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Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
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Newbery Social Media “Guidelines” — How Strict Is It?

Roxanne:

A recent Newbery committee member’s experience reported by the member herself, on social media, and by industry outlets such as School Library Journal,  reminds me of a line from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: ‘the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.’  What is the difference between Guidelines and Rules?  When a section in the Newbery Committee Procedural Manual is named “Guidelines for Award Committees,” does that mean that the committee members have some liberty to interpret these guidelines as they see fit, even if the terms do not seem negotiable?  

#6 in the “GUIDELINES” section clearly states:

Members should not engage in any print or electronic communication outside of the committee regarding eligible titles during their term of service, although they may verbally express their personal opinions regarding eligible titles at any time. This includes, but is not limited to, professional and general journals/magazines/newspapers, electronic discussion lists, blogs, and social networking services (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).

However, it seems that the Committee member who took to her twitter account and reported on her library patron’s reaction to an eligible book didn’t believe that she violated this particular term (and continued to engage thusly after being privately asked to stop this form of endorsement.)

Sharon and Steven, what was your initial reaction when you first learned about this situation?

Sharon:

My first reaction was definitely shock and then I sort of went straight into, “I need to gather details before I make a decision on how to feel” mode.

I agree that it’s complicated when things are called “Guidelines” and not “Rules” and I think when there’s any ambiguity it becomes hard to enforce things and ensure that people will see it as fair.  I definitely understand why this committee member was beyond upset – I can’t even imagine how devastating it must be – and I also understand people rallying to her side.  

We give so much of ourselves to these committees, and we want to feel valued, honored, and appreciated, and so I think this feels like a slap-in-the-face to some people who donate their time (and money to get to conferences, and to pay their membership dues) to ALA and ALSC.  

I can also see the other side, though, and understand that the integrity of these awards being compromised is also not OK and does not show respect to the people who serve on committees. It’s hard, for me, to say a lot more because I don’t know what really happened. I don’t know exactly what she was told, and what the first warning was. I don’t know how the decision was made to remove her and I can’t compare it to other similar situations because I simply don’t have that information.

I do think, though, that this makes it obvious that these Guidelines need to be more straightforward and with less left to individual discretion if the consequences are so severe.

Roxanne:

Although I also don’t know exactly what happened in this case, I can speak from personal experiences that ALSC leadership does not take removing anyone from an award committee lightly.  As a pretty avid blogger myself, I got into a couple of situations and had to remove content from my blog while serving on award committees, even when I thought I did not violate the guidelines.  Once I was asked, I complied — with initial indignation, of course, but also knew that it’s not the end of the world if I cannot review/blog about eligible books for a year.   It is, after all, just a year.  And I could still recommend and gush my heart out over beloved titles to my students and friends.  Great books do rise up to the top, promoted by many people who are not serving on award committees and blogs and online lists, etc.  When serving on an Award committee, I can see dedicating my energy toward those final winning/honored titles without publishing additional materials that could potentially be construed as inappropriate.

Sharon:

I agree and do think that she made a poor decision.  Given the newest guidelines around this, I think if I were to serve now, I would pretty much shut down any blogging I was doing (on books or awards) and avoid mentioning any eligible books anywhere online.  When I served on the Caldecott Committee these guidelines were in the works, but what was in place at the time was even more murky.  I can say from experience that it was confusing.

In this case, I think that most of our children’s lit community feels real empathy for her and this situation even if it was the right call.

I do trust ALSC and have a hard time believing that this decision was made lightly or hastily.  I just wish we could have more information and understand how it did.

Steven:

I don’t know enough about this year’s situation to comment, except to echo that yes, it would be crushing to miss out on an opportunity that for most of us is a high point of our careers (and even our lives).  And that ALSC, in my experience, takes a decision like this with a high level of consideration.  

