Sunday, January 22, 2012

Behind the Scenes at the ALA Awards - Press Conference

For many, the Youth Media Award announcements are the highlight of the ALA Midwinter meeting. It is often compared to the announcement of Hollywood's Oscars. Although it's early morning time period precludes glitter and bling, 500+ lovers of the best in youth print and non-print (librarians, publishers and booksellers) gather with great anticipation.

Each award committee has a space reserved for them at the front of the room. They face the podium, which is illuminated by bright lights to allow for the live streaming and broadcasting of the press conference. Behind them, in the darkened room, sits the audience, filling up the chairs in the vast hall, lining the walls and sitting on the floor. The only illumination here while the audience awaits the news is the low light of smartphones and laptops of those who tweet, IM and Facebook results as they are announced.

Back in the day, only the Caldecott, Newbery and Coretta Scott King awards were announced. Slowly, the award family has grown to include announcements about the Carnegie, the Wilder, the Pura Belpre, the Printz, the Siebert, the Odyssey, the Batchelder, the Schneider Family Award, the Geisel and so many more. It has filled the room with committee members and a huge audience (saying nothing about librarians huddled over computers and smartphones around the country).

The atmosphere is electric. For many committee members, this is perhaps one of the more momentarily stressful times in the whole process. Each committee has read, annotated, worked, thought, discussed, critiqued and carefully and collaboratively worked to come up with the best and most distinguished honorees for their charge. 

Though their backs are turned, the committee's ears are tuned to the audience behind them. What will the reaction be to the books they chose? The crowd is never shy in letting their reactions burst out. Cheers, gasps, sighs, hoots, awkward silence, a scream or two - all tell the committees volumes. No matter what the reaction though, each committee member knows they have chosen the right winner and honorees.

It is an amazing scene. Once long ago, librarians, book publishers and sellers would rush out to the pay phones to call for additional print runs, or alert colleagues at libraries to run out and buy copies of unexpected winners. Now, people can quickly touch base on cell phones or over social networks and the rush to the doors is only to pick up the press release with detailed bibliographic info.  But what never changes is the energy in that room.  I hope you all get a chance to be in that room some day in person.

And then what happens?  Well, there's another blog post coming about that!

1 comment:

Abby said...

I loved the eruption of joy when Ashley Bryan was awarded the Virginia Hamilton Lifetime Achievement Award this year. :D