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Sneaky Advocacy and Award Winning Titles

In the last post from the  AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation, titled Youth Books with an International Flair, the discussion was about non-ALA youth book awards. Considering the diversity of the winning titles and creators of the youth media award winners this year and the current hostilities towards diverse books for young readers, perhaps we might put on our advocacy hats and look to engaging the adults in our communities.

The Office of Intellectual Freedom has stated that last year showed a dramatic increase in the number of book challenges. Additionally, this year’s youth media winners displayed perhaps one of the greatest levels of diversity in the history of the awards. (I don’t have a reference for this statement, it’s my own opinion). If you are in a situation where you are fearful of promoting diverse titles in your collection but you have the natural desire as a librarian to do such promoting, allow me to make some general, and I hope useful, programming ideas.

Stealth Programming – The Book Display

Note: I was introduced to the phrase “stealth programming” by my good friend, colleague, youth services consultant, and active ALSC member, Marge Loch-Wouters who preferred the word “stealth” to the more pervasive word “passive” as it better reflected not only the work put into the program (creating book displays, handouts, etc.) but also the engagement of the library patron thus identifying the work and making the stealth program important to the library director and board member.

The wonderful thing about a display of award winners is that “award winners” is a fairly innocuous title for a display. Or, if not innocuous, at least the responsibility is taken off of you, the librarian, and placed in the hands of “experts.” An awards panel may have the appearance of higher authority than a collection of book reviews should you be in the position of having to defend the titles in the display.

This year, the winners are a veritable rainbow of perspectives. Sadly, in some communities, a display of “diverse titles” may be a lighting rod for attempted censorship. But one can still get the point across with a display of “award winners” which may be less likely to elicit an immediate negative response. This is not to say that I am advocating for not recognizing diverse titles. Far from that! In this suggestion, I am hopeful that those librarians who are working in difficult situations can still champion the cause of diversity with less fear of losing their jobs.

Cover image of Big by Vashti Harrison
Cover image of Mexikid
Cover Image of The Mona Lisa Vanishes
Cover image of Henry, Like Always

In stealth programming; a display, a published list as a bookmark or simple handout, or a “blind date” table (wrapping books in plain brown paper not to be opened until after check out) of “Great Award Winners!” may go further in engaging the adults in your community, be they parents, classroom teachers, or administrators, than pointing out the important but more volatile theme of diverse titles.

REAL TIME PROGRAMMING:

We know from previous blog posts (Grassroots 101: How to Save Your Library from Organized Censorship for example, and the Library Advocate’s Handbook), creating a supportive community takes time and effort. Some of you may already have adult/child shared reading groups. I suggest here that an adults only group might be an effective way to garner support in a subtle way (stealthy, if you will) that may not only expand community knowledge of children’s and young adult literature but also develop a body of community members that can help you in staving off book complaints thus championing a child’s right to read.

Perhaps you have tried this already and the idea failed miserably. You sent out an announcement to your classroom teachers or parents list and no one showed up. Take heart. As with any advocacy project, give yourself time and start small.

  • Maybe you know of one or two classroom teachers or one or two parents who would be eager to meet. Capitalize on those who are eager to engage and let the reputation of the discussions grow by word of mouth.
  • Can’t agree on a time to meet? What about a virtual meeting? Use a chat board to post questions and engage in conversations.
  • No one is engaging? Try another book. Ask what they would like to read. Starting with award winners is a good way to begin because some group of people have already marked the title as important. It is easy to start a group discussion with the question; “What is it about this story that might have made it stand out and be recognized?”
  • What if someone attends the session with the intent of disrupting the group? In the school library environment this is less likely to be the case as your focus is on the classroom teachers who already share a common goal with you, the librarian; although, of course it is certainly possible that it could happen. One is more likely to run into the situation, as word gets around, in the public library setting (you probably know them already; the “I don’t want my child reading this” group). Having a set of discussion guidelines such as those used at the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin – Madison will help to keep control of the discussion and provide you with the ability to suggest that the recalcitrant participant agree to adhere to the guidelines or leave the group.

The point is that award winning titles can be a gateway to engaging the adults in your community, be that a school library or public library. An engaged community is a supportive community. How do YOU engage adults in your community?


Allison G. Kaplan is a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation and Distinguished Faculty Associate Emerita from the Information School at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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