I missed out on ALA Annual and Midwinter last year because of being pregnant and giving birth to my son, so I was ready to jump back into the saddle and embrace ALA Midwinter for everything it had to offer. I may have been a little overeager yet anxious about socializing with a large group of people but I think I did okay. Having an adorable 9 month old baby in tow really helps break the ice!
The Morris Seminar (aka Librarian Summer camp, even though it’s in the winter) was the missing puzzle piece my brain needed to wrap my head around book reviewing and discussion. My graduate work at Drexel suffered a distinct lack of reviewing instruction and I’ve been hungry to learn what I missed. KT Horning (subbing for Martha Parravano), Thom Barthelmess, Junko Yokota, and many others, presented the very best practices for book reviewing and how to, well, SURVIVE being on a book award committee.
Read and evaluate beyond a personal response.
Know your biases and favorites, this makes it easier to view the book with a professional mind while reading something you don’t personally prefer.
Always assume the best about a book.
Don’t look for flaws. Make a list of outstanding points so each book rises to its potential.
“Approach the book with a questioning mind.”
Ask yourself questions: Who’s reading the book? How does the book function in the real world– is it reflective of the diversity in which we live?
Educate yourself if you don’t know anything about the topic.
Read other books on the subject and contact experts for more information.
Read the books with adults & children to gain a different perspective.
Select distinguished books: 1st novels, translated books, books by people of color.
Find a place where a comment becomes a real question.
The group doesn’t have time for passive aggression or snarky comments. Find a way to make your comment into a real question that benefits the group.
Make the physical, emotional, and mental space for the amount of books to be read.
Use databases to keep track of your notes and/or corresponding pictures of book illustrations. Clear space in your office and your life so that you may focus on reviewing for a book award committee.
Remember, the group is smarter as a whole than individuals.
Every person comes from a distinct place with a different set of experiences that add something unique to the discussion.
Engage the subjective and objective while reading, as well as the adult mind and the child-like mind.
Professional book reviewing can be contradictory. It’s a fine balance.
“Every book is a clean slate!”
Give every book a chance.
“It’s just you and the book.”
Take it one step at a time, one book at a time.
And most importantly:
Learn something you may not have noticed about the about the book from a colleague.
Personally, I’ve always fancied myself a decent listener, but when it comes to books like most librarians and other book people, I can’t wait to state my opinion. American culture as a whole isn’t great at facilitating or nurturing listening skills, as most of us just listen long enough to form our own retort. There is no time during book award committee meetings for side bars, personal stories, or even agreements. Active listening during discussion, without ego, without self, is key. To listen without ego is almost a Vulcan task and the needs of the many certainly out weigh the needs of the few. Yep, I just outed myself as a Trekkie. Woo!