Recently, I sat down with a group of Collection Development librarians to talk about pressing issues in their work. All of them have been spending a great deal of time and energy examining the diversity of their collections, or performing diversity audits. (If you are unfamiliar with diversity audits, there have been many articles and webinars from ALA, Library Journal, and School Library Journal on the subject. Check out some sources below.) One of the concerns they brought up was that once a team has gone through all the work to balance the collection and purchase new materials, how might front-line staff become engaged in championing and promoting a more diverse collection of titles?
This question lit a fire in my brain. I spent several years on the Display & Marketing team at my public library, where we worked on encouraging face-out displays, shelf-talkers, and diversifying bookmarks and book lists. What would be some creative ways to give diverse books exposure all year long, not just during African American History Month or around Chinese New Year?
The most obvious suggestion is one I already mentioned — make sure that book lists include diverse authors and characters. Include titles about mixed religion families in Hanukkah or Christmas displays. Include characters of different races and sexual orientations in a “Cooking Up Romance” display. Feature some of the many lesser-known book awards like the Schneider Family Book Award, which honors books that “embody an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences,” or the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, which “recognizes books that have made important contributions to our understanding of racism and our appreciation of the rich diversity of human cultures.”
Does your library empower all staff members to fill displays and write up recommendations? Encourage them to give suggestions about books to feature. Our staffs are full of diverse experiences, tastes, and perspectives. Get them excited by taking some ownership of promotion.
Since that conversation with librarians, I have had fun brainstorming book lists and displays a library could pull together to incorporate many diverse groups, authors, and experiences. Here are some to get you started that incorporate some of the trends I’ve seen in publishing this year:
Advocates You Never Knew
Behind-the-Scenes at the Theatre
Sizzlin’ TV Chefs
Classic Tales Re-told
Social Emotional Learning
Popular Crafts from Around the World
Cooking Up Romance
Books Set in Our State
Unreal World Building
Reality is More Diverse Than Fiction
What are some ways your library gets front-line staff involved in promoting diverse titles? Share your suggestions of other great display and book list ideas that could include many voices. I’d love to steal them…I mean see them!
After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.
Children’s books have always served as both entertainment and education. Whether characters are transported to a joust during King Arthur’s rule, exploring the Arctic, or experiencing the unique solutions offered by Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, there are sprinkles of history, science, and social skills throughout most stories.
Picture books for the youngest have especially focused on making friends, sharing, and gaining mastery over emotions. Over the last several years, school districts in 29 states have adopted Social Emotional Learning standards as part of their curricula. As my son’s first grade teacher said, “I’m focused on teaching kindness.” Authors and publishers are rising to demand, with more books than ever that focus on these topics.
Social Emotional Learning, or SEL, has become a buzz-term. What exactly does it include? SEL equips children to:
Collaborate with others
Make responsible decisions
Librarians can support community efforts to help kids with these skills by featuring titles on emotions, growth mindset, and inclusion in displays and book lists.
As the 2021 school year opens to continued stressors caused by the ups and downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and parents will be looking for resources to help kids revive dormant social skills and deal with anxiety, grieving, and life changes. Understanding and coping with the current social upheaval in our country also falls within the SEL framework. How can libraries help? Encourage staff to face-out attractive titles that focus on diverse experiences from around the world and around the neighborhood. These include not just racial or religious diversity, but also poverty, neurodivergence, and different kinds of families.
Those of us who love and use children’s literature in our work are so fortunate that books continue to entertain and educate, no matter our circumstances.
After spending many years as a children’s librarian and collection development specialist at Denver Public Library, Gwen joined Brodart to share her passion for children’s literature with as many different libraries as possible. Click here for more.
Did you realize that there have been over 400 titles selected as Newbery honors and winners since the medal was established in 1922? Remarkable, isn’t it? According to information from the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC), the award’s “terms, as well as its long history, continue to make it the best known and most discussed children’s book award in this country.”
Newbery medal winners and honors are chosen annually. Frederic Melcher, the founder of the Newbery, had one request for the decision-makers: the process of selecting the books must remain top secret. Every year, a Newbery Committee is established, consisting of 15 members: Eight are elected by members of ALSC, and a chairperson and six members are appointed by the ALSC President. Members can only serve on the committee every four years.
The award is based on the text of each book. Other components, such as illustrations and overall design, may be considered when they make the book less effective. The books must be original works, first published in the United States, and written in English by an author who is a U.S. resident. Also, they must have been published during the previous year. Only the books “eligible for the award” are to be considered. The entire body of work by an author or the fact that the author may have previously won the award should have no bearing on the discussion. The John Newbery Award Committee Manual – Formatted August 2015 is available online if you are interested in more detail.
Who is on this committee? Back in the dark ages, I was! In 1992, I was selected to be on the 1993 Newbery Committee. It was the experience of a lifetime. My appointment came as a jaw-dropping, gob-smacking surprise! One day as my son retrieved the mail from the mailbox, he said, “Mom, here’s something for you from ALA.” I assumed it was a notice to pay dues and asked him to open it because I was busy eating an apple. Excitedly, he said, “Mom, you’ve been appointed to the Newbery Committee!” Astonished, I immediately spit the apple onto the back of his neck. Something soon to be forgiven, but never forgotten!
I called ALA to make sure there was no mistake and that I was on the committee. Once we got that straight, the fun—and I do mean fun—(but also lots of work) began.
