Thursday, April 2, 2015

YA Shaming: the lack of YA representation at my university

Okay, I'll admit the title may be a little overdramatic, but that's the in thing to do now, right?

I've been a student at the University of North Carolina for nearly two years and am graduating in May. Despite this, I haven't spent much time in the campus bookstore. If you're wondering why, it's because my campus bookstore really does not cater to my preferences.

There's something to be said about the ambiance of a university library or bookstore - perhaps universities in general. When I first arrived here I was enrolled in the English program. After my first two days in English classes here, I knew I'd have to shift gears. I realized very quickly that I didn't fit into the pretentious atmosphere surrounding the program. That isn't to say that all English programs are overbearingly pretentious. My last school's English department was amazing! People didn't take themselves too seriously and professors made discussions fun. In any case, the UNC English Department wasn't for me.

I say all that to point to the flaw (as I see it) of the campus bookstore. Here is a photo from the front of the store:

As you can probably tell if you can make out some of the recommended books on display, they're mostly scholarly titles and literature. Okay, fair enough. We're at a university. But this is a bookstore that caters to the community, so there must be more to it, right? This isn't a research library, after all. Moving through the bookstore you'll find new releases, popular fiction, local fiction. humor, and all categories of non-fiction. I did find one YA title on one of the recommended shelves - The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan. Victory!! But there's a blatant imbalance here...

The photo above is a partial view of the store from the back. As you can see, there are many bookcases, each six shelves high, packed with books. Like I said, these books are a range of topics from literature to philosophy. And here is the combination Children & YA section:

It's blatantly obvious that the YA population is hugely unrepresented. There are five bookcases, each five shelves high, with YA books including non-fiction. It's also hidden in the back corner of the bookstore. I have never seen anyone browsing this section of the store and I have a pretty good idea as to why.

The majority of undergraduate students at UNC are between the ages of 18-22, most coming straight out of high school. This is obviously based on experience and not statistics. In any case, after the last year of book blogging, I feel like I can make an educated guess that many of the readers in this age group enjoy YA because many of my fellow bloggers fall into this category. So why aren't the students of UNC buying YA titles?

In such a pretentious school where students pretend to know all of Shakespeare and Poe, I believe students are embarrassed to admit they enjoy YA - and I know that many of them do. I'll admit to leaving book jackets at home so people can't immediately tell that I'm reading YA. There are no YA book clubs among the university students that I have been able to find, but there are literature clubs. The YA section in the libraries here seems to be non-existent too, or at least I have't found it yet.

I would guess that if you were to follow the reading population of UNC, you'd find that they make purchases at other bookstores or online, but I find it extremely hard to believe that no one on UNC's campus reads Young Adult Fiction.

My question is why YA is treated like a dirty genre (or category). Does it matter what people are reading as long as they're reading? Why aren't these books directly next to the Fiction section like they are in Barnes and Noble?

I've only recently come to terms with the fact that YA is my niche. I enjoy it immensely and that's not something I even knew about myself before coming to the blogosphere. I've always felt a little embarrassed by browsing the YA section at a bookstore or library. I feel like I'm calling for a revival or something (haha!) but I wish it was more socially acceptable for "adults" to read YA, especially in the university setting.

I'm going to start rambling if I say much more, so I'll leave it open for discussion. What do you think about this? Do you think it's a problem? Or is it just the way things have to be at a university?