VSBA Committee Members Share Their Experiences

by Brandi Hartsell

The Volunteer State Book Awards (VSBA) are sponsored each year by the Tennessee Library Association and the Tennessee Association of School Librarians. Children and teens across Tennessee are asked to read from a list of nominated titles and vote for their favorite. These lists are developed by committees of librarians from throughout the state. There are four nominating committees, one for each division: Primary (K-2), Intermediate (3-5), Middle School (6-8), and High School (9-12). We asked members of these committees to share with us about their experiences and how they promote VSBA in their school or library.

Evelyn Hunter

Name: Evelyn Hunter

School/Library: Chattanooga Public Library

Why do you serve on a VSBA committee? What motivates you to participate?

It’s my first year, so I don’t have much experience with VSBA, but I am really excited to participate for at least 2 reasons: 1–the list forces me to read outside of my usual genres and formats, and 2–the list ends up being one big RA that reaches so many more people than I could ever reach myself in a single year.

What is your favorite aspect of serving on a VSBA committee?

So far, I just love the fact that other people are making compelling recommendations for me–it helps me become stronger at RAs.

How do you promote VSBA nominees in your own library?

We make sure to order extra copies of the VSBA books in all available formats to help supplement the school libraries in our area. We also display them in a curated display when we are open to the public.

Missy Locke

Name: Missy Locke

School: Richland School

Why do you serve on a VSBA committee? What motivates you to participate?

I saw this as an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than my small rural school and give me the chance to network with other librarians in the state.

What is your favorite aspect of serving on a VSBA committee?

What better way to know the “it” books to read than to be on a committee with some of the best librarians in the state sharing their recommendations! I believe that we get so caught up in our day to day world that we sometimes find it hard to search out new quality books to read. This committee gives me that chance to network, find great books, and share what we all love-BOOKS!

How do you promote VSBA nominees in your own library?

All students know what books are on nomination list each year but there is a book critics club that commits to reading 3+ books from the list each year and voting on their picks. Last year I had 15% of my middle school population who wanted to be a part of this group.

Liz Hicks

Name: Liz Hicks

School: Stewarts Creek High School

Why do you serve on a VSBA committee? What motivates you to participate?

I love reading, and talking about books, and that is exactly what we do on the VSBA committee. I also love working with other librarians to ensure that the list is a diverse and inclusive and represents the best of the best from a variety of genres.

What is your favorite aspect of serving on a VSBA committee?

I love discovering new books by seeing what other librarians have nominated.

How do you promote VSBA nominees in your own library?

I created a VSBA Bingo sheet to encourage students to read books from the list. We also promote the books through our book club.

Kate Lewallen

Name: Kate Lewallen

School: Webb School of Knoxville

Why do you serve on a VSBA committee? What motivates you to participate?

I like to be involved in TASL, and the VSBA committee is a great way to do that while also doing something I was going to do anyways – read. It’s also a nice feeling when a student really loves a book from the list and I know that I helped pick it.

What is your favorite aspect of serving on a VSBA committee?

It makes me read so many books that I might not have picked up otherwise, and I’ve found great books for my students from others on the committee, even if they didn’t end up on the final list.

How do you promote VSBA nominees in your own library?

We keep the VSBA nominees on display all year long, both physically and on our ebook platform, Sora. We try to choose a few VSBA nominees for our MS book club each year, and reading a VSBA nominee is a category in our yearly book challenge. Every Wednesday we send out a newsletter to students with a featured book, and we highlight VSBA nominees in this newsletter often. At the end of the year when VSBA voting happens, we throw a voting party where eligible students can come get a special snack and cast their vote.

Heidi Busch

Name: Heidi Busch

School/Library: University of Tennessee at Martin

Why do you serve on a VSBA committee? What motivates you to participate?

I serve as the librarian liaison for our Educational Studies Department. I am always looking at Juvenile Literature and sharing it with our students here on campus and hoping to encourage them to use it in their future classrooms.

What is your favorite aspect of serving on a VSBA committee?

I enjoy being able to read the books and then have great discussions about outstanding literature.

How do you promote VSBA nominees in your own library?

We make sure to display the nominating and winning books in our library.

Brandi Hartsell

Name: Brandi Hartsell

School: Halls High School

Why do you serve on a VSBA committee? What motivates you to participate?

I volunteered to serve on a VSBA committee because I love reading! I love having the opportunity to be introduced to great titles and select the best of the best for the list.

What is your favorite aspect of serving on a VSBA committee?

I love working with a fantastic group of librarians who are dedicated to creating a list that is diverse and inclusive. We work really hard to make sure we are selecting books with reader appeal that also reflect our diverse society and promote empathy and critical thinking.

How do you promote VSBA nominees in your own library?

VSBA nominees are on a physical display in my library all year long. I use the spine label stickers that are available through TASL to note which titles are nominees. This year I also created a list of nominees within my OPAC. I typically try to offer prizes to students who read enough titles and cast their vote.

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