November 17, 2017

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Newbery Confidential

newbery_middle_school_lunch_group

Members of the Shiloh Middle School lunchtime book group. Schreiber sat in on their discussions.

It started out like a typical day at work as I checked my email at the Parma branch of the Cuyahoga County (OH) Public Library (CCPL), where I am a youth collection development specialist. But August 21, 2014 quickly became anything but typical. My inbox contained an email from Association for Library Service to Children president Ellen Riordan, and the subject line read “2016 (John) Newbery Award Committee Appointment.”

If you’re wondering what my reaction was like, just envision a very excited toddler. There was a lot of jumping up and down, and I’m pretty sure squealing, as I shared the news with my collection development colleagues. Thankfully, they got how much of an honor serving on the Newbery committee is. While still bouncing around, I called my mom to tell her the good news and then emailed my boss.

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Fellow librarians who gathered on Friday evenings to talk books with Schreiber.

From that point on, I was thinking about what I wanted to get and give through this experience.

The 15 members of the Newbery Committee do a lot of reading, re-reading, and note taking throughout the year to prepare for intense discussions and final decision making at the ALA Midwinter Meeting  in Boston (January 8–12, 2016). I used a week-long cruise to the Caribbean to read. (It’s always nice to get out of Cleveland in February.)  I took a much more low-key week in September for a marathon reading session at home.  This month, I’ll be taking two and a half weeks of vacation before the ALA meeting for final preparations.

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The Young at Heart reading group at CCPL’s Strongville branch, whose adult participants discuss children’s and YA books.

As my Newbery year is drawing to a close, I am thrilled to report that many adults, kids, and librarians reached out of their comfort zones and recommended their favorite books without feeling worried they might be “wrong.” Their opinions have opened my eyes to books that I might not have loved at first glance, but have now come to appreciate—and problems with books I might not have noticed otherwise.  It truly enriched the experience for me.

Now, it’s time to hit the books as I continue to narrow down my list in the hunt for the “most distinguished American children’s book” published in 2015. I’d tell you about it— but, well, that’s confidential.

In the meantime, here’s some wisdom I learned along the way.

10 tips for walking the line between research and confidentiality

1. Learn the mantra “It’s okay that you asked, but I can’t answer that question.” I used this phrase a lot when people asked what books the committee was discussing.  My mom had her own go-to phrase: “She won’t even tell me.”

2.  Remember that the most important skill you will develop during your Newbery year is active listening. If you do it right, people won’t even realize you’re not talking.  For me that involved taking notes during the discussions so I would be seen as engaged even if I wasn’t saying a whole lot.

3. Stick to non-eligible titles if you are presenting books to a group. I was a last-minute fill in at the Virginia Hamilton Multicultural Literature Conference in March. To make sure I didn’t give the impression of favor for specific Newbery-eligible titles, I stuck with 2014 publication dates or 2015 titles by international authors.  When I explained why, I got some chuckles from the audience.

4. Talk with your boss about job duties you won’t be able to perform. This is spelled out pretty clearly in the Policy for Service on an ALSC Award Committee that all members have to sign. For me, this meant not blogging about new books, not hosting a mock awards program for staff, and not overseeing the Great Books for Kids Annual Gift Giving Guide. For others, this could mean not writing bylined book reviews or talking about eligible books on social media. Being upfront about it allowed for solutions to be found before the year began.

5. When in doubt, ask. Ernie Cox, my Newbery chair, and Viki Ash, our priority chair consultant, were wonderful resources for making sure activities met the sharing/but not over sharing nature of serving on the Newbery Award committee.

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Two leaders of the CCPL’s Berea Branch Lunch Bunch group with Schreiber’s niece.

6. Look for area book discussion groups. I joined two offered by CCPL branches, one that was made up of kids in third through fifth grade (Berea’s Lunch Bunch), and one with adults who read kids and teen books (Strongsville’s Young at Heart). The amazing youth staff at these branches picked Newbery-eligible titles, and I got to be a fly on the wall.

7. Hook up with a local school. I met once a month with a group of seventh graders from Shiloh Middle School in Parma who gave up their cafeteria lunch time to tell me about the wide variety of books they were reading. The only regret I have about my participation is that I waited until the fall of 2015 to start.

8. Get your friends involved. I contacted some current and retired librarians, including my boss, and asked if they would be willing to get together once a month to tell me about what they were reading. This led to some wonderful Friday evenings at Panera Bread.

9. Make it a family affair. My mom, a retired elementary school teacher and school librarian, read a lot of Newbery-eligible titles this year and joined the Young at Heart book discussion group with me.  My eight-year-old niece attended the kids book discussion at the Berea Branch with me. My sister teaches at Shiloh Middle School, where I go for lunch-time visiting on my days off.

10. Speak about the Award at local library organizations in your state. Part of the responsibility of serving on the Newbery Committee is to inform people about the process. I was lucky that both the Ohio Library Council and the Northeast Ohio Regional Library System asked me to present to them.

Can’t be in Boston for the announcement? Check on slj.com and @sljournal for breaking news and related coverage, starting January 11 at 8:00 a.m. ET.

Newbery_head_shotMary Schreiber is the youth collection development specialist for Cuyahoga County Public Library in Parma, OH. She was a member of the 2012 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Committee and is serving on the 2016 John Newbery Award Committee.

 

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Comments

  1. Melinda Bender says:

    There is no article connected to the link for Newbery Confidential.

  2. Maybe it’s just that confidential?

  3. Too funny!