I was impressed but worried when I saw who else was on the committee: all well-known figures in the children’s library field. And then there was me, a school librarian with little ALA committee experience. Our first meeting in January 1992 was a “getting-to-know-you” event. The Chair asked us to introduce ourselves, and I was grateful that I was last so I could listen to everyone else first while thinking of something brilliant to say. Instead of something brilliant, I blurted out that I was completely awestruck by the committee members and totally intimidated. At least that elicited a laugh, and then others admitted that they felt the same way. Already, a bond was formed—one that grew stronger as the year went by.
At first, books from publishers trickled in, and I thought, “Oh, this is manageable. I can read a couple of books a week.” By May, I was reconsidering that thought because I had books stacked everywhere, and I was reading as fast as I could. We each read hundreds of books that year.
The Internet was still in its infancy in those days, and all of the communication among members was done by mail. The Chair received our nominations, compiled them, and sent copies to all members. Each committee member was responsible for nominating seven books: three in October, two in November, and two in December. In January, we were allowed to nominate late suggestions that had been published after we submitted our previous nominees. That was a good thing because an excellent title arrived at my front door as I was leaving for the airport to go to ALA Midwinter in January, and we were able to discuss it.
Adhering to the “top secret” rule, the Annual Conference and Midwinter meetings were held behind closed doors with security in place. We were not permitted to mention “eligible titles” outside of the meetings. The group was comprised of 14 individuals, each of whom held strong opinions and were articulate and robust in their advocacy of titles. The Chair proved to be an excellent leader and insisted that our nominations be concise and specific, asking that we cite excepts from the books we talked about to aid in decision-making. More importantly, she expected us to be open to new ideas about titles that we hadn’t paid much attention to. Much to my delight, members became friends and even when tempers ran high, everyone remained respectful.
In January 1993, we met at ALA Midwinter to make our selections. We spent many hours behind those locked doors because so many excellent books were published in 1992, and there was lots of debate. ALSC sent a locked trunk full of the 75 books we had determined were “eligible” before Midwinter. By the final meeting day, we had narrowed that number to about 15. The meeting was a passionate one, and we didn’t start balloting until after midnight.
Each committee member is asked to select (by a secret ballot), a first, second, and third choice for the award. When the ballots are tabulated, four points are assigned to each first choice, three points to each second choice, and two points to each third choice. To win the Newbery, a book must receive eight first place votes and must have an eight-point lead over the book receiving the next highest point total.
Within a short period, we had selected our winner. But there were so many other books deserving of Newbery Honor distinction that we all began lobbying in earnest for our respective picks. Around midnight, our Chair forced a final discussion. It worked; we decided by votes for three Honors. At the end of the entire process, we felt confident that we had met Frederick Melcher’s challenge to select the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.
Around 3 a.m., exhausted but happy, we went back to our hotel rooms to catch a few hours of sleep before we convened in the ALA office to call our Newbery Winner, Cynthia Rylant, for “Missing May.” She was jubilant as were we. Then, we called our Newbery Honor authors: Bruce Brooks for “What Hearts,” Patricia McKissack for “The Dark-thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural” and “Somewhere in the Darkness” by Walter Dean Myers. After that we retired to the auditorium where the announcement was made to the world.
Since my time on the Newbery Committee was almost 30 years ago, I was interested in discovering what has changed since then. After speaking with Dr. Jonda McNair, chair of the 2021 committee, I learned that while the process of choosing winners is similar, the main difference is that communication is now done by email instead of mail. Secrecy is still of paramount importance. In January, they met virtually on Zoom to discuss the nominees and determine the winners and honors. How fortunate we are to have that technology today!
There are big differences in the numbers and kinds of books available. In 1992, around 5,000 children’s titles were published; in 2020, the number was closer to 15,000. Today, diversity and inclusion are uppermost in everyone’s minds, and recent youth media awards reflect this trend. In fact, the 2021 Newbery winner and two honor books take place in Southeast Asia: “When You Trap a Tiger,” “All Thirteen,” and “A Wish in the Dark.” The 2020 committee chose an honor, “The Undefeated,” which celebrates contributions of African Americans, and “Other Words for Home,” the story of a Muslim family who fled Syria for America.
Graphic novels have also increased in popularity in the children’s and teen world since the early 2000s. A generational shift fueled this acceptance, as librarians who came of age reading graphic novels became the builders of library collections. Jerry Craft’s remarkable graphic novel, “New Kid,”won the prestigious Newbery medal in 2020, adding a new format to the body of “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” In spite of the changes over the years, the spirit of the Newbery Medal remains the same.
“Water and sun … but no hurricane” is Suzy Hawley’s mantra. She loves selecting children’s and young adult materials for library collections. Other than that, she spends her days interfering in her children’s lives, helping seniors, and spoiling her Olde English Bull Dogs. Click here for more. Click here for more.
Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is observed every May. This year, I felt it was more important than ever to celebrate and uphold our cultures in the face of overt racism and actual physical attacks upon people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, which occurred throughout 2020 and have continued into 2021. Specifically, I want to focus on the positive impact AAPI comics creators have made with the books they’ve published.
When I started thinking about AAPI contributors to the world of comics, a flood of names came quickly to my mind: Stan Sakai, Gene Luen Yang, Lynda Barry, Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki, Amy Chu, Greg Pak, Rina Ayuyang, Mari Naomi, Derek Kirk Kim, Fred Chao, Amy Chu, Kazu Kibuishi, Kean Soo, Robin Ha, Trung Le Nguyen. I was inspired to search further and uncovered a lot of information that was new to me.
