Blogger Ernie Cox

Bill Morris Seminar – a participant’s view

I attended the first Bill Morris Seminar on Book Evaluation organized by ALSC during ALA midwinter in Philadelphia. Background information about the Seminar was provided by KT Horning in a previous post. As a relatively new member of ALSC, this was a career defining moment. I joined 25 other children’s librarians from across the country to learn about book evaluation and service on ALSC awards committees. Our facilitators were some of the most experienced children’s librarians in our association. Almost two months have passed since the seminar and I continue to think about and benefit from the experience. Here’s how:

Expanding my professional network – Being the only librarian in a K-8 school serving approximately 500 students, I quickly realized the benefit of using ALSC-L and other professional list servs to communicate with fellow librarians. The Seminar expanded my professional network to include other relatively new librarians as well as our expert facilitators. Spending an entire day discussing books and getting to know other participants and facilitators provided a depth of familiarity not easily possible on list servs alone. I am staying in touch with my seminar cohort through email, phone calls, and social networking tools like Good Reads. And of course I look forward to seeing them again in person at future ALA annual and midwinter meetings.

Getting to know ALSC – Some of our day was spent learning more about the inner workings of ALSC. Our association has a tremendous staff at the ALA offices and we were able to put faces with the names. We learned about the structure of the awards committees and how people come to serve on these committees – some through appointments by the ASLC president, others through elections by the membership. This combination of elected and appointed positions for the Caldecott and Newbery awards is a way to provide a balanced and informed representation on the committees. Participants also heard from a panel of members who had previously served on the ALSC awards committees. These first hand accounts helped me to better understand and appreciate the enormous amount of time and energy required of anyone serving on these committees – we need to thank people for their service! Emphasis was placed on the central role of the book award criteria in selecting each year’s winners. Amid all of the debates about this year’s winners, I feel more anchored – keeping my focus on the process and the criteria for these awards and not random opinions. For example, initially the announcement of The Invention of Hugo Cabret as the 2008 Caldecott winner seemed to go against the nature of the award. I referred to the criteria and it clearly lives up to the guide provided to the committee.

It’s about the Books (and the discussion): Preceding the seminar, participants read (and re-read) a list of books selected by the facilitators. A portion of our seminar day was spent considering ways to be good committee members and how to take part in group literature discussions. Using KT Horning’s From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books, participants broke up into smaller groups to discuss the readings. The training I received has helped me to look more comprehensively at books. It also gave me a renewed appreciation for the central role of talking with others (both inside and outside our profession) about books. Upon the advice of one facilitator, I have begun meeting with one of our school art teachers to look at picture books. These meetings have already given me a depth of understanding about artistic technique that I lacked before. Our seminar discussions were lively and invigorating. The varied perspectives of group members pointed out elements of the books that I had missed – together we formed a group appreciation and opinion of the books. This is the goal of any book award committee – consensus.

I never had an opportunity to meet Bill Morris, but now I understand the important role he played in ALSC. His enthusiasm for youth literature influenced many of the seminar facilitators. Future Morris seminars will continue his legacy of connecting librarians with one another and the great wealth of materials published for children. Be on the lookout for calls to participate in these seminars and seriously consider applying.

–posted by Ernie Cox

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