Monday, April 11, 2016

Selection Committees: Lessons Learned

My first experience with selection committees was as a member of BFYA 2014. For those not familiar with BFYA, it is a YALSA list put out annually that features fiction books "recommended for ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens". I had no idea what I was getting in to!

I've always considered myself a voracious reader but I can honestly say that I have never read so many books in a year as I did that first year on BFYA. The official nomination list came in at 175 titles with a final list of 98 titles. But that number does not include all the books that I read but didn't nominate. Adding in the books I read but did not nominate, I probably finished around 200 titles in 2013. My second year on BFYA brought only 113 official nominations and a final list of 58 titles. Next I served on Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, which is a completely different beast than BFYA. The charge of Quick Picks is to suggest titles "that teens, ages 12-18, will pick up on their own and read for pleasure". For the 2016 List we had 181 nominations with 67 final titles and 2 series.

Lessons Learned:
Be prepared to read more than you ever have before!
If you are serving on a selection committee you are likely to read a minimum of 150 books in a year. Remember - you must read every nomination and you will be reading non-nominated books looking for titles to nominate. You won't have time to read non-nominated titles for a majority of the year. You won't have time to stay current on your favorite television shows. You may have to be "rude" and have your nose in a book during family holidays since voting meetings occur in January/February at ALA Midwinter.

Stay on top of nominations.
Stop and read titles as they are nominated by other committee members. Try to have all titles that are nominated before ALA Annual read by the time your committee meets at Annual. It is good practice to alternate between reading a nomination and then a potential nomination. Nothing is more frustrating at the end of a long year of reading than to have a book you really want on a list fall short because some committee members weren't able to read that title.

Take notes!
You need to be able to discuss - in detail - titles that you read nine months and dozens of books ago. Take detailed notes so that you remember characters, plots, and your pros and cons of each title. There are multiple ways of doing this but if you would like a copy of my notes template email me and I'll send you a copy.

Prepare for the final reading sprint.
You will likely need to build time into your schedule for the final reading sprint to finish all nominated titles. (Especially if you are procrastinator like me.) For the last two years of committee work I planned to use a few days vacation in January that were dedicated to finishing nominations. During these days I was often reading 3-4 titles a day. (I don't recommend this as it leads to extreme eye strain!)

Participate in the discussions and get teen feedback!
Don't be afraid to express your opinion about a title. The people serving on these committees are bibliophiles just like you and generous discussion leads to a much better final list. Each of the committees listed above consider teen appeal/interest as part of their selection criteria, so make sure to ask your teens what their thoughts are on current teen titles.

Network with your fellow committee members.
Committee work is a great place to meet people from around the country and is a phenomenal way to network. Participate in online discussions, get their contact information and keep in touch. You'll make friends and colleges and you never know where those relationships can lead.

Make space for all the books!
Each year that I've served on one of these committees I've received over 500 books from publishers hoping that their titles will be nominated. I highly recommend creating an inventory of the titles you receive and setting aside substantial shelf space in advance.  You may also want to invest in a collapsable dolly for transporting all the packages if they are not delivered directly to your front door.

Selection Committee work is a lot of work but it is also a lot of fun and I highly recommend participation. There are opportunities at both state and national levels, so check out your options and look into volunteer opportunities.

Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA) - 2013 & 2014
Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers (Quick Picks) - 2015