But before I share details about the individual lives and contributions of AAPI authors and artists, I’d like to provide a little history. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Asian Americans found themselves the unfortunate targets of virulent stereotyping and scapegoating, in a way that parallels what we’re seeing today. But whereas the current animosity stems largely from the COVID pandemic, which originated in China, a different set of circumstances influenced anti-AAPI sentiment of generations past.
Chinese people first started coming to the United States in large numbers during the 1850s to work as laborers in mines, farms, and on fishing boats, and to help build railroad tracks in the American West. From the beginning, White Americans resented these foreign laborers. By the 1870s, newspapers were carrying stories about the “Yellow Peril.” Laws were passed—especially the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—to restrict Chinese immigrants’ civil rights, access to education, ability to work, and even freedom to express their culture. This act was the first federal law targeted to restrict the rights of a specific ethnic group.
At about this same time, sugar plantation owners in Hawaii began to entice the Japanese to come to Hawai’i and work on their plantations. Some of those Japanese workers later left Hawai’i and traveled to the West Coast. Some took to farming the very poor quality land that Americans were all too glad to sell, until they saw how the Japanese started using their farming methods to produce bountiful crops. Those who stayed in Hawaii started families; some—including Hideichi Takane, my husband’s maternal grandfather— undertook unionizing efforts to improve their working conditions. Predictably, this was met with resistance from the plantation owners. My grandfather actually had to hide in the jungle to avoid being arrested or killed.
When the Japanese Imperial military bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, many Americans turned their rage at the attack towards all Japanese Americans, including the Nisei—second-generation Japanese who were born in the U.S. and were therefore legitimate American citizens. More than 120,000 Japanese living on the West Coast were forced into internment camps for the duration of the war (Kiku Hughes’ graphic novel “Displacement” shows readers how the Japanese had to live in these camps). With only a few exceptions, most of their property was taken from them and never returned. At President Roosevelt’s orders, the FBI investigated, but not a single Japanese American was ever convicted on a charge of spying for the Japanese government. Hawaii, at that time a territory of the United States, was put under martial law for the duration of the war.
Despite this naked animosity directed towards people of Japanese descent, early in 1942, the U.S. government realized it needed more men to enlist in the Army. So recruiters went to the relocation camps and to Hawai’i and asked for volunteers. Many did; most of the males in my father-in-law’s high school class of 1942 enlisted in the Army, including one Daniel K. Inouye. Many of these young men joined the new 442nd Regimental Combat Team, part of the 100th Battalion, an all-Nisei combat battalion. Some Nisei refused to declare their loyalty to the U.S., along with some of the Issei (first generation Japanese Americans); most of these were in relocation camps. They included George Takei’s parents, as he recounts in “They Called Us Enemy.”
Almost from the beginning of Asian immigration to the U.S., Chinese and Japanese were portrayed in editorial cartoons as grossly exaggerated caricatures with slanted eyes and leering expressions. American comics published during World War II continued to portray the Japanese as evil caricatures. Even after the war, this practice continued in entertainment media.
Decades after World War II, anti-Asian attitudes persisted. One very notorious event was the murder of Chinese American Vincent Chin by a couple of Detroit auto workers who were angered by what they perceived as Japanese encroachment upon the U.S. automobile industry. Even as recently as 2016, I personally had to deal with anti-Asian comments and actions from students in the Roman Catholic school where I was the school librarian (they knew I’m half Japanese). Then in early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic ushered in the most recent wave of anti-Asian discrimination, with thousands of violent attacks on Asian Americans—not only Chinese, but also Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, and other ethnicities.
These conditions all contributed to difficulty AAPI people continue to experience on a macro level in their quest to be regarded as true Americans. AAPI people have struggled to be respected and accepted in their professional lives as well—as mirrored in the world of comics.
Now back to the topic!
Given all this unfortunate historical backstory, I decided I wanted to find out who the first AAPI comics creator in the U.S. was. The person I identified was Larry Hama, whom I remember from the “G.I. Joe” Marvel Comics series, which he started in 1982 (I bought lots of those for my older son back in the day). Thinking of Hama reminded me of a Chinese immigrant named Cy Young, who worked as a Disney animator on such films as “Snow White,” “Fantasia,” and “Bambi.” Another Chinese American, Tyrus Wong, also worked on “Bambi.”
I figured there must be many more people I was not familiar with, so I discussed my search with one of my co-workers as we shared Information Desk duty one day. She took to the challenge and began researching on her own. She soon discovered Chu Fook Hing, who wrote and inked a comic he created called “The Green Turtle” in the 1940s.
Chu was a true Asian American. He was born in 1897 in Kapa’a on the island of Kauai, part of Hawaii (at the time a territory of the U.S.). Chu moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1919 to study art at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where he met and married Helga, a Danish immigrant. In addition to pursuing a career in fine arts (visit the blog Chinese American Eyes for images of his watercolors), he also worked as an inker for Marvel Comics. He was one of a small group of Asian Americans working in comics—some for Will Eisner’s studio, some for Marvel, and for other comics companies.
