Friday, February 3, 2017

My Life on a YALSA Committee

I've had the honor of being a member of the 2016 and 2017 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers selection committee. Let me share with you a bit about our committee and what it's really like to be a member.

What is the purpose of this selection list?

The purpose of our list is to identify books for recreational reading for young adults (ages 12-18) who, for whatever reasons, do not like to read.

What's the difference between a selection committee and an award committee?

Quick Picks is a selection committee, the public (librarians like you!) can nominate titles and our list of what has been nominated is updated regularly throughout the year on YALSA's website. When our committee meets our meetings are open to the public and any conference attendees, including publishers can drop in and share about the books we are discussing.

An awards committee is much more private. Their nominations and meetings are kept closed to the public, conference attendees and YALSA members, and only the final winner and honor titles are revealed. The public is still encouraged to nominate titles for the committee to consider.

Both types of committees have to follow YALSA's Social Media Policy which limits posting reviews or ratings of any books that are nominated.

What kinds of books do you look at for this list?

In order to be eligibile for our list the book needs to have been published in the United States from July to December of the previous calendar year. (Books on our 2017 list were published between July 2015 and December 2016.) Our committee looks at fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and manga.

How did you become a member of this committee?

You must be a YALSA member. Members of selection committees are appointed by the YALSA President-elect. In order to apply you need to fill out the Committee Volunteer Form, answer questions on your reading and involvement with teens and submit your resume. When I applied I volunteered for Quick Picks as well as the Alex Awards, Morris Awards, Best Fiction, and Popular Paperbacks committees. I needed to reapply for my second year.

What are your responsibilities as a member of this committee?

"Committee members are expected to participate in the nomination process, to evaluate a large number of books, to read all nominated books, to attend all committee meetings and to actively participate in book discussions." Our committee meets twice a year, first at Annual and then Midwinter when we finalized our list. It is up to you to either work with your library to pay for your trip or pay your own way.

How does a book get nominated?

Books get nominated one of two ways: either by the public or by committee member. A member of the public (as long as they are not the author or publisher) can submit a title through the Quick Picks page on the YALSA website. A committee member will then read the book and if they deem it worthy they second the nomination. If they don't, nothing further happens.

If a committee member reads a book and deems it worthy of the list and they nominate it, it becomes part of the nominations list.

What makes a book worthy of nominating?

Our committee looks at a variety of selection criteria when considering books:

Physical Appearance: Cover (is catchy and appealing?), print style (how large or small is the print, is the font readable?), format (is there a balance of text and white space?), artwork/illustrations (are they diverse, enticing?)
Style: Is the writing clear? Is sophisticated vocabulary used?

Fiction: Does the book capture the reader in the first 10 pages? Does the plot lag in the middle? Is the book developed through plot and dialogue?

Nonfiction: Are technical terms defined in context? Is it accurate? Is it objective?

How much did you read for this committee?

In short, A LOT. Committee members are required to read the nominated titles in order to vote for them to be on the list. In 2017 we had 151 nominated titles. In addition I read 62 books that I did not nominate and started at least 75 books that I started but did not finish.

What does a year on this committee look like?

After ALA Midwinter (late January, early February)- The new committee starts! Introduce yourself to the other committee members and talk about what we are looking for in a good Quick Picks nomination. The search begins for worthy books, so start reading reviews, seeing what's eligible that would fit with our list, and search your library and bookstore shelves. Read, read, read, and begin nominating any titles you deem worthy. Boxes of books will start arriving at your doorstep and it will be so much fun to see what arrives. Book your hotel and travel plans for Annual.

Usually a month before ALA Annual (early May) - Nominations are suspended in an effort for committee members to take a break from reading with the intent of nominating and focus on reading books that have already been nominated. Teen feedback is crucial for our list so get as much feedback as possible. Find out where your committee is meeting and what days and times at Annual.

ALA Annual (June) - It's meeting time! Now you finally get to meet your fellow committee members in person. Review the purpose of the list and begin discussing the nominated titles. Discussions are limited to 4-6 minutes per book. Don't forget to share the feedback you've gathered from teens. Participate in a straw poll to see how titles are currently fairing. Stop by the exhibit hall and talk to publishers about upcoming books. Attend any dinners, sessions, or speeches that you can.

After ALA Annual - Momentarily decompress from Annual. Nominations open again, continue to seek out and read new books, get teen feedback, and nominate. Get less excited about the ever growing pile of books that you receive in the mail. Who knew so many books were teen books were published this year? Book your hotel and travel for Midwinter.

Usually a month before ALA Midwinter (December) - Nominations officially close. Now you know how many books you have to read before Midwinter. Make sure you've read all the nominations (if you didn't read the book you cannot vote for it to be on the list). Try to balance the stress of the holidays and the huge pile of books you need to read. Start using the excuse "but I need to read all the these books" for staying up late and canceling plans.

ALA Midwinter (January) - Continue reading those few remaining nominated books. Meet back up with the committee and talk about all of the nominated books (including those discussed at Annual). Share feedback from teens and start narrowing down titles that you will vote for to be on the list. On the last meeting day you vote for the final list. There are 11 committee members and each book needs to receive at least 7 votes to be added. In 2017 we narrowed down our list of 151 nominations to 71 titles and two series. Next each committee member writes down 10 titles they believe are best of our list. The ten with the most votes becomes our top ten list. Now comes the hard part - annotations. Each little description/blurb must be short and cannot be taken from the publisher.

How do you get teen feedback on nominations?

There is no required way to get feedback for books. Most committee members give out short survey forms with nominated books and look at how well the book is circulating in their community. For the two years that I was on the committee I created an online survey for teens and shared it at my library and with librarians across the country to share with their teens. My survey didn't require teens to have read any of the books but asked for feedback on the cover and description. Teens shared whether or not it appealed to them and if they read the book.

What was the best part of being on this committee?

Okay, probably the best part of being a committee member is the number of free books publishers send you. Every week you get boxes of books at your house. We were sent more than 700 books this past year. Publishers send them to us in an effort to get us to read and nominate their titles. They also send us copies of titles that have been nominated. Committee members do a variety of things with these books. We cannot sell them but we do keep some, share with our family and friends, and donate them to local libraries or organizations that serve teens.

Other great things about being part of the committee include: meeting librarians from around the country, reading books that you may not normally pick up on your own, and having to go to the ALA meetings.

What was the worst part of being on this committee?

The worst part is writing a catchy annotation. When committee members submit a book for nomination we have to have a brief, catchy description. They cannot be the publisher's blurbs. New committee members, including myself, have a hard time writing them. At first our blurbs can be a paragraph or more. We try to shoot for a sentence or two. The last thing we do as committee members is write and finalize the annotations for all the books on our list. This year we spent four hours working on our 73 titles. It is mentally exhausting.

How can I get involved?

To get involved on a YALSA Award or Selection Committee you need to be a YALSA member and apply on their volunteer form. This year some committees including the Quick Picks committee are transitioning to online only. This means that you no longer are required to attend ALA Annual and Midwinter to participate. YALSA is currently looking for volunteers to be on the Amazing Audio and Quick Picks selection committees, and for individuals interested in blogging for the Hub. You have until February 12, 2017 to apply. If you are interested in learning about the transitions of Amazing Audiobooks, Popular Paperbacks, and Quick Picks to online committees you can check out this document from YALSA.

The 2017 Quick Picks Selection Committee holding our Top Ten Titles. I'm holding Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston.

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