YA Strike Zone February 2015

Reflections on Dr. Mary K. Chelton’s Retirement

Anthony Bernier

“Oh, they have nothing to say.”

School Library Journal, April 1976

School Library Journal, April 1976

These six words echo down through the decades since VOYA’s co-founder, Mary K. Chelton, heard children’s librarians muttering about the professional contributions of YA librarians in the mid-1970s. Few things motivate like prohibition or dismissiveness.

These six words launched VOYA. Rage at our children-serving colleagues sparked Mary K. (as she is known by nearly everyone), and her partner Dorothy M. Broderick, to dedicate their home and nearly all their personal lives, to filling the gaping hole they recognized in literature for youth-serving professionals. They subsequently filled that gap with what became the single most important professional tool in YA librarianship: VOYA. Our incalculable debt to them cannot likely be repaid.

Dr. Chelton is retiring now after seventeen years of holding up the YA half of the youth services sky through teaching, writing, training, and indeed, defining YA services at the Queens College Graduate School of Library and Information Studies at the historic City University of New York. Prior to Queens College she taught at Emporia State University, Rutgers University (where she served two different stints), and the University of Alabama.

Her list of publications – in academic and practitioner venues – is longer than your arm. This list includes producing series titles (several editions of Excellence in Library Services to Young Adults), co-editing collections to inform practice (VOYA Readers, Bare Bones: Young Adult Services Tips for Public Library Generalists) and numerous resource guides (such as Librarian’s Guide: Young Adult Paperbacks), in addition to many articles for academics and students, such as the classic “The ‘Problem Patron’ Public Libraries Created,” for The Reference Librarian in 2002 – I continue assigning this one in my own classes. This list doesn’t include countless speeches, presentations, workshops, addresses, and consultancies in which she articulated just how much YA people actually do have to say, thank you very much!

Before earning her Ph.D. from Rutgers in 1997, Ms. Mary (as I call her) served in a host of YA-related and dedicated practitioner positions in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, New

Library Journal cover, 1993

Library Journal cover, 1993

York, among several other places, holding a variety of different titles. So, while that old saw about faculty not knowing what happens “in the real world” is ridiculous in general, it would certainly apply to Ms. Mary least of all. Her doctoral dissertation, “Adult-Adolescent Service Encounters: The Library Context,” arguing strenuously that libraries need to respect young adults as entitled library users, remains, unfortunately, as relevant today as when she wrote it.

Over the past several months, it has been my privilege to receive boxes (and boxes!) of the documentary legacy she’s been cleaning out of her office. When I say that Ms. Mary is quite likely the most decorated, recognized, and celebrated YA academic in LIS history, I’ve got the goods to prove it. She’s received every prize and award the field can bestow. If LIS had a Nobel Prize, there’s little doubt she’d have gotten that, too. All of these objective achievements document a career devoted to libraries, reading, and most especially, to young people.

But for my money, we doubly owe Dr. Chelton an everlasting debt for the subjective ways in which she’s so forcefully advocated for and carefully cultivated YA services, both in the field and

in the academy for these many decades. There isn’t likely anyone successful in the field today who has not benefited – directly or indirectly – from her guidance, teaching, writing, counseling, or even cajoling.

She has taught thousands of students how to navigate and thrive in an institution (and among colleagues) who frequently would rather simply just see young adults disappear. She’s mentored countless practitioners and junior faculty alike as they struggled to deliver professional youth service under challenging circumstances. She’s provided service and leadership to the profession and colleagues with generosity, insight, and that oh-so ineluctable humor.


As Ms. Mary retires, she deserves to be acknowledged for, as we say in sports, “having left it all on the field.” She’s given us everything and more. She’s played her position better than anyone. And she’s damn well-earned her rest.
She won’t rest now, of course. Instead of working around students and librarians and university politics, Ms. Mary is ramping-up engagement with her three beloved and prized Vizsla dogs: Dottie, Nugget, and Amber the Queen. She’s quite an animal sympathizer and advocate (that is to say, adult power-abusing hater). She continues to engage her critical faculties by reading and writing about a very long list of military romance novels and indulging an inexplicable crush on Navy Seals. And then there are all her admirers, friends, former students, and colleagues she’ll continue to inspire and with whom she’ll continue to conspire.

She’s not quitting. Rather, like a tree in autumn, she’s just leafing: shedding the daily grind, reaping “canine love” (her term) from her beautiful dogs, and turning with the seasons.

We owe her a great deal. Because of her, we have so much more to say.

Bernier headshotAnthony Bernier teaches at San Jose State’s School of Library and Information Science where he concentrates on research and teaching on the administration of equitable services with young people. A fourteen-year YA specialist librarian and administrator veteran and former chair of YALSA’s New Directions Task Force, he recently edited The Collected Wit and Wisdom of Dorothy M. Broderick, a Festschrift honoring Broderick, VOYA’s cofounder (VOYA Press, 2013). He lives in Oakland (CA) and rides a BMW R1100RT.



  1. Dina Schuldner says:

    Let me be the first former student of Mary K.’s to share my gratitude that her publications, leadership, and teaching helped me find my joy.  In my first year of study, I read all of her publications.  To help me out, she gave me her original articles, emailed me her dissertation, and in one semester I consumed decades worth of YA services material that still informs my day to day operation as a YA librarian.  In her classes, I learned about YA programming and YA literature.  I still make references to those classes.  Even better, I have many professional connections with my fellow classmates, who are similarly inspired by her.  You should know that Dr. Chelton’s classes always filled first. Everybody wanted to be led by the compassionate, intellectual powerhouse that she is.  Plus, we always got a party in the last class!

    Thank you, Mary K., for everything.

  2. Peggy Mechmann says:

    When I was hired two years ago to be the YA librarian at a Westchester Public Library, the first thing I asked for was a subscription to VOYA. I’m only working there two days a week so I take it home and read it whenever I have a chance. My YA book selections come almost exclusively from there. The insightful articles help guide me and inspire me to try new programs. I was fortunate to take two classes from Dr. Chelton (I haven’t graduated yet, so I can’t call her Mary K.) and I loved the first and though I struggled through the dreaded 709, she was always available to help calm my fears and steer me in the right direction. We are all indebted to her for her knowledge, compassion and concern for her students and for YAs everywhere.

    Thank you and enjoy your well deserved time with your canine companions!

  3. S.Shukla says:

    Being one of the students in the last course taught by Dr. Chelton before her retirement, it was a privilege to learn from her. Each and every lecture that Dr. Chelton delivered in her classes was every bit informational and inspiring. Although, not a young adult librarian myself, I learned a lot from her about the overall collection development , evaluation techniques and conducting and evaluating research. The knowledge shared by Dr. Chelton will always stay with all her students and guide them in their professional endeavors. Wish you a happy & healthy retirement Dr. Chelton !!

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