Roger Sutton wrote an editorial for the July/August issue of The Horn Book Magazine that struck a chord with me last week. Read it in full here.
The ALSC Board, which oversees the division of ALA focused on services to children 12 and younger, has been working on changing the policy for those serving on their awards committees (which includes the Caldecott and Newbery). Roger’s major concern with the new policy is that it imposes a “gag order” on those serving. The members of these committees aren’t allowed to review books professionally nor personally, and they can’t talk about eligible books in any capacity anywhere online. They can’t write book lists, can’t blog about any element of the books, and so forth, if the title is eligible for their committee’s award.
While what he talks about is related to ALSC, his points are relevant to something that caught my eye in the board documents released prior to ALA Annual from YALSA, the organization dedicated to services to young adults and which administers the Printz award, among others.
Brought to the Board as a consent item, YALSA’s changing their social media policy as it relates to service on awards committees, too. You can read the entire proposal, which was passed on Saturday, right here. For the most part, it’s of the same line of expectations that many who have served have been operating under: don’t write personal reviews about books on the internet. Those could be misinterpreted by an average person, especially if your affiliation with an award is known. The policy also says that writing reviews for professional outlets is not allowed, meaning that those serving on a committee like the Printz can’t write reviews for professional trade journals including School Library Journal or VOYA (and the wording doesn’t make clear whether or not this policy extends to journals like Kirkus or Publishers Weekly which post unsigned reviews). For those who review for a little extra income, that means they’re losing that cash in exchange for a year of service. This is a loss not only to them, but it’s also a loss to the larger professional committee that depends upon solid critical reviews — ones you’d expect from professionals with the capacity to serve on awards committees.
Another point of interest in the new policy was buried in the FAQ section:
Does this mean I may not blog or tweet?
Committee members may not blog or otherwise communicate electronically (outside of the internal committee work process) regarding any aspect of eligible titles during their committee term. Once their term is complete, committee members may not discuss the status of books as having been or not been under consideration, suggested, and/or nominated for the award or anything else discussed during the closed committee meetings.
The bolded text gets to what Roger’s talking about in his piece. The new policy is indeed a gag order. There’s to be no electronic communication about eligible titles — any YA titles published in 2015 — at all outside of communication within the committee’s work process.
No booklists. No reader’s advisory. No talk of book covers.
For some YA librarians, that would mean they cannot do the job they are paid to do, where their job may involve updating social media or other electronic resources that have their name attached — and this happens regularly as part of many library’s desire to be seen as more personable — with information about books for the sake of their teens. They’d have to go to their boss and say they can’t do the job they were hired for for the sake of the award and the secrecy surrounding it.
In my case, that would mean not talking about any 2015 titles at all here on STACKED, no talking about 2015 titles at Book Riot, and no talking about any 2015 titles on Twitter or Tumblr or any other social network. The only time it would be okay to talk about any 2015 YA titles would be in person.
As Roger noted in the comments section of his post linked above, if someone on the committee were approached about writing an article about YA books, they wouldn’t be allowed to. If a person on the committee were approached about offering some recent reads that would appeal to a type of reader via their blog or Twitter, they couldn’t answer unless it was in person.
“Have someone else do it” sounds great in theory, but it’s not always a possibility for many, for any number of reasons. Some librarians have gained their experience through electronic means and many work in rural or small libraries where they are the sole person doing the work of reader’s advisory. Where they ARE the expert and expected as part of their job to talk and write about books. Or, they’re in places like I am where my professional experience and knowledge has put me in the great position of being able to talk about books and reading online as a job.
When I was elected onto Printz, I spent a long time wondering whether I’d still be able to do my job at Book Riot and not have a massive conflict of interest. If I wasn’t reviewing and I weren’t promoting my work in conjunction with my position on Printz, it didn’t seem like a problem.
But this new policy is an overstep that asks committee members to put their jobs involving talking and/or writing about books and their knowledge about books on hold for a year in exchange for choosing a handful of books to be regarded as “the best.” Of course being on Printz or on another award committee is not a right anyone is entitled to; it’s a privilege. But it’s a privilege that privileges those with the ability to put aside their passion, their enthusiasm, their opportunities, and in some cases, their jobs in order to maintain a shroud of secrecy.
Because of this, I made the decision to quit the Printz committee to which I was elected for next year.
It’s more important to me to advocate for readers and the books out there for them than it is for me to spend a year not talking. To spend a year in silence because I don’t have an in-person community with which I can talk about books or reading. That, as long-time readers may recall, is why STACKED began in the first place and why it continues to be the blog that it is. It’s why I took the job at Book Riot, too: more opportunity to talk about and be passionate for readers and books.
There’s a particularly thought-provoking line in Roger’s editorial that sticks out:
No librarian worthy of the name should ever put herself in the position of not being able to promote good books.
I’d rather give up this opportunity — one that many wonderful, generous people helped me earn by signing the petition to get me on the ballot and then voting for me in the election — than spend a year worrying that any and all things I say can or would be used against me by YALSA.
Because what would constitute as electronic communication? What would the line be between what’s appropriate and what isn’t? What would happen were I to tweet with an author, for example, who had an eligible book during my committee term? What if I answered a request from someone who wanted to know about some diverse contemporary YA that had come out recently? What if I were asked to help identify a book by its cover and it happened to be an eligible book?
Maybe those sound a bit extreme, but they’re not.
