Friday, January 18, 2008

Spotlight on Librarians Choices

I had really, really, really wanted to be able to present this year's Librarians' Choices list for the January carnival. But it's not looking like that is going to happen. I have had the privilege of participating in the Librarians Choices since 2004. (It was started in 2003.) And each year I've participated I've had the additional privilege of presenting those lists on the web. [Librarians' Choices 2004, Librarians' Choices 2005, Librarians' Choices 2006.] Some years I've even made Amazon Listmania lists. (I try to do everything in my power to promote the project.)

But since I can't announce this year's list at the moment, I decided to go ahead and talk about my experiences (focusing on this past year) with the project. (Here is the link.)

First of all the basics. The Who. The What. The Where. The Why. The How. The When.

Who: 2 professors of the Library Science department of Texas Woman's University along with an assortment of alumni and professional allies--ten to fourteen folks usually. Dr. Sylvia Vardell created and developed the project. This is her "baby." Dr. Janet Hilbun has joined Dr. Vardell for the past two years. In fact, Dr. Hilbun was the leader--the boss--this time. I believe--though I can't be certain--that they plan to take turns in the future.
What: These wonderful people--this Librarians Choices family--get together many times a year (6-8) to discuss children's literature. (And included in "children" I also mean YA.) Our goal is to decide (agree upon) which books are the 100 best books of the year. [50 or so picture books (also poetry and nonfiction picture books) and 50 or so books for older readers (fiction, nonfiction, poetry).]
Where: We meet on campus at Texas Woman's University. While there we get the pleasure of carting away books to read. (Or in my case read and review.) The books will then journey with us to the next meeting. It requires strong arms at times!!!
Why: Each of us loves books. Each of us loves reading. Each of us feels "called" to serve in some capacity the needs of children and young adults. (And by extension other librarians and teachers.) At the start, we noticed that there were "Choices" for other groups--kids, parents, teachers. But that there was no list for librarians.
How: Much discussion. Some arguments. A lot of passion. Some tension. And on a good day, the big day--pizza and brownies. [Read about my brownie nirvana here.]
When: March, June, July, September, October, November, December. Our BIG day was December 3rd. That is when our list was finalized.

I really love participating in Librarians Choices except for the rare moments when I hate it. Let me explain. The books. The reading. The joy of passionate discussion. The chance to be exuberant in public. The opportunity to experience the best-brownie-of-my-life. All things I love. Really love. These are things that keep me coming back for more despite the fact that I've graduated. Despite the fact that I don't "need" to be involved in order to get my hands on books.

What don't I love? The competition. The battles. The stress of choosing what is "best." You can't be a part of the Librarians Choices group and NOT be opinionated, NOT be passionate. Although I probably top the list when it comes to being most over-eager, most exuberant, most obsessively insane, most likely to bounce up and down in their seat, everyone is putting their time and energy and passion into the process, into the selection. The last night--the big night--truly falls into the category of "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That is the night when books go head to head. When battles are fought. Some win. Some lose. It's never pretty. There are battle wounds as personal favorites don't make the cut. No one leaves the room COMPLETELY happy because everyone has had to give up at least one of their "favorite, favorite, favorite" books. But at the same time, you're HAPPY, thrilled, overjoyed at the books that DID make the list.

The funnest--though perhaps most dangerous--part of the night is deciding--battling--who gets to review which book. The decisions have been made. The 100 have been agreed upon. But then it comes down to who gets what book. The competition can be fierce at times. As exuberant shouts of "me, me, me" or "that's mine" or "I want that" fill the air. And a little into the process, as our required number are filled...there comes the time when books can be traded. It's always a most exciting process to "win" one of your favorite books. To "win" the privilege of reviewing it for the Librarians' Choices book.

Which books did I "win"? In alphabetical order, BOOK OF A THOUSAND DAYS by Shannon Hale, THE PRINCESS AND THE HOUND by Mette Ivie Harrison, CUPID by Julius Lester, MISS SPITFIRE by Sarah Miller, SONG OF THE SPARROW by Lisa Ann Sandell, UNWIND by Neal Shusterman, A CROOKED KIND OF PERFECT by Linda Urban, QUAD by C.G. Watson.

Did I "win" all my favorites? No. Of course not. I'm just thrilled that so many of my favorites also happened to be other people's favorites as well.

I fell in love with so many wonderful, wonderful books this past year. I did. I was only sorry that all of my "favorites" couldn't make it onto the list.

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