YALSA ELECTION: AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWARDS AWARD COMMITTEE CANDIDATE VANESSA IRVIN

Get ready to vote! The YALSA election runs from March 15 through April 22, and to help you be an informed voter, we’re sharing interviews with each of the 2016 YALSA Governance and 2018 Selection Committee candidates.

Today we’ll hear from a candidate for the 2018 Edwards Award. Members on this committee serve an eighteenth month term. The committee consists of six virtual members of which three are elected.

The Edwards Award committee’s primary job is to select a living author or co-author whose book or books, over a period of time, have been accepted by young people as an authentic voice that continues to illuminate their experiences and emotions, giving insight into their lives. 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 and YALSA Election FAQs here.

Today we have an interview with Vanessa Irvin.

Name and current position
Vanessa Irvin, Assistant Professor, Library and Information Science Program, University of Hawaii-Manoa

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection, evaluation, and working as part of a team.
I was a young adult/adult librarian with the Free Library of Philadelphia for seven years, and afterwards, volunteered there in that capacity for another 3 years. As a YA/Adult librarian I was responsible for selection and evaluation of materials for 2/3 of the public library collections where I was assigned. I also worked as Library Director at a private high school and was responsible for the entirety of the school’s collection which was targeted towards high school level non-fiction, reference, fiction, and curricular materials.

I’ve always worked in teams and on committees as a teen/adult librarian. Librarianship is a collaborative profession by nature, thus, my professional practice has always involved working on book selection committees, professional organization committees (such as units within ALA and YALSA), and now, as an LIS faculty member, committees serving ALA-accredited programs such as strategic planning committees, admissions committees, and chairing a diversity committee. Lastly, I am the convener of a book selection and award committee, the Street Literature Book Award Medal (SLBAM) Committee, which convened in 2009, and continues to meet annually to research library patron response to street lit/urban fiction and award titles that best circulate in libraries across the nation.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact the lives of teens?
Books play a vital role in addressing challenging issues in teens’ lives. The research shows that readers can respond emotionally to the authorial voice in novels that can help them confront, reflect, navigate, and possibly resolve real life questions, concerns, and experiences. Additionally, non-fiction books allow readers to respond informationally to fact-based, historical, and biographical materials that can assist teen readers in making meaning of their life experiences and gaining sustainable competencies in organizing and navigating their lives.

What are some ways award-winning titles can provide teens with a more expanded view of literacy?
Award-winning titles offer readers an opportunity to determine what “quality” means to them as a reader. This discernment is a kind of literacy practice where the reader personally interacts with titles of a theme that is not necessarily based on content or pace (for example), but rather, is based on a level of quality appeal that has been assessed by information professionals. In this vein, award-winning titles can provide teens with a heightened understanding of what “quality” can mean to them as a reader. Award-winning titles also offer teens an opportunity to contribute to the conversation on the merits of a book based on their own reader response to the book. A book award may attract a reader to a particular title, but based on the teens’ own
reading experience with the book, their own evaluation and critique can promote a literacy practice of inquiry, where the teen reader asks questions about the merits of writing, content, and authorial intent of the books they’ve read. This kind of literacy practice where reading ignites critical inquiry, expand one’s view of what it means to be “literate”.

Describe a time when you’ve advocated for books to be more influential in connected-learning spaces.
I’ve always advocated for reading to be the cornerstone for young adult learning in public libraries which are connected-learning spaces because they are community learning centers. I wrote the book, Readers Advisory Guide to Street Literature to advocate for urban fiction being more influential in library collections and library programming, particularly for teens. I’ve also created the Street Lit Book Award Medals (SLBAM) as a collection development tool for librarians. My work with street literature is a testament of my advocacy for genres that urban teens are reading to be more accessible in library collections.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
Given my decades of professional LIS experience, particularly in youth services, as both a practitioner and an educator of young adult librarians, I believe that I would be a good contribution to serve on the Margaret Edwards Committee. My passion and commitment to teen and young adult literacy is evident by way of my work with urban teens, the literary genre of street literature, which appeals to teens of diverse backgrounds and interests.

Talk about a time when a teen shared with you how a YA publication influenced them.
One teen, a 13 year old girl, was not a reader. She used to come to the library after school to await access to her foster home during after work hours. So this teen was not in the library for homework or reading, she was there for the library as space and place. Upon engaging with her and getting to know her, I recommended some titles for her to try, of which nothing kept her interest. I then shared the urban fiction title, True to the Game by Teri Woods. The teen patron came into the library the next day and said that she read the book cover to cover. she was 14 years old by then and she shared that it was the first time she’d ever read a book fully. From then on, she began reading on her own. She went on to grow from a D average in school to a B+ average, and she graduated high school and attended college. I cannot help but think that her reading a book that she could personally relate to, opened up the world of reading to her that in turn, expanded her trajectory in life.

Published by

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.