In 1944, Chu created The Green Turtle for Blazing Comics. He wanted a Chinese American hero; his editors insisted the hero be White, for they said American comics readers wouldn’t buy a comic with an Asian hero. Remember the time, 1944; the U.S. and its allies were fighting the Germans in Europe and Japan in the Pacific Theater. As Jay relates, Chu rebelled against his editors by never showing the Green Turtle’s face–he always drew him with a mask on, or covered his face with the Turtle’s cape, or with his punching arms obscuring his facial features. That way, Chu could always think of his character as a Chinese American. When Yang discovered the Green Turtle, he wanted to give him a proper origin story, and this became “The Shadow Hero.” Yang and Liew portray their young protagonist, Hank Chu, as a Chinese American teen whose mother wants him to become a superhero.
“The Green Turtle” lasted only five issues and then faded into obscurity. Incidentally, author Gene Luen Yang collaborated with artist Sonny Liew to create “The Shadow Hero” in 2014. This book offers the origin story for Chu’s Green Turtle. Yang also included an afterword in which he discussed Chu’s work and included some pages of the old comics.
During the decades after World War II, most portrayals of Asians pretty much matched the negative stereotypes created by White American comics creators. Happily for us, the past quarter century or so has seen many AAPI professionals involved in producing comics, and many more positive AAPI comics characters. I remember finding “Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks” by Gene Luen Yang back in 1997; I loved this comic for showing a non-stereotypical Japanese American. Gordon is big, kind of overweight, and he’s not an honor student. In fact, he’s a bully, who finally learns some tough life lessons. So I’ve been a Gene Luen Yang fan since long before he won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2007 for “American Born Chinese.”
Other great books dealing with different aspects of being Asian American include “Almost American Girl” by Robin Ha, which portrays her immigration experience when in her teens; “The Magic Fish” by Trung Le Nguyen, in which he uses several fairy tales from different cultures to show how he dealt with his sexuality; and George Takei’s “They Called Us Enemy,” about his family’s experience in the relocation camps during World War II.
Now, readers can find plenty of AAPI superheroes, including Ms Marvel, Silk (from the Spider-Verse), and Shang Chi (who will soon have his own movie), as well as many other characters in fantasy, science fiction, domestic drama, and humorous fiction written and drawn by creators whose families came from all over Asia, South Asia, Southeastern Asia, and the Pacific Islands.
AAPI comics contributors have given us themes unique to the AAPI experience, introduced us to multifaceted, complex characters (which have hopefully helped us to move beyond one-dimensional stereotypes), and created characters whom we can all relate to and be inspired by.
Brodart customers can search Bibz to find many of the creators, characters, and books I’ve mentioned.
Chinese American Eyes: Famous, forgotten, well-known, and obscure visual artists of Chinese descent in the United States
If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.
Recently, Vishma Bhattarai submitted the following question to Librarian to Librarian:
“How do you think about the significance/value/importance or anything else of SR Ranganathan’s five laws of library science during these days?”
Brodart’s Scott Piepenburg, who wrote an article about the five laws, responded: “As a cataloger, I still use these principles when I teach. As of late, there have been many efforts to ‘update’ the five laws to say ‘resource’ rather than ‘book’ and reflect other more modern trends, but when it comes to access and the philosophy of collection development, they are still good, solid, valid, relevant rules. They speak to the very basic, important things that we do as librarians; the technology and resources may have changed, but the goals are the same.”
As for whether the pandemic and extended library closures have impacted his view of Ranganathan’s laws, Scott said, “In my opinion, no. In fact, I think the laws have become more relevant and even more notable in the light of the pandemic. The library still strives to get every reader their book and every book their reader, but more important, libraries have had to change their delivery and resource model, highlighting the fact that ‘the library is a growing organism’ so it can adapt and change with the needs of its users.”
Brodart Selector Suzanne Hawley added, “Isn’t it fascinating and remarkable that the five laws were formulated in 1924 — almost 100 years ago — and they are still invaluable for the library of today? I think the creative ways librarians have been able to serve their patrons and care for their resources during the pandemic shows that, indeed, the library has proven to be a growing organism.”
Brodart Selector Stephanie Campbell concurs that while the laws are still valid, changing circumstances, such as demographics and the rise of social media, are forcing libraries to adapt and develop creative strategies to serve patrons. She says:
“Top of mind thoughts for me regarding the first three laws (Books are for use; Every reader his or her book; Every book its reader) revolve around diversity in collections. Yes, books are for use and we hope that people will read them, but materials are often acquired simply because of their value as works of literature or their importance to society. Now more than ever, you can’t let demographics dictate what you select and you can’t take circulation figures at face value. Marginalized populations NEED to be represented. In a more frivolous example, I’ve often heard, ‘nobody here reads science fiction.’ OK, is that because there aren’t any people here who like that genre or because our collection is awful? Sometimes it’s not obvious who the audience will be or if there will be an audience at all, but you need those materials, anyway.
Laws four and five (Save the time of the reader; A library is a growing organism) make me think about how crucial convenience services are now, how much more our mission has transcended physical walls. This is all wonderful, but will create even more marketing challenges as people have gotten out of the habit of spending time in our buildings. We often relied on ‘preaching to the choir,’ with flyers and posters that catered to in-house customers, or we hoped that regular DVD borrowers might someday venture into the book section. Websites and social media presence are going to be more important than ever to maintain existing users and attract new ones.”
Thank you, Vishma, for submitting your question! We’d love to hear from other readers who have additional questions or comments related to libraries or librarianship.
The word “resiliency” can refer to emotional resilience, mental resilience, or physical resilience. A school counselor at my local school district said that students who have good resilience are better able to handle emotional stresses, environmental stresses (in our area, we suffered from a Category 5 hurricane in October 2018), and all the problems so many have faced with COVID-19—not to mention poverty, food insecurity, racism, and many other problems.
