ALA Responds to YMA Ceremony Criticism

Including the Asian Pacific American Librarians Award and Sydney Taylor Book Award winners did not overcome the disappointment felt by many when ALA did not announce the affiliates' honor books during the ceremony.

When the American Library Association (ALA) announced that it was going to include some affiliate awards in the annual Youth Media Awards ceremony to better recognize diverse children’s literature, it was cause for celebration. The affiliates chosen—the Asian Pacific American Librarians Association , American Indian Library Association (AILA) , and the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL) —were excited to share the spotlight with the Newbery, Caldecott, Printz, and Coretta Scott King awards.

But when the moment came on Monday, it was not all they had hoped. While the YMAs ceremony opened with the announcements of the APALA and Sydney Taylor Book Award (chosen by AJL) winners, no honor books were mentioned. (AILA did not have 2019 awards to announce.)

Author Emily X.R. Pan, whose The Astonishing Color of After was named APALA Young Adult Literature Honor Book, took to Twitter a day later with a thread explaining how she felt as she watched waiting to hear her name and never did, then failed to see the recognition mentioned in press releases or coverage of the event.

“When I got the phone call about my APALA Honor, my wonderful School & Library team at Little, Brown emphasized how this should be kept secret and celebrated just like any other ALA award, how amazing it was going to be to see it announced along with all the other YMA awards."

“Well, if you weren't watching the awards yesterday, here's what happened: They didn't announce it. They announced the winners of the APALA award, and cut the honorees. They announced the winners of the Sydney Taylor award, and cut the honorees."

“I heard the rumor that they were short on time. I guess they didn't want to trim some of their longer descriptions of other books. And lucky thing that the Excellence in Early Learning Digital Media Award did not have to suffer the same—those honorees got to receive applause.”

She continued: “Do a search online for any press release or other write-up covering yesterday's awards, and you'll find that the vast majority of those don't mention the APALA or Sydney Taylor honorees either. Only what was broadcast was covered. Only what was broadcast was considered important."

“To emphasize the importance of celebrating diversity and abolishing cultural invisibility—and then to decide that those awards could simply be truncated? Was the hope that nobody would notice?

“Was that 2018 announcement about the inclusion of these awards just another performance of allyship? And what a sting, too, for those committees who worked so hard on their selections, excited for the mark they would make in support of these marginalized identities.”

According to Jody Gray, director of ALA’s Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services, the leadership of the affiliates were part of the decision to only announce the winners this year and, as far as she knew, they had told the authors and publishers of that decision.

Gray released a statement on Wednesday to address the situation and growing criticism. In explaining the key factors in the decision, she wrote:

“One of the biggest obstacles is the timing of the event. I know that seems like an arbitrary thing that should not be such a barrier, but the reality is that the YMA’s are obligated to maintain their designated time because of other events that are also impacting the Midwinter Meeting. The Martin Luther King Sunrise Celebration occurs from 6:30 AM-7:30 AM and a huge majority of the member leaders (particularly those who are invested in supporting equity, diversity, and inclusion) are in attendance and have roles in this event. Immediately after the YMA’s the ALA Council meets. We know this is not ideal, but this schedule has not been made without consideration of ALL of the events happening."

"All of that is to say, that adding three new awards would inevitably mean more time. In speaking with the affiliates, we all agreed that for this year, we would only announce the winning titles. In addition to the normal time constraints, it was the 20th Annual Martin Luther King Sunrise Celebration and that event was also possibly going to be strapped for time."

"We have always thought of this collaboration with the affiliates as a work in progress. We knew our initial launch may be met with challenges. As mentioned earlier, we are already in talks with how we improve this going forward. There was never any intention of disrespect to any affiliate, author, or publisher. We will continue to examine opportunities to enhance the YMAs.”

While time constraints and scheduling is understandable for the ceremony, there were no such reasons for not putting the honor books in the main ALA press release that announced the winners. Gray did not address that in her statement, but responded to an email from School Library Journal about the issue.

“[The affiliates] reviewed and approved all press releases. We made no move on their behalf without their input and consent,” Gray wrote. “Each press release points to the affiliates award page for their information. I also want to stress again, this was the first time we all went through the steps. We are always looking at ways to improve the show and the communications.”

SLJ reached out to leadership at the affiliates involved. No one from APALA has responded, and a spokesperson at AJL declined to comment.

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Kara Yorio

Kara Yorio (kyorio@mediasourceinc.com, @karayorio) is news editor at School Library Journal.

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