Libraries are for nerds, and dorks, and outcasts, who want to dig deep into a subject and hardly come up for air.
Libraries are where you take your lunch when no one wants you to sit at their table.
Libraries are where you go when you have questions and no one to ask for the answers.
Librarians are people who have no chill, who can’t shut up, who flash and yearn to prove to people that great literature should not bores them, but if it does, then dammit, what do you want to read? We’ll find it for you. This is not cool; it will never be cool. Is it interesting? Valuable? Necessary? Perhaps. I cannot tell you what it is, only what it is not, and it is not cool. At. All. And really, has anything genuinely cool ever been called cool, (except for perhaps Miles Davis)?
And, nerds, sorry to break it to you, but: libraries are about stories. Go ahead and fight me about this. I DARE YOU. (see above, re: NO CHILL.) I’m tired of “libraries are more than books blah blah blah axe body spray chicken fries” because, yeah, sure, whatever, I get it, it’s great, but at the end of the day, whether it’s in a book or at a board meeting, libraries are about stories. And speaking of books:
The act of borrowing printed books is still by far the most popular activity at libraries, even compared with using computers: 64% of library users ages 16 and older checked out a book in the last 12 months, compared with 29% who used a computer at the library in the same time frame. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/09/09/libraries-2016/
So get over it, nerd. You are, on the whole, a trustworthy, punk ass book jockey with no chill, who is neither sinner nor saint nor good red herring. Your job, your career, has value, but it cannot save the world–but it can make the world a bit more interesting. You’re not cool and will probably never be cool.
In case you need something to tide you over while you wait for your copy of Reading Unbound to arrive, here are some more quotes about why we need to let kids choose what they read.
We want to help our students fall in love with books in ways that foster a life-long devotion to reading. So what should schools do? We think the implications of our research are manifold, but two seem especially compelling. First, our data make clear that educators should consider interpretive complexity in concert with textual complexity, a centerpiece of the Common Core State Standards. Every text our participants read—from graphic novels to dark fiction to Harry Potter—required sophisticated strategies for entering a story world and absorbing the twists and turns of the plot line and character relationships. All fostered deep intellectual engagement.
Our data also convinced us of the importance of choice. Students should have regular opportunities to behave the way adult readers do and choose their own reading. They know the kinds of texts from which they will take pleasure. At the same time, teachers should expand the possibility of pleasure by introducing students to new books they might not select on their own.“
I love that this quote illustrates the role that “gate-keepers” should have–opening gates rather than closing them. Once a kid has read through everything they could find on their own, teachers and librarians can help them find the hidden treasures that will still meet their needs.
Reading is indeed crucial to success in school and in careers. But we worry that discussions of reading, especially public policy discussions, focus almost exclusively on its utilitarian value. What’s missing is the pleasure readers derive from the reading they do.
Again, people making these policy decisions know very little about children and child development; however, I do believe that Common Core, with its breadth of text types, actually encourages what I believe is important–giving children a wide variety of choices when it comes to what they read. Have you ever had it suggested that novels in verse are better for struggling readers because of the white space and shorter length? Then what about play scripts? White space abounds, it is mostly dialogue, and it very pointedly tells you what you’re seeing–but then again, it’s like a graphic novel without the images, and your imagination needs to fill in the pictures. HOW AWESOME IS THAT?
If I were Queen of the World, I would decree that all students be given the gifts of time and books they want to read throughout their schooling, and all pre-readers would have an adult who would read aloud to them everyday. Through independent reading children gain a wealth of background knowledge about many different things, come to understand story and non-fiction structures, absorb the essentials of English grammar, and continuously expand their vocabularies. Many also remember visually how to spell words. In a nutshell, the habit of reading does as much, if not more, than Direct Instruction and the rigorous demands of the Common Core. All without boring kids to death or persuading them that they’re dumb.
Years ago, I received a phone call from my godson’s mother. She said, “I know you told me to wait, but David is reading Harry Potter on his own.” David was in kindergarten. David read Harry Potter at 5 for the plot. He reread it at 10 for the plot, characters and emotional truths. He reread the entire series repeatedly the summer he was 13, to his mother’s dismay. “Can’t you get him to read something else?!” I didn’t even try.
