The CILIP CKG 2017 Controversy

Full disclosure: I am a member of CILIP and a former judge for the 2015 & 16 CILIP CKG Medals so this may open me up to accusations of bias but I also have an inside understanding of how the Medals process works from nominations to the awarding of the medals. I will lay out the whole process as briefly as possible while not excluding any information.

The long-lists were announced last week Thursday and while initially well-received there was a growing groundswell of discontent at the lack of Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic (BAME) on the lists.

It has been called “a deliberate snub”

“Appalling”

and other less complimentary terms.
Over the years the judging panel have been accused of many things including: being overwhelmingly female – and thus unable to fairly judge books that may have been written for a male readership, being too middle class – and therefore not being able to fairly judge a book written from a working class perspective and now being unable to fairly judge BAME books due to white privilege.

It is worth remembering that all titles are nominated by Librarians, this shows that the profession as a whole does seek out to reward diversity no matter the ethnic make-up of the majority of the members.

As a panel the judges disregard what is going on in other awards as the CKG medals are not a popularity contest and decisions rest solely on how titles measure up to the criteria which are often radically different to those in other awards. In comparison to other literary awards the CKG Awards are also fairly rare as all the judges read all the nominated titles.

Diversity in awards is important, if all awards focused on the same titles there would be no scope for the out of the ordinary books as often with CKG winners the books are not the most popular but rather those that (in the opinion of the panel) best capture the criteria.

There is one judge per YLG region in the UK as well as the Chair of Judges, the CKG Coordinator, Chair of the YLG National Committee and the Chair-elect who do not vote but use their experience and knowledge to guide the judging panel.

Each judge brings their years of experience of reading and evaluating books for children and young people, honed by the rigorous training before we sit on the panel to the group which is made up of a mix of first and second year judges – a combination of fresh eyes and experience.

Being a CKG Judge is an enormous privilege. It is also an enormously time-consuming process that takes control of an individual’s life for two years as reading 100 + books is not easy when one is juggling a career, home-life and in many cases children (my wife and I having our daughter at the outset of my second year as a judge almost did me in). Often Judges have to take unpaid leave from work to attend the selection meetings in London. Not everyone is able to take on this amazing challenge.

The accusations levelled at the sitting judges is difficult to bear as they are unable to respond due to the possibility of breaching the confidentiality of the judging process. It is not easy for a former judge to hear either as the accusations blanket all of us.

I am aware that the word racism was not used and a number of individuals have written incredibly persuasively that no one is accusing CKG judges of being closet racists but it is hard not to feel stung by the accusation that we have been purposefully side-lining BAME authors.

Having said that, I can begin to imagine that for BAME authors the feeling that you are not loved or wanted by Librarians can be even more distressing and painful. This is not just because I know and am on cordial speaking terms with a number of BAME authors but also I am a fan of theirs and many others work.

Out of interest I looked back at the 2016 Carnegie nominations and at a cursory glance I saw six BAME authors that I know had been nominated, three of these made the long-list.

In 2015 there were six nominations and no listings.

In 2014 there were three BAME nominations but no listings.

Prior to 2014 all nominations were automatically long-listed.

The paucity of BAME authors in the CKG listings is evidence of problems greater than the perceived short-comings of the award process.

The Carnegie Medal celebrates its 80th anniversary this year and people online have used this as a stick to beat the awards with saying that in 80 years it is disgraceful that a BAME author has never won. Over the weekend I started looking in to when the first BAME children’s authors were published in the UK, I am pretty sure that it was not in the 1930’s and I will not stop digging until I have found an answer, this is not to say that we should not be concerned about the lack of BAME authors but blaming a symptom rather than addressing the cause may be counter-productive.

Within publishing there is a distinct lack of diversity, this is in the process of changing but it will take years until the number of BAME authored titles published in the UK accurately reflects the population.

Library staff are not immune from a lack of diversity across the board either, ethnic monitoring with CILIP membership is optional utilising a tick box so it is hard to know exact numbers but the profession is overwhelmingly Caucasian.

I know from my experience on the London Youth Libraries Group Committee that the special interest groups regularly require fresh blood due to members stepping down and posts becoming available so if you are a Librarian of BAME heritage and have an interest in becoming involved with the CKG Awards please do consider joining CILIP if you are not already a member and sign up to a YLG regional committee or express interest in joining if there are no committee vacancies currently available.

If you are unsure about the cost of membership you can ask your employer to subsidise the membership fee as many employers do pay for employee membership of professional organisations.