When I was young, I dealt a lot with feelings of being an outsider. I’m mixed Japanese/White, and I didn’t feel that I belonged anywhere, even though my parents loved my siblings and me. When we lived in Japan, my Japanese grandparents’ neighbors would stare at me, because I didn’t look very much like them. Back in the United States, in the town where we lived, we kids were double outsiders: mixed race and not locals. My classmates didn’t like the fact that I “passed” as White, and at least one older student in our small school called my mother horrible names.
To cope, I basically escaped into books, mostly adventures, mysteries, and science fiction. A lot of the books I enjoyed featured outsider characters who overcame their circumstances and saved themselves, their friends, their town—sometimes even a whole world. Andre Norton, in particular, created fascinating worlds and portrayed strong female characters who took action and did cool things. I know that these books, and certain television series, especially “Star Trek” (the original 1960s series), helped me see more of myself in the characters and recognize that I wasn’t just some weirdo kid.
A colleague and I, both librarians at Bay County Public Library in Panama City, Florida, were guests on a podcast done by Alignment Bay County, a nonprofit agency focusing on helping youth with stress and mental health issues. For our podcast recorded on May 4, 2021, we chose a number of books, both fiction and nonfiction. I, of course, selected graphic novels and graphic memoirs. We provided our lists to the podcast host and her co-host for this particular episode, a school counselor. They researched the books so they could discuss how the books demonstrated certain types of resilient behavior.
I brought Jarrett Krosoczka’s “Hey, Kiddo”—his memoir of growing up raised mostly by his grandparents because his drug-abusing mother couldn’t take care of him. Teens who read his book know that Krosoczka managed to grow up and enjoy a happy life, simply by virtue of the fact that he created it. His graphic memoir takes readers through his youth to witness how his imperfect but loving grandparents gave him some stability.
Jerry Craft’s “New Kid” tells the story of Jordan Banks, a Black 12-year-old whose parents send him to a private school where he’s one of the few non-White kids; he also doesn’t fit most people’s idea of a Black boy, because he’d much prefer to draw comics. Anyone who feels alone and out of place can relate to Jordan. If this book had been published when I was that age, I would have loved it at least as much I love it now.
Raina Telgemeier, in my opinion, started something special with her book, “Smile.” When this book first came out in 2010, it grabbed the attention of many kids. I was working in a school library at the time. Scholastic sent me a review copy of the book, and I shared it with my lunch time book club students. That copy made the rounds at the school, and some of the students even wrote fan letters to Raina, which I sent to her via Scholastic. Her account of the dental trauma she suffered in sixth grade, plus dealing with friends who weren’t really great friends, and a massive earthquake, grabbed the kids’ attention. They’d never seen anything like this in comic book format before, and they loved it. When they saw that our Spring Scholastic Book Fair included “Smile,” lots of them bought it. This book sold out THREE times, something that had never happened before. Each student who talked to me about the book said they felt a deep connection to Raina, that they loved how she portrayed her feelings.
Each of Raina’s original books, including “Drama,” “Sisters,” “Ghosts,” and “Guts,” depict characters (sometimes Raina and her family, sometimes fictional characters) experiencing all kinds of challenging situations. These include family relationship troubles, dealing with school, and trying to find one’s place in the social order, while dealing with long-term health issues. Raina’s art makes the stories approachable, understandable, and young readers love them. I think it’s fantastic that so many other creators have published their own comics over the past 11 years, comics that also help young readers see how kids like them are learning to overcome difficulties that make them stronger.
When I was young, I didn’t want to read self-help kinds of books. I didn’t want didactic books that just told me what was wrong and how to fix myself. I wanted mostly to escape, but I ended up finding help by reading stories that helped me experience struggle and adventure vicariously through characters I liked. I have loved superhero stories since I could read, and many of those heroes also dealt with problems. Gene Luen Yang’s “Superman Smashes the Klan” is adapted from a 1940s radio drama. Yes, Superman is a superhero, but Yang portrays his struggle with his identity as an alien: an immigrant to Earth. This story focuses on a Chinese immigrant family facing racism in Metropolis, but also shows the reader how a young White boy starts coming to terms with his racist relatives. This book is also highly relevant to current racism and the attacks so many people of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have suffered for the past year or so (and for over a century). Yang’s young Superman doesn’t fully come into his powers until he accepts his alien nature. Tommy and Roberta Lee have to learn who they can trust to treat them with respect and friendship, while Chuck has to decide who and what he really wants to be.
I think that almost any book can be a source of inspiration that touches a young reader and helps them feel more a part of their world. It might be the main character, or the society depicted in the story, or the family relationships—anything could be the critical factor that helps readers build more resilience in whatever form they need to feel stronger and better about themselves. And we at Brodart help librarians find more of those books to put onto their shelves for their patrons.
If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.
I sighed sadly when I read of Beverly Cleary’s death on March 25. Those of us who work with children’s books revered her as an iconic figure in our field. She lived a long and full life, but I guess I thought she would always be with us. Still, 104 years isn’t bad!
Cleary often spoke about the original inspiration for her first novel, “Henry Huggins,” which was published in 1950. After college at UC Berkeley, she returned to her childhood home of Oregon to work as a librarian in Yakima. Tired of hearing her young patrons asking for “books about us,” and remembering she had experienced the same frustrations as a youngster, she set to work. To all of our enduring delight, she succeeded in developing the magical recipe for funny, smart stories about engaging characters…just like the kids in her own neighborhood.
