By Lisa Chellman
The Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) is a division of the American Library Association (ALA) made up of librarians, children’s literature experts, publishers, and education and library school faculty, among others. It’s best known to outsiders as the organization behind the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott awards. Diane Foote (at right), Executive Director of ALSC, kindly agreed to take us behind the scenes.
What are the ALSC’s primary functions?
ALSC’s primary goal is to lead the way in forging excellent library service for ALL children. We do this by offering continuing education online and in-person; high-quality programming at ALA’s Annual Conference and the biennial ALSC Institute; publishing the peer-reviewed journal Children and Libraries; co-authoring books with ALA Editions; hosting nearly 60 committees made up of librarians nationwide that tackle issues in the field; advocating on the national level through ALA’s National Library Legislative Days; presenting our prestigious book and media awards; offering more than $84,000 worth of professional awards, grants and scholarships annually; and running a series of national initiatives including El día de los niños/El día de los libros (Children’s Day/Book Day), the Kids! at Your Library public awareness
campaign, Born to Read and Every Child Ready to Read.
With the ALA Midwinter Meeting coming up in January, we’re all anticipating the announcement of ALSC’s book awards, particularly the Newbery and Caldecott awards. Please tell us a little about the award process. For example, who serves on the various award committees? What’s the nomination process for books, and how are winners chosen?
The committees consist of ALSC members, some of whom are elected by the membership and some of whom are appointed by the ALSC President. They can be children’s librarians, school librarians, library managers and directors, children’s literature professors, reviewers, or critics, as long as they are personal members of ALSC.
Committee members suggest and nominate titles throughout the year. ALL books that fit the eligibility requirements and criteria are to be considered; the committee isn’t to limit itself to only those books submitted by publishers (which should reassure authors who have nightmares about warehouse/UPS glitches).
The number of nominations, suggestions and eligible titles vary each year, so I’m not prepared to talk numbers, but it’s safe to say (and not news to SCBWI members, I’m sure) that thousands of eligible titles are published annually.
All eligible books are considered to be “under consideration” until the decision is made. The decision is made by a voting process at the Midwinter meeting; if a clear winner is not determined in the first round of voting, the committee discusses again, and votes again, until the Medalist and any Honor Books are decided. It is at the Midwinter Meeting that all of ALA’s Youth Media Award winners are announced. This year, the press conference will take place on Monday morning, Jan. 26, 2009.
SCBWI readers should also be aware of the other awards offered by ALSC: the Batchelder, given to the U.S. publisher of a book originally published in a country other than the U.S. and in a languageother than English and subsequently translated and published in the U.S.; the Belpré, for authors and illustrators of children’s books that best portray, affirm, and celebrate the Latino experience; the Geisel, for authors and illustrators of the best books for beginning readers; the Sibert, for authors and illustrators of the best informational book for children; and the Wilder, for an author or illustrator whose books have made a lasting contribution to the field of children’s literature.
We also have two media awards: the Carnegie, for best children’s video; and the Odyssey, for excellence in audiobook production, which we co-administer with YALSA [Young Adult Library Services Association] and which is sponsored by Booklist magazine.
[For more information about the ALSC book and media awards, including terms and criteria, please visit the ALSC website.]
ALSC also publishes an annual list of Notable Children’s Books. Who compiles the lists, and how are the books chosen?
Similar to the award process, a committee of ALSC members compiles the Notables lists. There are also lists of Notable Children’s Recordings, Notable Children’s Videos, Great Web Sites and Great Interactive Software
The three Notables lists are also announced at the Midwinter Meeting; GWS and GISK make ongoing recommendations and their lists are updated throughout the year.
Unlike the awards committees’ deliberations, Notables discussions take place during open meetings at ALA’s Annual Conference and Midwinter Meeting, and authors and illustrators, as well as publishers and other librarians, are welcome to attend to observe.
Is there anything else children’s authors and illustrators should know about the ALSC?
Just that there is a longstanding symbiotic relationship between librarians and authors and illustrators; without the exciting and informative literature created by authors and illustrators, librarians would have nothing to offer children looking for entertainment or homework help! In return, librarians offer authors and illustrators a doorway to young readers of all ages and interests.
Plus, library purchases keep books in print for years. So, authors and illustrators and librarians need to advocate together for the level of community support we both need in order to continue to offer the best materials and services to young library patrons.
One more question: what are the most fun and/or rewarding aspects of serving as Executive Director at the ALSC?
By far the most fun and rewarding is being involved with the book awards! Probably no surprise there.
Thanks again, Diane, for sharing your knowledge with us! For more information about ALSC and its programs and services, please visit the ALSC website.
Lisa Chellman is a youth services librarian and writer of novels for young people. Visit her website and blog at