Newbery Committee Inside Insights: How members organize, store, track, and evaluate hundreds of books in a year
Besides looking at this year’s crop of Newbery contenders, Emily and I will do a few shared “Inside Insights” posts where we look back at our own Newbery experiences. The idea is to give an inside view of some of the nuts and bolts of being on the Newbery Committee. We’re glad to answer questions and would also love to hear from others about their own Committee experiences.
[Steven] We’ll start out with one of the questions I’ve been asked most often: How many books do you get? Publishers begin sending books to each Newbery Committee member around March, and they keep coming all year. In both of my Newbery years (2010 and 2013) I started off determined to keep track of how many I received, but gave up pretty quickly. My best guess is that I got about 600 books each year. Emily, do you know how many you received? And how did you keep all those books organized?
[Emily] I was going to guess more like 1,000, it was so fun to get the boxes and boxes of books. I tried to explain to staff at my library how many books were coming, but they did not believe me until they saw all the boxes! I also enjoyed how some of the boxes had special presentation like fall leaves or confetti (though this didn’t change any opinions).
I organized my books with washi tape… different colors if a book was suggested or nominated, etc. I’m not sure how people organize themselves these days when they don’t get as many physical books…
[Steven] I was wondering how e-books have affected this process. Emily, do you know how many actual hard copies committee members get? 50%? 25%? Maybe a recent member can give us an update.
[Emily] I had a friend who was on the committee during 2020 (so 2021) award year and I think it was like 10%. I’m hoping it went up since then for organization’s sake LOL.
[Steven] During a mid-year meeting one year we members shared how we took notes as we read during the year. I was impressed with the variety of methods. One person described a complex system of colored post-its; another mentioned some high tech tools that were way over my head; one member said she takes no notes at all on the first read because she wants to experience each book as a reader first, not a critic. I love that last answer, but could never manage it. The books all run together if I don’t write stuff down as I’m reading. I jotted notes on a piece of paper as I read, then typed up those notes into neater bullet points on one very very long word document (I still do this, but am only at 39 pages so far this year).
[Emily] Notes? Almost 40 pages of notes? You’re funny…. The brain is a wonderful thing I always say (oh maybe this is why I always get my characters and books mixed up… hmmmm…)
[Steven] Just looked it up: I had 166 pages for my first Newbery year…
[Emily] I have definitely been guilty of reading books twice by accident (more often for Heavy Medal I’ll say) where I’m listening to an audio book and go hmm… this sounds familiar.
And of course the ever terrible mistake that happens every year. Reading an ineligible book!! That is the worst! What are your Newbery mishaps Steven?
[Steven] I had the ineligible thing too. I was halfway through THE LOST CONSPIRACY by Frances Hardinge, thinking: “this is it!,” then remembered that she’s from England. I still love that book…
[Emily] On the topic of mishaps I also was so paranoid that I was going to miss a book. We tend to always do this on Heavy Medal and you reassure me that its OK. But my Newbery year I was frantically reading EVERYTHING and scouring our new book shelves and reading all the blogs making sure I didn’t miss anything. I remember one person saying I don’t want to be the next Charlotte’s Web committee.
[Steven] I was especially nervous during my year as Chair that we would miss something. Especially when you get to November, and books are still being released. So at least one person has to catch those late publications, and if they look like contenders, quickly get the word out so all members can read it. (Kudos to the 2022 Committee for not missing A SNAKE FALLS TO EARTH, which, if my research is correct, was released later than any other Medal or Honor book in the past 25 years: November 23rd!)
[Emily] Speaking of being chair, Did you get more books as chair? Did you get all the self published books? Or did that start after your time?
[Steven] I’m pretty sure I was one of the first chairs who was the designated recipient of the self-published books. It wasn’t true when I was a member of the 2010 committee…we all received some. In my chair year, self-published books all came to me, not the members. My job was to review them and identify any that look like they could be contenders. If any are found, we would then request copies for all members. The chair could enlist the help of members with this process, but the books come to him or her first. I’m not allowed to say how many, if any, self-published books were forwarded to the committee, though.
[Emily] Thanks for all the intel Steven! I love hearing about what other people do! We’d love to answer more questions in the comments and will be back next month with more Newbery Committee Inside Insights!!
[Steven] And if you’ve served on the Newbery Committee (or another award committee), feel free to share what you can about your experience…
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired in 2022 after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at email@example.com.
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