Sunday Reflections: Why I Like Being a Cybils Judge and You Should Consider It
Today a box of books has shown up at my doorstep and I have another group of books I have to read sometime before December 20th(ish). All in all, between the beginning of October and the end of December I will have read over 130 YA speculative fiction titles. This is Cybils time.
The Cybils are an online Children’s and Young Adult awards list put together by bloggers of all sorts; librarians, teachers and readers. To become a judge you submit an application after the call for judges goes out and you hope that you get selected. The judging process is divided into two parts. The first round is a group of panelists who read all of the nominated titles and make a shortlist. That shortlist is sent to another group of judges who then select the title that they feel best represents the best of the best of that category for the year. Titles are nominated during the early part of October by the public. Yes, that means you.
I have been honored for the past few years to participate as a first round judge, primarily in the YA speculative fiction category, though once also in the YA contemporary fiction category. It’s one of my most favorite times of the year. Here’s what I love about being involved in the Cybils.
1. It forces me into an intense period of reading
Granted, I’m a reader. I love to read. But there is something magical that happens when you take an intense deep dive into a particular category. And because I am on a deadline, I can’t let myself make excuses not to read. So it doesn’t matter how much I want to binge watch the new season of a show on Netflix or go shopping and spend money I don’t have, I have to stay focused and on deadline. I’m participating in an activity that I’ve made an important commitment to and honoring that commitment is paramount, so I better manage my time and my reading. Participating in the Cybils helps me develop some discipline and organization around my reading.
2. Finding Out About Books I’ve Never Heard Of
My job is very much about YA literature, both in my library and on this blog. I make lists and check them twice. I attend professional conferences to learn about upcoming titles. I read professional review journals, online blogs and more. But no matter how deep into the world of YA literature I go, and I feel like I go pretty deeply, titles are always nominated that I have never heard of. I am fascinated every year to look at the final list of nominated titles to see what’s nominated (and what’s not). I am always forced to read books that I may have missed (or skipped) and find treasures that were until that moment unknown to me. The joy of discovery is always found on the nominated titles list.
3. Behind the Scenes Book Discussions
As we read books, there are behind the scenes discussions that happen and I value. I think each group may handle their discussions differently, but the speculative fiction category has always used a tool called Basecamp (similar to Slack) that allows you to have threaded discussions. Especially towards the ends, these discussions can get very specific and passionate. And because the panel that is put together is diverse, I get insights into books quite different than my own. For example, one year there was a book that I was passionately defending to be on the shortlist until another participant raised some issues about problematic content. I hadn’t noticed the content and didn’t feel quite the same way about it, but with discussion came to understand another point of view and that was valuable to me. It changed how I read books from that moment on.
In these discussions you are also forced to be able to really defend the titles you are championing. We talk about things like world building, character development, stereotypes and tropes, etc. Because of these conversations, you learn to read more critically and to discuss titles with more complexity and awareness. My understanding of and ability to evaluate YA literature grows each year that I participate, and I’ve been a Teen Services Librarian for 24 years now.
4. I am Forced to Make a Shortlist
I have never been very good at “best ofs”. If you asked me to name a favorite book, movie or song, I will give you ten. I like a lot of things about a lot of things. But participating in the Cybils forces me to narrow down my reading and create a shortlist which is then discussed with others who have created their own shortlists. There is value in having to sit down and really examine a body of work and say, “this is what I think is the best of the best and here are the reasons why.” It’s an exercise in discipline, which has value.
5. I Grow as a Reader and a Teen Services Librarian Each Year I Participate
I want to be both the best person and the best teen services librarian I can be. I feel like that is an important personal goal, and participating in the Cybils helps me to achieve that goal. Reading helps me achieve it. The discipline required to participate as a Cybils judge helps me to achieve it. And the deep dive into YA literature helps me to achieve it. Being forced to discuss – and listen – to other points of view about the books I read also helps me to achieve it. There is, for me, no negative part of being involved in the Cybils. I mean, my kids sometimes want me to cook them dinner more during the month of December, but I hate to cook so that is also a win for me!
Here’s the dates you need to know:
- August 21: Call for judges
- Sept. 11: Deadline for judging application
- Sept. 18: Judges announced.
- Oct. 1: Nominations open
- Oct. 15: Nominations close
- October 16-25: Publisher submissions
- Oct. 1-Dec. 29: Round 1 reading period
- December 1: Round 1 review copy deadline
- Dec. 29: Short lists due from judges
- Jan. 1: Finalists announced
- Jan. 2-Feb. 12: Round 2 reading period
- Feb. 12: Winners list due from judges
- Feb. 14: Winners announced
If you are not familiar with the Cybils, you can find out more here. Check out this year’s list of nominated titles and keep coming back to learn more about what the judges think. You WILL learn about titles you probably haven’t heard of yet, no matter how much you read.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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