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Everybody’s talking

My brief thoughts about two current scandals.

The first is the bouncing of a Newbery committee member for mentioning a book on Twitter. I said at the time ALSC revamped its social media policy that it was a bad idea. It still is, and Angie Manfredi would have been a great contributor to that committee’s work.

Child_lit is shutting down after almost twenty-five years of service to the children’s book community. I left child_lit some years ago, and I don’t remember the circumstances beyond feeling both too busy for all the postings and fed up with the list’s flamewars. I didn’t leave in a huff or even publicly, just put it in the No Longer For Me box. But that list hosted some of the best discussions I’ve seen and had in our field, and I made there a lot of good friends. Michael Joseph, you’re a hero.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.

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  1. Angie Manfredi would have been an outstanding member of the committee. It is disheartening that the social media policy forced a librarian, who although I’ve never spoken to her, is one that I know to be fantastic. I’ve “stolen” program ideas from her blog in the past and always enjoyed reading her thoughts.

  2. Anonymous says:

    In the case of Manfredi, anyone who appreciates the importance of rectitude should applaud the ALSC. The organization has standards for its judges of literature. Those standards are high, but no one is requiring anyone to sit as a judge. Just as a judge in a court case needs to refrain from commenting in any way on a case on her or his docket, ALSC judges similarly need to control their impulses for commentary. Manfredi couldn’t do this, obviously.

  3. People who comment anonymously can hardly expect to have their comments taken seriously. Roger, thank you for your words on both of these.

  4. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I don’t know that “rectitude” among award committee members was lacking before ALSC instituted its ban on public commentary in 2014. It used to be that a committee member could never reveal anything about committee discussions or votes. Good. But the 2014 change meant that committee members were not allowed to discuss–even in private email to a colleague–any book that was eligible for whatever award the person was helping to award. No book reviewing (unless it was anonymous–jeez, talk about a potential for mischief!), no recommended reading lists, no discussion on Goodreads or wherever, no–I say this again to emphasize the silliness of the endeavor–EMAIL. In my opinion, these new strictures are less about protecting the integrity of the awards and more about ALSC protecting the glamor of its press conference, such as it is.

  5. Kiera Parrott says:

    Seconded, Roger. I get that ALSC wanted to protect the integrity of the award and likely was responding to some folks “crossing the line.” But like a great boss I once had used to say about library patron policy–if the issue is one or two patrons causing a problem, deal with *those* patrons. Address those folks directly. Don’t just create a blanket rule or policy governing everyone because a few people broke the rules. These new guidelines reveal a fundamental lack of trust in the professionalism of the ALSC membership and committee members. Also, the guidelines themselves are very confusing. Check out #6–the line that states committee members can express their own opinion about an eligible title (as long as it’s clear they are not speaking for or about the committee) but they cannot put that same opinion in writing or on social media. The world is different now. Social media is not just a “fun thing” that librarians do; it’s part of the job in so many fundamental ways. The guidelines need to evolve and adapt as the profession does.

  6. To my knowledge, from a librarian friend, the membership, the librarian community. voted on this decision, not just the ALSC committee. It’s not a life long sentence and it’s only for the time the person is on the committee until after the awards are announced. I’d shut it, then write an article about that part when it was over. I think it was a fine decision. Before the change there was much obvious favoritism on my social network feed. Yes, I’m remaining anonymous, believe me or not.

  7. Eloise wrote exactly what I was going to write. This isn’t a lifetime assignment. This is a one year term. When you agree to have your name put on the ballot you are agreeing to ALSC’s rules, which make sense. If you are appointed then you also agree to play by the rules. If it’s a dream to be on a committee then you can go without posting on social media for a year. Life goes on after you have served. Maybe ALSC will change its rules in the future. But right now that’s what they ask of people who serve. It’s not a secret. Going on Twitter to say buy this book! or, in another case, argue with a YA writer over another book that could possibly be a Newbery contender should be considered questionable.