Many years ago, I had the pleasure of listening to Cleary at an ALA Conference. She was an absolute delight. She was charming, funny, and perhaps a little shy. She talked about her life and career and included several stories about how her books came to life. Someone asked about the inspiration for “The Mouse and the Motorcycle.”
In the story, when Keith, the young hotel guest, leaves his room, Ralph S. Mouse scurries out from his piney knot, runs up a telephone wire, and jumps on the toy motorcycle that Keith has left behind. Ralph’s joyride ends when he and the motorcycle land in a trash can! Cleary created such a wonderful word picture of this escapade that I still laugh every time I read it.
So how did she come up with the idea for this book? Here’s the backstory. On one occasion, Cleary and her young son and daughter accompanied her husband on a business trip to England. During the trip, her son became ill and Mr. Cleary went shopping for something to take the boy’s mind off his ailment. A Hot Wheels motorcycle was the perfect answer. Needless to say, the toy was a hit, and her son had endless fun running it up and down the ridged lines on his bedspread: perfect roads for a small motorcycle.
Sometime later, when back at home, Ms. Cleary was working in her garden. She was sitting on the ground in front of a bench planting flowers when she heard scrambling behind her, followed by a loud noise. She looked up to where a large metal can sat at the end of the bench. Upon investigation, Cleary discovered that a mouse had run down the bench behind her, and instead of hopping to the ground, fell into the trash can. Add those two episodes together and voila! You have the ingredients for a delightful and enduring children’s story—at least at the hands of Beverly Cleary.
I told this account many times to groups of kids in my libraries and they reacted as I did: completely enthralled! Thank you, Beverly Cleary, for providing such wonderful stories for so many generations.
In addition to selecting children and young adult materials for library collections, Suzy Hawley spends her days interfering in her children’s lives as much as possible, wheedling her husband into cooking dinner just one more time, and walking on the beach. Click here for more.
As librarians, we all know on a base level that we’re making a difference, that our work is important. But too often, we lose sight of the key moments that fill us with joy, each true connection quickly overshadowed by the next project on our list.
Our librarians are excited to share the personal memories they turn to for that extra boost of inspiration.
Julie O’Connor: “Cutting the Ribbon”
It’s difficult to pinpoint the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a librarian since my job is to help libraries with their collection development needs on a daily basis. It’s gratifying to help solve collection development conundrums, whether they be large or small. But if pressed, I think back to one of my first experiences as a project librarian. It was 2005 and Camden County, New Jersey, received funding to build a much-needed library. Their excitement was contagious because the residents and leaders had waited so long for this building. I know everyone is over the moon when a new library opens or is renovated, but experiencing that for the first time was something that will always stay with me.
Fern Hallman: “Seeing is Believing”
I was doing an ongoing vendor selection project and the librarians in that system were not thrilled that I was selecting their books. The library administrators who had decided to hire Brodart to do it that way held a meeting where the local library staff could ask me questions about my process. One of the librarians said she decided to put all of my recent selections on a book cart to really take a hard look at them and discovered that they were all checked out.
Scott Piepenburg: “Blazing a Trail”
My most rewarding experience as a librarian was when I was put in charge of the district automation program for Dallas Independent School District, then the eighth largest school district in the nation. We took 225 schools from only five with any type of automation to full automation in 18 months. This included purchasing and installing computers, creating a district-wide network (none existed at the time), and undertaking a complete retrospective conversion of the shelf lists.
At the time, it was the most extensive automation project in the nation and resulted in the largest school automation project in the United States; we did this while also creating and implementing centralized receiving and cataloging, doing almost 5,000 titles per week. Having no model to follow, as the system administrator, I was quite excited with the project, and pleased how well it turned out.
Stephanie Campbell: “The Stay-Behind”
When I was just starting out as a librarian, I worked in older adult outreach services and was charged with creating engaging programs for residents at nursing homes and assisted living apartments. The divergent mental and physical health issues found in institutional settings, coupled with different backgrounds and experiences, make these seniors a particularly challenging group to entertain. Playful activities such as bingo, crafts, and sing-alongs were the most prevalent among the in-house recreational offerings at that time.
I took a more educational approach, with book talks and brief documentaries on particular topics to encourage conversation. Residents often dozed off during my programs. Others left the room when they got bored. Some stayed just to be polite, then thanked me, and bolted out the door the minute it was over. I performed these programs monthly at multiple facilities and it was wonderful when the topic and the audience were a good match. But even if I could reach just one person, it made it all worthwhile.
I remember one female resident in particular who attended every program I did at that nursing home. One day, as she lingered after the presentation, she told me how much she valued my visits and the material I chose to present, because it made her feel like an adult again, not treated as a child. It was both heartbreaking and gratifying to hear that. I ended up personally delivering books to her outside of work for a while. The power of human connection really hit me, and I began to realize how much I could make a difference in someone’s life.
