February 23, 2007

Thoughts on Newbery Award

The high tech part about the latest controversy over the 2007 Newbery Award is that it began through librarians and then children's literature experts discussing this online. Would the controversy have arisen if librarians only communicated to a few others online? Would Publishers Weekly, The New York Times and other media taken it as seriously if a school librarian from Kentucky called a NYT reporter to say that she had problems with words in the latest Newbery winner? I doubt it.

But because librarians and academics could discuss this on the internet the issue unfolded in a different way. Different aspects of the issue were aired in a somewhat sensible way. Yet, as usual it seems that those who are noisiest seem to want to win more and often end up doing so.

I am coming close to an end of a six-year-term as an elected board member of our local library, so I have come to see library issues from several perspectives: reader, parent, taxpayer, board member, free speech advocate. Librarians are not obligated to purchase a book just because it won a Newbery Award, or any other award. This is especially true for school libraries who serve a very select audience and who have a limited budget. Even so, the Newbery is not so much as about the best book of the year per se. Instead, it is an award more about consumerism and selling books. Why should people be upset that librarians have brains and have decided not to bring a book into the library that they don't think works for its constituents? Librarians select books. That's what they're paid to do, among other things.

Libraries have limited budgets. I am always asking for more money to be spent on books. I do want more ideas into our community. I am glad that our library is now using a national program that seems to be bringing in a wider range of books. And I am frustrated when our library doesn't have a book I think it should have. That happens all the time. If any patron asks specifically for a book that a library doesn't have, libraries can either inter-library loan it or decide to purchase it. And that is what may happen for some of the libraries that don't initially purchase a book. But don't scream at librarians for falling into the award-business with eyes wide shut.

And, I am very curious why the people that selected the Newbery even chose this book in the first place. They must have known it would cause controversy. Would they have felt differently if the body part being bitten was a girl's? Why aren't the names of the committee ever revealed in public anyway?

The writer's defense of the controversial word is particularly lame, especially since her day job is a librarian in LA. She likes the sound of this word as she thinks it's sounds 'delicious.' The word sounds 'delicious' which seems to be why she wrote a whole book around it. 'Delicious'?

The Newbery Award doesn't always recognize the best children's book of the year. Look at what won the year that Charlotte's Web was published. It is an award that reflects the time, culture, and values of the committee. It tends to reflect what many librarians think should be appropriate, think should be read about. It is also an award that was specifically designed to sell books.

Link to The New York Times article

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