2017 YALSA Elections: AN INTERVIEW WITH YALSA PRINTZ AWARD CANDIDATE Rachel Fryd

Get ready to vote! The YALSA election runs from March 13 through April 5, and to help you be an informed voter, we’re sharing interviews with each of the 2017 YALSA Governance and 2019 Selection Committee candidates.

Today we’ll hear from a candidate for the 2019 Printz Award. Members on this committee serve a twelve month term. The committee consists of nine members including a chair. Four members and the chair are appointed and the remaining four members will be elected by the membership of YALSA.

The Printz Award committee’s primary job is to select from the previous year’s publications the best young adult book. 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 Rachel Fryd.

Name and current position: Rachel Fryd, Young Adult Material Selector at the Free Library of Philadelphia in Philadelphia, PA

Talk about the experiences and expertise you’re bringing to the award committee in terms of material evaluation and selection, and as working as part of a team.

I’ve been really fortunate to be a part of several material evaluation and selection teams, from ALSC’s Great Web Sites for Kids committee, our local 5 county Reading Olympics book selection team, the 2014 Caldecott Committee and most recently the 2016 and 2017 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee.  Each group has had a different age group focus, charge and medium – from websites to picture books to middle grade novels to young adult fiction – but one thing hasn’t changed and that is the process of teamwork.  I’ve learned about evaluating the material critically, reviewing it for what it is (not what it isn’t) and then participating in committee discussion is crucial to reaching common ground.  However, the most important thing that I’ve learned is that it’s not personal – everyone comes to the material from a particular viewpoint and it’s so important to be open and trust the discussion process.  It’s amazing how many titles I’ve come into the process with either loving or hating but through discussion I’ve seen titles through fresh eyes and in some cases changed my mind or changed the minds others.

Talk about the ways you’ve leveraged literature with teens to address some of the issues that negatively impact their lives.

I’ve been behind the scenes and away from front line service for a few years but one of the things I’m most proud of is my work suggesting titles for our Teen Author Series, where teens are invited to meet YA Authors, get free copies of the book and get to ask (the most amazing) questions.  In early 2014 I suggested this graphic novel that I had been hearing great things about – March: Book 1.  In November 2014, after a fall of protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the murder of Mike Brown and just as prosecutors were announcing that they wouldn’t indict the officer involved, Congressman Lewis addressed 400 teens from around the City of Philadelphia. There was so much feeling in the room; so many of the young men and women had questions about police violence, what they could do moving forward and especially if violence was the answer to current events; for over an hour John Lewis spoke of his experiences, the importance of nonviolence and (I’m hoping) inspired and empowered our teens to work towards justice.  It was a moving, timely and important afternoon for all of us.

What are some ways award-winning titles can be used to help teens acquire critical skills across multiple literacies?

Sometimes it’s a challenge to get books past gatekeepers and into the hands of kids and teens.  In my work with book selection committees, especially local ones, I have found that some people are wary of including titles that they think might be too “controversial” for fear of backlash from parents or teachers.  This is when the awards and “best of” lists are my allies and best friends.  By leveraging the power of the Newbery Honor Award I was able to effectively make a case for the inclusion of Rita Garcia Williams’ outstanding One Crazy Summer onto a “Reading Olympics” list for middle schoolers, despite concerns about Black Panthers being “scary”.  The middle schoolers who participated in the competition were able to answer plot and motivation questions from that book and other titles.  Sometimes doesn’t happen quickly and sometimes people have legitimate concerns about backlash in conservative committees but award and “best of” lists, if used appropriately, can provide concrete help and support to front line staff working to get diverse titles into the hands of kids and teens who will appreciate and benefit from seeing themselves reflected in the text and build empathy in other students.  That’s why I think these committees have such important responsibilities that can have ripple effects far beyond what we think they do.

Serving on an award committee requires strict confidentiality and high ethical standards.  What actions would you take to ensure there were no lapses in confidentiality or ethics?

I know that when I served on the 2014 Caldecott Committee we operated with the understanding that confidentiality was important to the process.  Shutting down sharing of titles on social media like Goodreads, Twitter and Facebook was easy – it was more of a challenge when around colleagues who are also passionate about books for kids and teens.  But as challenging as it was sometimes, it was more fun to participate in keeping the titles and committee work confidential – as an adult there are so few opportunities for good secrets to keep that it was an honor to respect the work of the committee.  

Since I work for the City of Philadelphia I signed a lengthy ethics agreement that has very specific rules about what is appropriate for me as a city employee. Appropriate: attending an event hosted by a publisher as long as representatives from multiple libraries/schools/bookstores are present and for publishers to bring a book to my attention.  Not Appropriate: a one on one meal with publishers/reps, taking money or tips from anyone for anything related to my work as a book selector, seeking out perks from publishers in exchange for championing their books etc.  Sometimes when I am at ALA Annual or Midwinter or other book and library world events I see things that remind me that book (show) business and not book (show) friends, or at least it should be. It’s important to me to remember that and make choices and actions with that in mind – and not just because I’ve signed a paper, because what would it say about me and my commitment to the profession if I behaved in an inappropriate way?  

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this award committee?

I think I bring a certain amount of enthusiasm and joy to the process while still maintaining professionalism and an open mind.  I’ve learned so much over the last decade of work on various book and media evaluation committees and I’ve enjoyed the work immensely.  If YALSA members were going to consider voting for me I would say the reason would be that I’m very aware of how much work is involved in an award committee and I take the responsibility seriously.  There is no such thing as a perfect book, each book has its audience and I am always willing to discuss what I appreciate about a book and what elements I might have concerns about.  It would be an honor to serve on the Printz Medal committee and I hope YALSA members will consider me.

About Casey McCoy

Casey McCoy is a Librarian at San Jose Public Library and earned her MSLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2014. She has a passion for working with teens as well as discovering ways to use technology as a community engagement tool. Her thoughts on libraries, technology and attempts at adulting can be found on Twitter @CayMcCoy.
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