Follow This Blog: RSS feed
A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

One and Done: Serving on ALSC Committees and Never Coming Back

alsc_logo_png_0Eleven years ago I served on the Newbery committee that would award Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky one of the loftiest children’s literary awards in the land. Ten years later I was tapped to serve as the chair of the Arbuthnot Lecture committee.  Why the gap in time?  In my particular case it had a fair amount to do with the fact that I’ve been publishing books for kids. Not always knowing when one book or another would hit the American marketplace I eschewed committee work. Then in 2014 or so the ALSC Committee Bylaws changed the degree to which a committee member could be active in social media. Were I to be asked to serve on a book award committee today I would undoubtedly have to give up this pretty little blog, to say nothing of Twitter and Facebook.

Yet for many, serving on the Newbery or Caldecott committees represents the fulfillment of lifelong dreams. Recently I joined a book discussion group here in Chicago where the topic turned to a phenomenon I was unaware of. In some cases a librarian will serve on the Newbery or Caldecott committee and then never serve again. Interestingly, committee members needn’t serve on other ALSC committees to be considered for inclusion or nomination. The question then became whether or not this is a problem or not.

Initially, I thought that this wasn’t much of a problem. I like fresh faces and new voices on committees. Many is the time I’ve looked at a committee and seen a lot of names repeating over and over again. There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you get the same people on the same committees repeatedly, there is a bit of a danger of not getting new perspectives on the books you’re considering.  The best committees, to my mind, are the ones that are a mix of old salts and fresh blood (and if that mixed metaphor struck you as weird, I’m a little surprised I wrote it too).

So my question for you today is this: Is it a problem when people serve on a major ALSC committee once and then disappear from volunteering ever again, or is it fine?  Should people spend more time applying for the less well-known (but no less important) ALSC committees?  Or is that problematic since it requires a certain financial responsibility on the part of some of the potential committee members?

I’m interested in your thoughts on the matter.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I’m genuinely puzzled as to why it might be a bad thing to be on a committee only once. Could someone flesh out the argument to explain why serving one year on a committee and then not feeling compelled to do so again, or to serve on a different committee, is somehow wrong?

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      The thinking would be that by serving only once and then disappearing you are denying ALSC your experience on the less lauded committees they offer.

  2. Andrea Vaughn Johnson says:

    Does this question stem from a concern that ALSC members are serving on prestigious media award committees and not returning to serve on less glamorous process committees? It’s not an admirable choice, but it would only be a problem if ALSC is short on volunteers. I can understand taking a break after the intense reading in a media award committee. Not to mention needing some time to haul the thousands of books you reviewed out of your home. :)

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      True enough. I wonder if there’s an advantage to serving on multiple committees in terms of widening your own experience, but as you say it may be fine just so long as there are enough volunteers.

  3. In my case, I was on lesser-known committees in order to build my resume to eventually get on the Newbery committee, which I did, for the 2019 committee. After I’ve done that, yeah… I’ll be a little less motivated…. I think I’ll probably take a break for at least a year, but I hope I will again jump in – all the committees are valuable experiences and a way to help.

    And I wonder – how many people *do* volunteer for the lesser-known committees? As Andrea said, it’s only a problem if ALSC is short on volunteers.

  4. Oh, and I am *so* far behind on posting the reviews I’ve written – I’m hoping I can post *old* reviews while serving on the committee, and still keep my website active… we’ll see….

  5. After serving on the Batchelder Committee (my life-long dream fulfilled), I took a break and have since found it terribly difficult to get on any committee, literary or procedural, despite reassurances from old salts. I suppose I can’t be too disappointed since I had that dream appointment.

  6. I am currently serving on an ALSC book award committee (also fulfilling a career dream) and am very willing to serve on another, less “glamorous” committee in the future…as long as it’s virtual so I can afford to participate! I do plan on taking at least a year break though, which is what I’ve done in the past after serving on reading-intensive committees.

  7. I’ve been on both the Geisel and the Batchelder, and loved both–the only other one I’d want to do is the Sibert. I don’t think I have the stamina for the Newbery or Caldecott, and unfortunately I’m now working at a library that doesn’t have a budget to send librarians to non-local conferences, so I doubt my participation will ever come up again. (Also, unless I’m misinformed, don’t we have to wait 4ish years in between applications to committees? That’s what I was told after being on the Geisel).

    BUT ANYWAY, I don’t mind the idea of committees made up of a bunch of new people, if that’s how it accidentally happens–new people don’t have any preconceived ideas about how things ‘should’ go, which means their choices are often innovative. (And, agree with it or not, the social media freeze [which, good lord, I’ve been told includes making local-library-specific paper booklists] means that no one who’s well-known in the field can take part without upending the life/career they’ve built for themselves).