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Are you on a state readers’ choice committee?

Most states have special awards for children and young adults’ favorite books. Either adults or students create a list, narrow it down, and then students read from a "select" list to vote for their favorite. Some committees only accept suggestions from students, some committees rely solely on experts, some welcome preview titles from publishers, and some refuse to be influenced by publishers. How does your committee choose their books?

I served short stints on these committees in Illinois, Iowa, and Tennessee. While I enjoyed reading from a large list of books and helping the committee narrow the list, I was often frustrated by LACK OF ACCESS to the newest of the new books to recommend titles. Have you experienced this? If you are in a no-budget school, you aren’t likely to be buying a larger variety of titles before they are on the "great" lists. The bottom line is no money means you are very selective. The state committees have to have much broader access to be inclusive.

Access is a huge determinant of how titles get on to the initial lists for states. I have seen titles that are given away at ALA conference in special events like breakfasts, dinners, and parties becoming standards on many lists. They may not always be the best book out there, but there are enough copies available for the committee members to read and evaluate them for the state. Is this fair to smaller publishing companies? Did they have access to the committee members? Will those people receiving books share them with other members on the committee?

What about the members who didn’t have access to the event? Many are not invited. Many are in other meetings or events. Some of us attend a working meeting every Sunday at ALA annual for AASL’s affiliate assembly and miss the huge Grolier/Scholastic breakfast where many of these titles are given away. Sorry, Scholastic, I’m naming names. I tried through corporate channels to let them know 2 leaders of nearly every state are busy that Sunday morning in the Affiliate Assembly meeting and can’t get these titles and goodies, but there are plenty of other librarians out there to attend the breakfast so they don’t seem concerned about the 130 or so people who don’t attend. 

This is not my opportunity to complain and whine about not getting the books or the occasional coffeemug (I find a way) . I believe this a lost opportunity to get books in the hands of every state school library organization or to make contact with them so companies can update the committee chair names. Publishing companies need our help. If we continue to put only the books on the list that are available through a bookfair, we are relying upon the bookfair companies to overcome our lack of access.

I asked several publishing companies to chat with me about how state committees obtain books. They cite these problems:

State award committee web sites don’t have a well-maintained, up-to-date list of committee chairs so publishers can contact them to offer to send books. 
Committee chairs change frequently so when publishers are proactive and contact them, members have changed. 
Some committees accept review books, others don’t, and they may not spell out the difference on their website.
There may be some people requesting these review books who <gasp> are not on the committee.
It’s expensive for publishers to reach out.
There is no simple site to access all state lists and contacts.

Okay, I understand all of those reasons. So let’s try approaching this from another perspective. If you are a committee chair and need to obtain copies of books for your members, how do you do this? Have you found a list of publishing companies that are willing to send books? Could you use such a list? Are you content with choosing from the limited access you currently have? Would you be willing to contact publishers if I developed a list and posted it here of contacts? 

Let’s work together and solve the access problem for committees.


  1. Jennifer Smith says:

    I am the chair of a state middle school reading list. 3 years ago, we got an administrative assistant who keeps contact with the publishers, informs them of nominations, distributes the members’ mailing list and requests books. We also have a very strong state association and annual conference. The chair and admin assistant take the time to make personal contact with each publisher. We also share the cost benefit of a book appearing on our list. (If every middle school and public library buys 1 copy of the book, so much money would be earned.)

    Some publishers send us all their new releases for the age group; some only send what is requested and/or nominated; some don’t send anything. We accept review copies. We have built some good relationships with publishers and our list has a good reputation. I think it takes time to build the relationships, but contacts at the publishing companies change so often that it is difficult to know who to contact. I think a list of companies that want to provide copies would be great. It would also be good if each publisher had a standard contact address/email for committees, not a specific person who may be here today and gone tomorrow.