The guidelines sure are interesting, though.  In one way, the difference between “verbally expressing opinions” and sharing opinions online doesn’t seem that great.  If I were a Committee member I could say, “I think Vincent and Theo is a wonderful book, but that’s just my view, not a reflection of the Newbery Committee” to a friend or in a book discussion group, that’s okay.  But the same words in a blog or a tweet are not okay.  I’m saying the exact same thing, so why should it matter where or how?  But it does matter.  The posted version can get reposted, reinterpreted, taken out of context, and eventually be seen as real inside information about the workings of the Committee.  It does seem counter-intuitive, if you regularly share book opinions online and all of a sudden, during the year in which you’re doing more reading and more deep thinking about books than you ever have before, you have to stop.  But as Roxanne says, it’s just a year.  

Roxanne:

Sharon and Steven, thanks for your words on this.  There is a ALSC Task Force, working on reviewing the revising award committee manuals on Confidentiality and Promotion in the 21st Century, Refresh Eligibility Interpretations, Batchelder e-Book eligibility, Wilder Committee changes, and Other housecleaning as identified.

I would love now to invite Heavy Medal readers to weigh in.

 

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Roxanne Hsu Feldman About Roxanne Hsu Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at roxannefeldman@gmail.com.

Comments

  1. I had the same take as Steven: That she followed the guidelines for *in-person* talk about the books, instead of the online guidelines.

    The whole situation scared me silly – since I’m just beginning my committee service. I’ve got a website of reviews, and I’m very active on Facebook, and a little less so on Twitter. I’m taking the whole thing as a cautionary tale. I reread the guidelines when this happened and am going to be very, very careful. As it happens, I am so far behind on posting the reviews I’ve written, I figure I can post old reviews the whole year without running out of material.

    • Sondy, I don’t think you need to worry. Just do what Sharon said: don’t blog or tweet. It’s kind of freeing, actually, to not have to engage in social media that way for a long stretch of time. Also, the Task Force might come up with different rules for your year!

  2. Stephanie Sedik says:

    If she was indeed asked to stop and continued then her removal was justified.

  3. Meredith Burton says:

    I was unaware of this incident and am saddened that someone simply stating that a child was captivated by a book had to face such repercussions. I suppose she shouldn’t have mentioned the title or author, and that might have been what caused the trouble. I am a teacher, and I recommend books to children all the time in hopes that they will find something that will spark their interest. However, I understand that an award’s integrity has to be maintained, and people might fear conflict of interest.

    This reminds me of how a committee involves teamwork and not just an individual. So, I respect the librarian’s decision to resign but don’t feel it was necessary. Seems as if people overreacted. She could have argued her case for the book, but the final decision wouldn’t have just rested with her, would it? In 2015, I was so captivated by a book called Bone Gap that I wrote about it constantly and talked about it just as frequently. I suppose I would have had to resign, too!

    I hope the librarian does not allow this incident to influence her future work as it is the job of all librarians and educators to encourage self-expression and to help children find role models not only in real life but in literature.

  4. This is such a dilemma. I started my blog in 2007 thinking naively that I’d feature a series on my Newbery reading (being on the 2008 Committee). Roger Sutton, on Caldecott, similarly had just started his blog. I remember vividly sitting with a bunch nascent bloggers at Midwinter that year where the Board was contemplating a rule that we could not blog at all. Happily they saw reason and we were allowed to blog non-award stuff. Since then I’ve watched the rules be strengthened and have puzzled about them. Why, I have wondered, can we talk in person about our preferences, but not online?

    Sorting out what happened in this instance has helped me to understand. At first I was outraged, but then better understood how she had broken clearly delineated rules. And these conversations about what happened also makes it clear to me that for those with major social media following it is problematic to think of the platform in the same way as talking to a group of colleagues in RL. It is all that amplifying that is the problem. Your words go out to hundreds and thousands. So now sadly (because I too felt horrible for Angie) I better understand the need for this in some form. I look forward to seeing what the taskforce comes up with. Back in Roger’s and my day my sense was the Board was very vague on the nature of blogging, but now I assume there will be task force members who understand the situation thoroughly and thus trust their recommendations.

