YALSA Election 2012: An Interview with Michael L. Printz Award Candidate Sarah Wethern

In February we are posting interviews with each of the 2012 Candidates for YALSA Award Committees. This week we are focusing on Michael L. Printz Award Committee. ‘ Each day this week we’ll post an interview with one of the candidates for that committee. We are posting alphabetically by candidate’s last names.

The YALSA Nominating Committee for 2012 has been working hard to select candidates for this year’s election.’  The Printz Committee is charged with selecting from the previous year’s publications the best young adult book (“best” being defined solely in terms of literary merit) and, if the Committee so decides, as many as four Honor Books. The Committee will also have the opportunity for input into the oversight and planning of the Printz Awards Program. Committee size: 9, four to be elected, plus a consultant from the staff of Booklist, and an administrative assistant if requested.

This is your chance to get to know this year’s candidates that have been nominated to serve on the Printz Award Committee. Polls are open from March 19 to April 27.

Today we have an interview with Sarah Wethern.

What experience do you have that makes you a good candidate for the award position for which you are running?

Well, this is perhaps a tad clichéd coming from a librarian, but I love to read and I read voraciously. I have served on Minnesota’s Maud Hart Lovelace award committee, reading a plethora of both YA and middle grade books to narrow down the nominations which are then voted on by kids across the state. I served on the Cybils committee in 2009 in the Young Adult Fiction category as a round one judge, reading the many books that were nominated in order to create a list of seven finalists. As of February 2012, I am starting my tenure on YALSA’s Popular Paperbacks Committee which will give me better exposure to working within a YALSA governed media list and prepare me for the rigorous work that could potentially follow if I am elected to the Printz Committee.

Why do you want to be a member of this awards committee?

There is something special in knowing that by participating in the Printz Committee, I am helping to leave an indelible imprint on the field of young adult literature. I work hard to match readers to new and interesting books every day in my job and I love being exposed to the various opinions that come out of those discussions and conversations. I believe that serving on the Printz Committee will help elevate my local library work to a new level.

What are you most looking forward to in being a part of this award decision process?

The discussion amongst my fellow committee members. Reading alone is wonderful but I have found that as I have become more critical about the books I read, I want people to discuss those books with. I enjoy the give and take that comes with talking amongst dedicated book aficionados. There is nothing better than digging in with a pen and a group of dedicated readers ready to dissect the text, to uncover its secrets and to ultimately make an exciting decision. And I am also looking forward to the speeches that come after from the winners. That is a special moment!

What do you feel are the key factors for decision-making for this award?

Literary excellence is a key factor in this book. The beauty, ingenuity and freshness of the writing are qualities all Printz books need. These are books that have to stand the test of time, that feature themes that should be part of the reader conscious for years to come. Additionally, these books should have high teen appeal. After all, they were written with teens in mind. The Printz Award is leaving a literary mark on history and it needs to be a mark that will continue to evolve as new readers discover the stories and characters within.

The reading load for awards committees is very high, how do you plan on managing the work load of award committee life?

If you want something bad enough, you will make it work. That’s something that holds true for me. The reward for being on this committee will be rich and interesting. This committee will be my priority and will take precedence in all aspects of my life. I can both read and listen to books, making for different exposure to the stories and hopefully allowing even more critical context to be part of the reading process. I am someone who works well under pressure. I like reaching a goal and the end result of being part of this committee will be a goal like no other for me. My friends and family know of my love for reading and my commitment to YALSA and will allow me the time and energy to fully participate in the Printz Committee.

What have you learned from past experiences on awards, juries, or other YALSA committees that you will bring with you to this committee?

I have learned to better appreciate and critically analyze books that have been outside my reading comfort zone. When I am not totally familiar with a genre, with its famous predecessors, I can be hesitant in expressing my thoughts but being part of the Cybils and the Maud Hart Lovelace Award have encouraged me to stand up for books I love but also to look at a book that I didn’t quite enjoy with new eyes, finding new ways to understand the quality of the writing and the plotting itself. Working on a committee of readers with a definite goal is also very different than just sitting down to discuss a book with readers themselves. I always have the goal of the committee in mind as I am discussing and analyzing my own thoughts and those of others. And perhaps best of all, I have learned how to become a better reader myself due to working with a variety of readers from different backgrounds.

In your experience how has the YALSA Awards and Selected Lists helped you as a librarian or made your work better or easier or different than expected?

The lists have enabled me to develop a collection of both breadth and depth. The various lists have also helped me to see the holes in my collection because yes, there have been holes. I am not nearly as knowledgeable when it comes to graphic novels as I am about teen fiction and having the Great Graphic Novels list has been eye-opening and encouraging for me in developing my skills at readers’ advisory for myself and my community.

I don’t think the lists make my work easier however. They are a great tool but if I am not willing to put in the time to become familiar with teen lit myself, to read widely and broadly, then the lists are nothing but useless tools. My patrons do not want to be handed a list of book suggestions. They want me to know what, from that list, may fill their reading needs. The lists have helped me better work with my library patrons to find just the right book for them but only because I have knowledge of teen literature myself. Librarians and the YALSA Awards and Selected Lists can make for a complementary partnership if the librarian is willing to put in his or her own reading time in the process.

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