From the Office of the State Librarian: New Name for Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award to Be Selected by Vermont Youth

Please see the note below from the Office of the State Librarian. If further information is needed, please contact Jennifer Johnson (jennifer.johnson@vermont.gov) and she will direct your inquiry to the appropriate person.

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For Immediate Release

Friday, May 10, 2019

FROM THE OFFICE OF THE STATE LIBRARIAN:

NEW NAME FOR DOROTHY CANFIELD FISHER BOOK AWARD TO BE SELECTED BY VERMONT YOUTH

Barre, Vt. – After more than a year of deliberation, the Vermont Department of Libraries announced on May 3 that the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award will be renamed in 2020. This announcement came at the beginning of the 2019 Dorothy Canfield Fisher Book Award Conference, held at the Vermont Department of Libraries in Barre.

State Librarian Jason Broughton made the decision to change the award’s name based on a January 2018 recommendation from the Board of Libraries. The board acted after taking testimony recommending a name change to address contemporary issues affecting promotion of the program.  It also heard concerns about Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Vermont’s eugenics movement.

Broughton noted, “This is not an easy choice, with strong feelings both for and against a name change.” Feedback from Vermonters all over the state was considered in the decision, including comments from professionals who use the award and its curriculum in their libraries and classrooms.

As an example, he went on to cite these comments from a youth librarian and an active promoter of this award:  “I’d love to see a new name that revitalizes the program, gets kids excited, and that isn’t connected to a person, who, now or generations from now, will be tainted for something he or she did.”

Started in 1957, the award program has been successful in encouraging a love of reading in Vermont youth in grades 4-8. Over 2500 youth voted for the 2019 award, which requires that each student read at least five books from the list of thirty. However, it is not from familiarity with Dorothy Canfield Fisher- a stranger to today’s youth- that makes the award so successful with Vermont middle-schoolers. The well-written, insightful, and timely books that are nominated by literacy professionals, the curricula that is taught by passionate librarians and teachers, and youth’s ability to select the winner are the elements that have made it one of the oldest children’s choice book awards in the country.

While Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s name will no longer be on the award, the author will not be erased from Vermont history.

“We need to discuss ways in which Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s legacy will be remembered by the department and by Vermont youth. How do we talk about the views of someone we held up to a certain standard, but find they are human like the rest of us? What happens when certain views are no longer held by the larger society or have impacts on the mindsets of Vermonters and beyond? History can never wipe away Dorothy Canfield Fisher. We, however, can play a part in shaping our future history by proving that Vermont does do things differently by seeking consensus and moving forward on making literacy and the love of reading enjoyable, fun, and inclusive,” said Broughton.

In this vein, Broughton announced that Vermont youth will have the final say in the new name of the award.

“In being a steward of literacy, while balancing the department’s role as a state entity, we want to ensure every Vermonter is included in the future of the award and conference. As such, there will be a statewide vote by children on the new name for the award. This will have guidelines and rules on how this will be implemented to ensure we do not have awkward name or one that is not befitting of the spirit of the award.”

The 2019-2020 list of nominees, which was announced in April, will be the final list to hold Fisher’s name. The 2020-2021 list will be released in the spring of 2020, along with the new name selected by Vermont youth. It will take a year for the voting process and other administrative changes to be planned and implemented. Broughton notes that this deliberate approach has been the hallmark of the entire discussion surrounding the name change.

“It’s been a long journey to get to this point, and I’m confident that the careful discussions had amongst the award’s stakeholders has led to the best possible decision. It’s important that youth feel that the award represents them, so taking their lead is crucial. The department has been proud to support this award for the past sixty years, and I look forward to finding out what the future holds for the next sixty.”

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