Blog of Steel

Changes to the Excelsior Award for 2019

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As the founder and organiser of the Excelsior Award, 2019 represents the first time I’ve decided to make some fairly big changes to the way it works. And I wanted to share why with all the school librarians who sign up to take part in it every year. 

At the very core of the decision was a private admittance that putting together last year’s shortlist had been more problematic than it had ever been before. Creating the LONGlist was easy. There were some fantastic graphic novels out there that were under serious consideration for the 2018 shortlist. The issues started to surface when we were narrowing all that down to a final list of eight books that would cost schools no more than £75 (the budget limit that we’ve always worked to). The reality is that the cost of graphic novels and manga has risen (like it has with all books) since I started doing the Excelsior Award in 2011 – and yet that budget limit has stayed the same. The result of this was that there were a few really good books that I just couldn’t include. We had to make concessions. We were happy with what we finally settled on, but it just irked me personally that there were a couple of missed opportunities there and a couple of books that we had to exclude even though I knew that they would have been perfect Excelsior Award material.

So, I entered the summer holiday period determined to mull this issue over thoroughly and see if I could come up with a creative solution that would allow us to improve the award whilst not alienating school librarians. It seemed I had two choices – raise the budget limit to £95 (£85 wouldn’t have given us enough leeway) or have fewer books on the shortlist for the same price or less. In this age of school budget cuts, making the Excelsior Award more expensive didn’t seem fair on anyone. Shrinking the shortlists seemed the best way to move forward. However, it then occurred to me that this provided me with a golden opportunity to have more than one shortlist and make them much more age-specific. This, in turn, would allow librarians more flexibility in how they use the Excelsior Award within their schools (and it is a model adopted by several other book awards). I hoped it would also give librarians more confidence in presenting material they might not be too familiar with to the right students, which I know is often a concern. I looked at this year’s longlist, I put together some hypothetical shortlists of differing sizes, I did the maths… and came to the conclusion that a shortlist of five books for a maximum of £65 was not only possible but actually desirable. Making four shortlists that focused on Key Stages 2, 3, 4 and Sixth Forms seemed logical as well. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, I’d discovered a way of allowing librarians to spend less whilst tailoring the award to better suit their respective student bodies (or customers, if you will!). I’m hoping it works really well! Please get in touch and let me know either way!

There are also another couple of changes that may have been missed during all the furore about newly-coloured Excelsior Awards.

Firstly, I’d like to publicly welcome and draw your attention to our two new shortlist judges Robin Etherington and Jane Hill. Robin forms one half of mega-talented, comics-creating duo The Etherington Brothers, with whom I have worked several times before at school events. Jane is a school librarian from Hertfordshire that I met at a CILIP SLG event earlier this year. Both are massively enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the power of comics. Both bring new perspectives to the judges panel as well, which is always a good thing.  

Secondly… there’s a new award for librarians! The ‘Nuff Said Award will go to the best school library Excelsior Award display. Displays were something I used to feature on the website a lot and I’m pleased to bring them back and allow school librarians to compete with one another again (in a friendly way!). I know that there will be some wonderful and highly imaginative displays going up in schools all over the UK during the next couple of months, so it seems a good idea to be able to celebrate that share the best examples.

I sincerely hope you and your students will enjoy the new changes to this year’s Excelsior Award. If you do, let me know about it. If you don’t, still let me know about it! Change is the only constant in the universe!