Waikato Uni’s Picture Book Project: Can you make a children’s literature list without involving children’s librarians?

Apparently a new project is being launched, which aims to approach a canonical list of children’s picture books. They call it “The New Zealand Picture Book Collection.”

They don’t say who their selectors are, or what their selection process was beyond describing a series of meetings with six anonymous “experts”. They go on to say that selections from five of the experts were used, but they don’t explain why they chose to drop the sixth expert.

I’m not sure whether I have a concern with the list, because they haven’t described their process. Their purpose is:

To provide a set of quality New Zealand picture books reflecting diversity in New Zealand society which can be used in New Zealand classrooms with specially designed, curriculum-linked classroom activities.

A real concern I feel is the lack of New Zealand library industry buzz around this one. I’m confident to say if there had been, I’d have heard it – in conversation with friends or via professional reading. This leads me to think that they didn’t consult people they should be viewing as their professional partners. Whatever happens in the classroom comes to us to deal with, and in the case of picture books we are skilfully mediating their use long before the child steps foot in a classroom.

A second concern is that they use a .co.nz suffix – suggesting they are a commercial exercise when they are using their academic reputations to justify their expertise – placing a Waikato University emblem in the top right section of the screen.

If they wish to market a set of classroom resources, then by all means they should do so, however they appear in discussing their activities as research-based positioning themselves as creators of a definitive set of works, which their list demonstrably is not, as worthy as its contents are.

Businesses meet with consultants, and maintain confidentiality for appropriate business reasons. Research projects should not unless they can state a clear reason for doing so.

I wrote them with my concerns via their contact form, and I append that letter below.

Hi there,

Can I ask why you chose to make the experts anonymous? It’s not clear why this was needed for your methodology; and if there was any concern about professional attacks over individual choices, presenting the information (as you have done) as compiled from the group is an effective way of countering any such accusation.

Secondly, as a networked children’s library professional, I have heard absolutely no buzz or chatter whatsoever about this project.

Do I take this to imply that one of the major groups of professionals working with children and picture books was not consulted in the undertaking of this project? My apologies if I am mistaken, but if not I would find this a remarkable omission given the prominence of library-led initiatives such as Storylines.

My concern is that you are positioning yourselves as forming a “canonic” collection – work which we in libraries have been approaching for decades.

I will be blogging this discussion in my personal blog, and offer you the right of reply there as well as here. (I wrote from my professional email.) I think you have the basis for an excellent project, and wish to support it by giving you an opportunity to clarify your methodology.

Kind regards,

Sean Murgatroyd

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About seanmurgatroyd
Library (Shared blog): http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Personal including infoculture, book reviews: http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Music: http://seanfishmusic.wordpress.com/ Last.fm band page: http://www.last.fm/music/Seanfish @seanfish

2 Responses to Waikato Uni’s Picture Book Project: Can you make a children’s literature list without involving children’s librarians?

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