Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The juicy part

Alright. If this were the real committee, you'd have heard our results, and brief statements about our winners. What you wouldn't hear is exactly how we arrived at those results. The fun of participating in a Mock Newbery is to experience that process. I'll tell you some tidbits about how it went--stuff you'll never hear from a Newbery committee.

We had four hours, nineteen people, and nine books. I'd budgeted two hours for dicussion, and went 2-1/2...that allowed 10-15 minutes for most titles, and a couple took us 20. Even so, I had to cut us off sometimes when we were really just about to get into it. (No, there were no fist-fights, hair pulling, or even cookie hurling. Jane's cookies were just too good to use as projectiles, and it really was a well-behaved and well-prepared group).

We took a first ballot. Following committee procedures, we each completed an anonymous ballot selected a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice. Up to the whiteboard: each 1st place vote got a title 4 points, each 2nd place vote got 3 points, and each 3rd place vote got 2. In the actual committee of fifteen people, the winning title needs 8 first place votes, and an 8 point spread in total points above the next title down the list. With nineteen votes, we decided we'd need 10 first-place votes and a 10 point spread.

The first ballot wasn't conclusive. There were two that pretty strong at the top...and four spread out through the middle that had each gotten at least 1 first-pace vote. There were three titles that received very few votes, and no first-place votes. We all agreed to remove those three from the table. We'd narrowed our field to six titles.

Back to the table. We took about 20 minutes more in discussion of the six remaining titles. Following committee procedures, you're not allowed to bring up any points that have been brought up previously. You're really looking to persuade people for or against certain titles at this point...but you don't know exactly who you have to persuade. You start even more ferociously and minutely measuring each book against the other.

We took a second vote. ACK! The same two titles still at the top. At this point Drowned Maidens Hair had the 10 point spread, but with fewer first place votes than it'd had before, and the other title had one more first place vote, though still not 10, as many first place votes were still dedicated to other titles lower on the list. Very awkward. Still, there were two titles that could clearly be taken off the table in this round, and with agreement from the table, off they came. We were left with 4, and no time.

Now, when you're not on the committee, getting home in time for dinner is still more important than achieving a clear consensus. If this had been the real committee, we'd have had to go back to discussion once more. The idea now would have been to persuade those who had cast first place votes for books lower down the list to re-cast their lot with one of the two forerunners. We, however, decided to take the shortcut, and just took a straw-poll, show of hands: between the two fore-runners, which should the winner be?

Now the vote was clear: Drowned Maiden's Hair had the majority it needed to make it clearly the committee's choice. It had almost 2/3 of the hands in the straw poll, and it had the 10 point spread. (As an interesting aside: in the second ballot, it received 18 votes: so all but 1 of us picked it as either our 1st, 2nd, or 3rd choice. No other title had so many overall votes).

How about honor books? Some committees might have chosen only one honor in this case: the clear second-place title, as it still stood well above the other two. However, since all these had strong votes, and in the spirit of Mock-Newberyness, we decided to call all three our "also clearly distinguished" honor books.

(Which was the second-place one? That I won't tell. Our agreement was that we want those three to stand together on the Mock-podium.)

So, is that what it's really like on the committee? Well...no and yes. The whole points thing is how it's done...but it's taken a lot more seriously than I've portrayed it here. Also, the field for voting is MUCH larger, so the points have more impact in making some titles rise above others. In a real voting process, you'd try not to narrow down the field as far as I did: it's better if discussion and re-balloting can make the votes rise on their own...and you want a large enough field at the end from which to thoughtfully select honor books. It's a mechanised process to come to something called "consensus," and it somehow magically works. Believe me, at the end of a year of reading hundreds of books, these votes aren't cast or changed casually, and the way the numbers are forced to line up really requires that the group has reached some kind of alignment in thinking. Whether one ballot decides it, or several--the ultimate result always feels right.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Franki said...

LOVE this post! I am always dying to know how people come to these hard decisions. So, on the real committee, do they only have 1 real meeting? I assumed they were meeting and talking all year and that by now, the people on the committee know the winner. The announcement is the formality. I figured with technology and email, lists, etc. it is taken care of that way. I guess not?
Thanks for sharing!

6:30 PM  
Blogger Nina said...

The committee is "talking" all year long to share lists of titles they like, and meets a couple of time throughout the year, but all of the substantial discussion of titles happens in January, at the ALA Midwinter meeting. The committee meets for several days in a row to ensure that they get to fully discuss their contenders. This year's committee will be meeting in a couple of weeks, the 19th through the 21st, and the winners will be announced in a press conference on the morning of Monday the 22nd. It's no formality--it's exhausting!

6:39 PM  
Anonymous Patricia said...

Thank you Nina for organizing this and doing such a good job as facilitator. You definitely kept the discussion on track. And yes Jane's cookies were most excellent! The books were great to read, and the comments and opinions were interesting to hear. A very positive experience.

12:23 PM  

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