September 22, 2017

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After a Member’s Ouster from Newbery Medal Committee, a Closer Look at Social Media Rules 

 

Social media guidelines for Newbery Committee members went into play a few years ago to avoid controversy about how the prestigious book awards are determined. But the guidelines, it seems, have sparked contention of their own.

Well-known children’s librarian, Angie Manfredi, was asked to step down from the 2018 Newbery Committee in late August for allegedly violating the guidelines by mentioning on Twitter, in a post that has since been deleted, that a young patron at her library had fallen in love with a book eligible for this year’s award.

That, apparently, was a no-no: any mention of books that could be considered for the Newbery is off limits during a committee member’s tenure. And as such, she was asked to resign. The decision was “…completely and totally devastating to me,” writes Manfredi on her blog, “Fat Girl Reading,” where she posted a long account of the episode on August 22.

“I didn’t want to do this,” writes Manfredi, who is head of youth services for the Los Alamos (NM) County Library System. “I so desperately did not want to do this. But it is what the Executive Committee wanted and so I complied.”

Manfredi, was—like eight other Newbery Committee members —voted into her position by members of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). A total of 15 members (the remaining six, plus the chair, are appointed by the ALSC President) make up the committee each year. They are charged with reading and sifting through thousands of titles, and then meeting and selecting what will arguably become one of the most well-read books of the year.

A Newbery Medal can change the sales figures of a title overnight, sending books into multiple printings. Relatively few authors have ever won it, even fewer have ever won twice since the award’s creation in 1922.

It’s understood, then, why ALSC, and ALA, which administers the award, would want to ensure the process and selection are untouched by even the least amount of controversy.

A Moratorium on Twitter

That, at least, was the intent behind the redrafting of the rules in 2014, which stated that committee members should not “…engage in any print or electronic communication outside of the committee regarding eligible titles during their term of service,” as per a revised guidelines document online. Members are further told that electronic formats include Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and anything else that would fall under social networking services, such as blogs and electronic discussion lists.

But the rules, rather than clarify, have seemed to generate their own level of confusion. And that confusion has generated some irritation as well.

“What happened with [Manfredi] exposed how stupid these rules are, that she could be thrown off the Committee because she shared that a kid loved one book that’s eligible,” says Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book. (The Horn Book is owned by Media Source, Inc. which also owns School Library Journal.) “What [her post] does is give a clue as to what Angie likes, which is what ALSC is trying to stamp out with the guidelines.”

Manfredi’s seat on the Newbery Committee was particularly celebrated by those looking for more diversity, both on the committee and in the titles considered and selected for awards. She has spoken and written often about diverse voices in literature and has pledged to donate the titles sent to her for consideration for the Newbery Medal to tribal libraries in her local area in New Mexico.

Debbie Reese, librarian and publisher of American Indians in Children’s Literature, took to Twitter to voice her disappointment at Manfredi’s removal. Reese also feels she could never sit for an awards committee, as she could never restrain her opinions and voice as Manfredi and others have been asked to do.

“I’ve considered being on award committees before, but the restrictions on what I could say and write are the reason I have declined invitations to do so,” Reese says by email. “These restrictions inadvertently create a silence that affirms the still-too-white world of children’s literature.”

Sutton says that he understands that how the Newbery Medal book is selected needs to be kept under wraps, and agrees that the confidentiality around that decision should be upheld. But social media, he notes, is a crucial modern tool in any librarian’s arsenal. Service on the committee, in his eyes, could be seen as asking a librarian to take a year off from their work.

“So what you’re asking people to do is to step away from their job for a year, to do not quite as good a job to be on an award committee,” he says. “[Using social media] was expressly okay before 2014, and now it isn’t and ALSC has not made a convincing case as to what’s the benefit [of the new guidelines] to the award.”

ALSC Forms Task Force

This conflict has not gone unnoticed by ALSC’s current president Nina Lindsay who took to Twitter on Aug 23, just one day after Manfredi’s post about her removal, to clarify that the association is considering the guidelines again: “…earlier this year I established a TF [Ed: task force] to work on needed revisions to all award manuals, and to update these guidelines.”

