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.