Yes. The importance of re-reading. I know, I know, there are so many books! But every time you re-read something, you gain something new. It’s magical.
The latest salvo comes from a survey released late last week by Scholastic Corp., a publisher of popular children’s books, which suggests that middle and high school students who have time to read books of their own choosing during the school day are also more likely to read frequently for pleasure.
“For us, choice is key,” said Kyle Good, a spokeswoman for Scholastic. “When you let kids choose the books they want to read, they’ll be voracious readers.”
In the survey, 78 percent of students, who read frequently for fun (at least five days a week), said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day. By contrast, 24 percent of infrequent readers — those who read for fun less than one day a week — said they had time to read a book of choice during the school day.
In the most recent edition of Cover to Cover by K.T. Horning, there are no early childhood, middle grade, or ya distinctions in books for children. Encompassing fiction and nonfiction, the breakdown is:
Picture books (including board books)
Readers/Beginning Readers/Easy Readers
That’s it. We have those formats, and within those formats, every genre is covered, for ages birth to teen. (Oh, but wait–where should graphic novels go? I’d include them with chapter books, honestly; the art in a graphic novel serves as a concurrent visual text, in my opinion. Or, heck, let’s put them in with picture books, maybe? I don’t have all the answers, clearly.)
In my ideal, imaginary library, this is how it would be– those formats would be organized, so kids who are being read to can find board and picture books, pre-readers can find the books they need, transitional readers the same, and then chapter books for independent readers who can make their own choices (with guidance from their parent/guardian and, ideally, a librarian). There would be a call number, and no other designations– no guided reading, or any of that other stuff. Just books and excellent staff and seemingly limitless choices. (I’m getting chills just writing about it.)
Does a library like this exist? Probably not. Although my personal library is like this. I’m sure everyone’s personal library is like this. So why do we insist that youth follow dozens of arbitrary guidelines when it comes to the stories they get to read?
Anyway. This summer I tried something different with our suggested reading book lists, in an attempt to create a small scale version of this literary utopia. I wanted to move away from parents just grabbing the list of their child’s grade, and slavishly following those suggestions we’d made, with the best of intentions. Instead of lists covering 2 grade levels, as had been the practice in the past, I had:
Pre-readers (babies-Kindergarten): includes board and picture books, all genres
Beginning readers (K-3rd): easy/beginning readers, all genres
Transitional Third Grade reads: transitional chapter books, all genres
Third Grade and Up: picture, beginning, transitional, and chapter books, all genres
Now, there isn’t just one Third Grade and Up list, oh no. There were several, with titles like:
Smile Diary: books for Wimpy Kid and Telgameier Fans
Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling
WONDERing what to read next: Wonder readalikes
Full STEAM ahead: books for kids who like to tinker and create
Myths, Magic and More: fantasy, science fiction, and the just plain strange
Game On: books for gamers
Tell Me A Story: books about the magic of storytelling
That’s Funny: Books to make you laugh
Can You Believe It?: Books to make you see the world in a different way
The books were listed not in alphabetical order, but rather in order of literary and thematic complexity.
To explain, each list had an introduction like this:
3rd Grade and Up
Murder and Mayhem: stories that are scary and thrilling!
If you enjoy scary stories, thrilling tales of true crime, forensic science, and the unexplained, then these books are for you!
Read from the beginning of the list when you’re short on time but still want a good story. Read from the end of the list when you’re up for a more textually and thematically challenging experience.
Not every book on every list will be right for your child. If you have questions about any title, please see [library] staff for guidance.
Third grade and up meant just that: independent readers from third to twelfth grades (or beyond! Mom and Dad, you can read these books too!) could read these books, all of which were chosen from our children’s department collection. I wanted to do this so that an older student who wasn’t reading at grade level wouldn’t be stigmatized by reading from a list that was clearly marked for a younger age. By having only a lower limit, rather than a lower and upper, the list was more open to more readers. And by keeping the selections limited to our children’s department, we were still helping parents make appropriate choices for their child (advocate for freedom that I am, I still want to make things easier for parents, so I’m not going to hand them a third grade and up list with really intense themes and situations).