Suzanne Hawley: “Nothing Beats a ‘Black Tie’ Auction with a Vanna White Lookalike”
In order to get my fifth-graders to read more and write about what they read, I decided to hold a dress-up auction near the end of the school year. The kids read like crazy and wrote about what they’d read. The biggest hurdle for me was to read all the letters…there were at least 90 students writing letters most years! I gave them points, which would be used as dollars to bid with. On the day of the “black tie” auction, we gave each student a paper black bow tie with the number of dollars they had earned. We had an auctioneer and a Vanna White lookalike. Everyone—teachers, students, parents, administrators—were dressed to the nines. I used a book called “Celebrity Addresses” and sent letters to everyone in there I thought the kids would like an autograph or trinket from. It was exciting to watch the items roll in. We received, among other things, an autographed picture from Michael Jordan, a pound (!) of Wrigley bubblegum, an FBI cap, many gift certificates, tapes from popular singers, many coupons for restaurants, and so much more.
Parents manned tables where the kids would go with their ties when they won an item. They’d receive their winnings and the parent would subtract the amount it cost from their balance. I held these auctions in three schools for 20 years. Once a community realized how much fun it was, they began contributing items. We even got bicycles and TVs. Fifth grade was the highest grade in all these schools. Teachers from other grades were invited to bring their classes in to watch for half an hour and in the last schools we could stream it on the TV. The end result was a huge increase enthusiasm for reading in every grade. The kids couldn’t wait to get to fifth grade so they could participate in the auction.
Kat Kan: “A Zoom Surprise and a Virtual Hug”
There have been so many over the several decades that I’ve worked as a librarian. Here is one of the most recent.
A couple of weeks before this writing, as we were leaving our church after the service, I heard someone shouting, “Mrs. Kan! Mrs. Kan!” I turned, and a tall boy came running down the path from the building. He was one of my former students when I was a school librarian. I hadn’t seen him since May 2019. He was one of the quiet ones, always drawing, borrowing books, not saying much. I always looked out for him, to make sure he was feeling comfortable and that he was always welcome in the library. That Sunday he told me how much he missed me, and the library. Then he proudly told me, “I can drive now!”
He has a younger brother, who was not the best student, but did enjoy coming to the school library and always borrowed books to read for fun. This past Sunday, I spoke to their mother; she’s been attending services at our church for about a month now. She told me that her younger son has connected with some of his classmates and former classmates, and they have their own Zoom book club! She told me “It’s all because of you. You helped them to love reading.” She’s clearly proud of her sons, but gave me credit for them becoming readers. I nearly cried.
I work in a public library now, and my department answers our county’s Citizen Information Line to help people with questions about getting tested for COVID-19, registering for vaccinations, and so on. Here, people must register and make appointments for the free COVID-19 tests at the county’s contracted clinic; the website is clunky and rather difficult for most people to navigate. There is no direct way to contact the clinic or the company that designed the website, so we get those calls. Sometimes callers reach us after trying for hours to find information. When I answer the line, I try to be as helpful and comforting as I can be.
Today, I helped a woman who called our line three times (I helped her twice). I stayed on the line with her as she negotiated the website and finally succeeded in setting up appointments for herself and her husband. At the end of the third call, she said, “I don’t know your name, but if I could, I’d give you the biggest hug! You people (meaning my department) are the only ones giving us good information and help! Thank you, we appreciate you so much!” So, helping connect people to books, and helping people get the information they need to help themselves in this pandemic are two aspects of being a librarian. In both cases, just knowing I helped in any small way makes me feel as though I’m doing my part to help the world be a better place.
Gwen Vanderhage: “Cultural Exchange”
One of my most rewarding experiences as a public librarian was helping a population of Eritrean refugees who frequented my branch. The children were voracious readers and consumers of American pop culture. It was fun to help them find books and videos — they always had very specific opinions about what icons they were searching for and authors they were reading, but not always the ones we had on the shelf that day. The parents wanted help navigating and printing forms from government websites and getting matched up with computer tutors. They helped us keep our foreign film collection up to date. These families truly emulated why the library is a hub in every community and we were happy to get to know them each evening.
Everyone needs encouragement. Hopefully our librarians have helped you feel better about your own work on the frontlines. If we’ve inspired you in any way, we encourage you to share your story.
What’s one of your most-affirming experiences as a librarian? Tell us all about it in the comments below.
Meghan Herman graduated in 2018 from Penn College of Technology with a B.S. degree in Industrial Design. However, being the daughter of a Brodart executive (Gretchen Herman is Brodart’s Vice President of Sales & Product Development), she grew up having a close familiarity with the library industry. It was no great surprise, then, that Meghan decided to pursue her Master of Science in Information and Library Science (MSLS) degree from Clarion University.
Not only is she currently studying diligently to become a librarian, she also works full time in Brodart’s Collection Development department. This is Part 2 of our looks at one person’s MSLS journey. Click HERE for Part 1. Feel free to share your own perspective after reading about Meghan’s experiences.
L2L: Has the pandemic altered your degree program, either in terms of how you’re attending classes and submitting assignments or in terms of the curriculum itself?
MH: Absolutely, there have been many changes that are happening in general for Clarion as well as in my classes. My last semester start time was moved up a week so that our fall break was right before our finals. This changed all the finals to be online only, and everyone that was going home for the fall break had to be moved out of their dorms; finals were taken primarily off-campus. This upcoming semester was shifted back several weeks in order to shorten the time on campus as well as remove our spring break entirely. A lot of individual classes were shifted to online, and the professors did more Zoom classes… having no face-to-face communications at first, and then very limited interactions.
Some of my projects had to be shifted and changed to address the new restrictions. I had several assignments in my Marketing class that dealt with creating programs or social events to bring people into the library or interact in some way. As part of those assignments, we had to specify whether we were taking pandemic restrictions into consideration, and, if so, how those restrictions would impact the outcomes of our proposed programs.