Having also read CILIP C.E.O. Nick Poole’s response to criticism of the awards regarding a level playing field (and please note I am not speaking on his behalf) I think we can all agree that BAME authors and BAME citizens in general have never faced a level playing field with regard to publishing or life in the UK in general but in regard to the context in which books are read and considered against the set criteria – all the books are assessed equally.

I am aware that a number of authors and groups have been in contact with CILIP to open a discussion on the awards, their future and to make sure that no-one feels excluded, victimised or marginalised.

I support this endeavour and hope that we can all move forward together to ensure a future where all citizens of the UK feel included and see themselves represented in the Awards.

How authors, publishers & publicists can help

Be more vocal about books that are being published, this is really important if books are published close to or on the cut-off date (31st October) – Librarians are only human, we do not have the 100 eyes of Argus and sometimes miss things. It is usually not the books that massive publicity events accompanying the launch; it is the books that slip out with little to no fanfare, if you have a book that you feel hits most if not all the criteria then let us know, I know with librarians often the biggest problem we have is talking about ourselves – I am guessing it may be similar with many authors (that is why there are publicists), make sure that some proofs go to librarians (I am happy to help if publicists are not sure where to send books I can put you in contact with library friends and colleagues that read and review books as well as are active with nominating titles.

How librarians can help

Get involved with nominating, even if you are not directly involved with children’s and young people’s librarianship, all members of CILIP are eligible to nominate titles. If you are not sure what books to look at or read – ask a CYP or School Librarian for a suggestion, we love recommending books. Stop the breast-beating about guilt by association – if you feel strongly about it get stuck in, if you see the management level of the profession moving slowly or not at all then affect professional change from the grassroots.
Nothing happens in a vacuum, everything we do effects a change elsewhere – a greater demand for BAME titles will cause an uptick in publication, the more books that are published means more nominations, the more nominations there are means a greater chance of being listed and the increased chance for more books to be published.

What happens if nothing is done?

I have seen calls for a Carnegie boycott, authors calling on their publishers not to involve their books. All nominated titles will still be read, and if it is decided that a book by an author that later recuses themself from the award is chosen then it is possible that a no award will occur, years where no titles have been selected are incredibly rare but they have happened in the history of the award.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Although the CKG Awards are often regarded as monolithic and unchanging, the rules and regulations governing them are looked at, considered and updated on a regular basis.

The most recent update that springs to mind is the addition of the illustrator’s name to illustrated novels nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2016 http://www.thebookseller.com/news/illustrators-included-carnegie-nominations-314750

I have also heard through the grapevine that CILIP is working on making the profession more diverse, but as with every initiative this will take time.

6 Thoughts on “The CILIP CKG 2017 Controversy

  1. Thanks for this clear eyed assessment, Matt. Librarians do so much to put our books into the hands of young readers and this controversy is very distressing. I am grateful for the thoughtful voices that have called for a sincere review of the world’s most valued children’s book award.

  2. Suzanne Bhargava on February 21, 2017 at 10:59 am said:

    I’ve been a member of CILIP for just over a year now, and was excited about the prospect of being able to nominate titles for CKG, but then prevaricated and missed my chance. And then, while I think it’s unfair to suggest the lack of diversity was a deliberate snub, I was sorely disappointed to see Carnegie So White – I had read so many great books this year by BAME authors. I feel my own laziness is part of the problem. Your post has been enlightening, and just the kick in the pants I needed to get my act together. I’ll be making a conscientious effort to read as much as I can this year, with nominations in mind. So… thank you!

  3. A valuable contribution to a much needed debate. Thank you.

  4. Maureen Denham on February 22, 2017 at 10:11 am said:

    Thank you for a thoughtful piece on the latest Carnegie controversy. I too have been on the judging panel, in the very dim and distant past!, and we do our best to be aware of our own biases and to look beyond them. Like many librarians who work alone, it is impossible to read everything, you can’t read all the things you would like to read, nor everything you know you should be reading to keep up with new and unfamiliar authors or genres.
    The events of the past year or so have made me look again at my own reading choices both personal and professional, and to more deliberately seek out BAME books and authors for my own reading and for adding to our collections. Like Suzanne’s comment above, I need to make the effort to nominate titles for the CKG awards throughout the year, rather than leaving it to the last minute in October, or not getting round to it at all.

  5. This is so interesting, Matt. Can you tell us a little more about the criteria, ie what the judges are looking for? I’ve found the addition of a long-list has been more baffling than illuminating!

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