Oh, and another cool thing–the books on these lists were jointly nominated by my library staff as well as school librarians from our main school district, and they used these lists as their district’s recommended summer reading. How great is that? School librarians got to suggest awesome books that they loved, while I did all the grunt work of collating and organizing them, and our wonderful graphics department made them into beautiful brochures.
Ultimately, I wanted these lists to provide some guidance, while also encouraging kids and parents to use library staff to help them find the best book for them.
For teens we had 7th grade and up lists, with items exclusively from the teen collection. (Now, ideally I’d want to include picture and other books, but with display and cataloging restraints, this just wasn’t possible; and, again, these teens could also enjoy all the books on the third grade and up lists.)
For teens, our themes were:
Social Justice: books about making the world a better place
Not Okay: readalikes for The Fault in Our Stars
Get Real: Realistic fiction and memoirs
Myths, Magic and More: Fantasy, sci-fi, and speculative fiction
I have to say, the impetus for this project was the bookReading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want—and Why We Should Let Them. We actually recommended this title to parents in our lists, and amazingly, the book got checked out. How many people actually read it, I don’t know, but it just goes to show that if you make something available, people will take advantage.
I was concerned about confusion and push back–would parents get on board? Would they understand it? Was I creating a problem where there wasn’t one?
I don’t think so. I actually think these lists have been doing what they are meant to do–broaden the scope of what kids read, and providing guidance while also encouraging choice.
Now, summer’s not over, so the verdict isn’t completely in yet, but so far I’m going to call this a success. Books are still getting checked out at a rapid clip, I’ve heard people express delight at the themes, and so far no one has been upset that a book about the Lizzie Borden case was on the “Murder and Mayhem” list (really, with a title like that, I was suspecting parents of sensitive kids would know to steer clear).
What do you think? How do you handle suggested reading/passive reader’s advisory?
In addition to inspiring big and awesome things, I’m pleased that my post articulated for a lot of librarians a feeling that they had been wrestling with for a long time, but could never quite express–a feeling that librarians who work with children and teens aren’t respected, aren’t taken seriously, and aren’t valued. And in the year after writing that post, I realized I wasn’t really talking about ego, I was talking about self-worth.
Many of us struggle with self-worth and self-esteem on a regularly basis, both personally and professionally, constantly feeling that we are falling short. I know I do. I feel guilty about something pretty much every minute of every day–about an email I didn’t answer quickly enough, or how I don’t visit my family enough, or what junk I ate for lunch because I am incapable of packing one, and on and on. When I fall into these spirals of shame and self-blame and awfulness, sometimes the only thing that can snap me out them is a thank you note from a grateful teacher, or a compliment from a coworker about a recent success. Because sometimes no matter how intrinsically and self-motivated I am, or how much I believe deep in my heart that my work is valuable and I am good at it, sometimes you just stop believing that until someone else recognizes it and reminds you of it.
The youth librarianship community has really stepped up in this area (or maybe I’ve just become more mindful of noticing it). Not a day goes by that I don’t see compliments flying on twitter, conversations full of idea sharing, heart felt “thank yous” and pats on the back. And I see more of us reaching out into different areas of the profession, staking a claim in the worlds of tech, letting it be known that we have expertise that is worth listening to.
To that end, let’s keep it going– let’s dig deeper and reach higher. Make sure to take advantage of any local and national awards, and take the opportunity to speak out about your favorite librarian. Even if they don’t win, you can certainly share with him or her what was said–and just the process of nominating someone, thinking deeply and thoughtfully about their contributions to the field, will be a benefit to both you and them.
Beyond Movers and Shakers and I Love My Librarian, I assume most state library associations have awards for librarians, so take a look and see who you can recognize. I know that my state’s awards for librarians are often lacking for nominations, so if you’re in Illinois, I plead with you to submit one. YALSA has an award for excellence in Teen Librarianship, as well as awards recognizing excellent programming. ALSC has the ALSC Distinguished Service Award, but perhaps another award or two could be implemented– youth librarianship is vast.
