Discussions about books can get heated, passionate and intense. As chair of a YALSA selection committee, your task is to create an environment that allows for the passionate expression and sharing of viewpoints, keep on topic/focus and remain professional. When all viewpoints are considered and respected the product is a quality list, and members enjoy their service and want to keep volunteering!
Think about these meetings needing four components that build upon one another: Getting acquainted, building relationships, addressing issues, and taking action. If the first two are not in place it will be more difficult to address the issues successfully and the final action taken on the list may not be as cohesive. If a little more time is spent on the first two, then there is less likelihood of getting bogged down, personal rants/attacks, etc when the discussion gets heated. If all four components are working the group will feel wonderful and the product will be superb.
This year on the Quick Picks committee we had many unanimous opinions on titles. This was only because we understood each other’s points of view, not because we all agreed or even had the same experiences with the books and our readers. Kris Miner of St. Croix Valley Restorative Justice has a great diagram that helps to visualize this process.
Two tools can also be extremely helpful in creating shared understanding and an environment for discussion that focus’ on the charge of the committee.
1. Use a talking piece. A talking piece can be any object that often has some significance or meaning. It can be a feather, rock, small stuffed animal, etc. A talking piece is used when discussion needs to be focused and one person is talking at a time. Use the talking piece to start the meeting with introductions and topics important to the group such as identifying your community’s reluctant readers, discussion values and qualities of top ten books.
The only rule about the talking piece is that whoever has the piece has the floor. This allows people to be fully heard and takes the burden off of the chair to limit cross talk. It also allows for an equality of voice. The talking piece can be picked up by any member at any time. This empowers members to “slow down” heated discussions and allow for careful listening. For more information, see Kay Pranis’ book on Peacemaking Circles, or check out this article.
2. Leave time for a values discussion. This enables members to get acquainted and build relationships. The chair’s role is to facilitate this so that the best list is created/award given. Have members write on a piece of paper the values they wish to share in the group during discussions. Then use the talking piece to have each member talk about the values. When the talking piece comes back to the chair, the chair can ask clarifying questions, like “What does active listening mean to you?” and send the talking piece around again.
Once values are agreed on, put them on a piece of paper, copy and place in front of each member as a reminder. Introduce the values at Annual, then remind people at Midwinter and see if there are any add-ons or takeaways.
It is important that each group create their own values, but for an example, here are a few that the 2010 Quick Picks Committee agreed upon:
RESPECT/OPENNESS TO OTHER PERSPECTIVES
FOCUS ON TEEN FEEDBACK