Where You Fit In, Librarians
This blog is on the SLJ site, and so some of you may wonder why I suggested that aspiring NF writers focus on teachers, not librarians. Here’s the drill — speaking to both writers and librarians: those of us who are not librarians have pretty good ways of finding out what kinds of books will meet your needs. We know that you are told to use reliable review journals, such as SLJ, Booklist, Kirkus, the Horn Book, BCCB, PW (though it reviews almost no nonfiction), VOYA (for YA). Any writer can simply look at the books that get stars, that make it to end-of-the-year "best book" lists, that are picked for the NCSS-CBC Notable Trade Books in the Social Studies list, that are selected for state lists and awards, to get a decent sense of what criteria you are using. Writers, editors, publishers can and do attend the open meetings of the Notables and BBYA meetings at ALA annual and midwinter meetings. And while those committees change each year, and do not have any one single point of view on books, it is not hard to get a sense from them of what matters to librarians.
Aspiring writers: if you are not looking at those reviews, you should. But the problem is we simply do not have the same access to how teachers make decisions. We know the standards they have to meet. We read about (or experience through our own kids) the various ways in which NCLB changes what teachers do in class. But we have no way of reading over teachers’ shoulders and seeing the reviews that will influence their choices — and that is because those reviews do not exist. No national, state, or even local publication or website systematically reviews NF for teachers. Which leads us back to librarians, and the social studies crisis I mentioned some blogs ago.
The old idea was that you, the school librarians, would read the reviews, then be in touch with teachers to suggest books. Of course this still happens — perhaps most of you who read this blog do just that. But nationwide, that flow, that conduit, from reviews, to librarians, to teachers no longer operates. Too many schools do not have librarians, too many harried teachers rely on lists of books handed to them, or that they used last year — having neither the time nor the budget to consider new books. Too many schools have adopted the idea that the classroom library should be entirely fiction, while the school library should be NF (which is to say, reference).
This lack of contact between the world we authors and publishers have access to and the world of teachers and classrooms is why I suggest that writers need to do the spade work themselves. We simply do not have a good information flow between the needs of the classroom and book creators.
Am I missing something?