Matt Imrie is the librarian at Farringtons School, Chislehurst and the YLG London judge.
Male CKG Judges are like buses, you wait for ages then two turn up at once; and if rumour is to be believed there will be a third next year…
Wait just a moment I hear you cry, what does gender have to do with the CKG Awards?
Well nothing really – or everything, it depends on who you ask.
I started taking an active interest in what was being said online about the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals when I knew I was going to be a judge. One of the most noticeable criticisms I saw was that because the judges were mostly women that books for boys generally would not make the grade of most outstanding book or illustrated book of the year.
Do you want to know what I have learnt during my first year as a CKG Judge?
Oh go on – you know you do!
When I went to the CKG Judges’ training day last year I did not know what to expect; when I went into the room it was full of people like me, passionate professionals who love reading and want to celebrate the most outstanding written and illustrated works for young readers.
The breadth of knowledge and professionalism of my fellow judges is amazing, at judging meetings I listened and contributed, several times the impassioned arguments about one or other book changed my mind; at times I found other judges on the panel agreed with my thoughts as I agreed with theirs. We argued, we cajoled, at times we even begged that our colleagues see the brilliance that was in front of them and at the end of it all my XY chromosomes had no bearing on what books I thought were outstanding and I am pretty sure that the judges with XX chromosomes are the same!
Gender is perhaps the least important part of what a judge requires to make the choices, we are professionals; some of us have decades of experience in working with books and young readers. It still shocks some people I meet that librarians go to university and have degrees; we train for years and on the job we go to courses aimed at improving our skills and knowledge. Some of us put ourselves forward for professional organisations where we can guide our colleagues and even end up judging book awards.
In some quarters our professionalism is overlooked and instead of being seen as being reading guides and enablers, librarians are seen as gatekeepers and people who cannot keep their gender separate from the book choices that we make. As judges we have to put aside love and emotive thought and are guided by our strict training and the award criteria.
In the end we made the choices we made and stand united behind them. As with every CKG Awards decision there will be arguments, disagreements and shock from other librarians and observers, but one thing I can say is that the books were chosen by librarians – and that is the way it always has been!