Conference Corner – ALA Midwinter Meeting – John Green

I’m attempting to post my notes from the many conferences I’ve gone to this year. I think I’m going to work backwards and forwards both. Last time, I posted notes from the last session I attended. Now I’m going to post notes from where I left off — John Green’s talk at ALA Midwinter Meeting

I spotted his van the next day when walking back to my hotel:

I walked in late to the talk, since I had been at a committee meeting. But here are my notes. It turns out that this works as a Librarians Help post as well. John Green is definitely a supporter of libraries and librarians.

While he was writing, he was still tweeting and using youtube and tumblr. He uses those because he likes them. After all, he likes talking about stuff that matters with people he finds interesting.

“There’s no such thing any more as a non-social-media internet.”

Social media has a lot of similarities with real life connections.

There’s so much location-based social media, that’s fantastic for librarians. “People are building real life connections in real life places.”

Librarians have been good at raising the quality of discourse for hundreds of years.

It’s difficult to build space for thoughtfulness.

Librarians should infiltrate digital communities and raise the quality of discourse.

“Reading builds strong and deep connections between people.”

They are building productive communities online. Some examples are for Nerdfighters and and wells in Haiti through

Ultimately these are not opposite ideas: Reach out into the world and organize information to help people.

“The ultimate thing that librarians do is help people toward the answer to the overwhelming ultimate question of how to organize our lives.”

Then talking about teens: “Teens are having a lot of interesting things happen to them for the first time.”

His recommendations for reaching teens? Use Tumblr. Look for communities in your community that are active. Search the name of your community. Join the nerdfighters group in your area.

“Education exists for the benefit of the society, not the individual.”

Lead people to interesting places online.

2012 Morris Seminar – “How Book Discussion Works”

The second session of the 2012 William Morris Seminar was a talk given by Nina Lindsay, a moderator of the Heavy Medal blog, and a past committee chair. She was talking about the actual book discussion process.

She assured us that you will need to take notes, maybe as simple as the one she uses the first time through a book: A dog ear on the top if there was something good on that page; a dog ear on the bottom if something negative. Then she looks back later to see if she can still find it.

Some book discussion groups you’ll be in are more about getting to know one another, but in award committees, it’s about the book.

It’s expected that you’ll wander off-track, but the committee chair will bring you back to the book. (We then paused to tell each other some personal story about one of the books – like how we met the author’s brother’s cousin, or how something said in the book reminded you of your ex-husband. This kept these things out of the book discussion time.)

*Look at each book for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

We always go over positive comments first. Small things that are good about it are still important to bring up.

When you bring up difficulties, use questions. Would she really feel that way in that situation?

Book discussion is not the time for a summary.

No personal anecdotes!

Compare with other books on the discussion list, but only those books.

There’s no single correct response.

Talk with each other, don’t just give a speech.

When you’re on an award committee, it helps the Midwinter discussion to go well if you’ve practiced book discussion all year long.

Also practice writing about books.

Overused words that don’t tell anything: love, cute, nice, good, sweet, lovely, perfect, unique, incredible, beautiful, wonderful, delightful, powerful, thoughtful, charming, appealing, fascinating, compelling.

(Then we practiced discussing a book without using any of those words. It was not easy!)

Commonly misused words: Simplistic, random, impressionistic, expressionistic.

No book is random. It may seem haphazard.

Impressionistic and expressionistic refer to a specific type of art.

When discussing a book, use the criteria for the award at hand. This doesn’t devalue other ways of looking at the book, but it is different.

The voting process only works if the discussion has worked.

Listen to others as even-handedly as possible.

The hope is that you only have to vote once.

You need to trust other committee members.

Enter the discussion knowing what you think, but be ready to be persuaded.

A final quote from Connie Rockman: We’re all in this because it’s FUN!

2012 Morris Seminar – The Alchemy of Book Evaluation

This year I got to be a part of the William Morris Seminar. The purpose is to train new people to be part of book and media evaluation committees for ALSC, the Association for Library Service to Children. This is the group that awards the Newbery, Caldecott, Geisel, Siebert, Odyssey, and other medals. The seminar was made possible from a grant by William Morris, and is an invitational seminar presented every two years. I applied each of the three times it has been offered, and this time was selected to participate.

Part of the thrill was getting to meet and talk with a group of 30 people as excited about Book Evaluation as I am. Just like me, these people got excited talking about the strengths and weaknesses of children’s books published last year.

Our speakers were people who have served on multiple committees, and who have recently chaired committees. They have lots of knowledge of the process and lots of experience with making a good discussion happen.

The first speaker of the morning was Vicky Smith talking about “The Alchemy of Book Evaluation.” I’ll give some of my notes from her talk.

She said when you’re assigned to a book evaluation committee, first, you need to evaluate yourself. Because, after all, “Text is context.”

She did say that, as a former English major, she is hyperaware of the Intentional Fallacy – the false idea that anyone can know what the author originally intended.

You should know the sort of reader you are: Fast or slow? Easily distracted or easily submerged in a book? Do you read for language, character, plot, or theme? What books did you love when you were 12 years old?

When you’re on an ALSC committee, you have to transcend the reader you are. For example, if you’re a plot-driven reader, you’re good at seeing how the plot works – but you need to overcome that.

Do you have biases? Your biases can help illuminate a book, but also blind you.

What do you know? Use your expertise without Hubris. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

Beware of Hubris!

Know what you don’t know and be open to the book. Understand your context. The book you are evaluating was not written for you. You are not evaluating the book for personal pleasure reading.

Understand who the book is for. Some books are specifically gender-skewed, ability-skewed, etc. You just need to understand who it’s directed for.

Books may not be literarily spectacular, but still important.

Who is the book for? What is the book for?

Is joy and fun any less important than big deep messages?

Why are you evaluating this book? Your committee’s charge is important.

You need to get over wanting a book you can use with your kids.

Greet the book on its own terms. Think about: What does this book do, as opposed to: What doesn’t it do?

Every book deserves the most open mind possible.

What does this book do? What doesn’t it do? That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Remember that “offensive” has a million different definitions. What, in particular, do you think is offensive?

Does the book do what it does with integrity? If there are stereotypes, is that a bad thing?

Pay attention to your reactions to the book.

Don’t go into your encounter with the book looking for flaws. If you do find a flaw, you’re obligated to check. (Find an expert.)

Everybody has a different opinion of what is a fatal flaw. Why is it there? Is it really a flaw?

Book Evaluation is hugely relative. We can’t apply standards that give the same result every time.


That was the first talk we got to listen to. It made us eager to begin! We’d all read a list of books for small group discussion later.

This talk was interesting to me because it did point out to me that a Book Evaluation committee is very different than what I am trying to do on my blog. On my blog, I’m giving my own reaction to the book. But in a committee, you’re looking at a book as children’s literature. You want to observe your own reactions, but you’re trying to evaluate the underlying quality of the book for its true audience.

However, even though this isn’t what I’m trying to do on my blog, this is all very good advice for Readers’ Advisory on my job. It’s good to know a book’s strengths so I can figure out who would enjoy the book. Readers’ Advisory is also not about what I like or don’t like; it’s about finding the right book for the reader in front of you at this particular time.