History of the Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee

From January 1 through mid-February, schools and libraries across Rhode Island make ballots available to middle school and high school students who have read three books from a selected list of titles so they may vote for their favorite.

Rhode Island was on the forefront of having a statewide book award for teens.  Thanks to some cutting edge teachers and library media specialists connected with the Rhode Island Education Media Association (RIEMA), work to start such an award began in 1998.  Over the course of two years, the group expanded to include some local young adult librarians from public libraries.  The first chairperson of the RITBA committee was Joe Light, one of the media specialists at Westerly High School at the time.

The first thing the initial award committee needed to do was design a series of goals and criteria to use to narrow the selection of titles for a nominee list.  It was clear from the beginning the committee did not want to just select a title on its own.  Instead, it would compile a list of nominees tweens and teens could read and judge.  They opted to focus on timeliness, requiring the nominees to be printed within two years of the list’s announcement.

In 2001, the team, under Light’s leadership, produced a list of 20 books blending a mixture of quality writing and reading interest.  In fact, these two characteristics are a part of the award’s primary goal since there was great concern that many award-winning selections on the national scale are extremely well written, but languish on the shelves due to lack of a strong readership among tweens or teens. 

The first election was scheduled to take place in January 2002.  With some help from their peers in RIEMA and marketing through the Young Adult Round Table, organized at that time by Frank Iacono at the Office of Library and Information Services, the award committee was able to have a number of schools and libraries collect votes from more than 300 young adults.  They selected Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser.

One of the methods of getting the word out about the award was to have a statewide contest to design a logo.  Schools and libraries from all over Rhode Island encouraged students in middle and high school to submit logo designs.  The winner, which was selected in 2001 to coincide with the announcement of the first book choice, was a 10th grade student at LaSalle Academy named Hillary J. Matoian.

Since that first year, the list has grown and prospered.  The Rhode Island Library Association joined RIEMA in sponsoring the award in 2002.  Every year, the number of participating voters and school/library sites increases. The RI Teen Book Award has been deemed such a success that librarians and school library media specialists from the Bay State utilized it as a model for their own award.  The Massachusetts Teen Choice Book Award is sponsored by the Massachusetts Library Association Youth Services Section and the Massachusetts School Library Association.

The RITBA Committee welcomes any school or library that would like to participate in the election.  Those interested can find information about voting here.  Visitors to the website will also find a complete list of all the winners, lists of previous nominees, promotional ideas and materials, and supporting discussion modules for many the nominees and award winners since 2006.