As many of us begin to gather in Las Vegas for this year’s ALA Annual Conference, the excitement is building for the big event on Sunday evening, the Newbery-Caldecott Banquet, when we’ll celebrate the medal- and honor-winning book creators of two of the most prestigious awards in the world. This year there is a bit more buzz than usual as folks read and respond to this week’s editorial in Horn Book which expresses some concerns about a months-old revision to ALSC’s “Policy for Service on Award Committees”. As a member of the ALSC Board of Directors and chair of the Task Force that developed the recommendations that were subsequently adopted unanimously by the entire Board last January, I’m happy to provide some background about the updates.
This Policy, which applies to those ALSC members serving on the selection committees of the book and media awards administered solely by ALSC (including the Caldecott, Geisel, Newbery, and Sibert, among others), has existed for a long time with the purpose of supporting members in fulfilling the responsibilities that come with the honor of accepting the opportunity to volunteer on one of these committees. These include guidelines on issues ranging from the importance of attending the committee meetings to the fact that it wouldn’t be fair for an author or a publisher of an eligible book (or their close family members) to serve on a committee that could possibly consider their own book for a medal.
They also include guidelines regarding the confidentiality of the award process. This is an area in which the ALSC leadership and staff receive many, many questions every year from committee members who are anxious to respect the privacy of fellow committee members and creators of eligible titles. Those aspects of the guidelines, as they stood through last year, were causing more confusion than clarity, in large part because they were written before the full advent of social media and therefore couldn’t entirely take into account the increased number of forums which exist today where books and media are publicly and electronically discussed.
To address that, last year the ALSC Board appointed a Task Force which I chaired and which included members with backgrounds in blogging, reviewing, marketing for a major publisher, serving on many different award committees, chairing the Newbery committee, and consulting for chairs of award selection committees. Our objective was “To review and update the ALSC Policy for Service on Award Committees document with further clarification in regard to the confidentiality and conflict of interest guidelines as they pertain to bloggers and others engaged in social media activities while serving on an ALSC Award Committee” and to provide those recommendations to the ALSC Board for their action on them.
Task #1 was to determine if maintaining the integrity and confidentiality of the awards and the award process, as mentioned above, even still mattered in this day and age. After all, some media awards encourage open, public discussion (such as ALSC’s Notable Lists) and some present short lists of nominees (like the Academy Awards). Following conscientious discussion, consideration, and consultation with many stakeholders over many months, it became clear that confidentiality remains key to the success of these particular awards which are so important to ALSC members, the publishing industry, and kids around the world.
In today’s electronic environment, any recorded comments can quickly and uncontrollably go viral, and the Horn Book editorial is a perfect example of how words (like the revised ALSC guidelines), written with the best of intentions, can be taken out of context, misconstrued, and distributed within seconds. In short, when they’re no longer confidential the writer has no control over how they’re used.
Another change over time is that book reviews and their journals are moving further and faster away from being individual print copies in a pile on a desk seen only by collection development librarians and are very much part of the e-environment, quickly turning into database articles, tweets, posts, and marketing material for online shopping. When reviews (which by definition tell the writer’s opinion of the quality of the material–how “distinguished” it is, to use a word appearing in many an ALSC award criteria) go public in these and other ways, and the name on them is that of a committee member, it can be (and has been) easily interpreted as showing the hand of the committee. It also can be (and has been) very possible for committee members to hold off on tweeting, Facebooking, and posting about titles which are eligible for their specific award (and only their specific award) for the short time of their service.
An additional product of the Task Force was an expansion of the FAQs, which all award committee members receive, which offer guidance and support for how to talk about and promote books during award committee service, because it is extremely important, as the FAQs say, to “obtain a variety of critical opinions about books under consideration throughout the year,” and that can most definitely be done “without violating confidentiality guidelines.”
Please feel free to take a look at our Task Force’s documents, which are available on ALA Connect with no log-in necessary:
- The Final Report of the Task Force to the ALSC Board of Directors
- The proposed revised policy itself
- The proposed revised FAQs to explain the guidelines, provide concrete examples, and support book discussion and conversation
These are simply taking the guidelines which have been in place for many, many years, applying them to today’s digital reality, and clarifying the gray areas so that committee members may perform and enjoy both their committee work and their other professional responsibilities, which may or may not include publishing signed reviews, while respecting the integrity and excitement of the most important awards for children’s books and media.
Our guest blogger today is Andrew Medlar. Andrew is the Division Councilor for ALSC, serving on the Executive Committee and Board of Directors, and chaired the ALSC Award Service and Social Media Review Task Force in 2013.
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.