YALSA Election: An Interview with YALSA 2017 Nonfiction Award Candidate Meaghan Darling

Get ready to vote! The YALSA election runs from March 24 through May 1, and to help you be an informed voter, we’re sharing interviews with each of the 2015 YALSA Governance and 2017 Selection Committee candidates as well as the ALA President-Elect Candidates.

Today we’ll hear from a candidate for the 2017 Nonfiction Award. Members on this committee serve a twelve month term. The committee consists of a chair, eight members, a Booklist consultant, and an administrative assistant if the Chair requests. The Chair and four members will be appointed by the President-Elect of YALSA. The remaining four members will be elected by the membership of YALSA.

The Nonfiction Award committee’s primary job is to select the best nonfiction title published for young adults between Nov. 1 and Oct. 31 of the current year. A full description of the committee’s duties and responsibilities can be found here.

Full biographical information on all of the candidates can be found on the sample ballot.

Today we have an interview with Meaghan Darling.

Name and current position:
Meaghan Darling, Youth Services Librarian, Long Hill Township Public Library, Gillette, New Jersey

Besides reading YA materials, what best qualifies you for being a member of this YALSA selection committee?
I have a knowledge and passion for YA nonfiction that has been fine-tuned over years of selecting and evaluating materials for public library collections. As a reviewer, I am skilled in critically reviewing materials, identifying the key details of distinguished young adult literature, and succinctly conveying my analysis.

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection, evaluation, and working as part of a team.
By serving as a Youth Services Librarian in public libraries, I have years of experience with the selection and evaluation of materials for YA nonfiction collections in diverse communities. Coupled with the experience I’ve gained as a School Library Journal reviewer, I can recognize the elements of outstanding literature and be critical and detail oriented in my reading and note taking, but professional and succinct in sharing my evaluation. From managing and overseeing several projects simultaneously at different institutions, I have developed excellent organizational and time management skills that I bring with me to group collaborations. If differences in opinion or personality arise, I find myself stepping into the role of group mediator to suggest compromises and ensure that projects are completed on schedule. I enjoy collaborating with and motivating my colleagues to ensure our individual and group successes, regardless of if we’re interacting in person or strictly in a digital environment.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact their lives?
Books can help teens address issues in their lives by displaying messages of hope and inspiration, demonstrating perseverance to overcome obstacles, indicating potential sources of assistance, and spark new ideas. Many of today’s nonfiction materials are clear in presenting both sides of the story or issue, whether the book is centered on current events or biographical, political, or historical content. Readers confront different ways of thinking which demonstrates that the viewpoints from each camp deserve to be acknowledged and considered. Nonfiction books present teens with real life people, places and events which sometimes seem reflective of their own personal circumstances. Seeing how real people tackled situations sends an important message – we’re human and make mistakes, try new things and fail, and experience situations out of our control, but people before us have prevailed and here is how they did and what we can learn.

What are some ways the award winning titles can meet the need of teens to have a more expanded view of literacy?
Exposing teens to award winning nonfiction titles shows them how definitions of literacy are evolving and can shape the way they read, write, and communicate throughout their lifetime. Recent award winners have utilized a variety formats and shown that information can be presented in more than just straightforward text. The inclusion of photographs, maps, sidebars, text boxes, and infographics provides examples of how text can be supported and enhanced with visuals. Works like Chip Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design are excellent for highlighting that form follows content as well as the importance of considering the intended audience and how they can be reached. Detailed back matter that spotlights media content, author notes, source lists, and additional resources exhibits that there is a place for this content and can inspire teens to delve into nontraditional resources for their own work. With today’s focus on media, sharing, and connections, it is important for teens to be exposed to texts that demonstrate how to incorporate all of these elements into a final product.

Share a time when you’ve advocated for a library collection to be more influential in the role of a connected learning center and what was the result?
One of the public libraries at which I worked did not have a designated teen nonfiction collection as all materials were either cataloged as juvenile or adult. In preparation for a presentation to my director to advocate for changes in cataloging, I examined current literature and studies available on the topic of YA nonfiction collections, studied the cataloging practices of other local libraries, and demonstrated the value of having such a collection both to our library and, more importantly, to our teen patrons. The need for creating such a collection was understood and the process of recataloging materials for a YA nonfiction collection began. Funds were designated to actively purchase new materials for the collection and, when materials were purchased, I ensured that materials were not just for school-related projects, but also included a variety of titles that would appeal to teens’ personal interests. In addition to this collection that would now meet the personal and professional interests of teens, I also developed programming and online avenues to create an environment in which teens could engage with both their peers and the library to share information, discuss books, and connect in a new way.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
I love nonfiction and am committed to bringing attention to the genre. For me, there is nothing better than encouraging teens discover materials that will not only meet their academic needs, but also fuel their individual interests and initiate future learning. I would be proud to serve on the Nonfiction Selection Committee and channel my energy and passion into collaborating with peers to present the best nonfiction materials to the library community.

Talk about a time when a teen shared with you how a book influenced them.
For an avid reader of dystopian novels, historical fiction, and unusual formats (like the works of Ransom Riggs and Madeleine Roux) who was looking for “something different,” I recommended Neal Bascomb’s The Nazi Hunters. Given that this was a nonfiction suggestion for a nearly exclusive fiction reader, it took some book talking to get him though his initial “but it’s nonfiction” reservations. A few weeks later, he returned and excitedly gave me feedback on how much he enjoyed it and felt like he was watching a spy movie instead of reading a book. Having studied World War II and the Holocaust in school, he had come into the book with expectations and instead found himself absorbed in a person and story he hadn’t learned about never knew existed. Best of all, he asked for other similar nonfiction books!

About Kelly Czarnecki

Kelly Czarnecki is a Teen Librarian at ImaginOn with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. She is a member of the YALSA blog advisory board.
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