Thursday, June 9, 2016

Forever and always: Newbery and Caldecott confidentiality

Currently, members of the Newbery and Caldecott committees serve with the understanding that they may never tell what happened during the deliberations.

However, there has been a recent conversation about whether there should be a statute of limitations on confidentiality. Should committee members be allowed to tell part or all of what happened in the discussions? Should there be a period of years after which the records can open?  This month’s edition of School Library Journal has three wonderful articles about the issue.

I am fascinated by this conversation. Riveted. And here’s the crazy thing. I agree with all three points of view.

I agree with K.T. Horning that there is an amazing potential for researchers. I don’t want to know who said what, but I would love to know the larger issues. How did those brave committees who bucked trends do it? How did they come to consensus? What was the thought process in the room when The Invention of Hugo Cabret or A Visit to William Blake’s Inn won? And once and for all, wouldn’t it be wonderful to find out why The Secret of the Andes beat Charlotte’s Web?

Forever is a long time not to know.

I agree with Ed Spicer that it would be freeing to tell everything. It would be marvelous to tell a creator that just because their book wasn’t honored doesn’t mean it wasn’t under consideration, that no one loved it or fought for it. It doesn’t mean it isn’t a great work of art.  Former committee members can’t answer questions about why a particular book did or didn’t make the final cut for the rest of their lives. And when questions arise about unusual choices committees make, it is a long time not to be able to defend yourself.

Forever is a long time to keep a secret.

I agree with Dan Santat that it can be better not to know. The magic is preserved.  Do we really want to know that a classic book barely squeaked by? Do we want to know all the reasons those fifteen people in that room rejected one book and anointed another? Do we want to know which book lost by a small margin? Do we want the creators to be concerned about all their decisions and choices when they create their next book?

Forever is a long time to doubt yourself.

There’s an additional issue for me. If we lifted the veil, what would we reveal, especially for the recent committees? The process is so secret that ballots are destroyed and official notes aren’t kept. If we opened the files for recent pivotal years, would we find the answers we’re looking for?

Ideally, I would love an oral history interview project or written accounts from each of the fifteen people in the room- in case the veil does lift sometime in the future. If there is a commitment to revealing information at some point, the sooner we start recording it, the better, before everyone who was in the room forgets the finer details. 

The year I was on the Caldecott committee, one of our committee members gave us all lovely blue scarves, which we wore during the deliberations and announcement. I felt that every time I saw a blue-scarfed person that weekend, I was seeing a true friend. Each blue scarf represented one of the fourteen other people in the room. They were the fourteen safe places in tag, the fourteen people I could talk to about what really happened- not what everyone on the outside thought happened.  They still are- those fourteen special people who are forever keeping the same secrets I am.

I am on another award committee where part of the process shortly before the awards ceremony at the annual conference includes committee members telling why certain books lost. After the secrecy of an ALA committee- this openness feels strange to me. I find it really challenging to tell a room full of people what I think. I feel paranoid that someone is audio recording the session and I’ll be thrown off the committee for revealing secrets.

Having being on several award committees, I can tell you that after a while what you say in the room, in the e-mail chat or on the conference call stops mattering. The committee voted and the committee as a group made a choice- and it is now your job to promote that book and that award.

I was one of the fifteen people in the room the year The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat won the Caldecott Medal.  It’s my book. It doesn’t matter what was said in the room. It doesn’t matter what the vote tallies were. Seeing the Caldecott Medal on the cover will always make me smile. Reading it to a child who hasn’t heard it yet will always make me choke up. I will always get goose bumps on the last line. It will always be my book.


What are your thoughts?


  1. Question: are any comments allowed to the winner as to why they won? I would never advocate for telling someone why they didn't win, but I think it's helpful for everyone to know what it was about the winning book that the committee felt was so special.

    1. Jody- there is a little formal insight for the winner but not much. There are a few lines in the press release and a few sentences of introduction at the banquet.

      KT mentions in her article that she has had trouble finding this information for previous winners.