Newbery Social Media “Guidelines” — How Strict Is It?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Filed under: Process
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 email@example.com.
SLJ Blog Network