 2009).
YAAN ceased publication on November 15, 1979, primarily because of a change in the editor’s interests. While Starr was doing YAAN, she also co-edited the Women Library Workers Newsletter with Carol Leita, and as we sometimes see in the blogosphere, she left her first ‘child’ – “with some sad feelings and a sense of needing a ‘new challenge’” (Starr, 1979, p. 1) – to focus on expanding her second. Another factor in her decision was her commitment to battling Proposition 13, which dealt a major blow to libraries in California in 1978. (For a quick snapshot of the effects of this tax law on libraries, check the California State Library’s assessment, done in 1979, which appears as an ERIC opinion paper.) Starr, who had moved from YA services to directing her own library, felt that
from all of my young adult work, things that I’d been preaching about to my young adult librarians about going out and getting involved in the community … it was like, well, here was a different local thing and I needed to work on that (Starr, personal communication, January 22, 2005).
She didn’t desert YA librarians, instead directing them to Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), created by Dorothy Broderick and Mary K. Chelton in 1978, noting that its appearance meant “the YA librarian will continue to have a publication devoted solely to YA needs” (Starr, 1979, p.1).
Teen librarians practicing today are largely unaware of YAAN, in spite of the fact that much of the model of programming and services practiced today finds its roots in the 1960s and 1970s, and its energy in the pages of this publication. Part of the issue is that YAAN is difficult to find. According to WorldCat there are about twenty libraries in the world that admit having copies of YAAN, some of them probably only partial runs. I came across it in 2004 and was fortunate enough to interview Carol Starr in 2005. Out of the kindness of her heart she sent me the first five issues and I was hooked. There is some scholarly interest in it, so hopefully it will find its way into the digital world, where everyone can experience, in 1970s parlance, the ‘real thing.’ Starr, herself, is alive and well and still living in California, having retired from library work in 2007.
As in the case of Shields, Smith, and Broderick, we may not know what is missing until it is shown to us. That’s my hope: that by exploring the history of the development of teen services in public libraries, and writing about it for all sorts of audiences, I can add value to the good work being done today. I also hope that by making connections between the past and present —as in the case of YAAN and its newer shinier cousin In the Library with the Lead Pipe—I’m helping to keep the history alive, demonstrating its relevance to today, and inspiring future generations of librarians to be the next history we write.
This essay contains content previously published as “Dare to Disturb the Universe: Pushing YA Books and Library Services—with a Mimeograph Machine,” in the Winter 2010 Issue of The ALAN Review, and is reused with permission of NCTE, the publisher of The ALAN Review. Thanks to my on-site reviewer, Dr. Rachel Fleming-May, Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee School of Information Sciences, and to Brett Bonfield for his initial interest and insightful reading of a draft of this article.
Amey, L. (2002). Foreword, Hot, hotter, hottest: The best of the YA Hotline reprint V. Howard (Ed.). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.
Bonfield, B. (2009). So you want to write about libraries. [Weblog entry.] In the Library with the Lead Pipe. December 2, 2009. (www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2009/so-you-want-to-write-about-libraries/) Accessed April 4, 2010.
Braverman, M. (1979). Youth, society, and the public library. Chicago: American Library Association.
Blume, J. (1975). Forever. New York: Bradbury Press.
Chelton, M. K. (2007). Remembering YALSA: The view of “The oldest living YA librarian.” Young Adult Library Services 6(1), Fall 2007, 32-4.
Childress, A. (1973). A hero ain’t nothin but a sandwich. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan. 1973.
Cormier, R. (1974). The chocolate war. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Gushikuma, N. (1973). Letter to the editor, Young Adult Alternative Newsletter, April 1, 1973, 7.
Kingsbury, M. E. (1978). Those who do … & those who teach. School Library Journal, 25(3), November 1978, 22-5.
Leita, C. (1976). Liberated fronts. Booklegger Magazine 3(13), January/February 1976, and Emergency Librarian, 3(3), January/February 1976, 24-5. (Joint publication)
Small Mags. (1976). [Column] Emergency Librarian 4(2), November/December 1976, 24.
Starr, C. (1973). Young Adult Alterative Newsletter 1(1). 1973: 1.
Starr, C. (1975). Selected films for young adults 1975. Young Adult Alternative Newsletter 3(2), March 15, 1975: 4.
Starr, C. (1979). Young Adult Alternative Newsletter 7(4). 1979: 1.
Varlejs, J. (1974). Young Adult Alternative Newsletter. Top of the News 30(4), June 1974, 436-7.
Young Adult Services Division. (1977). Directions for Library Service to Young Adults. Chicago: American Library Association, 1977.