  8. Isabel Allende's Worst Nightmare says:

    I echo Eloise’s comments. Is it really that difficult to not be vocal about books for kids and teens on social media for the award year? What exactly is required of a person’s professional position that they cannot work something out to avoid potential problems? And who is so important (self-important?) that they feel they must divulge their feelings on a book or books publicly during that year? The ALSC rules may need some tweaking for clarification, that’s likely. But she knew the rules, she played fast and loose with them, and now she’s taken responsibility.

  9. You could add another item to the ‘everybody’s talking’ post, Roger. Several media outlets are working on stories about John Smelcer’s book, STEALING INDIANS, being on the list of finalists for the PEN award in the YA category. I didn’t know about this particular article. The author used my site quite a lot, which is fine.

    http://www.thestranger.com/features/2017/08/23/25371373/meet-john-smelcer-native-american-literatures-living-con-job

  10. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    I don’t think the argument here is that the committee member should be reinstated; it’s that the rules need to be rethought. And, as ALSC Prez Nina Lindsay noted in a series of helpful tweets, the ALSC board is doing this very thing. (https://twitter.com/OaklandNina/status/900477579014029313) The board, not a membership vote, made the rules and can change them.

    I have no quarrel with any rules designed to protect the integrity of the awards and the confidential meetings of the award committee. But I don’t agree that committee members need to come into their meetings with their likes and dislikes unknown, as if that makes the awards “purer” somehow. I would for damn sure ask committee members to refrain from social media during Midwinter, but I would also ask that they refrain from accepting social invitations there from publishers with skin in the game. But I bet ALSC won’t touch that little perk.

  11. Julie Corsaro says:

    Since ALSC award committee members suggest book titles for discussion and make nominations, they aren’t coming “into their meetings with their likes and dislikes unknown” to each other, which aids the committee process. Of course, changes to the Policy for Service on ALSC Award Committees might mean that book review editors once again get to serve on the juries. Additionally, award committee members are already asked NOT to accept invitations at MW prior to their selection of the medalists.

  12. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Thanks, Julie–is the no-invitations thing new(ish)?

  13. I saw the viral post on Twitter that I think is what prompted this with Manfredi. As I recall, it was a moving story about a young, reluctant reader connecting with a book, and I didn’t read any sort of endorsement for the book from Manfredi into the post. Although it’s a book I’ve heard nothing but raves over so maybe she did and I’m not remembering, but my takeaway was about the boy and the power of seeing yourself reflected in fictional stories. I was shocked by the news that she was asked to step down because of that. Having said that, though, I’ve seen people outraged because a librarian should be able to talk about books, but the committee is only barred from talking about eligible books, right? So they’d be free to talk up books published last year and beyond, right? There’s so much focus on what’s being published right this second, and so many great books that get overlooked and quickly forgotten. It seems like committee members who are active on social media could still stay involved in book talking if they wanted to, just not current titles.

  14. Not being able to talk about new titles from authors who are tagged as diverse, is a terrible restriction. We all know how much word of mouth matters for the success of a book. We also know that librarians are trying very hard to find books for children of color. I don’t recall that initial tweet from her but it sounds like it meant so much to the kid. It was/is evidence of impact a book can have on a child of color.

  15. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    But Jennifer, part of the job of being a librarian (or a book reviewer 😉 is to talk about NEW books as well as old. Let’s say there’s a new book about some high-interest topic in your community. Or a new book you love that you want to get into the hands of readers. If booklists, newspaper articles, or social media are part of the way you market your collection, it isn’t fair (or professional) to leave some books out because you’re on an award committee.

    I love Rita Williams-Garcia’s new CLAYTON BYRD GOES UNDERGROUND. Really, you all should read it. Bam, I’m off Newbery.