Are there any opportunities to recognize our fellow librarians that I have missed, especially those that are youth and teen centric? Let me know.
And thank you, dear reader, for being a friend. Next time I see you in person, the cheesecake is on me.
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene
I like being nice. It’s true. There’s nothing I like more than making a friend smile by treating them to dinner out or with a small, silly, yet thoughtful present. I’m always happy to hold open a door for someone with a heavy load, or cover a story time so someone can go on vacation. If someone seems anxious I’m happy to offer a listening ear.
I guess what I really mean is that I like doing nice things for people, which is a bit different than being nice or keeping sweet. I like acknowledging good work (like Anne Clark‘s conference program title, Aww Chute: Children’s Programming ideas with parachutes, scarves and other props), giving pats on the back, and generally drawing attention to and basking in the awesomeness of great people that I know.
Yet that doesn’t mean I shy away from the darker side of life. I’ve known trouble in my life, both personal and professional, and while it might seem easier to ignore it, we all know that it’s really so much better to address trouble head on and get it taken care of.
It’s ignoring trouble that leaves organizations with people in positions of power who should have been fired years ago. Why go through the mess and the trouble of documenting issues and firing someone when it’s so much easier to just promote him or her? Why actually address sexual harassment or discrimination in a workplace when you can just shuffle people around or promise someone a good reference if they will leave? Why bother fighting for what’s right when acquiescing is so much easier?
It’s sometimes hard to speak up when you believe something is wrong. Sometimes–rarely–you learn that because of additional information you were not privy to, the situation isn’t what you thought it was. But more often than not, it is. Your instincts are right. There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. And it’s not going to change until you speak up.
Me? you think. Why me? Why can’t someone else do it?
Because everyone is thinking that. Everyone is waiting for someone else to speak up and start the conversation. And so those conversations never happen. And things never get better, and will most likely get worse.
I’ve written before about ethical courage and ethical librarianship. The best class I took in library school was Information Ethics, and ever since that time it’s been my mission to be an ethical librarian who has ethical courage.
That was all prelude, of course, to talking about Will Manley’s eloquent and carefully considered post about the ALA code of conduct for conferences and meetings, a work of such heart rending truth and shattering genius that he or perhaps the spirit of Ranganathan himself has removed it from view, to protect us mere mortals from being blinded by its brilliance.
(It’s 2014, where is that sarcasm font?)
Essentially, Will wrote that a code of conduct (which came out of many discussions about sexual harassment at conferences being a huge problem) was tantamount to censorship and an attack on freedom of speech.
But you know what it really was?
It was a small, but important, step in the right direction. A code of conduct isn’t going to end sexism, harassment and intimidation overnight, but at the very least it indicates that our major professional organization believes that its members should feel protected and safe at their own conferences and meetings. Further, it was the direct result of librarians finally speaking out. These librarians, many of whom are women, and several of whom have been brutally victimized at conferences and elsewhere, finally felt safe enough, or enraged enough, to speak out and demand some protection.
Some people said to just ignore Manley’s idiocy, to not dignify it with attention or comments. And I can understand that impulse. Hell, I could have well done without the rage inducing distraction. But I read it, and participated in the backlash, because he needed to hear that he really doesn’t understand of what he spoke.
Further, this is a man who has been given several major platforms from which he speaks for the profession. I mean, he has columns in both Booklist and American Libraries (the official publication of ALA, mind you), two publications that reach a large swath of the profession who might know nothing of the conversations on twitter, on blogs, or even, god help us, in Facebook groups. For some, his voice is a major influence…and for a man who doesn’t even really understand what freedom of speech really is to have that much influence over my profession frightens me. Between Will and the Annoyed Librarian, I don’t know whether to drink tea or hang myself.
So, yes, I dearly love to accentuate the positive, and spread joy. But for that to happen, we need to eliminate the negative–and in my view, a discussion where gendered insults are bandied about freely and in fact applauded is a huge negative in my book.
Finally, for all my snark, I do want to say that ultimately, I feel no ill will for Mr. Manley— I mostly feel disappointed that he shut down the discussion once it got thorny. That’s freedom of speech at work, sir. You can’t shut down what people say just because they don’t agree with you. That’s the easy way out. It’s much harder to listen, reflect, and perhaps even reconsider your original stance.
Will’s been at this game for a long time. I hope he comes back ready to continue the discussion. After all, if Richard Pryor, one of the comedians Manley name checked in his article, could make a comeback after lighting himself on fire, certainly Will can come back after having his comment thread set aflame by some angry librarians who refuse to stay silent any longer.
More discussion of Manley’s folly can be found here (wherein Lisa also links to more discussion).
There was a specific article that inspired this post, but Jebus help me, I can’t remember where I saw it or find it again. Essentially the author wrote about how the community/society at large has a responsibility to help parents. Which is something I agree with (and psychology agrees with) but, in my personal experience, is sometimes problematic in actual practice.
As a single, childless woman who has worked with children in a professional capacity since 2001, I have some experience with being judged for my choices. I don’t want children, for many reasons, intensely personal and practical reasons (in fact, as you’ll hear more about in an upcoming Circulating Ideas podcast, I used to think I hated children). Since I work with kids—and love working with kids—I feel as though this stance confuses and sometimes bothers people, as though they think I am faking it and just waiting for the right chance to snatch a baby or something.
The thing is, as the article above states, “From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfect sense that children would want to form close relationships with many different people, not just their parents.” Children need people in their lives. Often this is aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and the like. However, family structures have been changing. Most Americans are having fewer children, and even though sometimes up to five generations of a family might be in existence at the same time, due to migration many families often do not live close to each other (1). This makes an extended network of unrelated, invested adults even more important, including babysitters, daycare providers, preschool teachers, friends, and, yes, even librarians. (2) Librarians have many great opportunities, via story times and other programs, to allow parents to build their support networks. I’ve seen many a friendship between families blossom during playtime after a baby story time. It’s amazing, and I find that fostering these kinds of connections to be incredibly professionally gratifying.
Anecdotally, I’ve personally been told it was “creepy” that I wanted to have a “baby party” when a large swath of my social circle was having babies. I’ve also heard other children’s librarians called the same for being willing to baby sit for another librarian’s child. It’s not just me, either (more).
Sometimes those who are single and childless are seen as not having anything “important” to do. I’ve been told in jobs that I worked more night shifts because I had no one to go home to. The single and childless are often treated as suspect, careless, carefree, with no pressing concerns or values. (Again I’m not the only one.)
I can’t even begin to talk about what it must be like for men who choose to teach preschool, Kindergarten, or work as children’s librarians.
This all circles back to how we perceive people who work with young children–it seems, sometimes, that we cannot win the war of public perception. We are either saints who work solely for the love of the children (because many of us certainly are not paid what we are worth) or emotionally stunted creeps who want to abscond with your children. When, really, we are people who have skills and talents, who value children and families, and who acknowledge that parents have an important job and can often use support in doing it.
What about you? Have you faced these assumptions in your work? How have you dealt with it?
2) For this phenomenon, I like Armistead Maupin’s description of a “logical” family versus a “biological” family:
“It’s very hard for me to analyse my own work but I think there’s a sense of family, a sort of modern urban family. I use the term you’re ‘logical family’, as opposed to your ‘biological family’, meaning the one that you make for yourself.
“Sometimes that includes members of your biological family but not always. I think that people respond to that: the notion of a big inclusive household where people are chasing love in all different directions and connecting with each other and making friends with each other in the process.” (x)
The title of this post is an allusion to A Sexual Suspect, the memoir written by Jenny, Garp’s mother, in The World According to Garp.
In college, I had a lot of loser mentality left-over from high school, but I struggled against it and actually made many good friends and a wide circle of acquaintances. Even so, there was always a circle of people I never felt cool enough for. But I repressed my feelings of inferiority and went about doing things that made me happy. I played music, I acted (badly), and spoke to strangers I found interesting, hoping to turn them into friends.
Years later, on facebook, I got a message from a girl who thanked me for inviting her to sit at my table at lunch one time. One time. After that, I only had sporadic contact with her, but apparently that one instance of my kindness, and my ability to be my own person, allowed her to become more confident and forge her own way in turn.