  5. One of my problems with the verbal versus social media distinction is it favors folks who live in large cities or work for big systems. Those of us who don’t are being shut down in conversation in ways that others are not, because of where they live and who they work for. Was a rule broken? Yes. Are the rules fair? Do they privilege some over others? That is the question, and one that was raised at the time.

    • That’s an excellent point, Liz!

      People who live in NYC see writers all the time! I see the posts, the photos, the gatherings… And, they can talk about those books with other librarians at gatherings all the time, too!

      Sometimes it feels like NYC versus the rest of the country, when I look at the landscape of who goes where, who has meet-ups, etc.

      • Funny, I have been just thinking about Urban vs Rural and how so few children’s books seem to be really about contemporary rural life in the U.S. — those kids do not see themselves mirrored in children’s literature. And we wonder why the country gets more and more divided and people do not understand each other.

      • Another theoretical – librarian has to booktalk as part of their job. That includes having the list on the library website and social media to promote it. Does the inclusion of eligible titles mean this list is a violation?

      • Roxanne, yes – these are all the ways that the way things always have been gets reinforced. If publishers know that a committee members comments in a NYC preview don’t indicate a preference for author, title, publisher, why does the publisher think otherwise when the info is in a tweet? The difference is who gets to be in the room.

  6. Leonard Kim says:

    I wonder whether the ill-advised action on Ms. Manfredi’s part was not the initial tweet but her later action (by her own account) of talking “in twitter replies with a handful of people about it, including the author of the book and someone from the publishing department.” Without seeing the tweets, I believe that creates far more of a perception problem re: conflict of interest than the initial tweet (which is still problematic, but perhaps less consequential.) it’s sort of like the Bill Clinton-Loretta Lynch “tarmac meeting.” It could have been completely innocent and innocuous, but the simple fact of interactions with author and publisher makes it hard to maintain the required independent image.

  7. I’ve read a little into this, but one big question remains for me:

    Did the member/ex-member specifically state the title of the book in her blog? Or did she just mention that the child liked “a book being considered,” omitting such specifics as title, author, give-away plot points? Because I’d say that would make the difference of how fair or unfair her removal was.

    On a personal opinion note: I find it creepy that The Newbery Man is monitoring the online activities of committee members so closely as to catch something like this. It almost feels like cyber stalking. But, of course, that’s just me.

    • I believe that the title/author was mentioned, and there was some public engagement between the said member and the author/publisher via twitter. I don’t believe there is anyone actually spending their time monitoring social media activities from ALSC (Association of Library Services to Children, a national organization that sponsors and administers the Award). However, it is a large division with many members who are actively engaging in social media, especially children’s library services and children’s books. I know that when I served on the Odyssey Award this past year, certain blog posts from my site were brought to the attention to ALSC Board by an ALSC member and they reviewed those posts, decided that it was revealing too much of our process and some titles might be guessed via my (not so) vague descriptions and assessments. We had a few exchanges and I agreed to not blog about my Odyssey Committee experiences for the year. I went on and served my full term, had the best time, and learned a whole lot during the year of listening and committee work. I hope this makes it less “creepy”?

  8. With all that’s said here, and my support for ALSC’s decision re this particular incident, I have to say that I would LOVE to be able to “talk”/”post” publicly regarding titles that I am reading — even when I serve on a Committee.

    I feel that it is invaluable for Award Committee members to be able to express their personal, expert, and thoughtful opinions on the books they read. They are probably reading more broadly during their tenure on the Committee then others and than when they read just for themselves. They have to keep a more critical mindset while they read the eligible titles than if they’re reading for work (getting books that kids will love into their library system, etc.) So, I feel that it is a loss to the entire children’s literature community that we cannot access critical views on the many excellent books of any given year from the Committee members.

    However, I can totally see how public gushing, endorsement of author friends’ books, and flaunting personal relationships with authors/editors without the backing of critical assessment and constant disclaimer as crossing the line of professionalism and should be curtailed.

