Oh, the Librarian is a Person in your Neighborhood...

Oh, the Librarian is a Person in your Neighborhood...

A few weeks ago, I asked commenters for their opinions on libraries: why they liked---or didn't like—to visit their local library, and about libraries in general.

I have to admit, now, that I had an ulterior motive for this question: I was getting ready for a job interview, and one of the requirements was that I prepare a short presentation on this very subject: what makes a library "the place you want to be"? I know what I think about what makes people like a library, but then I'm a librarian! It was really helpful to hear from folks on the other side of the reference desk, so thank you, Catherine, Susan, Charlotte, and Cheryl, for unknowingly helping me with my interview.

Here's what I learned from you about what people (well, four people) want from a library:

Friendly service. Librarians you can connect with as people and as book-lovers are important! Cheryl remembers "times when I've gone into the library and had great discussions about children's books with the librarian," and Susan praises the librarian who helped her daughter find "a book that won an award" (which request would warm any children's librarian's heart).

Conversely, unfriendly service—or even the lack of knowledgeable, specialized librarians—can be a library repellent. Susan laments the absence of an identifiable children's librarian at her neighborhood branch, and Cheryl tells of being turned off the library by a staff member's disapproving response to a few overdue books when she was having a hard time in the first place. Catherine's comment that she was sometimes intimidated by the NYC libraries reminded me of something it can be hard for those of us who work in libraries to remember: navigating a library can be an daunting experience, even for someone who is comfortable with the printed word to the point of being a writer and editor herself.

Convenience. In some way or other, this was important to everyone who commented. Cheryl lauded her library system's city-wide hold system. Catherine likes being able to bike to the library and pick up a stack of books and DVDs. And Charlotte even picked her house because it was only four blocks from the library!

Community. Another thing that sometimes goes forgotten or underplayed is the idea of the library as a place in an of itself: aside from all the books and the recommendations and the computers and the reserves, sometimes people value what Charlotte astutely calls "the 'getting out of the house' aspect of the library," especially those who might be feeling lonely and isolated, as Charlotte was just after her son was born. Catherine hit on this also when she talked about liking the "idea" of the many community programs that her library sponsors, even if her family isn't able to attend them. I know what she means, I think—just the fact that those events are being held helps make the library feel like a community place.

All this discussion of libraries made me think (naturally) about my favorite kids' books on the subject. I'm working on a more comprehensive list, having not found one online yet, but for now I'll just recommend two relatively new titles:

The Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen, about a lion who visits the library and soon becomes indispensable, is a great book to read aloud to a group or with just one or two kids. I love how both the story and Kevin Hawkes' charming and subtle acrylic-and-pencil illustrations depict a library that's both timeless and contemporary: there's a cozy feeling to the space, and the librarian, Miss Merriwether, feels strongly about the rules that keep the library a safe and quiet place, but at the same time it's a place that has room for computers (seen on reference and checkout desks) and exceptions to the rules, as well as for lions.

The library in Carla Morris's The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians is a much more freewheeling place. The three librarians who are always behind the reference desk whenever little Melvin visits—illustrator Brad Sneed makes their distinctive personalities crystal-clear—are abrim with enthusiasm as well as know-how: whenever Melvin has an information need—from bug identification to spelling bee prep—they leap right in with call numbers, website recommendations, and even suggestions for the archival storage of baseball cards. Small wonder that Melvin grows up with a love of libraries, so much so that…well, if you have a child with an enthusiasm for libraries, this book just might spur him or her towards *ahem* an exciting and rewarding future.

May 25, 2008

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The Meme of Fives

The Meme of Fives

I was all set to follow up, as promised, on my library opinions post of a couple of weeks ago, but it will have to wait until next week, as Charlotte of Charlotte's Library has tagged me with the Meme of Five. Here it is:

1. The rules of the game get posted at the beginning.
2. Each player answers the questions about themselves.
3. At the end of the post, the player then tags five people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they've been tagged and asking them to read the player's blog.
4. Let the person who tagged you know when you've posted your answer.

What were you doing five years ago?

At work, I was a school librarian, getting ready for the annual school-wide Authors' Circles, and starting to put together recommended reading lists to send out as part of the school Summer Reading Program. At home, I was answering a running list of "why?"s from an energetic two-and-a-half-year-old.

What are five things on your to-do list for today (not in any particular order)?
(Some of these have been done, but on the other hand this day is just about over)

1. Work a 4-hour shift at one of the libraries where I am on-call (done!)
2. Write a condolence note to my elderly cousin, whose husband died recently (not done yet…)
3.  Start some laundry (also not done. What will I wear tomorrow??)
4. Make dinner (done, and it was pretty yummy)
5. Write this post!