* * *
I left a job in 2008. It was my first full-time, professional position, but it wasn’t a good fit, and it wasn’t a healthy environment, and after securing another job, I had a no-holds barred exit interview wherein I laid everything bare, with the hope that my honesty would make things better for the staff and patrons I was leaving behind.
Two or three years later, my colleague from that library found me at a professional development event and told me how things changed after I left, for the better, and how thankful she was that I had been so honest, and removed some of the fear from the department and the library.
* * *
In the fall of 2012, I left a job again, for a new opportunity I’d be a fool to pass up. This time it was harder; I’d spent over four years with mostly the same team of coworkers, and I’d watched jabbering toddlers turn into self-assured first graders. I had a family at this workplace, but it was time to go. I was, like Chunky Rice in Craig Thompson’s graphic novel of the same name, a flower that had outgrown its pot: I needed to move on in order to keep growing.
Occasionally I’ll meet up with or hear from a coworker who was my best collaborator, and she’ll tell me that certain families still talk about me, and how the work I did there has had a lasting impact on the organization. The conversations make me equal parts proud and sad. I miss those families, those programs, that community…but I’m proud that I had an impact. I’m proud that I made a difference.
* * *
I wrote my Ego post back in January, and it’s still reverberating around the librarian community. It spawned many varied reactions and even a movement (Show me the Awesome, which I unfortunately didn’t participate in because I wasn’t feeling very awesome, but that’s another story for another time). I still think about it. I still despair over how we treat people who work with kids and teens, especially early childhood educators. I despair about how this profession and this country treats women. We still have a long way to go.
Then ALA2013 happened. Now, I love/hate conferences. I’m an extroverted introvert, so four days of extended social activity both excites me and fills me with dread–but I was so excited to present with two of my good friends, and there were so many people I wanted to meet in real life (pretty much the majority of my blogroll, including Mel of Mel’s desk, Marge of Tiny Tips for Library Fun, Sara of Bryce Don’t Play, Anna, Rachel, Angie, Cory, too many to list!). It was as amazing and as terrifying as I’d hoped.
Like many people have already said, Guerrilla Storytime was my favorite part of the conference. I don’t know how I missed the discussion of it on twitter before the conference, but I was happy it came across my radar right before ALA. I culled the origin story from The Show Me Librarian:
Cory Eckert, the idea-genius I just mentioned, is the youth services manager at the Octavia Fellin Public Library in Gallup, New Mexico. Back in March, Eckert took to Twitter with an idea for storytime skills building and advocacy among the larger librarian population. Why not stage pop-up storytimes at a major library conference like ALA Annual? Such an event would allow youth services librarians to share their expertise and learn from their peers, and the fact that other non-YS librarians would be able to see the activity in the public space would foster awareness that storytime is so much more than just reading books to kids.Anna Haase Krueger of Future Librarian Superhero created a Google Group to allow interested librarians to continue the conversation in depth, and shortly after the term “Guerrilla Storytime” was chosen as the name for the project.
I participated twice, on Saturday (was it Saturday?) and Monday afternoon, while sitting on the fake porch stage. It was amazing. A casual, enthusiastic exchange of ideas, out in the open, where everyone could see what we were doing. We didn’t need anyone to recognize us– we were making our presence known and unavoidable. To paraphrase myself from my presentation with Carolyn and Kristi, we were infecting each other with awesome and spreading that contagion throughout the entire conference.
I could wax poetic for hours, but in the interest of brevity, I’m going to stick to my main thesis of making a difference. Even when you don’t think you’re making a difference, you are. The Guerrilla Storytime is a perfect example of this: I’m sure there were dozens of librarians lurking around, who didn’t participate, who have a new found appreciation for how crazy and wonderful children’s librarians are, or children’s librarians who were too shy to speak up but drank in the information provided. Further, it reminds me something that I often forget– that sometimes it takes time for recognition and reaction to occur. It’s like that old saw about how it takes ten years for an overnight sensation to make it big. In terms of librarianship, I am but an egg– I’ve only been in the game since 2006. I think I’ve done some amazing things in my time, but there’s more time, and more things to be done. More differences to make.