  9. Lisa Castellano says:

    Not talking about the situation, but the guidelines. I am surprised that the guidelines allow verbal communication about eligible titles. For example, my school has two librarians. Let’s say I am on the committee. My colleague listens in on class that I I tell about an eligible book and say how amazing it is. What is stopping my colleague (putting aside professional ethics) from tweeting out that such and such a title looks to be a contender! Isn’t that violating the confidentiality of the committee? I think the verbal part of that guideline is murky at best.

    • Lisa, you brought up real life scenarios here — thanks! The fact is, this happens all the time. Close friends/colleagues to a committee member might have an inkling on which books this friend is rooting for. But, he/she should never divulge whether the Committee is considering the book as a contender. Every book published in the U.S. by a U.S. author is “eligible” but whether any book actually gets nominated and discussed in Midwinter Conference when the 15-member committee meets should not be public information. If one is a good friend to a Committee member, one would most likely not want to jeopardize your friend’s position on the committee by tweeting. And when I served on the committee, I definitely told my colleagues to not publicize via social media what transpires in more private/in person settings. If someone does go that far as to take what they hear as endorsement from the entire Committee, I could see it being a case for ALSC leadership to consider and hopefully they would have enough faith in the Committee member’s professionalism to know that it’s beyond their control. And make it widely known that personal opinions is just that — one person in a group of 15.

      The lovely thing about being on a Newbery Committee is that your mind is constantly being changed by the other 14 people. You go in with clear ideas of which titles are your TOP 7 (that you have nominated) but come out of the weekend surprised by what you have chosen as a team and how your views on many books have changed because of added perspectives.

  10. A sort of fun thing – our library marketing head arranged for me to go on a county podcast next February about being on the Newbery committee. I said that yes, I will – but to make it clear that I will not talk about any eligible books. I *do* see part of committee service as publicizing the award. I think it will actually be fun to talk about how I cannot mention online what my favorites are and how seriously the award deliberations are taken.

  11. Wouldn’t it be splendid to have a blog called OLDBERY in which last years Newbery committee could blog about books they discovered and loved in the process of reading that they might not have come across otherwise. I know they can’t talk about the content of their deliberations but it would be cool to hear about the breadth of their reading and how they grew as a reader over their term of service as well.

    • Honestly, Rosanne, I crave this. I think it would be so interesting to be offered insight into the process – to learn what was discussed. Sometimes the Newbery bubble/vacuum seems a bit silly to me. We’re talking about literature here, not life and death.

      My hope is that the awards committees, like all good things in life, continue to evolve and change be ever more attuned to the world. And haven’t we already seen this evolution in the last few years? Such refreshing winners and honors! I’d love to hear the stories behind those winners (and those that came to the table but were eventually dismissed).

      • Rosanne & Joe, add my voice to this call. I had to take my post-Newbery, top 40 titles from the year (2012 pub date) down from Fairrosa Cyber Library. It’s still sitting in my “draft” pile on wordpress. I think it will be fine if I bring some titles to light and talk about how much I appreciated them now, individually, and not tie them back to my Newbery tenure. And yes, it will actually be fantastic if ALSC has an official content site so we can promote titles that did not win but equally fantastic. I guess, in a way, Notable Children’s Books list serves that function well, too. Do you feel that a Newbery Committee member’s (or as some people call us, Newbery Judges) endorsement will carry more weight in promoting excellent titles?

      • Heck, I wouldn’t limit it to notable books that didn’t make it… I’d love to see some thoughts from former members about the books that have won and been honored and see what it was about certain titles that rose to the top.

      • I’ll have to look back over the guidelines – but I was under the impression that I can write reviews of eligible books – if I wait to post the reviews until after the decision has been announced, and if it makes absolutely clear this is my opinion only. (I would only write such reviews *before* any committee discussion had happened.)

        Honestly, I’m so far behind at posting reviews right now – I think I’ll just permanently swing into being a year behind.

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