Thank you, Dontaná and Jenna!

As your (very proud) public library, we’re thrilled to share the words of two Oak Park librarians who recently served on prestigious American Library Association committees, one related to children’s literature and the other to LGBTQ+ literature. Here’s a little bit more about those meaningful experiences.

Jenna: Newbery Medal

‘We…were willing to change our thoughts about specific titles based on hearing the perspective of someone else.’

What’s the formal name of the committee? Association for Library Service to Children Newbery Award Selection Committee.

What did you do? I, with my fellow 14 committee members, read, and evaluated several hundred children’s books published in 2019, while searching for the most distinguished. We met in person to discuss books—both last summer in Seattle and last week in Philadelphia. It was at the ALA Midwinter (held January 24-28) in Philadelphia where we made our final choices.

Why is this work important to the profession? To you personally? The Newbery medal is one of the most prestigious and well-known book awards. Careers are forever changed when an author has their book awarded. Schools and libraries regularly promote the chosen titles. For me personally, serving on this committee has been my dream since I was an undergraduate student taking a children’s literature course. To be able to achieve this goal just before turning 30 is a huge personal and professional accomplishment. 

What did you learn? I’ve been involved in book critique work for several years through other committees and book reviewing for professional journals, but what I loved so much about serving on this committee was learning from my fellow committee members. We all approached our book discussions with an open mind and were willing to change our thoughts about specific titles based on hearing the perspective of someone else. Additionally, this committee was really helpful for my job here at the library. I’m a collection management librarian responsible for selecting and ordering the children’s and teen titles, so this committee made me very aware of what was being published.

Anything else you’d like to share? This is a historic win as it’s the first time a graphic novel has won the Newbery medal.

Newbery Medal winners & honors, 2015-2020


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Dontaná: Stonewall Book Awards

‘I have learned new ways of looking at materials, new ways of critiquing, new ways of being’

What’s the formal name of the committee? Stonewall Book Awards – Barbara Gittings Literature Award committee.

What did you do? I chaired the Barbara Gittings Literature Award committee for the second time. I led a committee of 11 people in reading, critiquing, and evaluating more than 300 works written by authors who identify as LGBTQ+ and/or featuring characters who identify as LGBTQ+ published in 2019. We met virtually once a month starting in February, and met in person to deliberate the top titles at ALA Midwinter (held January 24-28) in Philadelphia. The Stonewall Book Awards – Barbara Gittings Literature Award is given for adult literature, which includes poetry, novels, novellas, short stories, dramatic works, and graphic novels. To serve on the committee you must be a member in good standing of the American Library Association (ALA) and the Rainbow Round Table. The award “honors current books of exceptional merit with significant gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender themes,” that are in English and published in the United States during the preceding year.

Why is this work important to the profession? To you personally? The Stonewall Book Award is the first and oldest award given for LGBTQ+ books. We are helping librarians across the country decide how to allocate their materials purchasing funds, and celebrating the growth of LGBTQ+ publishing. We are giving these books and their authors a chance to reach the widest possible audience. With this particular award, an award for LGBTQ+ literature, we are keeping a light on for everyone who hasn’t yet come out to their family and friends, who reads these books in the corner of the library and puts them back in a weird place so they can find them again on their next visit. We are also in the midst of this great shift from coming out narratives and exclusively trauma narratives to stories about people who just happen to be LGBTQ+. I’d like to think that the ALA and the Rainbow Round Table, with several other organizations giving out awards to LGBTQ+ books and authors, helped to legitimize these stories in the eyes of the mainstream.

What did you learn? Over the course of my tenure, I learned a lot about leadership, communication, and organization. I learned how to listen, how to create a space where others feel comfortable exploring their vulnerabilities, and how to be vulnerable in front of others. I have learned new ways of looking at materials, new ways of critiquing, new ways of being. As a collection management librarian, I’ve found new publishers from whom I can purchase materials to enhance the collection.

Stonewall Book Awards winners & honors, 2015-2020


Browse more reading suggestions for adults »

This post is the first in a series of Workplace Wins, individual staff accomplishments that benefit us all. Have a story about library staff to share? Please let us know »

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