What are five snacks you enjoy?

1. Chocolate, in any form, but especially little chocolate bonbons that come in boxes
2. Potato chips, the tangier the better
3. Cookies
4. Gelato
5. Deviled eggs

What five things would you do if you were a billionaire?

1. Buy a nice old house in Vancouver with a view of the water.
2. Buy original art by children's book illustrators like Vera B. Williams, Kevin Henkes, and Elisa Kleven.
3. Go to the beach. A lot. Also back to New York, the land of my youth.
4. Visit  friends and family who I haven't seen for years because they live scattered all over the country and the world, or else pay for them to come visit me or meet up with me someplace nice (like the beach!)
5. Give a big chunk of it away, but where? Research on electric cars and global warming? Libraries in under-funded schools? Arts education? Women in developing countries? The mind boggles…

What are five of your bad habits?

1. Staying up too late at night
2. Waking up too late in the morning.
3. Procrastinating. (I see a theme developing here…)
4. Starting a book, then bogging down because I don't really like it, but feeling like I can't start another book until I've finished the first one.
5. Forgetting to feed the cat.

What are five places where you have lived?

Manhattan, suburban New Jersey, Alaska, Seattle, Vancouver

What are five jobs you've had?

1. Babysitter
2. Trade magazine reporter on the Oils, Fats, and Waxes beat (really!)
3. Salmon cannery worker
4. Childcare teacher
5. Librarian

I now tag five people who have commented here in the past, or whose blogs I've commented on recently (though honestly, I'll understand if you choose to pass—this is not a chain letter!)

Catherine at Preschool Mom
Adele at the Grandmom Blog
Emily at emilyreads
Susan at Crunchy Granola
Cheryl at Cheryl Rainfield

And, because I have a hard time getting through a post without at least one book recommendation: If you like lists, might I suggest the picture book 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore, by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter? The heroine's list of creative and enterprising misbehaviors ("I had an idea to staple my brother's hair to the pillow…I am not allowed to use the stapler any more.") are sure to bring a smile. This book might be best shared with kids who are old enough to get the joke and not take the heroine's antics literally, though it could also be a relief for some young mischief-makers to see that they're not the only ones. And the illustrations are lively and funny and smart and perfectly depict that certain gleam in the eye.

May 15, 2008

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My Mother's Day Wish

My Mother's Day Wish

I've written in the past about the literary disagreements my daughter and I have had, and about some of my anxiety when she struggled with learning to read last year. In the months since I wrote those posts, my kid's reading has really taken off. I'm proud (and relieved) that she's gone from being in the lowest reading group last year to being one of the most fluent readers in her class this spring. But it means even more to me that she truly loves books. She reads under the covers; she reads while brushing her teeth; she'd read at dinner if we let her.

Mostly, she reads the Rainbow Magic books, which appeal to her magical, girly, imaginative side as well as to her love of collecting (she wants to read them all). Even though she loves these books more than I ever will, I couldn't be happier; at her age and stage of reading, it's all about volume, volume, volume, and reading same-ish series books lets her build up her confidence and her reading muscles and reinforces an enjoyment of the written word that will stand her in good stead when she's ready to tackle more challenging material on her own.

Plus, it just warms the cockles of my heart to see my child absorbed in a book. Even if I have to wrest it away from her to get her to go to school or to sleep.

When my daughter was a baby, we used to read her the Rosemary Wells book Read To Your Bunny, a short and sweet picture book about all the ways and places in which parents can read to their children. The last line is "Read to your bunny often, and…your bunny will read to you." When she was little, I took it as a given that this would happen, that she would love books the way we did and would read to us. When she was older and got so frustrated with reading, I wondered if I hadn't been a little naïve. Sometimes it felt like she never really would learn to read, or at any rate would never like it enough to voluntarily pick up a book and read it to us.

But she did, and she does.

In a recent post, Catherine at the Scholastic Preschool Mom blog writes that what she wants most for Mother's Day is time, and suggests that other blogging moms post on what they most wish for.

Me? After a week spent reading and recommending books to kids (and adults) at the library, what I'd love most on Mother's Day is to cuddle with my daughter on our couch and have her read me a book.

Any book would do; I'd even take a chapter or two of Rainbow Magic. I just love to hear my bunny reading to me.

(If you're looking for a Mother's Day book to read to your own bunny, this list of Read-Aloud books that celebrate moms is a great source of inspiration. But the truth is, anything you read together is a gift to your child that will come back to you.)

May 8, 2008
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