L2L: Can you see any indication through your coursework that the field of librarianship may be evolving due to the pandemic?
MH: One of the main changes I’ve been seeing for libraries and my classes is that there is a larger shift to virtual events and creating an online presence or online activities. I feel like libraries are trying to make things work with the pandemic and bring libraries to the patrons. In doing so, I think being able to work with a variety of digital platforms and create digital content might be something that will be incorporated in future courses.
L2L: Have you chosen a specialty yet?
MH: No, because at this point I am too close to the end of my degree (it went by so fast) and I don’t have enough classes left to really commit to a specialty. I already have next semester’s classes picked out and I’m pretty sure I only have one more class that I can choose as an elective and the other three are requirements, two of which will be for my Capstone.
L2L: That said, are you considering a specific area of focus for your career?
MH: If I look into anything, there are two areas that I have enjoyed so far in my program, which are collection development and YA literature and programs. I like what I do at Brodart a lot, and I love YA literature and the idea of engaging with YA audiences.
L2L: Are you experiencing more crossover between your studies and your day job?
MH: Yes, I had been experiencing more crossover with my last two classes. It will be interesting to see if my next two classes will have crossover or not.
L2L: Can you elaborate? What aspects of your studies have you encountered at work? Also, what have you learned in the classroom that you found applicable to your work life?
MH: With my collection development class, we talked about libraries rebuilding their collections and how they go about doing that as well as weeding collections. This was one of the first things that I learned at Brodart. The things that I learned in the classroom was more background information and smaller nuggets of information that either reinforced information I learned on the job or information that just gave me a better understanding of the library world. I can’t think of anything specific at the moment, though.
L2L: Finally, what’s been your favorite part of your MSLS journey so far?
MH: The thought of graduating!
In the summer of 2019, Meghan decided to pursue her MSLS while starting a new professional job at Brodart. Outside of work and school, Meghan has what she describes as a pretty chill life.
Before 2020, many of us may have daydreamed about working from home: no alarm clock, no commute, flexible schedule. The reality, however, isn’t always rosy and presents its own challenges. Those of us who were new to remote work (and remote learning) agreed that it was fine (at first) to be house-bound when schools and non-essential businesses closed in mid-March. But then two weeks became two months.
And we wondered, “Where do work and school begin and end?” We struggled with our sense of time and place, sleep and wakefulness routines were thrown out the window, and then there was the “COVID 15” weight gain from those comfy clothes combined with too-easy access to the kitchen.
As an introvert and homebody, I definitely enjoy my solitude, but quickly found that I needed a bit more stimulation and structure….and a decent chair. Though I was quite pleased with all I could accomplish on a 10-year-old laptop with a hotspot for Internet, I was elated when I eventually went back to work on-site.
This year, reinvention has been key. We have all had to figure out how we can still do business with as little human contact as possible. In libraries, there are striking similarities to obstacles we have long faced, and worked to overcome as individuals. Libraries constantly battle barriers to access: inclement weather, building issues, and outages to power or telecommunications. In the face of those challenges, we do everything in our power to stay open. When plan A fails, we run through plans B, C, and D before finally making the determination we can’t open the doors of our buildings at all. So it has been this year with the pandemic, and we have been forced to find new ways to adapt and serve our patrons in the absence of in-person visitation.
Before 2020, virtual library resources were more of a companion—an enhancement to what we offered in person. Suddenly, our online presence went from the backup plan to the spotlight and became absolutely essential to maintaining a connection with the community.
Libraries have long championed their abilities to transcend physical walls and this year we have taken that to whole new levels. From virtual storytimes and book clubs to YouTube channels and Instagram accounts, the speed with which libraries adapted to virtual programming is astounding. Most of us saw stay-at-home orders start in March. WebJunction compiled this list of programming activities in April!
Hopefully you’ve been encouraged as patrons have embraced their online accounts, placed holds, taken advantage of e-books and other e-resources, used curbside pickup, and tried make-and-take craft projects. These are great ways to connect with those who may have difficulty visiting us in person, for any number of non-COVID-19 reasons: mobility issues, lack of transportation, parking woes, conflicting work schedules.
Convenience services such as these will likely be the new normal. Dedicated areas /entrances for specific things such as holds pickup may continue to be a good idea in the post-pandemic world, just to help people navigate their busy lives.
Virtual conferences and professional development have taken the place of far-flung conventions and centralized meetings. We can now connect with our colleagues and vendors in new and exciting ways. Without the travel constraints and caps on attendance, more of us are able to take advantage of more opportunities than before. Even within our organizations, the use of meeting software has become commonplace. And have you noticed, these virtual meetings seem to be much shorter and to-the-point? Look for the silver lining!
Technology is great, when it works. This year has revealed the skills gap and infrastructure gap. What is meant to be the great equalizer has divided the haves from the have-nots, whether it be know-how, hardware, or bandwidth.
Nine months into the pandemic, we are all struggling. Any semblance of normalcy is gone, and this has wreaked havoc on all aspects of life. Fear, depression, and isolation are running rampant. And the catastrophic effects on the economy, small business, and jobs will be with us long after the darkest days are in the rearview mirror. Not to mention the loss of loved ones to the virus.
However, libraries are uniquely positioned to come out of this stronger, and with a lasting reach, as we have historically been there for individuals in crisis. As Fred Rogers was quoted as saying, in times of disaster, “look for the helpers.” Libraries help.