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 Jennifer Longee.

Name and current position:
Jennifer Longee, Librarian at Durham Academy

Besides reading YA materials, what best qualifies you for being a member of this YALSA selection committee?
So much of my job revolves around reading, evaluating, and utilizing nonfiction books for student learning. The collaborative work I have done with my English, science and history departments qualifies me to be on the Nonfiction Award committee. For the past 10 years, I have assisted these departments in creating cross-curricular units that center around reading nonfiction books. To guarantee the success of these units, I have read hundreds of nonfiction titles to select the most informative, engaging and entertaining works for our students. I work closely with the students in creating projects based on their reading. This helps me understand which nonfiction books best meet the teens’ interests and needs.

My twelve years of experience working with ALA, YALSA, AASL, and ALSC committees also qualifies me to be a member of this committee. I have proven myself to be a hardworking, diligent, and conscientious committee member.

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection,evaluation, and working as part of a team.
I served on ALSC’s 2015 Theodore Seuss Geisel Award where I learned the demanding responsibilities of serving on a selection committee. I understand how to balance the heavy time commitment while dedicating myself completely to the process of selecting the most distinguished book of the year. I believe in the importance of searching meticulously for potential candidates, evaluating each work carefully, and working together as a committee to determine the award-winning titles.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact their lives?
Books have so much power. They helpus understand ourselves and world better. They allow us to visualize our own potential and develop coping strategies for the negative issues we may face. In just looking at nonfiction for teens, there are so many inspiring works that demonstrate how it is possible to overcome difficult situations. Books like Liz Murray’s Breaking Night show that huge challenges like homelessness, drug addiction, and poverty are not insurmountable. CynthiaLevinson’s We Got a Job explains how young people can play a significant role in addressing and overcoming social inequality. I could go on and on, but ultimately I believe books offer teens problem-solving skills while building confidence.

What are some ways the award winning titles can meet the need of teens to have a more expanded view of literacy?
When you walk into a library or bookstore, it is often difficult to pick a great book. There is so much out there and no one has time to waste on a book that is not interesting. I find that my students will often stick with an author they like or a particular genre. That silver or gold sticker on the cover of the book though draws their eye and arouses their interest. Something in that book was good enough to win that medal and it might be worth their time, even if it is not something they would normally read. I love when students read an award-winning title and then want to discuss whether they thought the award was merited.

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?
When I started working at Durham Academy, my first priority was to get students reading more for pleasure. I tried to persuade my teachers that independent reading was essential for developing lifelong learners. I created a monthly booktalk program for each grade level where students would come to the library, hear about great fiction and nonfiction titles and have time to select books. In an academically rigorous school where instructional time is closely guarded, it was hard to get all the English teachers on board, but once they did, my circulation statistics soared. I now have students coming to the library all times of the day to browse the collection and they often ask me when will be the next booktalk.

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
I would like YALSA members to choose me to be on the Nonfiction Award committee because I will be a hardworking, diligent, and conscientious committee member. I will put in the time to carefully read and evaluate all contending titles. I will work with my committee to award a book worthy of our association’s name.

Talk about a time when a teen shared with you how a book influenced them.
A few years ago I had a student who was dreading the upcoming holiday vacation. Her parents were fighting constantly, and she thought the stress of the holidays would only make things worse. She loved to read and I wanted to find a good book to take her mind off the turmoil at home. I handed her Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away. As soon as she left, I worried that I had picked too dark of a book. However, over the winter break she sent me an email thanking me for the recommendation, saying it was her absolute most-favorite book ever. She even got her mother to read it. I still keep that email to remind me how a great book can lift a person’s spirits.

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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