Lindsay reiterated that commitment to School Library Journal by email.

“Reviewing social media guidelines is the main charge of the task force,” Lindsay writes. “The task force has been asked to make whatever recommendations for revision they feel are warranted, and to include clear dos and don’ts regarding social media use.”

Manfredi wrote that her tweet about the book, and a child’s reaction, has since been deleted, by her, but at ALSC’s request. That decision, to take down her post, is one she regrets, as “…if they were going to ask me to resign all along I could have known and kept it,” she says in her post.

When asked by email if the Committee asked Manfredi to first remove the tweet because it initially considered letting her continue to serve, Lindsay would not go into details of the decision.

“In fairness to Angie and all members who we ask to serve I cannot share more except what we expressed privately to her committee through the chair: that there was a conflict of interest,” she says by email. “We recognize Angie as a singular advocate for young people and their books, and as a hardworking and dedicated member of ALSC. In tweets she has raised general questions about the guidelines for award service that are fair to ask, and which we are addressing.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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Comments

  1. My question is this: Did she actually say the title of the book in her post, or did she just make a vague comment about the child liking “one of the books being considered” without mentioning any such specifics? Because that makes all the difference.

    Also, the fact her posts/online activity was stalked so heavily…THAT is creepy! (in my opinion)

    • Yes, she did, and tweeted the author and the publisher, which probably is what made the difference. She is well-known and has thousands of followers. The tweets went viral, she wasn’t being stalked at all.

  2. M Hennessy says:

    I really don’t have a problem with committee members NOT commenting. Oversharing is a rampant problem. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t trust anyone blogging to automatically be an expert. Do you? Be honest. So a kid likes a book and someone writes a post about it. Great. The kid enjoying the book isn’t a kid we know. The blogger is using the kid to share their own opinion about the book.

    • Clarity is important.

      The comment about a child liking a book was a tweet, not a blog post.

      Re “be honest” about trusting a blogger. I’d like to know more about what you’re getting at.

    • Who cares what you think?

      Nobody here knows you, as far as I know. Why would you even post a reply to a blog if you thought that such things were of such minor import.

      Of course, the point of the Angie’s tweet might have been to encourage the person who told here that they liked the book! Kid sees tweets, feels empowered, reads some more in hopes of feeding their new thirst for notoriety. Librarian, knowing that she’s getting the kid hooked…well, you get the idea. Part of being a librarian (at least on the PL side) is encouraging non/reluctant-readers to read more. Tweets and the like play a role in that.

      The committee needs, probably, to have a bit wider view, or it should not have active librarians on as members.

      • “Who cares what you think?” – Really, rjones? Really?

        Who cares what YOU think?

        Honestly, the level of civil discourse in some spheres is baffling. As far as I can tell, comments sections are for people to express their opinions. Does everyone know you? Is your opinion more important or relevant than the person whose opinion you don’t care for?

        Have some class, please.

  3. Vicki Reutter says:

    Book promotion is inherent in every librarian’s DNA and, while the blog post may have been totally inadvertent and not an award endorsement, I support the committee’s ‘beyond reproach’ adherence to guidelines.

  4. Mrs. Pilkington says:

    This article frames the issue as a matter of sharing a child’s reaction to a book, but omits how the author was contacted and brought into the twitter thread, and the child’s excitement was described in terms of all the positive qualities of the book and what it represents. Also, she was warned once before about endorsing books online.

    Framing the problem as “why can’t she make a vague comment on behalf of a child” ignores how specific and viral the endorsement was. She could just as well have shared the child’s reaction in a private group or among coworkers.

  5. Kathy Lasley says:

    Appreciate willingness to review and clarify policies. This just shows that children and adults have a hard time keeping their thoughts to themselves and do not like consequences. Hopefully the integrity of the process will not be compromised.

  6. Penny Markey says:

    Just because a child loves a book or doesn’t like a book does not qualify or disqualify that book from consideration as a Newbery contender. Removal from the committee should depend on how the tweet was written and specifically what was said — Sorry guys, during my Newbery year, I was delighted to recommend high quality, newly published books to kids and colleagues, titles that I thought that they would appreciate knowing about and enjoy reading and sharing. The books were never discussed in context of the Newbery Award. I didn’t tweet or use social media. But, should I have been disqualified?- – maybe…

  7. Julie Corsaro says:

    There are specific rules for members of these committees. Whether these rules are fair or reasonable is certainly something we can debate. But when members agree to serve they agree to follow these rules; if they do not follow the rules, then they can no longer serve.

  8. First, there are many ways that serving committee members can and do continue to do their jobs extraordinarily well within the current guidelines. Suggesting that 21st century librarians can’t serve and work at the same time is utter nonsense and not at all reflective of the actual work of librarians.

    Second, Angie is well-known, well liked and an outspoken advocate of diversity in children’s literature. These are valuable attributes and I hope she continues her good work. It is clear many people never read, or do not clearly remember, the content of the tweets about an eligible book that led to Angie’s resignation. She has accepted responsibility for her error, and admits it was her fault. Sadly, I believe she crossed the line into territory that would cast a shadow on the entire award this year. As unfortunate as it is, she then took the only appropriate step, out of respect for the award itself, and I respect her for that.

    Third, and most importantly, the committee will deliberate without her and that is no doubt very sad for her (and the remaining committee members). However, rest assured there are others on the committee who are also fierce advocates for diversity in children’s literature. The books that deserve to be recognized will be recognized.

    Finally, although the rules as they stand now may need some tweaking, in no way to do I endorse a set of rules that would allow committee members to tweet @ authors and publishers of eligible books during their year of service.

  9. Diane Bronson says:

    The moment that it becomes OK to mention “some” things but not others, the door opens to endless debate and disagreement over what those “some” things should be and whether “something” fits within or is outside the “some” allowed things. The committee has taken the best (I don’t say right, because that again would open up too much debate!) approach it can in trying to avoid the taint of bias or undue influence in the selection process. There is a reason that the Newbery and Caldecott awards and committees are the most prestigious in ALA; their work and product is unparalleled and completely trusted. It needs to stay that way. I feel sorry for this librarian, but she made a mistake and is paying the price. What’s really hard for me to understand is that some would refuse the rare and valuable opportunity to serve on the committee because of how it would restrict their online activity.

  10. The book in question, Jason Reynolds’ Miles Morales: Spider-Man, was discussed in her tweets in the context of a young patron who didn’t know that superheroes could look like him. If I recall she talked about introducing him to the Miles Morales comics first and how excited he got and then when she got an ARC of Reynolds book giving it to the boy whose face was positively beaming. It was a beautiful series of tweets about representation in media, about the power of comics to draw young people into reading outside their comfort zone (I can’t recall exactly but I seem to remember the boy not reading many chapter books before). The whole point of her tweeting was to talk about how happy this boy was. She didn’t talk about the content or quality of the writing of the book at all if my memory serves, only how important it was for this one boy to have a book with a black/ Latino character that was like him. It is a real shame that she deleted the tweets and that she was removed from the committee.

    • Julie Corsaro says:

      As Ms. Manfredi detailed on her blog, she had an extensive conversation with both the author and an editor of the book via Twitter, one that garnered one million re-tweets, or something like that in Twitter vernacular. Prior to that online conversation, she admitted that she had already been warned by ALSC after posting/ tweeting a review of a book (previously unsigned) that was published in Kirkus. She stated in her long post that she was asked to step down by ALSC due to the appearance of a conflict of interest, which is the gist of the policy to which she would have had to agree in writing before joining the Newberry Committee. The ALSC Policy for Service on Award Committees (easy to find via Google ) includes agreeing NOT to publish signed reviews nor participate in social media for ONE YEAR of service.

      I understand that many younger librarians get their bona fides through social media, as well as by advocating for representation and inclusion via literature in a profession that has a long history of social justice. But it’s not about the individual (and one million retweets) but about the committee and its work as a whole in an association that prides itself on its core value of integrity.

      Ms. Manfredi is not the first person to be asked to step down from an ALSC award committee. She is unlikely to be the last. Members that have had to painfully resign due to conflicts and other issues have gone on to serve on future ALSC award committees and in governance. All is not lost.

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