Reflections on the 2019 Youth Media Awards

By: Jody Gray, Director, ALA Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services

2019 marked the first year that three affiliates of the American Library Association (ALA) were included in the Youth Media Awards (YMA) announcements. The American Indian Library Association (AILA), Asian Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), and the Association of Jewish Libraries (AJL). The decision to include these affiliates was announced at the 2018 Youth Media Awards. I wanted to address questions that have arisen about the inclusion of the affiliate honor titles at the event. 

Over the course of the past year member leaders from each of these affiliates have been working with ALA staff to figure out the logistics of this process. I have worked with all three of them directly as their ALA staff liaison.

There are many pieces that go into the Youth Media Awards. As someone who participated for the first time last year in this process, I was amazed at the complexity of bringing it all together. This event is in the works starting almost immediately after the prior year’s event.

It is a complicated process because even within ALA there is no centralized system for book awards. Each division, office, or round table that produces a youth literature award has their own process. It is all pulled together by the tireless work of ALA staff into what becomes the event that you see. With the inclusion of the affiliates, that meant that we would be adding to this already internally complex structure.

The affiliates are independent organizations, each with their own members, constitutions, events, awards, and communications. We spent the past year working with the designated leaders from AILA, AJL, and APALA to figure out how to coordinate this event.

One of the biggest obstacles is the timing of the event. I know that seems like an arbitrary thing that should not be such a barrier, but the reality is that the YMA’s are obligated to maintain their designated time because of other events that are also impacting the Midwinter Meeting. The Martin Luther King Sunrise Celebration occurs from 6:30 AM-7:30 AM and a huge majority of the member leaders (particularly those who are invested in supporting equity, diversity, and inclusion) are in attendance and have roles in this event. Immediately after the YMA’s the ALA Council meets. We know this is not ideal, but this schedule has not been made without consideration of ALL of the events happening.

All of that is to say, that adding three new awards would inevitably mean more time. In speaking with the affiliates, we all agreed that for this year, we would only announce the winning titles. In addition to the normal time constraints, it was the 20th Annual Martin Luther King Sunrise Celebration and that event was also possibly going to be strapped for time.

We have always thought of this collaboration with the affiliates as a work in progress. We knew our initial launch may be met with challenges. As mentioned earlier, we are already in talks with how we improve this going forward. There was never any intention of disrespect to any affiliate, author, or publisher. We will continue to examine opportunities to enhance the YMAs.



Thank you to everyone for making this work. And as an additional point, it took a lot of effort and multiple year votes on the part of youth oriented councilors to make it happen that Council could not meet during the awards time slot. And I am sure there are still councilors who gripe about this.