Newbery Notes – Getting on the Committee

It’s time for Newbery Notes! I’m going to try to blog about my time on the Newbery committee. Though we’ll see how long I last – I’m already feeling like any time I’m not reading is time squandered.

But I’m setting my alarm for 30 minutes, and I thought it would be fun to try to blog about the process – WITHOUT mentioning any particular books – each week.

Let’s start with the current stats! I have now received 119 books from publishers. Though 42 of those were advance reader copies – and I’m trying to limit myself to reading published books now that I have so many to choose from. Because any book that is a contender, I will need to read in published form – so might as well start that way. But the point is – there are a lot of books. And I’ve only been receiving books from publishers for a few weeks, and it is only April.

Newbery-eligible books I’ve read so far:
68 Middle Grade books – 14,237 pages
21 Young Adult books – 6,804 pages
111 Picture books – 4,364 pages

Grand total: 200 books even! And 25,405 pages.

And the truth is, I’ve hardly made a dent in the books I’d like to get read. I need to be ruthless and not finish a lot more of the ones I start. (Those totals, by the way include 10 books that I did not finish once I figured out they weren’t really in the running.)

There are 15 committee members. Now what we’re trying to do is get as many books read as possible – to try to catch all the books that should be contenders. And we suggest books to the rest of the committee each month. In fact, I have a book I read much earlier in the year that I think I’m going to reread in published form to figure out if I should suggest it. Suggestions are books that everyone in the committee will read – but we’ve been asked that if we can resist suggesting a book, to do so.

But I was going to talk about how I got on the committee in the first place.

Newbery committee members are all members of ALSC, the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of ALA, the American Library Association.

8 of the committee members are elected by ALSC membership from a ballot of 16 people. The rest are appointed by the ALSC president. I was elected.

But how do you get elected? Well, that’s something of a mystery. Some of my ALA member friends were just discussing on Facebook what factors they take into consideration when voting. I was first on the ballot four years ago, and missed it by 15 votes (out of about 800). At the time, I’d thought that my website of book reviews would make me a natural choice. But apparently not all children’s librarians think that writing a blog is the experience I think it is!

My first step was attending the William Morris Seminar on Book Evaluation. These seminars are offered every two years at ALA Midwinter Meeting, and were designed to train people to be on book and media evaluation committees such as the Newbery committee.

The catch is that you have to apply to go to the seminar. I applied to the first seminar in 2008 – and did not get accepted. I applied again in 2010 – and did not get accepted. I applied again in 2012 – and got to go! The staff of the seminar included committee chairs from several different committees and we practiced discussing books and talked about the requirements, and it was an awesome day.

At the seminar, I did ask how you get on the committee. They encouraged us to put our own names forward – so I did. I nominated myself in 2012 and was on the ballot in 2013 – that’s how long the process is.

But they also said that you have a better chance of getting appointed to the committee if you are active on other ALSC committees. So I spent two years on the Children and Technology committee, two years on the Grant Administration committee, and then served for a year as the chair of the Grant Administration committee.

Then in 2016, I was finally ready to put my name forward again. In the meantime, they’d tightened up the policy – I CANNOT write one word online about any eligible book until after our decision is announced. I also cannot ever say anything about any opinion of the committee – only my own personal opinions.

Well, as it happens, I have 170 book reviews written that I haven’t posted yet – before my Newbery year even started. So I’m looking at it as a year to catch up on posting old reviews. (If I can find time to do so between reading books.) I’m also writing reviews of the books I read – in order to remember them. And I’m writing the reviews before I’ve spoken with *anyone* else about the books – so it is only my own opinion. I can post those reviews after our decision is announced.

In September 2016, they told me that my name would indeed be on the ballot. But I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone until the roster of candidates was officially announced. This time, I asked them when I would be able to tell people (the first time, I’d forgotten to ask that). They said early November. Well, it ended up being the same day we found out who won the national election – so people weren’t terribly interested in my news, but I did make a webpage explaining why people should vote for me.

And, yes, I campaigned. This time, I went to ALA Midwinter meeting and passed out cards. What’s more, that year there was a mini-ALSC Institute going on, so I was able to target ALSC members.

The cool thing about passing out the cards was that these were children’s librarians, and I met some great people. Almost all of them thought being on the Newbery committee would be a wonderful thing, and some asked how I got on the ballot. I hope I inspired others to try in the future!

Voting was mid-March to early April, and on April 12, 2017, I learned I was on the 2019 Newbery committee! You can see it’s a very long process.

And I’ll talk more about the process next week.

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