Morris Seminar 2014: keep questioning

I was lucky enough to the attended the ALSC sponsored William Morris Seminar nearly two months ago at ALA Midwinter 2014. The William Morris Seminar is a day long  book evaluation bootcamp for newish youth librarians. While Amy and Abby have both already thoughtfully rounded up their Morris experiences, I wanted to focus on the questions I find myself returning with each new read.

  • What type of reader am I today? Am I bringing my best self to this book right now?

As Kirkus editor and writer, Vicky Smith noted in her opening talk, it is essential to know ourselves as readers: what makes us tick or turns us off. This isn’t navel gazing, but rather by keeping in mind how best we read and process helps articulate our reactions to a work with more awareness. For me this can often mean checking in with my “food mood.” I can’t be “hangry” and give a book a fair review. Vicky’s School Library Journal interview is a good outline of her Morris talk.

  • How did this book make me feel?

During the Morris Seminar small group discussions, I was reminded that my gut could be one valid measure of a work’s strengths and weakness. For example, I often listen to audiobooks while folding laundry. If I find myself wanting to iron my socks, than I am hooked on that book. I had very nice socks last year while listening to Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor and Park.

  • Did I really hear what that person said about that book? Or was I too busy thinking of my own retort?

When you feel strongly about a book, it can be hard to contain your emotions.

Merri V. Lindgren , librarian at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin—Madison (CCBC), pointed out that listening is key to a fruitful book discussion. Listening is more than just the content of what another person says, of course. Listening means absorbing how another person describes their thoughts and feelings with their facial expressions and mannerisms. I learned once at a camp safety training that in an emergency situations you should try to rephrase what the person you are talking just said so you are both clear on what is being communicating.  I think it could be a helpful tactic to try in a heated book debate. The CCBC Book Discussion Guidelines, which Merri outlined, offer a host of helpful points on rewarding discussions.

  • How I am best going to remember my thoughts on a book?

I regularly attend Capitol Choices, a kids and teens book discussion group in the DC metro area. These meetings have pushed me to up my note taking game. Right after lunch (see, I’m very food orientated) we were treated to quite the illustrious panel of former and current ALSC Awards committee members. Nina Lindsay’s meticulous Post-It tab note system inspired me to finally bust open my own colorful tabs. Kathy Isaacs’ custom Filemaker Pro database got me thinking of a more high tech way of saving my thoughts.

As you can see, the Morris Seminar gave me heaps to contemplate. Take a moment to read a bit more about ALSC’s continuing education opportunities, like the ALSC National Institute in September, and mark your calendars post haste for the next Morris seminar.


Photo by Graham Bowen-Davies
Photo by Graham Bowen-Davies

Our guest blogger today is Lizzie Nolan. Lizzie  is a Children’s Librarian at the DC Public Libraries. You can follow Lizzie on Twitter at @mslizzyslibrary

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at


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