  16. Isabel Allende's Worst Nightmare says:

    The thing is, as a Member of the Newbery Committee, you do not have to market your collection publicly under your own name. For a year. You can use your library or institution’s name or promote new titles anonymously. Or a colleague gets the byline on an article, if there must be one. There are many, many ways to avoid a perceived bias. In Manfredi’s case, she could have either waited six months to share the story (which would have had very similar impact), or she could have told the story without naming the title, author or publisher. Committee members agree to all these regulations, presumably after discussing with their colleagues/supervisors about any changes to the work arena that must be made. It’s an unfortunate situation, but there were easy solutions.
    As for the diversity angle, that’s completely irrelevant to why she was asked to resign. It could have been a book by a cis white straight man with Nordic features and would have resulted in the same decision.

  17. Roger Sutton Roger Sutton says:

    Certainly, Isabel. But what has not been satisfactorily demonstrated to me is WHY the committee members need to keep mum about their likes and dislikes. These strictures are new with the 2014 revisions, which came about, at least in part, because some committee members were teasing the confidential discussions on social media. But that seems to me a different problem (and was always against the rules, besides).

  18. Kiera Parrott says:

    Yes–this is what annoys me, setting aside the recent situation with Angie. Prior to the 2014 changes, individual committee members were always allowed to express their own opinion about a book–even in newspaper articles and so on. The key, of course, was making it very clear that the opinion was your own and in no way reflected the work of the committee. That is why committee members, back in the day, could still write for professional review journals like Horn Book or SLJ. You are one of 15 voting members. Personal opinions are important, but anyone who’s ever served on an award committee knows that minds and hearts get changed in the process. Who is getting “hurt” by the expression of an opinion of an eligible title? Librarians? No. Kids? Definitely not. The publishers? Maybe. I can see them being annoyed by it because it could raise or lower their hopes. But who cares? They get super emotional over the Mocks and everything else surrounding the awards no matter what. The integrity of the awards process? That’s the rub. Is saying “I really loved Clayton Byrd Goes Underground and think kids will adore it” undermining the entire committee process? I don’t think so. There are reasonable limits that can be set for social media sharing.

  19. I’d like to strongly refute the notion that today’s librarians cannot do their jobs well and simultaneously serve on one of these committees. This idea has been echoed all over Twitter as well and it is total nonsense so please stop and think about what you are saying to every librarian who chooses not to use social media. Angie’s work is as meaningful without the tweets. Nothing about the rules preclude her from doing what she did, what she continues to do each and everyday bringing children together with relevant literature. Bravo! Angie is clearly a fierce advocate for diverse literature. People who use social media in library circles know this. There are a whole bunch of other librarians who are just as fierce in their daily work in libraries and in their association committee work too. You might not know their names because they don’t partake of Twitter or have blogs, as a personal choice, not as a personal failing. It does not dilute their impact in their own communities. Angie may be an inspiration to many in our profession, but please don’t conflate her social media presence with her excellence as a librarian. They are two different things. I speak from personal experience when I say that the rules about social media are momentarily frustrating for those of us who like to discuss books online but they do not prevent us from doing our jobs in libraries when we serve on committees. Let me be clear: I agree with the rules, however hard they are to follow.

  20. Danielle Jones says:

    I really appreciate was Tess has said. There are lots of ways that one can champion books, connect with readers, do your work as a librarian and serve on a committee with the current rules. The rules are for (from awards manual) “preventing conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest.” That made seem severe but I feel they are for keeping a certain integrity to the award, and not about “ALSC protecting the glamor of its press conference.” In a time when there is such blatant disregard for conflicts of interests from our current administration I really appreciate this little corner of the world trying to keep things done with integrity.

    I am also speaking as someone who had to resign from a committee over a conflict of interest I had no control over – it is painful, but it is something I sign a contract for when I accepted my appointment.

  21. Another Anon says:

    I come to this late, but I noticed that Manfredi herself states, “I had received a previous warning (in March) because I had re-posted a Kirkus review of an eligible title.” Once she received that warning, she should have made CERTAIN TO not do anything that might be interpreted as breaking the rules.

    I do feel for her, but the tone of her website’s statement is, “I’m sorry, but…it isn’t all my fault!” Whatever the rules, she was warned. If she didn’t heed that warning, that’s on her.

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