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 Jennifer Rothschild.

Name and current position
Jennifer Rothschild, Branch Manager, Shirlington Branch, Arlington Public Library, Arlington VA

Talk about the experience you’re bringing to the selection committee with selection, evaluation, and working as part of a team.
I have been on several selection and booklist committees including the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction and chairing the most recent Outstanding Books for the College Bound. I’ve served on the CYBILS award six times–three times as a first-round judge (reading all nominations and creating a short-list in just over two months) and three times as a second-round judge (choosing a winner from the short list in just over a month.) I was on the Maryland Blue Crab Award for Young Readers Committee and was a judge in the Aspen Gold and PASIC Book of Your Heart competitions.

I have six years of experience reviewing fiction and nonfiction for School Library Journal and three years of experience reviewing teen and new adult books for RT Book Reviews.

In addition to the teamwork needed to be successful during my selection committee experience, I have demonstrated experience working with teams in other areas. As a Youth Services librarian for Arlington Public Library, I was on the Youth Services team, a standing committee of all the Youth Services librarians and library associates throughout the system. We met ten times a year to ensure that quality service was provided across the system and to share and brainstorm ideas and projects. I also served on two smaller sub-committees. One team designed and launched our 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program, and the other completely revamped our Summer Reading program to focus on the amount of time spent reading instead of the number of books read.

On all of these teams I worked to build consensus. Even when not in a leadership role, I seek out the opinions of others to make sure we are hearing from everyone and share my opinions. I actively seek to distill multiple arguments to discover common ground and possible compromises and solutions.

What role do you think books can play in addressing some of the issues that negatively impact teen lives?
Many well-meaning adults may clutch their pearls at some of the dark and weighty topics discussed in teen literature, but books dealing with hard issues are vital to teen development. Books act as a mirror to teens. When teens see issues that are affecting their lives in books, they know they are not alone, what they are going through is something others have gone through, and they can find help. How the characters react and deal with similar issues can give teens a road map (or a list of things to avoid) for their lives.

Similarly, books are windows. If the reader in question does not have personal experience with some of the negative issues portrayed in books, they can see what their peers, or at least other people their same age, may be going through. Such books help build compassion and understanding of the wider world. In addition to empathy, teen readers gain the knowledge and skills they will need if they encounter such situations at a later point.

What are some ways the award winning titles can meet the need of teens to have a more expanded view of literacy?
With so much of high school curriculum based on the Western Canon, many teens think of literacy as long, boring classics with little relevance to their lives. Award winning titles such as Looking for Alaska or The Earth, My Butt and Other Big, Round Things show that literary fiction can still speak in their voice to their issues.

Award winning titles can also show that quality literature does not need to be straight prose, it can be a graphic novel such as as American Born Chinese, a verse novel like Keesha’s House, nonfiction like Bomb, or told in ephemera like Tears of a Tiger.

Describe 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?
I do not have any direct experience with connected learning centers outside of the library. As they are library based, the collection already contains an influential role. One big change I have made in the branches is making sure all our displays pull from all age ranges and different parts of the collection, so juvenile, YA, and adult books (print and recorded), DVDs, and other items are all on display.

One way I advocate for the collection outside the library is recommending relevant titles on social media, outside of my blog reviewing. For instance, during the protests in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown, I heavily tweeted that people shocked at the militarization of the police should read Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko. I started a series of posts on the library’s web page and tumblr featuring read-alikes for the books with the longest waiting lists and have written several “collection spotlights”–booklists on a seasonal topic or one that relates to current events. My YA Reading List project ( was a year long project where I made an annotated themed booklist every day relevant to that day (Shakespeare retellings on Shakespeare’s birthday, books about art on the day Van Gogh cut off his ear, and even books about vampires to help celebrate blood donation month.)

Why should YALSA members choose you to be a member of this selection committee?
My previous experience on selection committees and reviewing for trade publications makes me a qualified candidate to serve on a YALSA selection committee, with a track record of getting the work done. My knowledge of YA books, as evidenced in my training, conference presentations, and book lists, makes me ideal for the Margaret A. Edwards award, as I know what a lasting and significant contribution to the field of YA literature looks like. I have a passion for YA literature and the role it plays in teen lives.

My passion for YA literature goes beyond the books and stories. I am an active participant in larger conversations around teen literature. I know what it has been, what it is, and have great hopes for what it can be. With this passion comes great enthusiasm for rooting through the stacks to find the best materials for a situation and sharing them. I love to connect people not only with the right book, but also fandoms and the greater YA community, to help put those books in the greater context of wider conversations and movements.

But these are qualifications I share with many of my peers.

In addition to my passion and work experience, I have significant experience working with a wide range of people. I spent a semester studying Chinese and teaching English in Nanjing, China. I spent a year working in Manchester, England. I live in a major city on the East Coast, but spent most of my life in small towns and small cities in the MidWest.

When I decided to become a librarian, I wanted to work with special collections or be an East Asian Reference librarian at a university or research institution. When studying for my MLIS, I specialized in Archives and Record Management. When I moved to the DC area, I fell into public libraries and youth services. I never expected to fall in love with it. I wasn’t expecting to be so taken with teens and their stories to make a career here. In my decade of public library work, the excitement of teens over what they’re doing and learning and reading is what has kept me going through budget cuts and administrators who did not believe in the importance of teen services. My passion allowed me to quickly become an expert in the field. Within a few years of entering youth services, I was serving on selection and award committees and reviewing professionally. My performance in these roles led to me being asked to present at state conferences on new trends in YA literature and diversity in YA books. I have also presented at ALA on providing reader’s advisory with nonfiction. I have now been in public libraries for a decade and my passion and skill set has only grown.

Serving on the Margaret A. Edwards award would allow me to share my skills and knowledge with the wider library world and readers everywhere. I thank YALSA members for considering me for the opportunity to give back in this capacity.

Talk about a time when a teen shared with you how a book influenced them.
Larry (not his real name) was a fan of steampunk and was doing a lot of reading about the fall of Imperial Russia. One day I turned to him and said “Check out this new book we just got in” while handing him a copy of Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Larry and I often don’t have similar tastes in fiction (we bonded over our shared shared tastes in nonfiction, especially history) but he took it anyway. We both eagerly awaited the release of Behemoth. His hold came in first and three days later he ran up to the desk yelling “Miss Jennie! Have you read it yet?! It’s so good, it makes Leviathan look like crap!” Larry’s nonfiction interests were immediately expanded. He wanted more about Tesla, more about Turkish independence, more about the Tunguska event. He started reading science as well as history–whole new worlds had opened up to him because of one book, and as he learned more, he’d stop by the desk to tell me all about it, so I could have the same background information to fully understand and appreciate this steampunk alternate history we had both enjoyed.

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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