You are the same way. You might not think you’re affecting lives, or doing good works. I assure you, you are. Some times you just have to wait– for a new job, for a conference, for an award–for the effects to be seen.
Until then, keep busy doing amazing things that make you happy. The rest will come. I promise.
Some ALA 2013 round-up posts that speak for me, as well:
(You need to sing the title of this post to the tune of “Jive Talkin'”)
As the school year draws rapidly to a close (seriously, where did it go?) I’ve been reflecting on my first year as a school outreach librarian. I can’t tell you how invigorating it has been to use different skills and get to try new things with a wide variety of audiences. One of my favorite programs this year was all of the booktalks I did for middle schoolers (6th-8th grade) and teachers. In my previous six years as a librarian, I had done very few book talks. It was something I really wanted to do, but it just never happened in previous positions.
I was extremely lucky that I started out this school year being invited to book talk first to two groups of teachers, one elementary and one middle school. After getting to see me and my colleague book talk, teachers had a sense of who I was, how I behaved, and liked me enough to want to have me get up in front of their students. This was a great break for me, and once one class had me and my coworker in, all of the rest of them wanted us, too.
This year I averaged about two book talks a month, usually spending an entire school day (8 a.m.-2 p.m.) talking to multiple classes. Often I was solo, but several times I was lucky enough to be joined by members of our teen staff. While I can do these book talks alone, six hours of booktalking is a long time, and even with a partner I’m exhausted by the end of the day. I vastly prefer booktalking as a team for two major reasons (other than the fact that it helps to save your voice):
1) Variety. With two readers sharing books, the kids will get a wider variety than from one person alone. While I am very careful to select a variety of books, there are certain genres and topics I just can’t muster much enthusiasm for. I can fake it, sure, but why do that when a coworker is just nuts about the books I’m lukewarm about? While I’m pretty good at selling any book, kids can tell the difference between my genuine enthusiasm and the enthusiasm I put on for their sake.
2) Attachment Librarianing. This is something I carried over from my preschool teaching days, and I think it really applies to librarianship. Kids and teens are all unique, and not every personality is going to have a great fit with every kid or teen out there. For example, I quickly bond with shy, nerdy, awkward kids and teens (I try to find the Whovians in every middle school class as fast as I can). Other kids like me just fine, and I can and love to help everyone, but the geeky kids are more likely to seek me out and will get better recommendations from me, just because we’re so simpatico. With more staff available, more kids are likely to find the librarian whose style and personality speaks to them, which equals better service.
For me, booktalks are a lot like storytimes for older kids. While I don’t reveal endings or major plot points when I book talk, I do tell a story to get kids invested and interested. A lot of times I will use the theme of a novel or a hook from a nonfiction title to riff for a while. Just call me the wholesome Richard Pryor of librarianship. For example, when I booktalk Fourmile by Watt Key, I spend a lot of time talking with kids about PTSD, the stigma of mental illness in our culture, how we treat our soldiers, and why so many books for kids feature dead dogs (seriously!). When I talk about Almost Astronauts, I tell them the anecdote about Jerrie Cobb shattering all isolation booth records (NINE HOURS AND FORTY MINUTES Y’ALL), yet never getting the chance to be an astronaut. From there, I talk a bit about how women are seen in our culture and how we are treated.
My style is a little unconventional, I suppose, but it works for me, and it works for many of the kids I booktalk to. And that’s the important thing, I think–is to find your own personal style, your voice. That’s what will make your book talks exciting and get the kids interested in reading the books you’re pushing.
And what books do I push? It depends. If a teacher is working on a genre study, I’ll bring titles in that genre. Often I like to do a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, new books and backlist. I try to have books at a wide variety of reading levels with a variety of appeal factors. Most of all, I strive to bring books that I’ve read completely and have a component that I am super, super excited about. Even if I didn’t personally love the book, if there’s a crazy character or fascinating setting that I can see kids being interested in, I’ll definitely book talk that sucker.
So that’s just a little bit about my new favorite professional responsibility. What about you–do you book talk? What’s your style? Any favorite titles?