Most librarians, myself included, love to pore over award lists. They are great for enhancing collections, making recommendations and creating displays. Even better is the conversation and dialog created, when a book we love is on (or off!) the list, or, even better when a book we loathe makes the cut. “What were they thinking?!” is a phrase commonly associated with discussions and can inspire volunteering for these committees.

Joining a reading committee is a rewarding task that comes with animated book discussing, gushing and arguing. In short, it is a lot of fun for any book lover. However, it is a lot of work and a big commitment, so it is important to know the rules, requirements and goals of any award committee before officially signing up. Many people volunteer for award committees with the best of intentions, but become quickly overwhelmed with the workload. I am starting on my fourth year of reading for the Rhode Island Teen Book Awards (a local book award) and am currently reading for YALSA’s Morris Award, so here is an overview of what to think about and expect with award committee reading.

To begin with, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How much do I read a week? Do I have time to read more?‘ Examine your calendar through the span of the committee term. If you know you have large life events going on, consider how they might affect your ability to read.
  2. How many of these books are audiobooks? Some committees might require print reading.
  3. Do I have time to commit to meetings? Meetings may be virtual, face-to-face and often have requirements. Most YALSA committees require attendance at ALA summer and mid-winter conferences, which leads to the final questions:
  4. Do I have the finances to attend meetings? Travel to national conferences adds up fast, plane, hotel, registration, etc. and every institution is different so be aware of the financial aspect. Some workplaces help, others do not have the means, but it never hurts to ask!
  5. How will this affect work?‘ Having work support is a big plus, especially if you have to take off time for meetings.

It is important to note that every committee, whether national or local has different reading, format and meeting requirements, so do your homework before signing up. Email the current committee chair and ask questions about the committee you are interested in joining. YALSA lists committee chairs on their website, and these folks can give you specifics on the reading load and other requirements. Examine selection criteria and goals of the committee you are volunteering for because every committee looks for something different (popularity, message, literary merit, etc.). This gives you an idea of the amount of reading, for example the Morris Award exclusively looks at debut writers, so the pool of books is much smaller than that of Printz. There are awards for audio books, graphic novels, fiction, non-fiction, etc. so look for committees that align with your reading interests, especially if it is your first time, and that will help you find success on the committee.

The most important part of being on a reading committee is the reading. So what exactly is the workload? How can you make it work? Since I am currently reading for Morris and the RI Teen Book Awards, I am reading like it is my job! The Morris Award is obviously a much bigger award and requires a lot of reading. For the Morris Award I read 2-3 print books a week (no audio!), and for confidentiality reasons, I cannot discuss these titles, so these books cannot overlap with my other committee work. My final monthly tally is around 10-14 books a month all for award committees. A former Printz committee member said that she read around 20 books a week, JUST for Printz. Any books read for personal pleasure are a rare bonus, right now it’s on the backburner!

It is very important to be aware of the book confidentiality rules. Talk to your chair (or potential chair) to make sure you will not violate any confidentiality rules, because most likely you will not be allowed to discuss ANY eligible titles for your award. This applies to everything, from a personal/professional review blog to your Goodreads account. If you plan to participate in multiple committees (either both on YALSA or split between different organizations), make sure you are clear on all policies. It is best to be upfront and address questions right away, rather than have a year’s work of reading and reviewing nullified.

Obviously award committee reading is a time commitment, and others depend upon you to do your fair share of the reading. Most award lists are held in high regard by educators, librarians and readers, and in order to maintain the integrity of these lists members must hold themselves accountable to the requirements of the committee. Many have waitlists and get numerous volunteer applications, but have a limited number of spaces. It’s better to postpone involvement during a busy year, than to not fulfil the basic requirements and potentially be ineligible to decide on the final list!

To be a successful committee member here are a few final thoughts to bear in mind:

  1. Remember, you are not reading for yourself. If you get to read a book you’ve been dying to read, great! It often happens that the popular books get read quickly and meet readership requirements in no time. Smaller, less popular titles deserve equal readership and attention. We all want to read the new John Green or Laurie Halse Anderson, but if those books have hit the required number of readers and there are many titles without any readers, the best thing for the committee is that you read these titles. You can always catch up after your term.
  2. You will probably read titles by authors you dislike, genres you hate or books that just aren’t good. This is part of reading for a committee. Sometimes you’ve gotta “take one for the team” and get through a book that isn’t good. Every eligible or nominated book deserves fair and honest consideration and must meet readership requirements, so don’t leave them all for other committee members. Plus, you never know when a book will take you by surprise, so keep an open mind! Some of the best books I’ve read and passionately argued for are those I did not think I would like!
  3. Read, read, read and read! Did I mention read? I am never without a book! I keep piles in each room of my house, loaded onto my kindle, which is synced with the kindle app on my iPhone. I keep audiobooks in my car and downloaded onto my phone. So I don’t allow myself the opportunity to say I don’t have a book. If you need to, create a reading schedule and hold yourself accountable.

Still interested in volunteering? Excellent! Check out the Committees, Juries and Advisory Board page on YALSA’s website. -There, you can find out more information about each award committee and volunteer forms. Volunteer forms are not kept on file, so you must reapply each year. I would strongly encourage anyone who has the time and interest to volunteer. If you have never served on a YALSA committee before, try starting with a process committee so that you can get used to the levels of participation and time required for the selection committees. Again, don’t be afraid to ask questions – email chairs, members or former members you might know, or email me, Happy reading!


Stephanie Barta is the YA Librarian at Westerly Public Library, a member of the 2015 Morris Award Committee, and Chair of the YALSA Research Committee.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation