March 28, 2016 at 9:30am
Dane Lisser

Millikin students take top awards at Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries Conference

Millikin University students were recognized for their efforts at the 2016 Illinois Association of College and Research Libraries Conference (IACRL) held March 18 in Chicago.

Millikin students took top awards for their poster presentation titled "Putting the Young Adult Voice Back in YAL: Creating a Student-Centered Young Adult Literature Award." Millikin students were given the Best Overall Poster Award and the People's Choice Award. The Best Overall Poster Award was chosen by the conference planning committee while the People's Choice Award was voted on by conference attendees.

This academic year, a group of Millikin students and faculty established the Millikin Medal for Excellence in Young Adult Literature (YAL). Using funding from a Millikin Performance Learning Enhancement Grant (PLEG), the project brought together future educators, writers, historians, librarians and parents to establish and facilitate a sustainable literary award.

The project allowed students to experience first-hand how award committees determine their award criteria, how committee members choose their winner and how to handle the public relations that follows.

The Millikin Medal is awarded each spring to a work of fiction of outstanding literary merit that inspires a love of reading in a young adult audience published in the previous year. Criteria for the medal includes: A book that inspires and encourages young adult literacy through inclusion of plots, characters and themes young adults can connect with; a book that creates a unique, realistic voice that informs the way the story is told; and a book that includes diverse characters in terms of disability, ethnicity, race, gender, nationality, religion or socioeconomic status.

"Professor Mike Cook came up with the idea for the campus-wide project recognizing a great work of young adult literature," said Rachel Bicicchi, assistant professor, Staley Library. "One of our goals was to put the young adult voice back in young adult literature. Most of these kinds of awards are voted on by adults who are long removed from their teenage years. We also knew that the students were going to have contacts with these kinds of books throughout their lives, whether they become teachers or writers."

Millikin students and faculty that led the project include: Sam Miller, a junior English writing and English literature double major from Bloomington, Ill.; Ryan Morgan, a junior English-secondary teaching major from Elwood, Ill.; Matthew Gremo, a junior English-secondary teaching major from Decatur, Ill.; Mikayla Mendenhall, a senior history major from Blue Mound, Ill.; Mike Cook, assistant professor of English; Amanda Pippitt, associate professor, Staley Library; and Rachel Bicicchi.

"This year, our focus has been on getting the program launched and developing the criteria for the award," said Bicicchi. "In terms of the criteria, one of the problems with a lot of young adult literature is that it gets to be formulaic. It was important to the students that they see themes and stories that they don't see every day in young adult literature."

The experience has prepared me for the varying professional development opportunities I will have throughout my career.

Ten original finalists were selected for this year's medal which was later reduced to six. Currently, the list has been narrowed down to two finalists: "Girls Like Us" by Gail Giles and "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell. The winner will be announced during Millikin University's Celebrations of Scholarship on Friday, April 29. The winning author will receive a congratulatory letter from the committee and a Millikin Award Seal will be placed on the book.

"Having the opportunity to leave your mark on the world of literature doesn't have to come in the form of writing a book, but rather by being an avid reader and coming together as a group of diverse people and deciding how to best represent the young adult genre," said Sam Miller. "The conference was an interesting and informative experience for me personally, because I intend to go on to graduate school to earn my master's degree in library information sciences. I looked at the conference not only as a chance to show off this award that I helped create, but also to get an idea of some of the things that concern academic librarians."

Ryan Morgan noted, "Our presentation was conversational and allowed for a deeper interaction with our project. When both awards were presented, it was very rewarding to know that our work was being recognized for its uniqueness and student-centered ideas."

The IACRL promotes the interests of academic libraries to enhance the abilities of academic library personnel to identify and meet the information needs of current and potential library users, and to develop and promote leadership to the academic library community. More information can be found at iacrl.net.

"I think that the experience has prepared me for the varying professional development opportunities I will have throughout my career," said Morgan. "I also think that it gave us the opportunity to show professionals that students can contribute to the academic conversations happening in varying professions."

Rachel Bicicchi says the conference was a great opportunity for the students to gain experience in a professional setting.

"The students did a great job engaging in conversation with people at the conference," said Bicicchi. "One of the most important things about the conference and the project is that it gives students exposure to a professional community of authors, publishers, teachers and librarians."