ALA Annual 2014

In Response to the Award Committee Conversation #alaac14

Dear fellow ALSC members:

Please pardon my delay in joining the current conversation surrounding the clarification of confidentiality in regard to reviewing, social media and electronic communication for members of ALSC award committees. My hotel does not have wi-fi and the business center closes at 4 pm, (apparently most of “what happens in Vegas” doesn’t happen online), and combined with required meetings yesterday my reading and response to email has been significantly delayed.

Over the past several years the ALSC office and officers have fielded a growing number of inquiries from members of award committees regarding appropriate written expression which maintains the confidentiality and integrity of the awards. The guidelines that had served us well were no longer sufficient to navigate the wildfire landscape of electronic communication and the exponential dissemination of opinion that occurs.

In response, the ALSC Board appointed a task force which including past and present award chairs, reviewers and a blogger and a representative from publishing to provide a broad and textured range of perspective. This dedicated group diligently consulted with colleagues, discussed and deliberated before presenting their recommendation to the ALSC Board last January during midwinter. There was further careful consideration and conversation between the Task Force and the Board in a public meeting which ultimately resulted in adoption of their recommendations. Mahnaz Dar from School Library Journal interviewed me and reported on this issue shortly after Midwinter.

The intention of this clarification is to support, not suppress the members of the award committees. Some recent responses have labelled this action as “preemptive” in a pejorative manner. To return to the wildfire analogy, it is better to prevent a fire than try to contain one that has been set ablaze. Indeed, there have been cases when an individual has (inadvertently) crossed the line of confidentiality and has later removed a blog post.

That is becoming ever more difficult in this age of instant re-tweeting and “sharing”. Once information and opinion has been unleashed, it can no longer be retrieved. Even traditional means of disseminating information can unintentionally go awry, (e.g. the unfortunate premature release of this year’s acceptance speeches prior to the awards banquet, ironically by The Horn Book). By providing clear and, yes, cautious parameters members have a better sense of the expectations of conduct and can avoid these missteps which are potentially embarrassing for the poster.

The issue of reviewing while on an awards committee predates the current communication climate. During my tenures on award committees, I elected to review only titles that would were ineligible for that committee: books from other countries, books for young adults, etc., as did many of my fellow committee members. The editors of School Library Journal understood and, indeed, expected and respected that discretion.

The Task Force and the Board carefully considered the implications of these clarifications regarding the service of editors of review media on award committees. It was determined that there would not be an issue if those editors did not publish signed reviews of eligible books. Again, titles outside the parameters of the committee’s consideration could be individually and specifically reviewed. We recognize the expertise and experience of these professionals and value their contribution to the process.

Award committees have structures in in place that preserve the integrity of process and thus the award itself. Indeed, I have twice had the privilege of serving as a judge for The New York Times Best Illustrated Books, (both times with Roger Sutton). We were strictly prohibited form telling anyone of our role until after publication of the list to avoid undue influence over selection and revelation. (This required months of keeping a delicious secret to myself, when I love to share information!) I am currently a judge for the National Book Award which has its own set of guidelines regulating conduct and confidentiality.

It is the responsibility of the Board to protect the integrity of the process of the ALSC awards in stewardship this very valuable asset of the association. We would have been remiss not to have responded to the changing conditions that necessitated this thorough examination and careful contemplation of practice.

I am grateful to all for your passion and professionalism surrounding this issue and for the opportunity to address your concerns and questions.

2 comments

  1. Julie

    I am copying the questions/comments I posted on my tumblr:
    “When a committee member goes on record about an eligible title, it does carry weight,” LaTronica said. “Whether it’s a commendation or condemnation, it does set public opinion about that book.”

    New ALSC Rule Will Limit Awards Committee Members’ Reviewing, Blogging | School Library Journal

    I am honestly curious–how is this a bad thing? Shouldn’t librarians and reviewers be the people expressing opinions and being influential about books? Wouldn’t some informed speculation about potential winners add some interest and excitement to the awards? Why not make movements towards transparency rather than secrecy? I mean, if you really want it to be a secret and confidential process, maybe all the submissions should be blind! Wouldn’t /that/ be a fun thing to try and make happen, right?

    Andrew Medlar does say that they considered whether or not confidentiality was even important anymore: “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.” (http://www.alsc.ala.org/blog/2014/06/alsc-response-to-horn-book-julyaugust-2014-issue-editorial-alaac14/) emphasis added

    I would like to hear more about this!

    Also in a twitter convo some of us were wondering about the possibility of having the committee members be anonymous, which would seem to offer the epitome of confidentiality. Has this ever been considered?

    Thanks for the post and the conversation.

  2. Kate

    As a former awards committee member, I have followed this discussion with interest. Perhaps some of the terms therein should be emphasized: integrity, discretion, confidentiality. These are all characteristics of a good librarian.

    That said, I am mindful of what our awards committee chair told us. Never refer to or discuss anything that transpires in committee. You may talk about titles that you really like and even why you really like them on a personal level with no reference to the committee. Decline to answer any questions about titles nominated or other committee activities. Honor the confidentiality agreement you sign when you agree to serve on the committee.

    Yes, there are titles that I loved while I served on the committee and–given the sheer numbers submitted–many were eliminated. Since no one (except the publishers themselves) knew what titles were nominated, they couldn’t know whether my personal/professional comments pertained to a submission, and no one needs to know.

    We’re librarians and reviewers and bloggers–talking about books is what we do. It is the content of conversations that matters, and it must not include any reference to the committee or whether a particular title has been submitted/nominated. As Starr LaTronica pointed out, she had a delicious secret because her identity on the committee was confidential; that is not the case with ALSC awards committees. People in the profession have access to the names of committee members. It should be incumbent on all of us to respect our colleagues and not press them for details of their service with respect to specific titles or publishers, during or after that service.

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