Two years ago, I was asked to be part of the Outstanding Books for the College Bound committee. But, when I received the offer, there was a string attached to it — I needed to have a talk with someone because there were some concerns about me.
I’m a rule-follower who pours over things like board documents to think through what an organization I’m part of is doing, so hearing there were concerns sent me into a panic. The concerns were two part. First, I misattributed a blog post an individual blogger wrote to the organization, which was an error on my part and I apologized.
The second was a comment I made about YALSA wanting to implement paid advertising on their Hub Blog, to generate money off content put together by its members, who essentially pay membership fees to run the blog and write for it. I didn’t — and still don’t — think an organization should profit off the hard work of its members without compensating them for it. I was told that raising this point in my own blog space was inappropriate, to which I responded that as a paying, active, and involved member of YALSA, I had the right to share an opinion about these decisions, whether or not they’re implemented or considered.
I have a right to my voice, especially if I’m involved.
Not long after that, I went to ALA Midwinter and served as the administrative assistant to the Alex Committee. I’d been a part of it all that year, but this was when the actual decisions were being made. It was a wonderful experience — my first sitting on a committee making some big choices. As an admin, I had no reading to do and I couldn’t talk about the books. I was there to take notes, to run the straw polls, and to do other administrative tasks as they arose. That means long stretches in a room being silent. Not a huge deal; it was fun to watch the passion and debate over what titles deserved the honor.
When the deliberations were going on, I made a couple of tweets about the process. I believe one was something like it’s great to watch how passionately these committee members are debating books and I believe I tweeted when the final slate was selected saying that they all worked hard and it was going to be exciting to share those titles. Absolutely nothing about the process was said (I may have said I was running the straw poll and that it was intense) and no book titles or discussion points were tweeted. It was innocuous tweeting about how fun the experience was.
I got home from ALA to a phone call where I was told that what I’d done in tweeting was inappropriate. Because it was a closed committee, absolutely nothing was to be said and I needed to be careful.
This surprised me because everyone who is involved in YALSA or who cares about these awards knows that members of closed committees frequently tweet when they’re done or tweet they’re excited to have picked their winners. It’s part of raising the profile of the award and more, the HARD WORK that committees put into their year of service. It is something I had seen in the past, and something I’ve seen since: lots of us talked about how early the Printz committee had finished their deliberations at the most recent ALA Midwinter — multiple committee members tweeted about it — and we speculated on what that could mean come the day of announcements.
I’m still confused why I was singled out about what I’d tweeted out the year before when I’d done nothing differently.
These experiences are why I chose to step down from the Printz committee. With YALSA’s decision to gag order all communication about books electronically that could be eligible for an award, every word I say would be scrutinized. Because of my previous experience with the inconsistency in how these policies are enforced and the feeling YALSA was not receptive to discussion about the operation of the organization from its members, I didn’t think spending a year worrying that any or all things I say could turn into a problem at any given moment was worth it.
Abby wrote a post a few years ago about how ALA is not your mom. It’s well-worth reading, especially because the point of it is how important being an active and engaged member of your own community — whatever it is — is how you make it worthwhile.
The part I want to especially highlight is this:
I’m here today to say that ALA is an organization made up of US. It’s not some magical entity floating around to solve all librarians’ problems. ALA is what we make of it.
Therefore, if you’re not getting what you want out of ALA (what is it that you want out of ALA, anyway?), the only way to change that is to get involved.
ALA is not your mom. ALA is not there to do your laundry and pick up your socks, metaphorically speaking. ALA exists to create a professional network for the sharing of ideas, the bettering of our profession, and the education of library staff.
You know what is absolutely NOT helpful? People complaining about something and not doing anything to change it. ALA is what you make of it. If you don’t like it, get involved and change it.
I’ve tried to make the best of being in YALSA by regularly volunteering. I blogged for the Hub for 2 years, served on a process committee very early in my career, I’ve presented and put in proposals to present multiple times, and I’ve volunteered to be on selection committees every year since the start. I find satisfaction in being involved. It costs me a lot financially (all paid for on my own) and in terms of time. I do it because I love being a part of an organization comprised of people like me who are impassioned and dedicated to teens, teen lit, and teen library services. I do it so I can work toward making change happen.
But this new policy and my previous experiences have made me see this organization as more like my mother than as an organization made up of “us” — people like me and unlike me who share similar interests and intellectual development opportunities.
You can be involved and passionate, but an organization has to be receptive to that. They should be consistent, communicative, and willing to listen.
It’s better at this point for me to step away so that I can be involved in the book community and share my passion and knowledge with others. With these new policies, I’ve realized I cannot do this while connected to YALSA.
I, like all elected committee members past and present, care a lot about books and about readers, as well as connecting the right readers to the right books. I’d rather continue to engage publicly with this amazing book community — blogging, tweeting, tumbling, engaging in online discussion — to keep doing that. I’m disappointed I have to give up the opportunity to serve on the Printz to do so, but I can’t play by the rules that I didn’t agree to in the first place which now ask me to give up the things I worked so hard for over the course of my career. I respect the choices of all members and am grateful for the contributions and service to the book community that serving on a committee offers. But I also know I can’t be the only committee member in my position struggling with what this change in policy means.
All committee members have to make the decision that’s best for them, and this is the best choice for me.
I can’t wait to talk about the rich, wide world of 2015 in YA because I have a feeling it’s going to be worth shouting about. Books and reading are always worth celebrating and discussing.