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 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 Susan Smallsreed.

Name and current position: Susan Smallsreed, Youth Librarian

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 have been a member of many teams in both my professional careers, first as a social worker and now, as a librarian.  I have found that work in a small branch library requires a team approach, both to serve the public and maintain the collections.  I am also a member of the larger Youth Services workgroup which works collaboratively to serve the children, teens and parents of the Multnomah County, Oregon.

In addition to my primary work, for the past 10 years I have coordinated the Oregon Mock Printz Award workshop for the Oregon Young Adult Network (OYAN) of the Oregon Library Assn. (OLA).  Each year, the workshop committee reads a lot of YA titles and then negotiates to create a short-list ‘best of the best’ books for the workshop.  Workshop participants then read the short-list and gather to simulate the Printz committee process and select an Oregon award winner.  The entire process is an exercise in teamwork, from planning to execution.

As for expertise in evaluation, years of reading the best in young adult literature has done a lot to improve my assessment skills.  In fact, it’s ruined me for a enjoying a good trashy book!  Much as I want to, I just don’t enjoy them as much as I used to.  Darn it.

But even with all the reading I had done, I didn’t take a course on literary criticism until 2014.  While I was selecting books for the Mock Printz, I didn’t feel I knew what to look for in any scholarly manner.  So, I enrolled in YALSA’s course, “Reading With a Critical Eye.”.  By the end of the class I definitely felt more prepared to evaluate books.  But I didn’t think I wanted to be on a selection committee–it was a lot of work!  But a few years later, I’ve decided I’m ready to commit the time & energy.  I’m probably deluding myself in thinking that the Edwards committee will be less demanding than one of the other award committees, but I’m ready to find out!

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

As a Youth Librarian I share in curating children & teen booklists, some topical and some by grade level.  I also create custom book lists for parents, teachers and child care providers.  

In addition, I make monthly outreach visits to a teen shelter program for young women experiencing issues that require support and treatment.  I regularly bring books about these issues (e.g. Ellen Hopkins, Nic Vizzini, Dave Pelzer, A.S. King, etc.) as well as books to read for pleasure.

At the branch, I’ve created book displays on various themes and regularly provide readers advisory to parents and teens on a wide variety of topics.

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

Here are some examples of activities that can help teens develop critical thinking skills:

  • Include teens in book award activities.  About 4 years ago, OYAN started to invite teens to participate in the Mock Printz Workshop. Now about half the audience are teens who read, discuss and have strong opinions about the books.  It’s impressive!
  • Offer opportunities for youth to talk about books: I don’t currently have a teen book group, but in the past it’s been a great place for teens to practice critical thinking about issues, writing skills and readers advisory.  These days, my book groups are younger –grades 1-3 and grade 4-5 –and I’m still impressed with their ability to organize their thoughts about whatever we are reading.  It just goes to show that one is never too young to read and discuss!
  • Offer opportunities to comment & review: The Multnomah County Library website allows patrons (including teens!) to rate and comment on all the materials listed in the catalog.  They can also comment on our social media platforms.
  • Engage youth in conversation about books: We might also call that “good ol’ readers advisory”, but asking a teen to explain why they like something or what they are looking for provides opportunity to share all those good books that might support teen development, whether about social issues, personal growth or pleasure reading.

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?

As a former social worker, confidentiality is ingrained in my being.  But on top of that, I assume that the committee will discuss and agree on expectations for confidentiality and ethical behavior.  I plan to follow whatever those guidelines & expectations might be.

In addition, I adopt whatever security measures are recommended for digital files such as password protecting files, maintaining a separate email account for committee work; and any other suggested  protocols.  And finally, if I make a mistake, I’ll own up it and say “mea culpa”.

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

Pick me! Pick me!…because:

  • I’m willing to put in the time and effort to be an active member of the Edwards committee;
  • Because I’m committed to improving and enhancing the quality of young adult literature and believe that awards increase its stature and value to the public;
  • Because there are amazing YA authors that deserve recognition for their body of work; and
  • I would be honored to serve.


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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