On Judges & Judging

Matt Imrie is the librarian at Farringtons School, Chislehurst and is the YLG London judge.

The short-lists are out; weeks of biting one’s tongue during discussions about the Medals have paid off. No-one spilled the beans early and ruined it for everyone, the CKG Judges code of silence makes the Mafia look like a leaky boat by comparison.

That has been one of the hardest things about the awards – choosing titles and then having to keep quiet about it all. For weeks I have seen friends and colleagues post their thoughts and wish-lists about the short-lists and be shut out from the joy of discussing the books. Then there are the people that try and wheedle the lists out and when that fails say things like “You had better not have chosen book X because then it will be YOUR fault if it wins!”

The judges are chosen from the 12 Youth Library Group regions across the UK plus the Chair to act as tie-breaker if necessary. The position is filled by representatives from the regional committees, yes they are mostly female as male librarians for children and young people are still a relative minority. In recent years this has led to accusations of gender bias from observers but the lists of winning titles do not support this. The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards are two of the most rigorous literary awards in the UK, among adults as well as other awards for young people’s literature. Judges get a full days training each year in the criteria and how to apply them to nominated titles, as previous winners and regular outcries among observers can attest these are not popularity contests.

Judging can be a lonely task, the 13 judges are spread across the UK, and we almost never see each other outside of official judging meetings. We do not really have time for many meetings as there is so much reading to be done, personal hygiene becomes optional, a full night’s sleep becomes a thing of the past and forget about sympathy from significant others “You chose to read all those books so don’t come crying to me!”

Not every librarian can be a judge, speaking personally and from what I have learned from my colleagues on the panel is that everyone involved wanted to be there! There was a desire to become involved and a willingness to sacrifice time, social life and more to learn so much about the books on the lists that one starts reciting chapters in their sleep.

Yes judging is a sacrifice – but one willingly made as the pay-off is beyond measure:

Choosing the most outstanding novel and illustrated book for children and young people and this year those choices have yet to be made!

Matt Imrie

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